Saturday, December 17, 2011

Teaching Farmers to Be Men

It may be apocryphal, but Liberty Hyde Bailey (one of my heros) once explained that he did not teach "men to be farmers" in his horticulture courses at Michigan Agricultural College in the 1880s; he taught "farmers to be men."

That quote came to mind when I read over this profile of Benjamin Cohen's approach to teaching Engineering Studies at Lafayette: "Cohen sees a bright future for the engineering studies program. He and his colleagues are looking to enhance what he calls the 'hard skills' like political philosophy, historical context, cultural familiarity, communication, and environmental knowledge to help students become leaders of creative innovation and design. These skills can encourage a better awareness of what Byatt meant by a world 'full of life and light.'"

Cohen recently published Notes from the Ground, on early American ag science and is now at work on a book recounting the history of food adulteration and purity.

Looking at Science

I don't spend much time thinking about science and images, but I know I should spend more. Two pieces of evidence.

1) This collection of atlases: "Places and Spaces: Mapping Science" --- I suppose these are the sort of things that Daston and Galison analyzed in Objectivity, but with a bit more reflexivity (since many seem to be science studies-oriented; also, that rhymed). Unfortunately, the Web version doesn't allow for close up looks of intriguing maps like this and this.

2) A recent CFP from the University of Rochester for "Image, Truth, and Distortion," a grad conference:
"The term “image” is broadly construed: images from any time period and of every variety from political cartoons to frescoes to digital photography, as well as literary, biographical, metaphorical or mental images, are acceptable subjects of investigation.  Ideal submissions should explore the ways in which images have been used throughout history to reflect, refract, or even reinvent truth in regards to people, events, ideas, movements, cultures, or time periods, as well as how these images  have been embraced or contested."

Those of you who work more with images, maybe you can figure out something to do with these digitized exhibit guides from the gilded age. They seem useful, and yet...

Monday, December 12, 2011

Save the Date for the 47th Joint Atlantic Seminar for the History of Biology

The 47th Joint Atlantic Seminar for the History of Biology will be held at the University of Pennsylvania, beginning with an opening reception and plenary the evening of Friday April 20th, followed by the presentation of papers, a faculty panel, and a dinner on Saturday April 21st.

Events will primarily take place in Claudia Cohen Hall, located at 249 South 36th Street, between Spruce Street and Locust Walk, on the University of Pennsylvania campus in Philadelphia.

Abstracts (200 words) of papers submitted for presentation are due by Wednesday February 1st, 2012 at 5pm, and can be emailed to Andy Hogan at: . Decisions on submitted abstracts will be made as soon as possible, and the chosen presenters will be informed on or about March 1st.

Some travel support is available for graduate student presenters.

Hope to see you there!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Science and The New Inquiry

A few weeks ago, a piece in the NYT Style Section called "New York's Literary Cubs" was making the rounds. It profiled The New Inquiry ("a scrappy online journal and roving clubhouse that functions as an Intellectuals Anonymous of sorts"), whose founders were after "a kind of literary salon reminiscent of the Lost Generation of the 1920s."

The story went viral thanks in large part to Gawker, who used it as evidence for "Why You Should Never Be Profiled by The New York Times Style Section." Their argument? While "[f]or hundreds of years, unbearable young people have tried to hang out with other unbearable young people," these young people were capitalized upon by the Times.

I'll leave their (fun) "Two Audience" theory of the Style Section (hint: the writing is purposefully annoying) to them. Instead, I want to explore the gap between "literary salons" ("Moveable Feast-type stuff") and the earlier philosophical clubs I'd been reading about for a chapter on pragmatism and psychology.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Mergers & Bailouts in American History

Elizabeth Warren

As some of you know, I am very interested in the various occupy movements that, until recently, were going on all over the country. (Occupy Boston remains in place, as does, by the way, Occupy Harvard.) I sympathize with the general feeling of frustration, and I think it's worth trying to figure out how to express some of those sentiments in a more rigorous way.

Elizabeth Warren, who is currently running for Senate in Massachusetts, must be one of the smartest people in politics. I recently watched a clip of an interview she did with Charlie Rose in which she makes a very compelling argument that's worth thinking about in historical perspective.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pre-science/Prescience and the History of the Future

Just a quick post to direct our readers' attention to this week's themed issue of the New York Times "Science Times" on "The Future of Computing." There are some cool interactive features and a series of interesting profiles on computing visionaries. Given recent posts on scientists and cinema and science and literature, I wanted to highlight this interview with SF author Neal Stephenson. I must confess to not being a huge fan of his prose, but I have recently developed significant academic interest in how science fiction colonizes the future.

A big part of history of science as a discipline involves paying attention to how people have envisioned the future and how that vision was received. Why not start bringing more attention to science fiction into that endeavor? There's a reason that the word for having knowledge of things before they happen is "prescience."

Someone who is giving this a lot of attention is Patrick McCray. He'll be speaking on the subject of "Visioneering" at UPenn's Department of History and Sociology of Science colloquium this coming Monday.

Anyone out there got some thoughts on the history of the future?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Asbestos, and Pesticides, and Web-links, Oh My!

I've recently happened upon a couple different attempts to recreate the history of two sci-enviro-tech villains of the late twentieth century. Each, I think has its merits for passive amusement or even as a teaching tool---although I've yet to try either out with students.

First, consider the history of Asbestos, Quebec, as told through the eyes of the world's largest Asbestos mine, in graphical form. With pleasant drawings and nice-enough background theme, this graphic novel emphasizes the rise and fall of an industrial town, with plenty of pathos, and approaching the right sort of ambivalence about the fire-proofing material (I'm reminded of Don Worster's mantra from Rivers of Empire: "How in the remaking of nature, do we remake ourselves?"---How in the eradication of fire, do we poison ourselves?) There's also an affiliated documentary about the town of Asbestos from the Network in Canadian History and Environment.

DDT gets a similarly inventive treatment, but with much more science, thanks to the University of Minnesota's "SHIPS" resource center. Among the simulation modules (targeted at high school science students, but fun for all, if you ask me), is one focused on the 1963 Advisory Committee on Pesticides, a panel brought into the world by President Kennedy in response to Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. My favorite part: you can pick a person who testified to the committee to play act (I think I smell a new party game here). I'd go as George Wallace personally (not that George Wallace)---I long ago wrote an undergrad thesis about his DDT work at Michigan State. But LaMont Cole looks pretty good too (I'd never read his "Impending Emergence of Ecological Thought" essay from 1964. It's available on the site.)