The Giant’s Shoulders: The Fiftieth Anniversary Edition

Welcome history of science aficionados, to the fiftieth anniversary edition of The Giant’s Shoulders! Don’t let Newton’s grouchiness sway you–you’re in for quite a treat! First, a very happy birthday to Sascha the canine philosopher dog! We’ll have a toast in your honor and you can hump or chase squirrels or whatever you fancy.

I want to begin by briefly mentioning the Carnival Crisis that Thony brought up last month, an issue that loomed over Giant’s Shoulders #48 and #49 and has yet to be resolved. There’s been a decent amount of feedback from bloggers and spectators acknowledging the problem, offering to host, and suggesting some remedies. This is no easy task, and I suspect that since every suggestion has pros and cons stacked with it, it’ll take a while before we resolve the issue. But just as technology changes, so too, do us historians adapt how we convey and transmit our scholarship. Many of us jumped on the Twitter bandwagon, didn’t we? By the way, if you’re interested in the history of science blogging, Bora Zivkovic gives a great definition of the term and its history. Likewise, Melinda Baldwin wrote  for the History of Science Society Newsletter a beginner’s guide on blogging, tweeting, and accessing digital archives.

Despite this crisis, one thing is clear: we’ve been growing and expanding our presence on the Internet. As Will Thomas declares, we can now safely crown Rebekah Higgitt the History of Science Blog Empress, with the opening of  “The H Word”, which she runs with Cambridge HPS historian Vanessa Heggie, at the Guardian’s website.

I totally adore this masthead. Other new additions to the history of science blogsphere include: The British Society for the History of Science has also revealed a new Travel Guide website, a collaborative endeavor listing places with ties to the history of science, technology, and medicine across the world.  Asylum Science, managed by postgraduate students Jennifer Wallis and Mike Finn, is a site on psychiatry, pathology, and the laboratory, from the nineteenth century to the present day, focusing on the scientific work conducted in asylums. There’s also not one, but two! new blogs on women in science: Science Chicks from History (okay this is a tumblr blog and the choice of title is counterproductive, but there’s lots of pictures); Warwick has a site on Early Women Biochemists (still under development), exploring the lives of (Dame) Harriette Chick, Ida Smedley, Marjory Stephenson and Muriel Wheldale.

As this is an anniversary edition, so too, is it appropriate to celebrate a remarkable feast of science and technology: Curiosity on Mars!

Explore NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for Curiosity’s raw images, including this beauty here:

Becky wrote a piece on the long and imaginative history of mapping Mars to celebrate this achievement. David Bressan also discussed the mapping of Mars in his excellent post, “The Earth-Like Mars.” I watched the team celebrate once Curiosity landed–and I too, caught the amazing “Mohawk Guy;” a wonderful post on the young Apollos of NASA.

The Olympics

The Games of the XXX Olympiad took place in London, England (I’m sure to the delight of many history of science bloggers). Sports are a fascinating, if not undermined, aspect of science–perhaps we get too caught up in the thrill of the games, but as these handy infographs and posts below demonstrate, physics, mathematics, calculus, engineering, technology, and so forth, are really the foundation of the games.

The New York Times has these great interactive infographic analyzing the history of the 100m dash and swimming, based on the athletes’ average speeds–that is, what happens if every Olympic medalist raced each other?

Did you know Vanessa wrote a book on the History of British Sports Medicine? No wonder she wrote two great posts on “The H Word” on Olympic sports and athletes’ bodies: Sex testing and gender fraud in the Olympics and scientific experimentalism with athletes.  James Poskett covers the history of prostheses and how they led to the “Fastest Man on No Legs:”

Prostheses have not always been particularly hi-tech. In fact, their history stretches back to before even the original Games held in Olympia in 776 BC. A wooden prosthetic toe was discovered on the mummified remains of an ancient Egyptian noblewoman dating back to 910 BC, while the Ancient Romans and Greeks are also known to have developed wooden and iron prostheses, often fitted to replace limbs lost in battle. But despite this long history, prostheses remained relatively similar for thousands of years. That all changed in the 1980s when amputee athletes themselves began collaborating with physicists, doctors and engineers, and the modern sports prosthesis was born.

Seriously, how cool is Oscar Pistorius here?

Keeping up with the sports theme, here’s an American Baseball party at the Sphinx in 1889, a discussion of why the 1904 Olympic marathon may have been the strangest ever, some gymnastics of the organs, and an old, but still relevant, post on the science of the (winter) Olympics. Oh, did you miss the Olympics? Don’t worry, here’s a great recap (watch it even if you’ve seen every dive, jump, run, swim…).

What kind of histories?

While I was searching around the blogsphere for additions for the carnival, I came across several posts addressing the issue of how best to (re-)evaluate the past without portraying science as an “otherworldy engagement with nature, detached with from society and the wider cultural context,” as expressed in the latest issue of Notes & Records of the Royal Society (Volume 66, available for print September 20, 2012). How do people reinvent the past to justify present-day assumptions or push an agenda? Thony rants about Whiggish History in his excellent post on Lamarck, discussing the oversimplification of Saints-vs-Demon rhetoric, and Michael Meyer follows up to the post. Since history is full of actors being categorized as the underdog, or demonized, if not ignored, so there are blog posts: On Astronomer Royal Nevil Maskelyne, John Hunter, botanist, cytologist and microscopist Irene Manton, the Historical Science Society, Konrad Lorenz and NazismWeismann on sexual reproduction, how Wackerbarth whacked Piazzi’s pyramid power (I’m awarding this best blog post title). And back to the grouch who greeted you: In 1672, would Newton have been comfortable with Oldenburg’s label ‘experimental philosopher’?  Or did he consciously avoid the label, as Alan Shapiro suggests, in order to distance himself from the methodology of the early Royal Society? Finally, is Paul Feyerabend the “Worst Enemy of Science?”

Good ol’ fashioned remedies

The lovely Lisa Smith sent me this themed-package of goodies:  early modern posting on the materiality or process of recipes.

Here’s Lisa’s own attempt at following an old recipe. Alun Withey on how the early modern home was basically a medical hub. Sally Osborn has had four posts in a row on how to make ink, perfume, vinegar and tooth powder, the eighteenth-century way. Over at Georgian Gentleman, Mike Rendell writes of  an article from a 1788 The Gentleman’s Magazine discussing how to best treat bee and wasp stings.

Expanding Boundaries

Science is all about expanding boundaries and history is all about looking at the past on its own terms. No wonder we have some great posts on this subject. Thony challenges a commentator’s remark on our “fragmented ideas” of geocentrism and heliocentrism, by addressing the scientifically valid theses of geocentricism (the very same issues that covered nearly three lectures of the Scientific Revolutions I course I was TAing this summer!). John Ptak also wrote on geoscom and the Mundus:

The Mundus–one of Kircher’s forty books–was one of the most beautiful books produced in the 17th century, and was chock-filled with ingenuity and insight and good thinking that went everywhere, though some of that “everywhere” went nowhere. In this case, Kircher worked on the problem of water–where it came from, where it went, and how the process unfolded, which was part of an overall theory of the physical construction of the Earth.

What’s the difference between “transparency” and “invisibility?” asks Dr. Skyskull. I wrote a long post about the historiography of the market for health care and services. Katy comments and expands on the Three Societies session on public sciences and images. It’s always important to pass on the wealth of knowledge–so teach the cultural history of science to children and be sure they forget all about Whiggish history.

On Medicine

Every time I’m in a class covering the history of medicine, there’s always at least one person who becomes fascinated by the concept of “wandering womb.” The Chirugeron’s Apprentice has a short but interesting post on that topic. On a related note, over at Wonders & Marvels, Helen King (who wrote Hippocrates’ Woman) writes of the story of Diana and Callisto and what Titan’s painting on the myth possibly meant for Philip II. Continuing on with the womb, over at the Guardian you can find out what the golden ratio for a uterus is. There’s also a post on execution by decapitation, and to make sure you don’t lose your head, be sure to check out Whitwell’s Brain Slates as well. Rounding up this section on medicine, we have some sanitary instructions for Hawaiians, a wax model of a decomposing body, and an announcement that The Center for the History of Medicine recently digitized a remarkable collection of Civil War-era images titled Photographs of surgical cases and specimens

Men fight with each other overturning tables & chairs; a satire on rivalry between doctors & their quack remedies (C19th) via @ChirurgeonsAppr

Exploding Things

An instrument that is more than just a transit instrument:Bradley’s 8-foot transit instrument, used in the Observatory under the regimes of Nathaniel Bliss (briefly) and Nevil Maskelyne as well as James Bradley. Another instrument used for measuring the breaking strain of the ribs. The history of the rise of spectacles.

August 6th is the 67th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Here’s a brief coverage of the week of the atom bomb, but there’s also posts on discussing whether a line was crossed and on biological warfare as an “entering wedge.” A podcast on how Yamaguchi Tsutomu sidestepped a thousand year curse following the bombing; I wonder if he hoped he had one of the survival suits from 1958 a few years earlier…

Facts for Thought and some Thoughtful Facts

Some other things across the web: Two huge Ichthyosaur skulls inspired Jules Verne to record his intrepid explorers’ meeting with the real thing (in chapter 23 of his Voyage au Centre de la Terre, 1864). Speaking of skulls, researchers claim to have uncovered a new species of human that lived 2 million year ago after studying fossils found in Kenya.

It’s Shark Week!

The Smithsonian Magazine describes the shark attacks that inspired Jaws. Speaking of things that die, here’s a post on Abraham Linclon and Thomas Holmes, the “father of American embalming.”  Mathematics don’t do holidays: Christmas Lectures 1978: Christopher Zeeman – Infinity and Perspective. Do you ever wonder who has the best scientific whiskers? Well, now you can find out–just like you can find out how Hooke could put the cart before the horse:

Finally, I would like to finish off this carnival with a token of respect to physicist Sir Bernard Lovell who passed away on August 6 at the age of 98. Here’s an obituary as well as a lovely anecdote.


And that’s a wrap for the 50th edition of The Giant’s Shoulders! I hope you found it to be spectacular.

Giants’ Shoulders #51 will be hosted by David Bressan at his History of Geology blog on 16 September 2012. Submissions can be made till 15 September 2012 either direct to the host, to The Renaissance Mathematicus or to DrSkySkull at Skulls in the Stars.

Happy blogging!

8 thoughts on “The Giant’s Shoulders: The Fiftieth Anniversary Edition

  1. Pingback: The Giants’ Shoulders turns fifty. | The Renaissance Mathematicus

  2. Pingback: The Giants’ Shoulders turns fifty. | Whewell's Ghost

  3. Pingback: The Giants’ Shoulders turns fifty. « The Giant’s Shoulders

  4. Pingback: The Giant’s Shoulders: The Fiftieth Anniversary edition is out! | Skulls in the Stars

  5. Pingback: Giants’ Shoulders #60 Part I: Five Full Years: A Retrospective | The Renaissance Mathematicus

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