Giant’s Shoulders #34: The Existentialist Edition

First off, my apologies in the delay in publishing this edition. As I mentioned on Twitter, I’ve been ill and pretty much bedridden; and unlike the wonderful Sasha, my two dogs Lucy and Gizmo are too lazy and would rather curl up and sleep beside me than take upon my duties.

A few weeks ago, the Science and Culture Working Group at the University of Toronto hosted an informal discussion and dinner session with Steven Shapin. The Working Group meets once a month to read and discuss any relevant topics relating to the role of science and culture; for this particular meeting, we joined Professor Shapin in discussing the role of academia the ivory tower, branching out from his The Scientific Life: A Moral History of a Late Modern Vocation. What was expected to be a discussion about the book or Shapin’s latest works, or even the history of “the ivory tower,” became a conversation that partly grounded itself on expressing “woe-is-me” fears about the future of history of science studies, or even humanities itself. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about the merits of the conversation, but merely expressing the fact that lately, it seems that there’s been a lot of concerns about the future of HPS studies in general.  Whether or not the decision to close the Wellcome Institute was a warning sign of things to come, or yet another symptom of a long-standing wasting disease, there’s no denying that many of us HPS folks are left pondering about the future and merits of our chosen discipline.

So this edition of Giant’s Shoulders somewhat focuses on what appears to be an existentialist crisis facing HPS. It comes in many forms and in varying degrees. But keep in mind that like many other scholarly discussions, this particular existentialist crisis doesn’t have to be a disheartening or discouraging one—but rather, with full bursts of optimism, such discussions can pave the way to solidify our fears and strengthen our ties as a discipline.

But I’ve never really been a “serious person” and therefore I need to pause here and redirect you all to this video, which, thanks to Michael Barton, made me chuckle for a while.

Now, back to Giant’s Shoulders…

To begin, we must ask, who cares about the history of science? Or more clearly, why should we care about caring about the history of science? Why do we need to emphasize to our universities, departments, students, the importance of studying the history of science? And how, if not why, do we concern ourselves with placing the history of science and science studies within wider social and pedagogical discussions about their place in society? And because I can’t resist—do we now have a new battleground for Science Wars II? Follow and read about the debate here—and hopefully, participate:

Thomas Soderqvist’s evaluation of the question: Which “social study of science” publication would convince scientists themselves?

Nathaniel Comfort’s posts on who cares about the history of science, history as a way of caring, and maybe we shouldn’t care

The Do’s and Don’ts of the History of Science, as outlined by Rebekah Higgitt, an expansion of her earlier posts on what constitutes as “good, popular science.”

“Science without history is just ignorance.”

Commentary vs Synthesis: Will Thomas’ two posts—here and here–on Alan Shapiro’s 1996 criticism of Simon Schaffer’s 1989 piece “Glass Works” (first discussed in 2009 here), raises the question on how deeply we should evaluate historiography alongside the narrative’s historical significance. Michael Bycroft also remarks in the comments section, so be sure to give those a read.

We historians and our nosey noses! What historical value can we get from evaluating public vs. private letters? A post on some of Darwin’s correspondences and their requests to “burn after reading.”

History of science, we must remember, is always about the people and their places and roles in their cultures and societies. Biographies are always a great read because by providing a vantage point from a single individual or groups of individuals, we are transported to a different time and place, viewing that world through the lens of another. Here’s some posts about individuals in science and history:

A post about Philip Henry Gosse, the man who introduced us to the lovely creatures known as seahorses.

The Enigmatic Vostok 1: Unraveling the mystery of Yuri Gagarin’s April 12, 1961 flight in space

A busy man, indeed: Robert Boyle’s to-do list

Alan Turing and a completely different Turing Problem

Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus: physician, entrepreneur, poet.

A documentary on on Ernst Haeckel’s drawings of radiolarians

John Harrison’s Hands: a song about a clockmaker that combines 18th century discussions about science with folk art

2011 marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Francis Galton, the “Father of Eugenics” and Charles Darwin’s cousin. There are a number of exhibits–The Galton Collection, the Petrie Museum and UCL Special Collections—marking the centenary of Galton, an often controversial academic, including the unveiling of a recently discovered photograph of Galton on his deathbed.

Do you know who this is? A mystery astronomer and a mystery history.

The polymath Conrad Gesner: professor for Greek and physics, physician and medical author, zoologist, botanist, mineralogist, bibliographer and mountain climber

The Philosophical Breakfast Club, or some early men of science.

A physicists’ physicist, or, how James Clerk Maxwell changed the world

Captains and their voyages: uncovering the past through digitalized manuscripts

Peter the Wild Boy keeps popping up—what story does he have to tell us?

What would HPS be without our glorious and wondrous books? If you’re looking for a great read to accompany you to the beach on warm(er) days—even if you’re in Toronto, where as of April 17, it’s still snowing—check out these reviews:

A review and yet another  review of Holly Tucker’s captivating book, Blood Work: A Tale of Murder and Medicine, tells the true story of the first animal-to-human blood transfusions performed seventeenth century Europe. (Wait—the book was swag for attendees at ScienceOnline? Lucky!)

A review of Vivien Grey’s The Chemist who lost his head: The Story of Antoine Laurent Lavoisier

Another one of those anti-Darwin vehemence pamphlets (which is available for purchase on the blog bookstore), with no authorship signature

A review of  The Measure of All Things by Ken Alder, which tells the story of Pierre Méchain and Jean Baptiste Joseph Delambre’s efforts to survey the line of constant longitude (or meridian) between Dunkerque and Barcelona through Paris, starting amidst the French Revolution in 1792,

Will Thomas on Morris Berman’s Social Change and Scientific Organization: The Royal Institution, 1799-1844 (1978), which not only contains some agriculture-related material, but it intersects a number of different interests, particularly the post-Marxist historiographical tradition.

A review of Peter Burke’s A Social History of Knowledge , which provides new perspectives on the relevance of Karl Marx, Karl Mannheim, Max Weber, Thorstein Veblen, and Robert Merton, as well as later contributors to the sociology of knowledge, such as Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann.

Let Newton Be! Comments and a semi-review on Craig Baxter/the Menagerie Theatre Company’s play on Newton. Which I was extremely excited about to see (even got my ticket and all) when it arrived in Toronto. Except this blasted illness prevented me from going. I’m so disappointed. Oh wait—here’s another review, this time, with photos!

Unraveling myths, or new interpretations? Working through the ambiguities, isn’t that what history of science is all about?

Test your history about the Urban Legends of Cytogenetics.

The monster of Ravenna: examining real and imagined bodies as transmogrified in popular images

Re-drawing the boundaries of science by using metaphors: Science as a “Hunt” for the secrets of nature

(Re-)reading a difficult chapter once again: The Galileo Myth and the Clayton Myth

The gorilla shuns you! An Uncomfortable Caricature: Darwin, the Descent, and the ASPCA (1871)

Is it a myth that Christianity gave birth to science?

How Michael Faraday debunked spiritualism

A fantastic post on the birth of electromagnetism.

How to properly apply Ockham’s Razor

An error in Leonardo da Vinci’s geometric drawing as revealed by Dutch mathematician and sculptor Rinus Roelofs

More than a Bunsen Burner: the other achievements of Robert Bunsen

And some other great stuff:

Well, good to know that all prayers are (not) answered equally: Francis Galton’s reasoning that there was no difference between the life spans of clergymen, doctors and lawyers.

Precision in technical drawings: Ramsden’s Dividing Engines

Aesthetic pleasure from plants as outlined by Ruskin’s aesthetic taxonomy

Ancient ancestors: Lemura as lost cradle of humankind, The Last Resting Place of Decuriasuchus, and is Eoanthropus dawsoni a valid species?

Enough with the humans—what roles do animals and animal bodies play in science?  And whether or not you’re an animal lover, here’s three ways you can help prevent animal cruelty.

Deep Sea 101: examining the history of deep-sea exploration to better understand how technological advances yield new insights and makes us better historians

Ten Special Commandments for a Would-Be Planet Hunter, according to Clyde Tombaugh. And what happens when you find a planet? A fantastic post with great photos on planetary landings (I LOVE the image with the side-by-side comparisons of planetary sizes). Also make sure not to forget your souveniours.

There’s now online access to the ‘Oral History of British Science’ interview with James Lovelock available. The interview (recorded over two days in April 2010) comprises 13 ‘parts’ or tracks, and can be accessed here.

For you Lord of the Rings fans: a podcast series examining the mythoecology of middle earth.

Collections in the archives: a portable laboratory kit for mineralogical analysis and a donated collection of slide rulers

The “thunderstone of Ensisheim,”  the oldest known recorded case of a meteorite in Europe.

A history of horses in varying degrees: transport, stage, and physics

For those of you always looking for excuses to procrastinate: Time as an anachronism, and who to blame for inventing Daylight Savings Time

Thanks to everyone who submitted posts! Next month’s edition will be hosted by Jost a Mon—nominations as usual, should be sent to the host blog or to the Giant’s Shoulders website.

Upcoming Giant’s Shoulders

This is the monthly reminder that the deadline for The Giant’s Shoulders, the monthly history of science blog carnival, is only five days away! The Giants’ Shoulders #33 will be hosted by Sascha the canine philosopher at The Renaissance Mathematicus. Submissions as usual either direct on the host c/o Thony C. or at the Blog Carnival websiteby 15thMarch at the latest.

As an important aside, we still desperately need more hosts for upcoming editions of the carnival!  If you’re a historian of science of just a blogger with an interest in the history of science, please consider volunteering for an upcoming month!



VISUALS & REPRESENTATIONS: Giant’s Shoulders #28


David Bressan discusses the value of scientific caricatures,especially those by English geologist Henry De la Beche (1796-1855), in both revealing and teaching aspects of the history of geology.

The caricature by De la Beches of Charles Lyell as Prof. Ichthyosaurus on the pages of Francis Buckland's "Curiosities of Natural History" (1858).

Michael Barton also discusses cartoons and caricatures representing Darwin of evolution (in its various forms). He remarks on how evolution was used as a means to comment on society and culture and includes some fantastic cartoons in his post.

(Editorial) cartoons carry significant political meanings above all others–I’m reminded here of Punch’s (conservative) satirical humour on politics, which, in light of its more liberal counterparts, became a staple in drawing rooms.

I see an eye! Or a portal?!

Oh wait…it’s just the Helix Nebula. Make sure to check out the European Southern Observatory’s collection of Top 100 Images. They’re a must-see!

Speaking of stars, Robert W. Lebling has a phenomenal article on “Arabic in the Stars,” narrating three “waves of knowledge” that introduced Arabic-origin star names to the West:

  • The First Wave of medieval times, with the greatest number of Arabic star names, including the Ptolemaic corpus (150 ce), moving from al-Sufi (964 ce) to the astronomical compendium of Spain’s King Alfonso x.
  • The Second Wave of the late Renaissance, with most of the star names moving from the first printed edition of the works of Alfonso x (1483) and from the first printed edition of Ptolemy’s Almagest (Gerard’s 1175 Latin translation from Arabic, published in 1515) to Bayer’s Uranometria (1603).
  • The Third Wave of the 19th century, with most of the star names transmitted from al-Sufi to Ulugh Beg’s star list to Hyde’s translation (1665) to Piazzi’s Palermo star catalogue (1803).
Betelgeuse, in the constellation Orion, comes from an Arabic original whose first letter was inadvertantly changed by a 13th-century astronomer.

What a treat for your eyes: Part I of a Visual Chronology of Cosmologies

I adore John Lynch’s slides from his History of Science II (since 1700s) undergraduate course–they are so visually stimulating! Here’s the slides for his first lecture, “Revolution and Change in Science.” You can view the slides for his other lectures as well.

Talk about an identity crisis: In 1873, British anatomist Richard Owen described the Palorchestes as a very large kangaroo. Owen’s categorization held the standard until the 1970s, when the revised interpretation of the Palorchestes structured it as a large wombat:

Four views of Palorchestes: as a kangaroo, a pseudo-okapi, a “marsupial tapir”, and a “marsupial ground sloth.” Drawn from original sources by Greg Luker and included in Mackness, 2008

Also: Joanna Ebenstein (Morbid Anatomy) talks about how we can use the feelings an object or a collection of objects evoke to make the museum visit a personal and interesting journey; in other words, how do raise the “curious levels” of exhibits to draw in audiences?

A famous representation of a great vision: the DNA double-helix as visioned during the Tour de Francis.

How to steer a hurricane.


Bressan also provides another great post on forensic entomology and the depictions of these creatures in the middle ages as representing the sins of the dead.

Extending on my post on Hairy Women and Naked Truths, Homunculus Argument shares some thoughts of hisresearch on migratory legends and sexual motifs in images of wild men and wild women, and the meanings these images carried for sex, power, and prophecy.

A pure iconographic ornament: what goes on inside a dissection theater as mortal bodies and immortal souls are cut apart on the table for peering eyes? For that matter, why are the skeletons of Adam and Eve even in the theater?



Engraving by WiIllem Swanenburgh, 1616 (after the painting by J.C. Woudanus)

The wild and eerie Victorian world of Walter Potter! Morbid Anatomy previewed The Museum of Everything’s “Exhibition #3”, “a carnivalesque spree exploring all things collectory, side-show, circus, grotto, and taxidermological.” Totally fitting for October’s Giant’s Shoulders and other creepy and gruesome themes characteristic of..gasp!…Halloween!

Dear Dr. Skyskull, I apologize for this.

On a more gruesome–but medically fascinating–note…Here’s a case of “Inguinal hernia” of “69 years standing.” Beware: the image is not for the queasy.

Also not for the queasy (all from Morbid Anatomy):

  • bodies in jars. Images “Bocal I” and “Bocal II”, by Ludovic Levasseur, drypoint, 20th C.
  • Burns Archives: pictures of Irish patients from the 1870s pre and post-operation.
  • Birth and Resurrection in photos: based on an exhibit,“Memento Mori: The Birth and Resurrection of Postmortem Photography

Beautiful anatomical illustrations from Edo-period Japan (1603-1868). It’s incredible how colorful and richly detailed these drawings are and how the level of medical knowledge of bodies has changed over time.

Restoring sex power: Radioactive suppository sex aids & radium toothpaste for shining lethal nonsense. Seriously.



Shoebox letters for Magic Foot Drafts. This is awesome; the Quack Doctor blogged about Magic Foot Drafts, a remedy for rheumatism that required the patient to stick pine-tar-coated oilcloth plasters to the soles of their feet. One of the blog readers ran across the post while researching information for her grandfather’s collection of letters and then sent the letter to the Quack Doctor. What a historical find!

Thony C finally gives us an explanation of where (his) pictures come from, while narrating a brief history of the relationship between artistic representation and scientific illustration within developments made in print technologies.

Part one of The Munsterberg Connection: An examination of Hugo Munsterberg ‘s (1863-1916) ideas about psychology.

A biography of this guy:

Gauss Who? (terrible, I know!)

Also, who is Albert Einstein? (Really? How can you NOT know?!) *Blank face*

Come know who this is...

What did Darwin think about group selection? And Darwinius strikes back!!

But is Russell Crowe getting tired of donning gladiator armor? Who cares when it’s so fitting for his physique–here’s Michael Robinson’s teaser into his article on the Two Visions of Mars.

The “Disneyfication” of Wildlife films. No, it’s not about animating animals so they all look like Bambi.


Benjamin Franklin’s kite-flying shenanigans! As a member of the Royal Society, Franklin would have been obliged to publish in the Philosophical Transactions. Dr. Skyskull examines Franklin’s published accounts of his experiments with electricity.

From Natural Philosophy for Common and High Schools (1881) by Le Roy C. Cooley (source).

Does having fancy, shiny tools help the surgeon’s mood—or is cleanliness next to happiness? JF Ptak examines this strange relationship in “Ennui and Renaissance Surgical Tools”


A physician with things on/not on his mind, from Andrew Borde's The Breuiary of Healthe, for all maner of syknesses and diseases..." (1556)

Christopher Donohue discusses technological determinism and scientific reasoning within French philosopher Jacques’ Ellul’s Technique, in which technology has “defined the superstructure of contemporary society. A thought-proving blog on the theoretical elements of the history of technological determinism as discussed by great thinkers such as Leslie White and Lewis Mumford, among others. Donohue also has another great post on the various developing enterprises of “environmental determinism” in the 20th century foundation of the discipline of human geography.

Cartoons again! Is the image of the astronomer represented with a telescope out of (historical) style? Rebekah Higgitt examines how humor in print and cartoons portray a completely different picture of astronomers.

More on astronomy: a study by Professor Ray Norris, an astronomer for Australia’s science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization (CSIRO), reveals that Australian aborigines were the “world’s first astronomers.”

Newton’s early years playing with magic alchemy, or “Moonlighting as a Conjurer of Chemicals.”

Remember Futurama? The quirky offspring of Matt Groening, creator of The Simposons? Well, the show had a lot of futuristic technology that combined just the right elements of “sci-fi wit and humor.” Here we have the Top 10 “Futurama” inventions that should be real.
*Sorry fellow Canadians, but not all the videos are available for viewing. Or at least in Toronto. Maybe you Vancouver folks would have better luck.



British animal activism and legislation dates back as early as 1875. Guest blogger Eric Michael Johnson narrates how Charles Darwin was both a supporter of experimental physiology and against animal cruelty (especially vivisection).

The Cruelty to Animals Act, 1876

Relatively unknown texts written by those hiding in the shadows of giants can provide us with interesting sources for knowledge of 18th century experimental philosophy.  Alberto Vanzo narrates the views of Christian Wolff, a famous German philosopher, and explains Wolff’s knowledge of British experimental philosophy, especially against the views of Newton.

I still count with my fingers! But apparently Albert of Saxony wrote about the possibility of squaring the circle, in a little treatise called Quaestio de quadratura circuli (1350).

What does it take to discover a new particle? Read about the history of the neutrino.

A great piece by Boaz Miller on the science and politics of daylight savings time in Israel.

A satire: If you’re an STS scholar, how do you participate in a policy debate? Will Thomas discusses institutionalist studies and STS and examines how participation in public policy debates can lead to confusion–if not frustration–with the history of science.


Michael Barton over at The Dispersals of Darwin has compiled a “What’s New” on Darwin Online. Some of these were added to The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online and are useful teaching tools as well—I’ve actually recommended this site to my students in a course on the history of evolutionary biology.

NEW WEBSITE! Most Horrible & Shocking Murders: Murder pamphlets in the collection of the National Library of Medicine. Includes a selection of murder pamphlets from the late 1600s to the late 1800s.

Also, if you need a new reading list: The Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences series 4, v.61, supplement II has several articles on Darwin and the Galapagos. Also, the Journal for General Philosophy of Science vol.41, no.1 (June 2010) focuses on Darwin as well: “Darwinism and Scientific Practice in Historical Perspective). And one more: A recent PhD dissertation, by Alistair Sponsel, now with the Darwin Correspondence Project’s office at Harvard: Coral reef formation and the sciences of earth, life, and sea, c. 1770-1952 (Princeton University, 2009, 498pgs).

In or near NC State University? Be sure to check out evolutionary biologist Will Kimler talk about “Images of Darwin and the Nature of Science.” Bonus: Free pizza!

In or near University of Toronto? Aaron from “False Vacuum” is organizing a workshop on “Visual Representation in Science” (my heart just skipped a beat) with speakers Brian Baigrie (UoT), Bernie Lightman (York), Natasha Myers (York), Alison Syme (UoT), and Aaron himself. Drop Aaron an email if you’re interested in attending.

CALL FOR PAPERS!!!!! I’m organizing the 7th annual HAPSAT conference, “The Regimen of Bodily Health: Nutrition and Natural Knowledge” with Prof. Steven Shapin as the keynote. It’s going to be a fantastic conference, so if you’re a graduate student, be sure to send in submissions by December 1. Or if you just want to attend the conference, let me know so I can make sure you get an email when registration is open.


Many thanks to everyone who sent in their posts–especially “serial commentator” Thony C! More thanks to Thony and Dr. Skyskull for their support. I enjoyed hosting my first carnival and look forward to doing it again in the future. For now, there’s only two more (!) Giant’s Shoulders for 2010. For November’s edition,Egil Asprem will be hosting an Esoteric Science special at Heterodoxology. As usual, send over your posts directly to Egil, or through the  Blog Carnival site. The chosen theme is explained as:

“To the layman, the natural sciences have become increasingly “esoteric” in the sense of being hard to access and difficult to understand. Throughout its history, science has been esoteric in other senses as well, connected with attempts to unravel the secrets of the book of nature, the understanding of occult properties and forces, and the quest for absolute, higher knowledge. This edition of Giants’ Shoulders is dedicated to all those esoteric pursuits of knowledge; a celebration of all strange, alien, and counterintuitive methods that have been attempted to dissect, read, or tame nature’s secrets, from renaissance natural philosophy to present-day Grand Unified Theories – whether cleverly inventive, hopelessly megalomaniac, or simply misguided.”

Happy blogging!


Send in your posts! Visuals and Representations! Science in History! History of Science! Anything goes!!!

Send via, or through the Blog Carnival site.

The 28th Edition of The Giant’s Shoulders will be up on Sat. October 16.

Two boys tease a carnival reveller wearing a grotesque mask, while a third boy blows a horn. 1824 By: Louis Boilly after: François Séraphin Delpech

The Giant’s Shoulders #27

The September carnival is now up over at Entertaining Research! Thanks for adding me and I would like to officially welcome fellow Toronto Blog Collective (TBC) bloggers Aaron, Jon, and The Bubble Chamber to their first inclusion into the carnival! Welcome and congrats!  Oh yes, this means the pressure for all TBC bloggers and HPS bloggers across the ‘net is on. Why?

Because the next edition of The Giant’s Shoulders will be hosted in Toronto, by yours truly 😀

Edition #28’s broad theme will be on visuals and representation in the history and philosophy of science, technology, and medicine. What that means, it’s up to you, dear Readers and Bloggers, to figure out. Send all interesting, provocative, thoughtful, crazy, silly..etc…posts either personally to me at, or through the Blog Carnival site.

Thanks, Entertaining Research and I’m looking forward to hosting my first carnival!