The INSAP Conferences are a series of international meetings, held every three years or so, that explore the effect on humanity and human culture of the glorious spectacles we see in the sky by night and by day. To measure the power that our ever-changing sky has on us, try to imagine the poverty of our lives were we to live on a perpetually cloudy planet. But since we often take the sky and its effects for granted, bringing these effects out explicitly has been particularly productive.
The first INSAP meeting was based on four themes: the influence of astronomical phenomena on art, literature, myth and religion, and history. However, the definition and success of a meeting are determined as much by those who actually participate in the meeting as by the a priori plans. We have been most fortunate to have at the INSAP meetings an increasingly diverse group of attendees who brought with them a broader range of ideas, all still involving the basic theme of the meetings. Often the best ideas for presentations have taken the organizers by surprise. Later meetings have had a correspondingly broader range of topics. The common bond between attendees — coming from the full range of the humanities and the social and physical sciences — was that each had a strong interest in one aspect of the broad study, and each had something different to say about mankind’s long and deep fascination with the lights in the sky. This common interest was the bridge that led to many contacts, both formal and informal, during the meeting, and gave a common ground for discussion bounded by the reality of astronomy.
Although each presentation at the meetings usually lies within one discipline, the overall range of disciplines represented has made the meetings truly interdisciplinary in nature. The attendees have come from a broad range of studies and activities: astronomy, art and art history, social and political history, literature, music, mythology and religion, to name the main ones. INSAP has allowed people from all these lines of study to get together and share common interests, where before they were often the only ones in their immediate fields with this sometimes-odd interest in the astronomical aspects of their work. The publications resulting from the meetings (listed here) give an idea of the range of topics presented. They deserve a close reading, because the points made are varied and important.
The meetings do not exceed a hundred attendees, and have been structured to allow opportunities for both formal and informal exchanges of ideas. They have included a variety of invited and contributed talks and poster presentations. Some attendees are welcome to participate fully in the meetings as observers but not give formal presentations. We have been fortunate to hold the INSAP meetings in particularly appropriate places that have reinforced the collegial nature of the gatherings. One day is usually devoted to tours of nearby places of great interest. Several meetings have had original art work and music created for the occasion, and others have had exhibits of works by attending artists. A self-renewing International Executive Committee maintains continuity between meetings, and Local Organizing Committees handle the affairs of the meetings.
One note: The INSAP meetings have in general excluded material that falls principally in such sub disciplines of anthropology and archaeology as ethnoastronomy and archaeoastronomy. These subjects are better handled by other, more specialized meetings.