In his lecture “Laws of nature, historical contingency, and the wolves and moose of Isle Royale,” Dr. John A. Vucetich seeks to explain a new approach to the study of ecology that he uses with the Isle Royale Wolf-Moose Project, which is the largest, continuously running predator/prey study in the world. In his study of population dynamics on the island, he believes that unlike other scientific fields, like chemistry or physics, ecology is not strictly law-based. Instead it is better studied like other historical events. He refers to this as historical contingency and he defines his process in two parts. This process explains population dynamics through a series of disparate random events, each of which has a legacy that has effects comparable in length to the waiting time in between these events. Each candidate event is crucial to understanding the predator/prey relationship on Isle Royale and more specifically the predation rate of the moose. Such candidate events in his analysis include novel disease, catastrophic winter, genetic rescue by introducing new wolves to the island, and the end of positive effects from the genetic rescue. Periods in between these candidate events are characterized as either top-down or bottom-up. It is these individual events that can be quantifiably explained and then compared to the laws of nature. Continue reading →
With summer drawing to a close, I took the opportunity to ride the Amtrak Coast Starlight from Albany, Oregon to Union Station in Los Angeles. I’d never taken the train for such a long trip, 28 hours each way. On such a long trip landscapes pass by, fixed in their space but transient in the rider’s experience. Each moment on the train creates a snapshot of the land. Being a rider is significantly different than being a driver on the interstate – not having to worry about truck traffic frees the mind to wander. As my mind wandered, four snapshots of human interaction with the passing terrain leapt out at me.
The trip starts in Albany, Oregon. Seat of Linn County (‘The Grass Seed Capital of the World’), Albany quickly gives way to the rural Willamette Valley. Sheep, hay, and grass seed accompany the rider all the way to Eugene. In Oregon’s third city the tracks turn southeast to climb the Cascades through the Willamette and Deschutes National Forests. The transition from an agricultural landscape to a logging landscape is abrupt. Evergreen stands of varying ages blanket the landscape along with clearcuts and a web of logging roads. The Willamette played a part in the bitter spotted owl and old growth forest controversies. But, to a layman’s eyes on the train, the forest looks like a forest, not an historically controversial landscape. In this case, the train delves into the depths of environmental conflict but also shrouds it with the trappings of a scenic landscape. One hundred years ago, Einstein used the train to teach physicists the hidden truths of relativity. Today, as the train runs through the forest, it teaches us the often hidden truth that aesthetic beauty can obscure the extent of human alteration to an ecosystem. Continue reading →
What images does wilderness evoke? For many, wilderness means pristine landscapes, scenic vistas, quietude, and wide open spaces. Many Americans may be surprised to know that, legally, wilderness has only been enshrined as a public reality for 50 years. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act, surrounded by an unlikely coalition of elected officials and preservationists. To celebrate the Wilderness Act’s 50th anniversary, Oregon State University’s Spring Creek Project hosted a panel discussion on 2 May to consider the Act’s genesis, life, and future.
Dr. Jacob Hamblin discussed important environmental moments leading up to the act. He particularly singled out public outcry over the Bureau of Reclamation’s Echo Park Project. The Bureau planned to build a series of dams along the Colorado, including within Grand Canyon National Park. Hamblin argued that potential incursions into ‘protected’ federal lands raised popular environmental consciousness and incentivized politicians to support preservation measures. With this background in mind, he asked the question “Is it possible to have a community of sincerity without common purpose?” That the Wilderness Act passed, with a variety of definitions for ‘wilderness’ built into its text, seems to indicate that such a community did in fact coalesce in the early 1960’s. Continue reading →
On Thursday November 21, Oregon State’s School of History, Philosophy, and Religion was privileged to welcome esteemed scholar of American religious history Jon Butler as part of the Horning Lecture Series. His presentation God in Gotham is an interesting re-interpretation of the relationship between religious and secular aspects of life in New York City between the 1880s and 1960s. He provides a variety of evidence to upturn the common idea of New York City’s standing as the capital of American secularism–from the culture of various religious communities, changes in immigration patterns, to the prominence of well-known religious architecture within the city.
New York City is a critical example of a fundamental problem that Dr. Butler sees in interpreting the history of religion. How do we draw strict lines between what is a secular age and what is a religious age? To argue against the notion that the world of religion has fallen to secular society, Dr. Butler first re-evaluates the state of harmony that we often see when Western religious influence was at its peak-the medieval period. According to Dr. Butler, there has never been a point in history where religion was not a disputed issue. The total unity of ideas within medieval society is a myth.
Last Tuesday the Horning Lecture Series was pleased to present James Moore’s engrossing lecture on Darwin’s Sacred Cause. Moore, along with Adrian Desmond, penned one of the classic biographies of Darwin (1991’s Darwin). As Moore related in his opening remarks on Tuesday, when the two had finished with Darwin, they were left with a nagging question: Given Darwin’s reclusive, gentlemanly, and non-confrontational personality, what could possibly have motivated him to produce and publish a theory so guaranteed to bring conflict down upon his head? In his talk on Tuesday, Moore presented his answer, explained in rich detail in Moore and Desmond’s Darwin’s Sacred Cause (2009).
“Why did Darwin risk his reputation to promote an heretical theory?”
Moore argues that it was Darwin’s hatred of the institution of slavery, instilled in him from early childhood that provided the motivating passion behind the scientific breakthrough. Through expert use of textual and visual materials, Moore led the audience through a brief overview of Darwin’s progress toward his theories of evolution through natural selection and the descent of man and sexual selection from the point of view of his connections to the world of anti-slavery activism.
As a self-professed library nerd, I was excited to attend Robert Fox’s lecture, Mapping the Universe of Knowledge, on Monday, May 6, 2013. The lecture focused on work of Paul Otlet, Henri La Fontaine, and Hendrick Christian Andersen and their vision for a world united by knowledge. Robert Fox is professor emeritus from Oxford University and currently visiting Oregon State University as this year’s Horning Visiting Scholar. Monday’s lecture was the first installment in his three part series of lectures entitled, Science International: Universalism and National Interest in the Industrial Age.
Having spent most of my life in the age of Google, I think that it is easy to take Otlet’s vision for the Bibliographic Institute founded in Brussels in 1895 for granted. But, his incredibly detailed Universal Bibliographic Repertory (a variation of the Dewey Decimal System) and the over 15 million entries in his card catalogue represent a vision which extended far beyond his ordered library shelves. As Fox argues, Continue reading →
Words are potent. Words can awaken memories, stir emotions and quiet the mind. Words have been used in the creation of groundswells that burst forth to bring down stalwart walls of injustice as well as to buttress vast empires: Word-for-word, Brick-by-brick. In her lecture, Dr. Nicole Archambeau examined the concept of the voice as a relic. How ‘mere words’ of admittedly melodic meter, manifested within the human body, and alleviated physiological and psychological distress during an era rife with mercenary invasions that razed fifteen cities, populations forced to languish under waves of plague and that eventually saw the erosion of the Treaty of Brétigny and the continuation of the Hundred Years’ War.
After parsing through medieval canonization inquests and Articles of Interrogation in order to divine how people foresaw and negotiated the curative continuum from medico to physico in their attempt to heal and restore the spirit, Dr. Archambeau chose the life of Delphine of Glandèves, more commonly known as the Blessed Delphine, as a paragon of 14th century healing pluralities. Delphine was a countess who was alleged to have the ability to mediate miracles through the melodic meter of her voice. As a miracle mediator, Delphine offered a distinctive healing option from the ‘despairing doctor trope’ that did not sanction the giving of false hope to those suffering from illness. The wife of newly canonized Saint Elzéar of Sabran, Delphine was not a doctrinaire and did not tout that she possessed any medicinal knowledge. Nevertheless, during her canonization inquest, Master Durand Andre testified that through her voice, Delphine touched him from the inside and he felt contrition, compunction and consolation. As Archambeau articulated in her lecture, witnesses for Delphine’s candidacy for canonization related to the papal court that Delphine ministered miraculous healing that actively managed the care of their soul, a vital part of personal health. Continue reading →
“The Newton Project” is the name of a non-profit organization which builds up this website. The primary goal of this website is to digitize and publish on-line all Newton’s writings from 1642 to 1727. As of today, the outcome of the goal has been over 5.2 million transcribed words online! The project started in 1998 and was housed at Imperial College London. It secured funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Board in UK. It is entirely surprising to find out what a variety of primary sources about Newton this website has put together, which include Newton’s own various notes and letters, scientific or religious, and his friends or rivals’ accounts of him.
It is no doubt that such a website is of enormous research value for historians as it removes the big hassle of reading Newton’s difficult handwritings. The website is just like a vast, handy digital archive. But what gets me really excited about this website is the easy access it provides to the public to get a closer look at the almost symbolic figure of Newton. I would like to assume the design of “Take A Tour” on the home page gives the public a chance to take a quick view of a multi-dimension Newton, a real Newton who they do not get to know before. For example, I was fascinated by the biographical accounts written by Newton’s good friends John Conduitt and William Stukeley, and his Royal Society colleague and competitor John Flamsteed. These texts give me a new perspective to approach Newton as a person less mysterious. In addition, things like Jean-Baptiste Biot’s biography of Newton and Newton’s own letter to John Locke add to a richer understanding of this legendary genius. Continue reading →
Congratulations to Ph.D. student Linda Richards, who has published an article in Peace and Change: A Journal of Peace Research! The title is “Fallout Suits and Human Rights: Disrupting the Technocratic Narrative,” and it challenges the way we think about radiation effects historically. As she writes, “the topic of radiation exposure is a disputed maze of scientific discrepancy and historical incongruity.”
Linda shows us how we can begin to navigate this maze and frame the story differently: instead of relying solely on the pronouncements of scientists and government experts, we can try to understand radiation effects as an important lens for seeing the international human rights movement. The article itself follows the Paulings’ attempts to the sue the U.S. government for radiation effects due to nuclear testing. Linda shows how these “fallout suits” reveal differences between scientific evidence and government pronouncements. Like a photograph, she writes, the fallout suits provide a snapshot of a crucial moment in time when protecting against nuclear threats became not just a scientific subject, but a human right issue.
Linda has been able to travel to multiple archives in her dissertation research, including the National Archives, Chemical Heritage Foundation, and even the archives of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. This paper makes heavy use of archives closer to home, highlighting some of OSU’s valuable collections, especially the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling collections right here on campus.
We are all so delighted that Linda Richards is helping to raise the profile of this topic, these archives, and this university!
OSU’s History of Science Program congratulates three of our graduate student veterans this term, as they advanced to candidacy during Week 10. They now have the vaunted status of “ABD,” which either means “all but dissertation” or “anything but dissertation,” depending on how you look at it It was a pleasure to be part of the process getting them to this stage, and now all three have launched into intensive research:
Rachel Blake is working on the history of science and medicine, under Prof. Michael A. Osborne. Her dissertation will be on French and German influences on medical education in Alsace in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Barbara Canavan is working on the history of science, disease, and environment, under the supervision of Prof. Anita Guerrini. Her dissertation will be on the development of virology as a discipline, and on the networks of scientists who attempted to understand avian influenza.
Laura Cray is working on the history of biology and environment, under the supervision of Prof. Michael A. Osborne. Her dissertation will be on entomological research in the United States after the creation of land-grant colleges.
Congrats to all three, and to Professors Osborne and Guerrini, for their hard work in graduate supervision.
This blog keeps track of recent activities among faculty and students in Oregon State's unique program in History of Science. We have numerous course offerings for undergraduates, and we offer opportunities to pursue Master's and Doctoral degrees. Have fun reading!