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Reflection: Digital Newton Project

March 8th, 2013
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    Godfrey Kneller’s 1689 portrait of Isaac Newton

    By Jindan Chen*

    Before going to Rob Iliffe’s talk on The Newton’s Project on February 28th, I skimmed through this incredibly comprehensive website about Isaac Newton. Absolutely, it is an exciting on-line read.

    “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. Read the rest of this entry »

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      History of Science Off the Beaten Path

      January 31st, 2013
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        Melinda Gormley, who received her Ph.D. from OSU’s History of Science program (in 2007), has written an excellent piece in the latest newsletter of the History of Science Society.  In “Reaching Beyond the Discipline,” she discusses the narrow confines of our expectations and points the array of options for students in our fields.  And she should know: she is currently working at the University of Notre Dame as Assistant Director for Research of the Reilly Center for Science, Technology, and Values.  The thoughtful essay is food for thought for anyone pursuing a degree in History of Science.

        Here’s a link to the full article on the HSS website


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          Linda Richards Disrupts the Technocratic Narrative

          January 29th, 2013
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            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!

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              Ecology in OSU’s Hidden Forest

              January 2nd, 2013
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                by James H. Capshew*

                I started reading The Hidden Forest by Jon Luoma in December. Subtitled The Biography of an Ecosystem, the book details the history of the 16,000-acre H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest and the scientists who have worked there, uncovering the roles of soils, organisms, natural events, and human impacts on a complex forest ecosystem. Set aside in 1948 as a living laboratory, Andrews is on the western side of the Cascade Range, and is administered jointly by the U.S. Forest Service and Oregon State University. It became a charter member of the National Science Foundation’s Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) Program in 1980, a network of two-dozen sites around the country.

                During the winter break, I made arrangements to stay overnight at the Andrews forest. Although the research facility is open year-round, heavy snowfalls in the winter months close many of the access roads. There was about a foot of accumulated snow on the ground when I went, but the road was clear to facility. When I got out of my car, the sound of rushing water, peaceful yet exciting, filled the air. The music of Lookout Creek was to be my constant companion for my stay. I meet the facilities manager, who checked me into my simple apartment, and the caretaker. When the two of them left at 5:00pm, I was alone in the woods.  I busied myself with some short hikes, cooking soup for my evening meal, and reading The Hidden Forest.

                My reading, augmented by my first experience in the Andrews forest, compelled me to write about this wonderful Oregon State treasure. The research done at Andrews Experimental Forest led to some significant insights in forest ecology as well as providing evidence for the revision of timber management policies and practices. The eruption of Mount St. Helens, the spotted owl controversy, and the teeming life in the soil of old-growth forests are among the highlights of this absorbing study. It suggests many paper and dissertation topics.


                *James H. Capshew is Gordon/Horning Visiting Fellow at the Center for the Humanities, Oregon State University.

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                  New History of Science ABDs

                  December 10th, 2012
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                    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.

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                      Reflection: Bolzano and Brentano

                      October 25th, 2012
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                        Franz Brentano

                        by Andre Hahn*

                        On October 17, Professor David Luft gave a lecture entitled “Philosophy and Science in Nineteenth-Century Austria: Bernard Bolzano (1781-1848) and Franz Brentano (1838-1917).”  The theme of Professor Luft’s talk was to give Bolzano and Brentano more credit and attention than they normally receive among English speaking historians and philosophers.  Bolzano warrants such attention because his analytic methods end up indirectly influencing Anglo-American philosophers in the twentieth century, while Brentano inaugurated the other major twentieth century philosophical tradition of Continental philosophy by establishing phenomenology. Read the rest of this entry »

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                          Reflection: Bristlecone Pines Between History and Imagination

                          October 16th, 2012
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                            by Laura Cray*

                            On October 14, James Capshew invited his audience at the Autzen House Center for the Humanities to stop and smell the pine cones—or at least contemplate their place in the human understanding of time.  His lecture entitled, “The Fascinations of Age: Bristlecone Pines Between History and Imagination,” explored Capshew’s most recent research into the history of dendrochronology and the lure of the bristle cone pine in the imaginations of scientists and artists alike. Read the rest of this entry »

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                              A Chronicle of the School Cafeteria

                              October 1st, 2012
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                                by Tracy Jamison*


                                 “There ain’t no such thing as free lunch…”

                                 Economics in eight words, El Paso Herald-Post (June 27, 1938)

                                 Recently, when the first lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the new school lunch nutrition guidelines, there were some critiques that the current administration had overstepped their bounds and become the “Food Police”. Political pundits decried that this was just the latest example of big government run amok, impenitently imposing their authoritarian legislation. Why is the government dictating or supplementing childhood nutrition? A few of these pundits have offered a modest proposal: If the working poor cannot afford to feed their children nutritious foods, perhaps it will spur them to find better jobs. Thankfully, the leadership of this country has yet to accept their solution to eliminate childhood hunger. Read the rest of this entry »

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                                  Reflection: Lutherans’ Reading of Copernicus

                                  September 18th, 2012
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                                    Rheticus, 1514-1574

                                    by Jindan Chen*

                                    Following the study in my spring course of Science and Religion, I spent part of my summer researching how the Copernican theory was first read by the Lutheran scholars at the University of Wittenberg (the University of Martin Luther) during the sixteenth century. Robert Westman’s 1973 article captures the nature of this reading which he terms “the Wittenberg interpretation”. The hallmark of the interpretation is the divided treatment of the mathematical model and the cosmological claim of the Copernican theory. The mathematical part is diligently studied and genuinely admired by Lutherans and applied to produce a number of greatly-improved astronomical tables, whereas the cosmological part, which says the sun lies in the center of the universe, is almost completely neglected. The question here that engages my attention is why the first reading of the Copernican theory fails to be a realistic interpretation.  In other words, does the fact that a full acceptance is delayed mean the religious values are preventing science from moving forward, which is an unambiguously claimed view in Andrew White’s well-known doctoral thesis?  Read the rest of this entry »

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                                      Reflections on the Oregon Tribal Archives Institute

                                      September 11th, 2012
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                                        Laura Cray at the opening dinner for the Oregon Tribal Archives Institute, August 19, 2012.

                                        by Laura Cray

                                        As a graduate student, I find myself in archival reading rooms with increasing frequency. This summer, however, I jumped the reference desk and worked behind the scenes helping to coordinate the Oregon Tribal Archives Institute. The Oregon Multicultural Archives and OSU’s Special Collections and Archives Research Center hosted the week long institute at the end of August. The Institute brought together members from all nine of Oregon’s federally recognized tribes as well as instruction staff from OSU Libraries, University of Oregon Libraries, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, Benton County Historical Society, and the Oregon Folklife Network for a week of hands on instruction in archival and records management. Read the rest of this entry »

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