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Press and Pop Culture

Alice Bell on Brecht’s Life of Galileo

Our scientist is an anti-hero not just for dramatic reasons or historical accuracy, but because Brecht wants to argue for collective rather than individual agency when it comes to understanding our world and working out how to make it better. The rallying cry of this play is to build a science and technology for the […]

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Historical Expertise

Perry Anderson on Carlo Ginzburg

Marc Bloch, in the spirit of the Annales, had rejected the intrusion of judicial models into history, as encouraging not only concern with famous persons rather than collective structures, but moralising treatments of them. Perry Anderson’s “The Force of Anomaly” is both a review of Carlo Ginzburg’s Threads and Traces: True False Fictive and a […]

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History

Marketing Science and Math Textbooks, ca. 1892

Today we get emails asking us if we have selected texts for next semester’s course, peppered with suggestions of texts for courses we might be teaching. I long for the days textbook publishers sent yearly calendars advertising their wares. Not only did you end up with something aesthetically pleasant that you could hang on your […]

Categories
Historical Expertise

History is Always Advocacy

In the comments to the post Gopnik on Galileo people have raised some good points that warrant further reflection. I want to begin by underscoring my point in that post: Gopnik repeats a number of problematic historical tropes. Historians of science have for years refuted those tropes, revealing how and why they are fallacious. Despite […]

Categories
Academia

How to Peruse a Book

Long after he had earned tenure and had established his place at the university, our historian of science continued consuming books as he had as an undergraduate. In the summer of ’73 he took with him on vacation his copy of C. Truesdell’s The Rational Mechanics of Flexible or Elastic Bodies, an introduction to Leonhard […]

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History

Meteorites and Comets in Pre-Modern Europe

Today’s many news reports on the meteor that crashed to earth in Russia reminds us that comets, meteors, stones falling from the sky, and other blazing stars have long fascinated people. This morning’s meteorite attracted all the more media attention because it was unexpected. In a world where all meteors and comets were unexpected, they […]

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Teaching

STS in the Liberal Arts, A Workshop

In April I am participating in “Science and Technology Studies (STS) in the Liberal Arts,” a conference on the role, if any, of STS in an undergraduate liberal arts curriculum. While some of the themes are pragmatic, the goal of the conference is to bring together faculty from liberal arts colleges across the country to […]

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Literature & Scholarship

Bylica the Astrologer

One night at his dacha, Stalin looked up from his meal of bread, sausage, and smoked carp to consider a matter of celestial importance. With him in the study were Comrades Kaganovich and Molotov, who stood at the far window arguing about a constellation. The one said it was Cassiopeia, the other Orion. Stalin wiped […]

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Press and Pop Culture

American Pharmaceutical Association Plaque

This plaque commemorates a rather boring looking spot on 7th Street just off Market, marking another significant location in Philadelphia’s rich history of science (a few blocks away is the Caspar Wistar plaque). Apparently, “nearby” was a building where pharmacists from eight states met to create the American Pharmaceutical Association. What, exactly, is this plaque […]

Categories
History

Forms of Divination in Early Modern Europe

St. Augustine rarely passed up an opportunity to condemn divinatory practices. We commonly recall Augustine’s condemnation of astrology where he invoked the example of twins who have experienced radically different lives or suffered from different illnesses (see City of God, book V). But he didn’t shy away from condemning other mantic practices, as in the […]