The Giants’ Shoulders #62: Alpha Papa

Well, it’s been a quiet month for historians and philosophers of science. Under such circumstances, the author of Giants’ Shoulders is put under considerably more pressure to entertain than is usual. While I might not have lived up to the task, I think you’ll agree that I’ve at least outdone the shambles that was Giants’ Shoulders #58.

What follows is largely ordered according to publication date. Every now and then I do try and do something clever, but you’ll barely notice. Enjoy!

(Readers should also be warned that, as this month sees the release of the long anticipated Alan Partridge movie, from time to time I do slip into his tone a little. For readers unfamiliar with Partridge, see this.)

Eye-catching page break

If you can dye them, Paul Ehrlich probably did, explains Edyta Zielinska in a post that rediscovers the former’s ‘side-chain’ theory of cellular interaction. Whether or not Ehrlich ever ate lettuce is a question that has thus far eluded scholars, but if he did, he probably ended up with a formidable erection, at least according to K. Annabelle Smith in her post describing how this otherwise dull vegetable was considered a sex symbol by the ancient Egyptians. Rods of a different nature were the order of the day for the Royal Society, explains Noah Moxham, when protecting gunpowder magazines from lightning strikes in the eighteenth century. However, if it is the sun that is your primary enemy, and you’ve got a little burnt,  try applying some Fard to your skin. Rachel Knowles found the recipe after wondering if Regency ladies  ever got sunburnt.

Darin Hayton went full Winfrey early in the month, interviewing Edward Shorter to try and better understand his recently expressed opinions on the state of the history of science and medicine.  Another hunter of “organisms that defied categorization, or at least tested boundaries” was Sir Richard Owen, who was particularly taken with the Aye-Aye as a primate that posed a significant challenge to natural historians. 100 years before the first Aye-Aye was brought to Europe, James Brown relates how the mathematician John Wallis (1616-1703) was embroiled in an alcoholic controversy, establishing a tradition adhered to by most subsequent Oxford professors. Speaking of which, it is well known that street walking can be a lucrative line of work. All the more so if like Edward Payson Weston you have people bet thousands of dollars against your being able to walk vast distances within a short period of time, an impressive physiological feat that you can learn more about in Roger Sachar’s post.

Time for an anatomy lesson now, with Daniel Birchall’s post on the Wellcome Collection’s object of the month, an eighteenth-century wood and ivory model of an anatomy lesson. Birchall explains that in this period dissection was only permitted on the bodies of convicted criminals, which may help explain why the convicted arsonists who attacked Sir Hans Sloane’s house in Mathew Decloedt’s post were so keen to repent their crimes (though admittedly the scaffold was probably a more immediate concern.)  Meanwhile Darin Hayton explores the ways in which people reacted to and appropriated the meaning of the 1580 earthquake. There’s almost nothing funny about earthquakes.

Time for another page break

Our first ICHSTM post now, and a video about the history of science at Manchester staring John Pickstone. Here I think it entirely appropriate to say a huge Jodrell Bank-you to everyone involved with organising that really quite remarkable event. I loved it, especially the day devoted to agricultural science. Agricultural science you say? Why yes! You don’t happen to know if any of the papers were recorded do you!? As it happens, you can watch one here! Continuing the multimedia theme, Sam Kinsley posted a video recording of a lecture given recently by Annemarie Mol on ‘cultivating bodies’, while the Bethlem Blog put together a list of their favourite podcasts on the history of psychiatry. This post on Yovisto includes a video regarding Elisha Gray and the Telephone Patent. Here you can watch James Gleick in conversation with Roger Highfield. Circling back to ICHSTM, here Michael Bycroft offers his thoughts, and a link to a video of, Hasok Chang’s ICHSTM keynote address.

Science Museums and History of Science Museums were the target of Cira Brown’s post, a good number of which now contain specimens collected by fossil hunter Mary Anning, who captured KT Cooper’s imagination. Hopefully though, not too many were wrapped in cotton wool, as this can be a frigging nightmare for museum curators, so explains Eleanor Wilkinson of the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Robert Hooke featured in a number of posts as – if he were still alive – we’d have just celebrated his birthday! Thony Christie discusses the “big bang in microscopic studies”, the Micrographia, a video demonstration of which by William Poole can be watched on this post on yovisto. David Bressan on the other hand focusses a little more on Hooke’s geological researches while Alexander Wragge-Morley finds parallels between Hooke’s strategy for investigating snowflakes and those within his circle trying to understand Stonehenge.

Sorry, my blog isn’t really designed for this

Some arresting ‘Deeply articulated’ anatomical engravings by Jean-Baptiste Sarlandiere (1787-1838) were the subject of John Ptak’s post, one of which you can see here.  HPS PROBLEM CLAXON! This post by Crystal Lindell on the website ‘Candy Industry: The Global Resource, from Manufacturing to Retailing’ announces the publication of a new book, on the history of the use of chocolate as medicine, but doesn’t comment on the fact that one of its authors works for Hershey Foods. You know what to do.

Rebekah Higgitt leant a historical perspective to ICHSTM, by lining it up alongside some of the most highly attended meetings of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.  While ICHSTM was certainly a hotbed of radical thought, Alice Bell wonders if the scientific establishment today hasn’t forgotten its own more radical capacities. Sometimes in politics though, we all wonder, does it have to be so black and white? Can’t there be another, some sort of, well, ‘third way’? Take a look back at the first twenty years of Demos with James Wilsdon. I’ve been waiting for the right moment to link to Lisa Smith’s grisly tale of a horrifying pregnancy and monstrous birth (in the C18th), this seems as good a place as any.

Students at Kent have been working with the nearby Powell Cotton Museum to bring their fascinating collections to a wider public audience. Mission accomplished.

One of those crazy guys at Kent – Alice White – wrote a post about (the excruciatingly close to being named) G.R. Perbe(a)rdy, who during the Second World War researched what kind of facial hair a man ought to have when selecting soldiers. War and pubes featured in another post from Kent, as Emily Richards analysed Theodore Gumbril’s anxiety about his lack of beard in Aldous Huxley’s Antic Hay, which she links to a First World War ‘crisis of masculinity’.

Changed the colour on this one, I think it looks worse though

That boats and clocks project seems to be finally showing some promise, as Rebekah Higgitt announces the launch of the Board of Longitude complete digital archive. The BBC hosted an interactive resource to consider the ‘crazy’ ideas that failed to solve the longitude problem. Emily Brown interviewed Simon Schaffer and Robert Mayhew to get to grips with the longitude problem, while in a double feature Alexi Baker looks at the same from an international perspective. Those involved with this project are certainly some of the best users of social media, so escape the wrath of Thomas Söderqvist who makes a strong argument for the intellectual value of such platforms, Twitter in particular, for research and discussion.

What did it take to have a person admitted to an insane asylum? Find out on in John Ptak’s post on the City Insane Asylum of New Orleans, which includes a link to some extraordinary records. If eating insects constituted grounds for insanity, then size Lisa Smith up for a uniform! (Pure Partridge). Her post compares Citizen Science and Flying Ant Day, in 1707 and 2013. Jaipreet Virdi meanwhile investigates ‘quack aurists’ and how they and their deaf clients fared in court.

Amy Ackerberg-Hastings drops us into the life and times of one Meriwether Jeff Thompson (1826-1876), the ‘Swamp Fox of Missouri’, and holder of a patent on a decidedly strange looking mathematical instrument. The status of patents today and the rise of ‘Patent trolls’ were the target of  Sean McElwee’s post on contemporary patent law and its dependence on the myth of the ‘hero inventor’. In an irresponsible use of the        ‘Ctrl. F’ function, we might link this to Alice Bell’s post on green superheroes in children’s books about the environment.

Getting down and dirty with Darwin now, kicking off with Eric Johnson and the long history of efforts to research empathy in man and other animals. The folks at the Darwin Correspondence Project wrote about a subject central to Hayton’s topic; the vast photographic collections Darwin amassed, and which they now hold, particularly regarding his work on Expressions and Emotions in Man and Animals. David Bresson considers the case against Darwin as the murder of Bigfoot (some of us still hold out hope that the real killer will be brought to justice)  and Michael Barton reviews John van Wyhe’s Dispelling the Darkness: Voyage in the Malay Archipelago and the Discovery of Evolution by Wallace and Darwin. To end, how else, than with Elizabeth Smith bidding a fond farewell to the Darwin £10.

After Darwin comes Wallace. John van Wyhe laments the ways in which the poor bastard gets used and abused in popular programming, and George Beccaloni asks just how famous Wallace was and is.

Back to red. Gives you something to aim for. A little mile marker.

Simon Tombs guest posts on Asylum Science about his project on the madness of King George III. King George III was attacked by Margaret Nicholson in 1786, who was then committed to Bethlam Royal Hospital, which as you can learn from these posts on the Bethlem Blog, has occupied a number of different locations, and whose current archivists are taking a keen interest in the feedback they received from the public.

Find out who the first woman to qualify as a doctor in America was in this post from Sarah Blackmore, how people have measured the earth, in this one from Thony Christie, and all about the earliest American municipal waterworks, in this one from Catherine Bonier…this is cheating.

How various governments around the world attempted to steal science and technology from one another during and after the Second World War is the subject of a post by Douglas O’Reagan. This had surprisingly little in common with Leah Astbury’s post on narratives of reproduction in the 16th and 17th centuries. Fortunately Jennifer Evans was able to bring some synthesis to this paragraph in her look at what the midwife Jane Sharp recommended for the post-post-partum care of new mothers in the Early Modern period as does Catherine Rider in her post on Medieval fertility and pregnancy tests. Alun Withey manages to remain on the topic of medicine in ‘Pig boys and boar bites: a seventeenth-century medical consultation‘, but then GrrlScientist ruins everything with her post and video on why Rosalind Franklin is her favourite scientist.

Clarissa Lee explains all about researching the scientific illustrated book, and in her post, Kathleen McIlvenna recounts her personal experience of collaborative research in museums and academia. None of which really prompts the provocative question ‘Is Eugenics Ever Okay?‘, answered by Nathaniel Comfort. Perhaps not, but it to some it might be romantic, as explained by Susan Rensing.

Fatigued? Take a little break:

Aside from his posts listed above, this month Thony Christie has also looked at Christoph Scheiner, the first man to be involved in a major scientific dispute with Galileo following the invention of the telescope, has asked whether the C18th was a boring century, and has announced his HPS ‘Howler of the Week‘. If after typing this I have to add any more, all he’s getting is bullet points.

Dead animals now, leading with Robyn Haggard from the University of Leeds Museum of the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (wahey!) who takes a look at a particularly attractive item from the store, a bisected taxidermy hedgehog. Nicola Cook reminds us of the sacrifice made by many a goat who has served in the armed forces over the centuries (it is sad that few were qualified for much else). Finally Karin Leonhard and David Brafman uncover the techniques used for dyeing wool in seventeenth-century Germany. All sheep long dead.

As we begin to approach the final countdown, have a look at David Rooney’s post on the philosophical and technical challenge posed by the ‘Clock of the Long Now‘. Concerned as Rooney’s protagonists are with taking a long view as to our responsibilities and capabilities in this world, Rebecca Priestley’s post on New Zealand scientists and the atomic bomb makes for a nice counterpoint, as does Jacob Darwin Hamblin’s post on the ‘Two Faces of the Limited Test Ban Treaty‘. The subject of Hamblin’s most recent book also lends a nice apocalyptic tone to Jennifer Wallis’s writing on whether or not the weather can affect our mental health, regarding in particular the views of asylum scientists.

Brandy Schillace walks us through the shared territory of art and anatomy, focussing on William Smellie, William Hunter and Jan Van Rymsdyk. Geometrical illustrations are the concern of John Ptak in his post asking whether he has found the first image of a Tetrakaidekaderon on a 19th Century Pillow. Closing this section we return again to ICHSTM, to commemorate the congress with an anonymously submitted ‘Serio-Comic Song’!

Books, Monsters, Art and other things

Each of us makes constant use of google books, for better or worse, and in this post Paula Findlen considers its impact regarding our rediscovery of the C19th. Similarly Monica Green writes about working with and recovering Medieval manuscripts in the digital age and Caroline Petit discussed making the works of Galen available in English translation to a modern audience. Somewhat rarer books inspired Jasmine Casart’s post on the history of plant nomenclature. You can read more about Henry Cavendish and his Scientific Library in this post on the Chatsworth Blog. Science Fiction literature, a favourite topic over here on a Glonk’s HPS blog, and the works collected by Professor Cyril Leslie which are now under the care of the University of Leeds, was the subject of Liz Stainforth’s post over at SF Forward. Anita Guerrini wrote about her experience at ICHSTM who having a go at operating a C19th printing press.

Whimsical Sea Monsters and the working practices of cartographers were the focus of Chet Van Duzer’s post, while Steve Paulson considered what monsters might tell us about the birth of modern science, and David Bressan has a look at Alexander von Humboldt and the Hand-Beast.

Images, knowledge-making and the work of the naturalist Martin Lister were the subject of Minerva Bird’s paper at ICHSTM, of which you can read more here. The art and significance of the death mask was the focus of Joanna Corden’s post, and some recently donated Albinus anatomical prints from the C18th were reported on by Michael North. The Letters from Gondwana blog author approached the figure of Ernst Haeckel as an artist, while Scott Weingart considered how people have tried to depict and visualize knowledge itself and Sachiko Kusukawa suggests that we might consider looking at The Fabrica (C16th) as an instruction manual on how to articulate bones. A different set of images entirely were the subject of Amy Shira Teitel’s post on When the U.S. Hooked Spy Photos from Space. This arty/imagey section ends with Richard Dunn’s post regarding the National Maritime Museum’s appeal for £1.5 million to acquire two paintings by George Stubbs.

Julie McDougall looked to remind us all of the Royal Society’s more recent scientific contributions. Clara Barton who had a very varied career, and spent time nursing on the front line during the American civil war is at the centre of Anne Wallentine’s post, and this same context is used by Romeo Vitelli in his post on ‘The Heart of a Soldier‘. Meanwhile Michelle Ziegler has reviewed Wendy Orent’s book Plague. Check out Jaipreet Virdi’s latest post, which looks at the Audiphone, complete with striking photograph.

Nearly there now, last few

Leonhard Danner, the sixteenth century Nuremberger engineer/inventor got the Clare Angela treatment, while Adam Gurri decides to run ever so slightly against the grain in his post Science is a Bourgeois Pastime. Clare Hickman, Peevish bees. Nuff said.

Some of you might have heard of a gentleman by the name of Steven Pinker. He said some things recently, not all of which have been immediately agreed with. For the skinny, see both Henry Cowles’ post and that of John Horgan. Speaking of specialized tools, have a butchers at Gemma Tarlach’s post on European Neanderthals versus Homo Sapiens in the original technological arms race.

Unless you live on top of The Monument to the Great Fire of London, you can’t have missed Lisa Jardine’s new radio programme ‘Seven Ages of Science’, reviewed by Rebekah Higgitt. Jonathan Saha takes a look at the links between medicine and justice via the figure of Aubray Percival Pennell and Matt Houlbrook argues that pardoning Alan Turing might be good politics but is bad history.

Matthew De Cloedt shines a light on the competitive nature of C18th medicine, looking at those who vied for a letter of recommendation from Hans Sloane. Rebecca Pahle invites us to go back in time to look at the ‘Awesome Ladies Responsible for Today’s Tech‘. Last, but by no means least, Katy Meyers has recently blogged about developments in archaeology that mean in some instances we can even find out what happened to a person the day before they died, despite the centuries in between, and Rebecca J. Rosen recovers the history of the concept of the engine, from C14th poetry to Google (with a very cool painting thrown in).


Well there you have it. Hope you enjoyed it and managed to find all the posts you were looking for.  It only remains for me to give you the exciting news that Giants’ Shoulders #63 will be hosted by Captain Edmond Halley and Kate Morant at the Halley’s Log Blog on 16th September 2013. Submission as usual closes on 15th September

P&F, believe!

By Dominic Berry

I am a historian and philosopher of science with particular expertise in the history of biology and technology.

4 replies on “The Giants’ Shoulders #62: Alpha Papa”

Correction: “the long history of efforts to research empathy in man and other animals” was written by Eric Johnson, not Hayton.

Awesome collection!

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