Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

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What-are-you-reading-Wednesday: A History of the World in Six Glasses

December 2, 2009

By Kristen Fuhs Wells, communications director at the Indiana Humanities Council.

In A History Of The World In Six Glasses, Tom Standage boldly states that the history of the world can be told using six signature beverages (beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and Coca-Cola). These drinks are intricately linked to six major periods in world history–from our nomadic brethren deciding to stay in one place to the current fascination with Coca-Cola.

He goes on to divide history much like archaeologists divide it based on different materials (stone, bronze, iron) only in the form of beverages. But not in a world history textbook kind of way (although I did find myself re-learning bits of world history that I had forgotten over the years). Instead, Standage summarizes great periods of history and concepts into just a few sentences, sprinkles in a few interesting factoids and connects both big picture thoughts and minute details to the development of these beverages, as well as their widespread adoption. Standage explains how these beverages extended life expectancies, fueled the enlightenment, contributed to wars, and divided cultures. For example:

Beer contributed to an increase in farming and decrease in hunting.
Wine divided classes and cultures, particularly in Greece and Rome. 
Spirits influenced slavery, the American Revolution, and contributed to the British Navy’s strength.
Tea improved and sustained life, and it was the “lubricant” for the industrial revolution.
Coffee (and coffeehouses) served as fuel for the enlightenment.
Coca-Cola, love it or hate it, is symbolic of America’s rise in dominance.

Some of those interesting tidbits include that the oldest known recipe is for beer; that Coca-Cola created a clear, un-branded bottle for a leader in the Soviet Union so that he wouldn’t be seen drinking Coke during the Cold War; and that rum significantly contributed to the dominance of the British navy because it kept scurvy at bay.

It’s a brisk read, and offers fascinating insights into our history, and into human nature.

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What-are-you-reading-Wednesday: Prodigal Summer

July 15, 2009

By Kristen Fuhs Wells, communications director for the Indiana Humanities Council

I awoke to the sound of crickets outside today, about 20 minutes before my alarm clock was scheduled to do that job. Normally, a natural wake-up call would be cause for irritation, but I can thank Barbara Kingsolver for the peace — not anger — that overcame me. Just like a class on non-fiction writing caused me to be a different kind of reader, Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer  has caused me to be a different kind of observer.

All of the lead characters have an appreciation for nature — whether it’s moths, birds or apples — and by spending just a couple of hours with these characters, it’s given me a greater appreciation of the natural world as well. I’m in awe not only of Deanna’s ability to distinguish every piece of flora and fauna in Appalachia, but also Kingsolver’s research that went into developing Deanna’s knowledge. And, this morning, that made me think twice about shutting the window on the crickets. Were they mating calls? Simple conversational exchanges? I wanted to be Deanna so that I could understand the language of nature.

But this novel is so much more than natural observances — it’s Kingsolver’s prose and story that intertwines three summer love stories that pit human predators vs. human preys. I have a hunch everything will work out, but in nature, isn’t that always the case?

Read the book? Check out a reading discussion guide here.

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Apollo 11 in the Resource Connection

July 12, 2009

July 20th marks the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The Smithsonian, a Resource Connection partner, has an excellent multimedia resource, Apollo 11: Walking on the Moon,  that provides an opportunity for viewers to “relive the first mission.” Filled with audio clips from the astronauts who made the trip and original photographs from the era, this presentation allows the user to explore the Apollo 11 firsthand and get a taste of what it must have been like to live during the time of the great “Space Race.”

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Making it Relevant: Discovering Darwin

June 19, 2009

This Friday series (by Joshua Eskew, a senior at Marian College studying English and communication, and an intern with the Indiana Humanities Council), will help expose the relevance of studying the classics.

Charles Darwin’s relevance should be obvious. Ever since he published his theory of evolution by natural selection, people from all sides have butted heads harder than a pair of drunken ibeks. Yet I would be willing to gamble that most people still haven’t read The Origin of Species or any of Darwin’s subsequent work.

Unfortunately, Darwin falls victim to the most common of accusations poised at the classics: he can be awfully boring. Needless to say, you do not need to agonize over every specific detail he lists in order to get the gist of his observations, or to appreciate the profound impact his findings have had on the humanities. While Darwin catalogues pigeons as specifically as most rap artists catalogue their gold, guns, and girls, we need not bother with every genetic variation to know that when we consider the origins of life in any capacity, we are entering into a yet uncharted realm of the humanities.

Darwin also falls victim to the misconception that one needs to be a scientist to appreciate him – but you need simply to be a human being. Darwin never fully details whether or not evolution is simply the means or the end in itself. And we don’t even need to buy into evolution to understand how important it is to ask where we came from. What is the relationship between science and how we live our lives? Where did we come from, after all? If we evolved by some purely natural, unintelligent process, how do we create meaning in our lives? Can such a theory be reconciled to the notions of the divine we all sometimes feel?

Darwin’s work should not be read in the same way as the polemic bile of some radical proponents of evolution. We must consider him the same way we consider ourselves – as curious explorers of the world. We can ask the same questions he asked and avoid the controversy surrounding evolution because the questions Darwin asks are valuable in and of themselves. It seems strange that so vicious a public debate should continue to rage over a work that many simply have not read, and do not appreciate. We owe it to ourselves, and to each other, to engage the ideas that continue to shape our lives and our future.

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Literature and medicine go hand in hand

June 1, 2009

Written by Emily Beckman, assistant scholar for the Medical Humanities/Health Studies Program at IUPUI.

Healthcare workers including physicians, nurses, social workers, chaplains and others need exposure to and involvement in the humanities.  Literature provides opportunities for exploration which most of us would not experience in real life, exercising our moral imaginations.  Great novels and short stories take us to far away places to meet people very different than ourselves.  Literature expands our imaginations, enabling us to better relate to and empathize with others whose experiences are very different from our own. 

Together with the Indiana Humanities Council and the Medical Humanities-Health Studies Program, IUPUI, St. Vincent Hospital has joined other U.S. hospitals and health care facilities in hosting a Literature and Medicine:  Humanities at the Heart of Indiana Health Care program.  Each of six seminars provides an innovative humanities reading and discussion program for health care providers that encourage them to connect the world of science with the world of lived experience.  The discussion group will meet bi-weekly this summer at St. Vincent Hospital, taking humanities into the heart of the workplace, directly affecting the way in which work is performed, and quite literally integrating the humanities with health care.  The seminar gives participants an opportunity to reflect on their professional roles and relationships through the lens of literature, and to have the opportunity to share their reflections with their colleagues in health care. The selected readings in the Indiana Lit and Med Program supply rich accounts of the illness experience from varying perspectives. 

If healthcare workers are able to relate to patients and other healthcare workers on a more empathetic, and humane level, not only will healthcare institutions become more humane places of healing, but communities at large will benefit as well.

For more information, visit http://medhumanities.iupui.edu/.