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Current Topic: History

1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created
Topic: History 6:48 am EST, Nov  9, 2011

Rivka Galchen:

The main way you move forward in science is by finding out you were wrong about what you thought you already knew.

Book TV:

Charles Mann, author of 1491, revisits the Americas a year after Christopher Columbus' arrival. The author reports on the European voyages that followed and the transportation of flora and fauna that reached portions of the globe it had never reached before, deemed the "Columbian Exchange." Mr. Mann recounts the economic and ecological impact of the Exchange. Charles Mann discusses his book with author Richard Rodriguez from the Los Angeles Public Library.

Charles C. Mann:

I felt alone and small, but in a way that was curiously like feeling exalted.

1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

US Presidential Speeches Tag Cloud
Topic: History 12:46 pm EST, Nov  4, 2006

An interesting way of watching the focus of history change.

US Presidential Speeches Tag Cloud

The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America
Topic: History 8:24 pm EDT, May 28, 2006

"They helped put an end to the idea that the universe is an idea, that beyond the mundane business of making our way as best we can in a world shot through with contingency, there exists some order, invisible to us, whose logic we transgress at our peril." Academic freedom and cultural pluralism are just two of their legacies, and they are linchpins of democracy in a nonideological age.

A hundred years from now, a great writer will produce a Pulitzer Prize winning book about the most significant debates in the intellectual sphere at the turn of the century. Bill Joy will figure in it, although he will end up looking a lot like Louis Agassiz. Francis Fukuyama will be there, too. He will fare better than Joy, but the lesson will be clear: you can change your mind about an idea, but it is considerably more difficult to reposition yourself in the social network. You can alienate former colleagues easily enough, but good luck trying to build support with your former opponents.

Oh, the irony. How naïve we were in the early days.

The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America

Volta: Science and Culture in the Age of Enlightenment
Topic: History 8:52 am EDT, Aug  8, 2005

Booklist review: In the life of the man whose study of an electric fish culminated in the invention of the voltaic battery, Italian historian Pancaldi limns an insightful chronicle of an individual genius riding global tides of cultural transformation. Though he allows Alessandro Volta his full human complexity--childhood speculations about the spiritual powers of animals, midlife romance with an opera singer--Pancaldi focuses chiefly on the episodes that transformed a precocious amateur into an internationally recognized authority on the strange phenomena of electricity. A key chapter particularly details the serendipitous 1796-99 experiments with torpedo fish that led to Volta's much-acclaimed invention of the battery. But even more illuminating than the explanation of Volta's laboratory research is Pancaldi's analysis of the rapidly changing milieu in which that research took place. For in that milieu, readers see a world just beginning to define the scientist as a lionized new social type, a world tentatively developing capacities for converting scientific breakthroughs into industrial technology. A fascinating mix of science and biography.

Volta: Science and Culture in the Age of Enlightenment

Hubris And Hybrids: A Cultural History of Technology And Science
Topic: History 8:46 am EDT, Aug  8, 2005

Human societies have not always taken on new technology in appropriate ways. Innovations are double-edged swords that transform relationships among people, as well as between human societies and the natural world. Only through successful cultural appropriation can we manage to control the hubris that is fundamental to the innovative, enterprising human spirit; and only by becoming hybrids, combining the human and the technological, will we be able to make effective use of our scientific and technological achievements.

This broad cultural history of technology and science provides a range of stories and reflections about the past, discussing areas such as film, industrial design, and alternative environmental technologies, and including not only European and North American, but also Asian examples, to help resolve the contradictions of contemporary high-tech civilization.

"Hubris and Hybrids is an extremely important book for opening the debate on technology, democracy, science and society, knowledge and responsibility in a period when technology and science are reengineering the earth and our lives."

"Hubris and Hybrids subverts the varied ‘grand narratives’ commonly told about modern technology and science. Hård and Jamison offer an alternative set of well-crafted ‘small narratives’—ranging widely from Denmark to Detroit and from Czechoslovakia to China. These new stories of science and social movements, machine-breaking environmentalism, and the politics of development lay the groundwork for a bold and much needed cultural assessment of technology and science."

Hubris And Hybrids: A Cultural History of Technology And Science

Fool's Paradise: The Unreal World of Pop Psychology
Topic: History 8:44 am EDT, Aug  8, 2005

Where did pop physchology come from, and what are its promises-and fallacies? How is it that we have elevated people like Phil McGraw, Theodore Rubin and Wayne Dyer. Stewart Justman traces the inspiration of the pop psychology movement to the utopianism of the 1960s and argues that is consistantly misuses the rhetoric that grew out of the civil rights movement.

Through the channels of the mass media, celebrity psychologists urge us to realize that society has robbed us of our authentic selves. That every moral standard or prohibition imposes on our selfhoods. That what we have inherited from the past is false. That we ourselves are the only truth in a world of lies. That we must challenge "virtually everything." That we must "wipe the slate clean and start over." Each of these "principles" is a commonplace of pop psychology, and each has almost unimaginably radical implications. Where did pop psychology come from, and what are its promises—and fallacies? How is it that we have elevated people like Phil McGraw, Theodore Rubin, Wayne Dyer, M. Scott Peck, Thomas Harris, John Gray, and many other self-help gurus to priestly status in American culture?

In Fool's Paradise, the award-winning essayist Stewart Justman traces the inspiration of the pop psychology movement to the utopianism of the 1960s and argues that it consistently misuses the rhetoric that grew out of the civil rights movement. Speaking as it does in the name of our right to happiness, pop psychology promises liberation from all that interferes with our power to create the selves we want. In so doing, Mr. Justman writes, it not only defies reality but corrodes the traditions and attachments that give depth and richness to human life. His witty and astringent appraisal of the world of pop psychology, which quotes liberally from the most popular sources of advice, is an essential social corrective as well as a vastly entertaining and stimulating book.

Fool's Paradise: The Unreal World of Pop Psychology

China, the World's Capital
Topic: History 12:25 pm EDT, May 22, 2005

As the world's only superpower, America may look today as if global domination is an entitlement. But if you look back at the sweep of history, it's striking how fleeting supremacy is, particularly for individual cities.

Nicholas Kristof must have read Jared Diamond's "Collapse."

What lessons can New York learn from its predecessors?

One lesson is the importance of sustaining a technological edge and sound economic policies.

A second lesson is the danger of hubris.

China, the World's Capital

Seeing the Unseen
Topic: History 9:19 am EST, Feb 15, 2005

Freeman Dyson reviews two new books for The New York Review of Books.

I will probably never read the two books Dyson has reviewed here, but reading this article reminds me of Dyson's own books. I wish he was still writing books of his own.

The twenty years between 1909 and 1929 were the era of table-top nuclear physics. Experiments were small enough to fit onto the tops of tables. Small and simple experiments were sufficient to establish the basic laws of nuclear physics.

Rutherford was maintaining the culture of nineteenth-century gentlemen-scientists, who were supposed to pursue scholarly leisure-time activities in addition to their science.

On the morning of April 13, 1932, the era of table-top nuclear physics ended and the era of big machines and big projects began.

Seeing the Unseen

China Hands: Nine Decades of Adventure, Espionage, and Diplomacy in Asia
Topic: History 2:20 pm EST, Nov 25, 2004

China Hands is a fascinating memoir of America in Asia, Asia itself, and one especially capable American's personal history.

James Lilley served for twenty-five years in the CIA in Laos, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Taiwan before moving to the State Department in the early 1980s to begin a distinguished career as the US's top-ranking diplomat in Taiwan, ambassador to South Korea, and finally, ambassador to China. From helping Laotian insurgent forces assist the American efforts in Vietnam to his posting in Beijing during the Tiananmen Square crackdown, he was in a remarkable number of crucial places during challenging times as he spent his life tending to America's interests in Asia.

China Hands: Nine Decades of Adventure, Espionage, and Diplomacy in Asia

Oral Histories at the IEEE History Center
Topic: History 5:43 pm EDT, Aug 21, 2004

Oral histories held by the IEEE History Center are available here -- this site is a great resource.

Here are a few of the names you might recognize: Paul Baran, Leo Beranek, Vinton Cerf, Ivan Getting, Bob Lucky, Arno Penzias, John Pierce, Simon Ramo, Eberhardt Rechtin, Andrew Viterbi, Jerome Wiesner, Vladimir Zworykin.

Oral Histories at the IEEE History Center

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