Hujer Biography

Biographical Data on Dr. Karel Hujer

Written by Harriet Hujer following Karel's death

Dr. Karel Hujer, Guerry Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and Physics at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, died on June 10, 1988 in Chattanooga.

Karel Hujer was born in northern Bohemia, now Czechoslovakia, on September 18, 1902. [His home town was Zelezny Brod, where he was born to a family of horticulturists.] He attended the State 'Real' School in Turnow, and graduated from Charles University of Prague, his special field being astrophysics and the history of philosophy of exact sciences. His extended studies took place in France, the University of London 1924-25, and more than three years at Yerkes Observatory of the University of Chicago. His principal assignment there was in the field of stellar spectroscopy and observation with the Bruce spectrograph attached to the Yerkes 40-inch refractor, still the world's largest lens telescope!

In 1920, Hujer was invited to the Observatory of the French astronomer, Camille Flammarion in Juvisy, near Paris, beginning a lifetime association with Camille and Madame Flammarion.

In 1924-25, he studied at the Imperial College of the University of London under the famous spectroscopist, Albert Fowler and his collaborator Herbert Dingle. In London, Hujer also attended lectures by Sir Arthur Eddington and Sir James Jeans. Hujer considered Sir Arthur Eddington and Camille Flammarion his mentors.

In 1925, he was one of six Czech students invited to visit English universities, including Cambridge and Oxford. In June, 1925, he attended the Congress of the International Astronomical Union in Cambridge, England.

In 1926, Hujer first visited America. Dr. E. B. Frost, then Director of Yerkes Observatory at the University of Chicago, secured a scholarship for him to do graduate work at the observatory. Some phases of Hujer's observations were presented in the 1928 meeting of the American Astronomical Society and others published in the Astrophysical Journal in 1927.

In 1930, before returning to Czechoslovakia, Hujer journeyed to Mexico, briefly studying Aztec, Toltec and Mayan astronomy. Following further studies in Czechoslovakia, he received his Doctorate of Science at the University of Prague on March 11, 1932, covering the fields of astrophysics, astronomy, and philosophy of exact sciences. Interestingly, the first signature on Hujer's certificate of graduation was that of a Czech Nobel Prize Winner.

In July 1932, Hujer embarked on his first world tour lasting approximately one year. It included his participation in the Mitchell Solar Eclipse Expedition at Lake Memphremagog in Quebec, Canada, and attendance a the Congress of the International Astronomical Union in Harvard. This was followed by his second visit to Mexico, a six-months fellowship, enabling him to continue research on the astronomy of pre-Columbian civilizations. He returned to Czechoslovakia via Japan and the Soviet Union, visiting both coutries in 1933 and becoming fairly well acquainted with their astronomical observatories.

In 1934, Hujer departed for a wholes year in India. While there, he studied the history of Hindu astronomy at India's principal libraries, including Benares Sanskrit Library. He was Mahatma Gandhi's guest at the latter's ashram in Wardha for two weeks, and asked to lecture at Gandhi's evenings meetings on the philosophic aspect of modern astronomy. At Gandhi's suggestion, the Indian National Congress invited Hujer to participate and deliver two lectures during its sessions in Wardha in August, 1935.

Hujer was also a guest of the Nobel Laureat and poet, Rabindranath Tagore, for three weeks, delivering a series of lectures at his University Visva Bharati in Shantiniketen. In addition, he lectured at universities and colleges in Benares, Lahore, Allahabad, Anamalai and elsewhere, again on the philosopy of modern astronomy. His lectures and studies took him throughout India, from north to south.

These early world trips were ground and sea journeys that allowed incomparably wider experiences than today's customary plane travel. His journey to Tibet, going up 16,000 feet and reaching to within 40 miles from Lhasa, was on foot, accompanied by one porter. The British Government unfortunately could not give him permission to enter the captial of Tibet. [I remember Karel talking about this journey and recalling that the only food staple carried by the porter was a large quantity of rice].

In 1936, Dr. Hujer was invited to join in organizing the first Czechoslovakian Solar Eclipse Expedition to the island of Hokkaido in northern Japan. Successful results were obtained. After the eclipse, Hujer sailed to China, searching in Nanking and Peking libraries for material on ancient Chinese astronomy. Corssing Russia again via Siberia, he returned to Czechoslovakia.

Shortly after Thomas Masaryk died in September, 1937, Hujer returned to America. Subsequently leaving from California in June, 1938, he embarked on a voyage to Peru to do research on the history of pre-Columbian astronomy in the Americas, represented by the ancient Inca civilization. He studied mainly in Cusco, the former capital of the Inca empire. In the fall of 1938, on the high seas return to California, the Munich Pact was signed in Europe and Hitler overtook Czechoslovakia. Dr. Hujer then decided to remain permanently in America.

While in Pasadena, Hujer was closely associated with Dr. Gustaf Stromberg of Mount Wilson Observatory. While addressing a large audience in Chicago, Dr. Hujer met his future wife, Harriet Hunt. They were married on October 4, 1939.

In November 1941, Dr. Hujer joined the faculty of De Paul University in Chicago. In 1942-43, he took a professorship at Iowa Wesleyan College, also teaching at Michigan State College from 1943 to 1946.

In 1946, the University of Chattanooga invited him to take charge of their Clarence T. Jones Observatory with it 20 1/2 - inch telecsope, and to teach astronomy and physics. He remained at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga until his retirement as Guerry Professor in 1973.

The several decades after World War II included 19 extended trips to Europe, accompanied by his wife Harriet. His fluency in eight languages made him feel at home most anywhere in Europe.

In the summer of 1947, Dr. Hujer journeyed to once again free Czechoslovakia. He lectured all over this country, at universities and colleges. He was said to have been responsible for inspiring some half a dozen small observatories in Czechoslovakia.

In November of 1949, Dr. Hujer flew to India, invited by Dr. Rajendra Prasad who became the first president of the Republic of India. Hujer was one of eight Americans invited to particpate in the World Peace Meeting in memory of Mahatma Gandhi. Members of the government of India, including Prime Minister Nehru, officially participated. Dr. Hujer was invited to contribute to the book, REMINISCHENCES OF GANDHIJI, published there. His chapter was entitled, "Mahatma Gandhi, My Host." Lady Mountbatten was also one of the contributors. En route home, Hujer delivered a message from Nehru to Albert Einstein at his home in Princeton, N.J.

In 1954, Hujer joined the Royal Astronomical Society of London in their successful expedition on the occasion of the total eclipse of the sun. Proceeding from London by evening boat, the group took a bus to their ultimate destination, Lysekil, Sweden.

On the bus, Sir Charles Darwin sat close to Dr. Hujer. who mentioned coming from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Sir Charles inquired, "How close is that to Dayton?" Hujer replied, "Some 20 miles." Sir Charles chuckled.

Beginning in 1956 and through the years, Dr. Hujer participated in and presented papers at many international science conferences. These included congresses of the International Union for the History and Philosopy of Science and symposia in Florence, Milan, Pisa, and Turin, Italy, covering the years 1956, 1961, 1964 and 1969. While in Italy in 1956, Hujer spent two weeks in Rome doing research at the Vatican Library. Congresses continued in Madrid and Barcelona, Spain in 1959; Oxford, England in 1961; Warsaw and Cracow, Poland in 1965; Paris in 1968; and Moscow in 1971. He attended the Kepler symposium in Leningrad that year, where he presented an invited paper.

In 1962, the International Union of the History and Philosophy of Science Congress was held at Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where a banquet was given in the Egyptian Museum, surrounded by Egyption mummies.

Dr. Hujer attended the International Astronomical Union in Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1967. In 1970, he was present at the 150th Anniversary of the Royal Astronomical Society in London, and in 1975, at the Tercentenary of the Royal Greenwich Observatory at Herstmonceux.

In retirement, from 1976 to 1988, Karel Hujer continued traveling in Europe, Canada and America. He lectured and published, and maintained a worldwide correspondence. His extensive travels and contacts contributed to the crystallization of his philosophy and the deepening of religious feeling. His prolonged stays behind the Iron Curtain were conducive to his energetic defense of the freedom of nations and individuals.

His experiences allowed him to observe human society from a universal point of view and, as an astronomer, with an awareness of world citizenship.

Dr. Hujer was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Royal Astronomical Society of London. He was a Member of eight scientific societies in America and Europe. He had chapters published in seven books and more than 40 scientific and philosophical papers published in America and Europe. Publications in various journals include The Astrophysical Journal, Isis, Journal of the History of Science, American Journal of Physics, Encyclopedia of Physics, Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Physis (France), International Review of the History of Science (published in Florence, Italy), International Archives of the History and Philosophy of Science (Paris), etc. Dr. Hujer was listed in American Men of Science, Who's Who in American Education, and Who's Who in America, also in the Blue Book, London, Leaders of the English Speaking World, London, England, etc.