Sounds Made Up: (True) Tales from the History of Science—April 27

I am once again working with Secret Pants, a local group of comedians, to put together a show that takes a lighthearted look at episodes from the history of science. This year I will be talking about 17th-century extraterrestrials. Three other historians—returning again are Elly Truitt, and Mike Yudell, and newcomer Audra Wolfe—will pair up with other comedians for a two hours of fun. Sounds Made Up has become one of the most popular parts of the Philadelphia Science Festival. Buy your tickets here and come learn a little about the history of science and have a good laugh at the same time.

Scientiae 2014—April 23-25

I will be speaking at the Scientiae 2014—Disciplines of Knowing in the Early Modern World on science, propaganda, and state craft in the Holy Roman Empire.

Recent Appearances

A Biography of Humoral Medicine

As part of a mini-course on the history of medicine, I spoke to middle school students about the theory of humoral medicine from antiquity through Benjamin Rush. We talked about what the humors were and how they seemed to be related to certain season, how physicians tried to regulate the humors through diet and activity, how physicians resorted to more interventionist techniques such as purgatives and the ever popular bleeding, and how bleeding patients was perfectly reasonable in this context. The students got a chance to read and wonder at clinical observations from the medieval world. All this was in preparation for a visit to the Mütter Museum.

The Black Death

I had the opportunity to speak to a local 6th-grade about the black death—its purported origin, spread, and guesstimated mortalities. The best part was giving them a chance to hear contemporary accounts about the advent, spread, treatment, and prophylactics measures. I used the occasion to make a short movie illustrating the spread of the plague from 1346 until 1351 (see here). They asked some great questions about how and why it began, how we know, why it spread so quickly, and why it died out.

Byzantium: The Other East

In November I participated in an excellent panel on “Re-Thinking Medieval and Early Modern Science” at the History of Science Society annual meeting. I spoke on Byzantine science, which does not fit neatly into our standard histories of science. To the extent that we recognize any Byzantine science, it is neither properly “east” nor properly “medieval.” Moreover, Byzantine scholars were not particularly innovative, preferring to comment on Plato an Aristotle in archaic Greek. Beyond preserving various classical texts, they contributed little to the development of science. We too readily dismiss Byzantine science because it does not contribute to scientific progress. I suggested that we should take Byzantine science more seriously. If we see the production of scientific knowledge as a culturally meaningful activity, Byzantine science is interesting precisely because its relevance does not derive from technical innovation or scientific progress.

Philadelphia Science Festival: “Sounds Made Up: Tales from the History of Science”

I once again had the opportunity to take part in the Philadelphia Science Festival’s program that pairs local historians of science with local comedian. As with previous shows, we once again had a great time dragging history of science into a new forum and bringing it to a broader audience.

STS in the Liberal Arts

Last April I spoke at and participated in a workshop at Vassar College that explores pedagogical and curricular issues related to teaching science and technology studies at liberal arts colleges. Some of the questions and issues we will be addressing are listed in this post.

The State of Scholarship on Medieval Science

At the DVMA’s 30th Anniversary event last spring at Penn I spoke on trends and developments in the scholarship on medieval science.

Astrology, Kingship, and Scientific Advisors in Fifteenth-Century Hungary

In December I spoke to a great audience of former scientists, academics, and interested people at The Quadrangle, a local senior community. Using astrology in Renaissance Hungary as an example, I outlined how Matthias Corvinus, the Hungarian King, used his patronage of astrology and astrologers as a mechanism for asserting his authority and shoring up his right to rule. In this we see, I argued, an early example of a prince publicly relying on scientific advisors to accomplish his political and dynastic goals.

Maximilian I—The Last Medieval Knight, Then and Now

In September I spoke at the Biennial Meeting of the BABEL Working Group as part of a panel that explores medievalisms in scholarship and popular culture. I want to show how and why Emperor Maximilian I is considered simultaneously the last medieval knight and the first renaissance man. In particular, I will link these seemingly contradictory identities to nationalist myths and traditional historiographies. For more on this conference, see 2012 Meeting

History of Museums—Wagner Free Institute of Science

On 9 May I am spoke at the Wagner Free Institute of Science to a class from Drexel University on the history of museums and collecting. The Wagner is a great place to talk about museums, collections, and display (and the gerunds: collecting and displaying). It celebrates itself as a museum of a museum. It’s main gallery is still laid out much as Joseph Leidy arranged it in the late 19th century. See Speaking at the Wagner for thoughts from the event.

Life, Sex, Death and Food: A Historical Look at the Science That Drives Us

On 26 April 2012 I spoke at the Philadelphia Science Festival. Once again, historians of science were paired with comedians from the Philadelphia Improv Theater to explore in a humorous and serious way episodes from past science. I spoke about a woman who in 1569 gave birth to a cat. For more information and tickets, see here.

Politics as Astrological Expertise in Renaissance Hungary

On 23 March 2012 I will speak at the Renaissance Society of America annual conference on how politics shaped scientific knowledge in Renaissance Hungary. By examining how and why the Hungarian King Matthias Corvinus enlisted scientific authority, we can see how the exercise of political authority establishes scientific authority and, in turn, how scientific authority is used to legitimate political authority.

Empiricism, Prediction, and Instruments: The Creation of Expertise in 14th-Century Constantinople

On 19 March 2012 I spoke at Penn on technical expertise in Byzantine politics. This presentation examines how Nikephoros Gregoras constructed his technical expertise and how he defended it against competing claims to expert knowledge.

“What is an Astrolabe and How is it used?”

On 27 February 2012 I spoke to 4th graders at Friends’ Central School on astrolabes, scientific instruments, and the history of science more broadly. See “Taking the History of Science to ‘Them’” for why I feel this outreach is so important.