Author: adcurtis

The Camera as a Weapon

LaToya Frazier, an artist from Braddock, Pennsylvania, discussed how art is revolutionary. She is living with lupus, a chronic illness, due to the poor water conditions of her old mill town. She uses her photography as a protest to demonstrate the struggles the people who live in that town and other places similar experience. She said that her goal is to make visible the invisible reality of systematic racism and oppression that usually go unseen. She documents her family to demonstrate the intergenerational pain that was caused by the fail of industry in her town and the lack of aid and criminalization of those who still live in Braddock. Her work explores familial relations, landscape, and personal and social activism to fight for basic human rights for the folks who are victims of environmental racism.

Usually, the images people produce are their best selves. In other words, the images people take and share show themselves how they want to be viewed by the world. These pictures tend to be of friends, eating at nice restaurants, maybe at a party. However, Frazier challenges these assumptions, while still producing images of how she wants to be viewed by the world. Her pictures are of her and her family’s pain, illnesses, dying town, and the isolation they feel. She does this to demonstrate life in Braddock because she believes, “history of a place is written on the body.” So often, the media and photographers show snapshots of places like Braddock when there is a disaster or something they deem “newsworthy”. This was seen in Flint, Michigan. People were horrified for maybe a month when Obama drank the dirty water, however the tribulations of that population have now been ignored again, with no change in policy or aid. However, when this lack of resources and criminalization of a population is ever-present, it becomes easier for the privileged majority of the U.S. to ignore these issues. However, this erasure is ignoring real people and is creating very real consequences for the quality of their lives.

Her success stemmed from her lack of ability to do something. She saw injustices not only with the environment, but also with health care and drug wars. She found her voice through photography. Documentation was her power. She learned to make pictures and show what people do not see. She learned to use stereotypes of people to reframe them. Her images became her message, and she was responsible for them. So often, images that are distributed perpetuate negative stereotypes and racism. The media choses to select certain images, distort others, and omit the rest. The media has its own agenda, controlled by the few, and as a business, tend to focus on topics that will not garner any backlash from those in power. Frazier’s activism through her work with her camera is necessary to bring to light the struggles of people that we do not see in the media.

The Haitian Revolution

Until recently, the Haitian Revolution of 1804 was not given the term ‘revolution’. It was not given the same prestige that the American or French Revolutions were given that occurred in the same 30 year time period. Jeremy Popkin argued that this erasure is because of the historically, the U.S. denies the same privileges we enjoy to people of color. He also believed that this prejudice stems from similar denial of prestige to salves or lower class populations for slaves lead the revolution that occurred in Haiti. Revolutions are seen as “triumphs of reason” therefore it seems impossible to historians that slaves could have achieved so much. However, this freedom marker is imperative to understanding larger ideological shifts happening in the west to free slaves. During this same time period, abolition of slavery, and the beginning of the continuous fight for people of color’s rights began around this time in the U.S. and France.

This language shift is a crucial step in valuing all histories. So often, we ignore the histories of non-European or American states because we say there is no evidence. However, Popkin has devoted his career to looking at other forms of evidence, mainly paintings, drawings, and oral storytelling. As histories continually get erased because they are not powerful or victorious states that understand data and evidence the same way, we are losing the opportunity to learn from and understand many cultures. This denial is hurting us in the present for many people are trying to understand their place in the world and their impact on the future. Without the past, we do not fully understand problems in the present.

However, this is not just applicable to foreign countries. Before the 1950’s many non-white authors deemed the revolution in Haiti revolutionary. They were using the term because they were able to look past white biases and understand the history for what it was. They also could understand the struggle to accept giving equal rights to all people regardless of skin color because their ancestors faced similar struggles, and people of color in America still face prejudices. Ignoring this term used by esteemed authors is remarkable to me because it demonstrates that we, as a society, have not changed. We are still erasing people’s history or expertise based on their skin color. Our society is so slow to change and understand basic facts because our country was made believing in these hierarchies and biases. Yet, we speak of progress, but so much is still from the white, male perspective. This is a perspective of extreme privilege that has the ability to erase or ignore people’s history or modern works. We need to learn from our deliberate erasure of the Haitian Revolution and learn to give value to all historians, regardless of their skin color or data sources, and actively seek to understand the histories of other marginalized countries, for they have much to offer to our understanding of global history. That would be truly revolutionary.

Confronting our Histories

The past shapes the present. It is important to regard history in this way. Jeffrey Schnapp’s lecture about uncomfortable monuments argued this same point. He believes that it is important to find modern meaning in monuments that no longer make sense in the modern day. He defines a monument as a “stimulus of thought”. Monuments hold historical value; describing what the social values were of the time period they were constructed. However, he has come to realize that monuments oppose our industrial nature. We live in an industrial era that values progress and change, rather than idealizing the past. To this end, we believe that buildings should function for the living, rather than memorialize people of long ago that does not serve a relevant purpose for today’s industries or institutions.

It is easy to want to preserve monuments in which the history we believe supports their memorialization. Because victors write history, their monuments reflect the victorious side. Therefore, if someone said they were going to tear down Ground Zero people, at least western countries would be very upset. This monument still holds relevance in today’s society, as many of us were immediately affected by this tragedy. However, what if the monument did not reflect the majority’s views? Schnapp explored this question with the Monumento All Vittoria on the border of Austria and Italy. After World War 1, the Italians constructed the monument to send a message to Austria. The Eastern side of the monument spoke of enlightenment, and the northern side criticized the “barbarians” that lived there, a direct insult to the Germanic populations. Recently, this monument was recontextualized, an ode to the history of what occurred on the border of Italy and Austria.

Naturally, history has victors and therefore losers, as well. However, that does not mean that the victors are inherently good. Looking back on the history of the U.S., our ancestors made many horrible choices and oppressed and tortured many people. And often, we do not acknowledge the role our ancestors and our race played in history. In fact, some of our textbooks are trying to rid their pages of conversations about slavery. We cannot rewrite history, and we must recognize the mistakes our countries have made. And I believe that is imperative when discussing monuments as well. Our monuments are symbols of our histories, even if we are ashamed of what they are symbolizing. We must acknowledge and feel uncomfortable with this information. Schnapp speaks about critical reframing rather than critical demolition to understand modern monuments. Following my example, I do not support monuments that uphold slavery, however I think that it is important to create an educational space where we can discuss the horrors and the public approval of the horrors that existed. In this way, we can learn from our past mistakes. In order to understand our current situation, we must learn from our past. Monuments should serve as educational tools that can spread awareness about our histories. However, we must be sensitive to how they are remade, just like we must be sensitive in what we are including in our textbooks. The information must be accurate, with the purpose to inform, rather than to erase or sympathize with the oppressors. Racism, sexism, homophobia still exists in the U.S. and we must learn how to understand our history regarding minorities, and how we can value and support them in the future.

Data and Politics

Aaron Hanlon argued that humans have always used data to understand and interpret the world, however when data revolution was when data became the main form of evidence. This is problematic because data is inherently biased based on collection methods and context, so therefore evidence becomes biased. And we often present data or images of data, like graphs and charts, without giving context. Therefore, the meaning of the data is completely changed when it is put in context. And, we see this trend when we look at the word frequency data between data, fact and truth. Today, many people do not use the word truth nearly as often as they use data or fact. Therefore, I believe that this means that truth carries less weight in our society than words like fact or data. However, we know that data must be interpreted to establish fact, allowing for errors.

This rhetoric is extremely prevalent in our political campaign. We have seen an overall devaluing of truth in the debates. Hillary Clinton is considered one of the most distrusted candidates. And Donald Trump is known for fabricating numbers and facts, yet he is largely excused for this behavior. The fact-checkers for the debates found that Trump lied significantly more than Clinton. However, his repeated use of the word “wrong” continued the Clinton is untrustworthy narrative. The use of the word wrong implies that something is not correct. This means that instead of saying that Clinton was lying or not telling the truth, he is saying that her facts are incorrect. Although largely being correct and lying are interchangeable these days, this highlights the distinction Professor Hanlon made in his argument.

Politics has become so polarized that many people only receive information from sources that align with their political interests. They look at the visual representation, the graphs and the charts, and this data only reinforces their already formed beliefs. We live in an era where we have so many different sites that have the news that we can choose which ones we look at because they favor our opinions. This is deeply concerning considering how we know what we know, or how we decide what is true. Because we limit our worldview in such a way, notions of fear and resentment of the other opinion can spread. And because we see evidence for our own beliefs, no matter how unfounded or false they may be, we insist that they are true because most of all, we trust ourselves. Therefore, we define truth based on data, and therefore truth must be interpretive rather than factual. This explains the power the media has over all of our news. And this is one of the reasons Trump won the presidency. The media initially refused to condemn Trump because of the views and shares articles and videos of him were creating. And thus he was seen as a viable candidate because no one questioned his outrageous and often unfounded claims.

Socially Constructing Ability and Evolution

Judy Stone argued that one of the misconceptions about Darwin’s theory of evolution is the idea that humans evolved via gradation rather than a branched process. This follows the thinking that Plato and Aristotle began with their theories of classification and placing species in types. Now, modern popular culture has continued the trend with depictions of the walking ape to man image. This image symbolizes that human beings, who can walk, are tall, muscular, in-shape, are the “ideal” being that time and evolution have perfected. Stone argues that evolution does not have an ultimate goal.

However, Stone believes that this popularized misconception is dangerous because it places people in categories. Mainly, this way of viewing variations allows for racial bias to persist in society. I also argue that it allows for all other forms of discrimination, such as gender, sexuality, intellectual dis/ability to persist. Stone said that for evolution to exist, variation must occur within populations. Therefore, we should not look at these variations as wrong, but rather as acceptable differences that are naturally occurring. If we change this narrative to become inclusive, rather than exclusive, we, as a society, will prosper due to the diversity present. However, this means that we must view people who look or think differently as an asset rather than a less developed person.

For example, people with intellectual learning dis/abilities are not dumber than the “normative” person, but rather they think, process, and decode differently. And many people who are diagnosed tend to excel in certain areas, however they are usually stifled because society sees them as different. This is reinforced by “the gene” that scientists claim to find that singularly causes these variations. However, Stone argues that variable traits are caused by more than just one gene, and usually the causes of these variations are very complex and multiple in nature.

These misconceptions further promote the social construction of dis/abilities. We tend to look at intellectual variations through the normative, ableist perspective. This means that we believe that there is something to “fix” in people who are not the same as us, such as those diagnosed with autism, dyslexia, etc. Our image of the standing, muscular usually male is our construction of the “perfect” human. And because the image follows a step-by-step improvement pattern, the message being sent is that people who are not able to stand, or who are not skinny, strong, and what society sees as attractive, we decide that person is less perfect. We assign labels to people who are different than us to further the typological thinking that began with Aristotle and Plato. The variation that made them less “perfect” allows people to call their variations wrong, instead of different. Although, some of these diseases are caused by genetics, we root the person’s ability to learn, work, and contribute to society in science, as well.

Curiosity and Climate Science

Kerry Emanuel spoke about how the discoveries in geography, physics and chemistry contributed to what we know about our climate and how it works. He argued that the revolutions in climate science all built off one another. There was no single discovery that revolutionized science, but rather each scientists’’ discoveries were built off of each other’s idea and gradually progressed our understanding of modern climate science. He said that one of the greatest revolutions of climate science was the technological revolution. It is so hard to measure our global climate without accurate tools that can retrieve vast amounts of data over large areas of our world. This is extremely important in understanding general climate processes and changes because the data that is collected must be representative of the larger areas, however weather and affects vary so greatly over small distances that, as technology improves, so do the ways and quality of the data we collect. However, with the technological revolution came the mass consumption of fossil fuels, which exacerbated global warming, the very thing they were studying.

Emanuel argues that what makes the study of climatology unique is that it is completely driven by curiosity. Dating as far back as the 19th century, scientists started noticing that temperatures were rising. And from this interest is global warming, came the research and discoveries that lead us to understand how our weather and climate processes work. This sense of curiosity led us to discover why there were large ice sheets that covered the globe, or in other words, why the Earth’s surface temperature changes. And these intrinsic wonders are still the driving forces for scientists today.

However, this idea of curiosity is absent from our schools these days. With the national trend towards standardized testing, instilling a general sense of wonderment about the environment around us is sacrificed. So often, rote memorization is practiced in science class, rather than critical thinking that allows them to explore and research questions they have about the natural processes of our world. For example, the scientific method is taught nationally, and an accepted practice in our schools. However, the first two steps are making an observation and developing a hypothesis. I argue that there should be a step about wondering or taking time to explore scientific principles that can capture a student’s attention. However, factoring in the time it takes to allow children to each wonder about different scientific processes is time consuming, as well as creates the opportunity for students to each study different facets of the subject. This is in tension with the idea of having one lab experience for a class, and having them write the same report, which is arguably easier for a teacher to execute. However, what this does not take into account is that we are creating the next generation of scientists. The students of today are going to have to figure out how to create clean energy, slow the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and slow the rise of global temperatures. And Emanuel argues that this is impossible without creativity. Therefore, we are doing a disservice to our students, as well as our global population by not promoting children’s curiosities.

Romanticizing Darwin

Professor Janet Browne argued that the Darwinian Revolution was not fully Darwinian and was not fully revolutionary. Although Darwin believed that the work he was doing would eventually change the way we thought of science, he did not think it would happen in his lifetime. This demonstrates her point that Darwin was not the only person studying evolution, and it was a combination of his contemporaries like Herbert Spencer, Robert Chambers, and Alfred Russel Wallace, and scientists who came after like David Lack that created the evolution revolution. Browne also argued that it was not fully revolutionary because the time line that we associate with the Darwin revolution is too limited. It was not until the 1940’s and 1950’s, almost 100 years after his death, that people fully began to embrace natural selection and evolution. Browne argued that the Darwinian Revolution may be a misnomer, but it is so because of the hype that has been created after Darwin’s death.

Western culture has a tendency to assign hero personas to public figures. Our understanding of history requires recognizing the successes of one person, and then making that person seem larger than life. Western mythology centers around “the hero” who has a conflict with “the bad guy,” who usually symbolizes a negative trait. The hero then fights “the bad guy” because “the hero” fundamentally believes that their cause will help people. Because we are raised learning stories that follow a similar story structure, we are able to process history and real life events better when they are presented in a familiar context. In Darwin’s case, he is credited with discovering how natural selection and evolution works, defeating the creationist view of the Church. Darwin is romanticized as the person who gave us evolution. However, understanding history this way is limiting because it does not take into account how difficult it is to transform ideology. The evolution revolution involved many people working towards the same goal over a long period of time.

For Darwin, his fame came after his death. He became an icon, accessible to all people, not just scientists through his legacy, largely romanticized because of his family’s efforts to make him iconic. The evolution of the neanderthal image is associated with his name because he has been so romaticized, but in fact, Darwin did not draw it. The last picture taken of Darwin depicts him as an observer. He is old, has a long beard, and is wearing a hat that casts a shadow over his eyes, as he leans against a tree. His gaze is strong, observant, and wise. Many remember him in this way, largely due in part to the picture rather than his actual work. It demonstrates his vision to question creationism. And it is because of this vision he is accredited with quotes he did not write, pictures of evolution that he did not draw, and using his observations of the famous finches to create theories that he did not create.

Social Media Revolutions in the US

Khalid Albaih is a political cartoonist originally from Sudan, but was forced to flee to Qatar where he lives now. During the Arab Spring revolution in 2010, Albaih was on the front lines so to speak, depicting the corruption, violence, and propaganda perpetrated by the government. Many artists and activists turned to social media in the Middle East because they did not have a platform for which to share their ideas and frustrations. Like Professor Wood spoke about last week, in times of crises, one the main responses is creative sympathy. Albaih is known as the Artist of the Revolution because from his anger, pain, and fear came his art that has reached millions of people. As an artist, he has used his art, which he has said to be a sort of universal language, to unite people in the Middle East. However, his art would not have such a profound impact or reach quite as large of an audience if it was not for social media.

So often, social media is portrayed as a necessary evil in our world. Consumerism, issues of representation, inappropriate political arguments, and bullying are just a few of the evils that find a home in social media. So often my news feeds are filled with “selfies” and images of privilege, that we do not always realize the power social media can have on a movement or a revolution. However, I think that in the United States, we have started to see mediums like Facebook highlighting the injustices happening here. Originally a grassroots movement that began on social media, the Black Lives Matter movement has been responsible for this change in the US. And the movement gained so much traction because information can spread so quickly online. Now, anytime an attack or a shooting occurs in the western world, Facebook and Snapchat have filters that you can add to your photos and articles and pictures are quickly spread throughout our feeds, reaching millions quickly.

Although it is amazing how quickly news travels in this way, it is extremely disheartening how it is forgotten even faster. Albaih mentioned that these movements do not take off or result in affirmative action in this country because of our privilege. Those in powerful positions are not threatened with death everyday like those who began the Black Lives Matter movement. As a country, we do not think that we need to change, and we have convinced ourselves that maybe the next act of violence or the next protest will reignite our revolutionary spirits. In other words, we are not in a rush to change the injustices that occur in the US. This is because of the power imbalance in our country. Propaganda in our mainstream media is controlled by those in power, therefore it is not reflective of our citizens. Therefore, the messages we receive maintain our power structures and keep radical movements like Black Lives Matter at bay, so as not to have their power threatened. When looked at through this lens, the western world is just as dangerous and unprogressive as we portray other countries including Middle Eastern countries.

Climate Responses in the 21st Century

Professor Wood’s eco-centric perspective allows a narrative to be created from the different isolated events that occurred in the early 1800’s. Because he applied a global, anthropological, ecological, geological, environmental lens, he was able to understand the extent to which human interaction with the environment was affected by the volcano’s eruption. Tambora erupted in 1816 beginning extreme climate changes and harsh environmental patterns that affected the world. Famine due to shortened growing seasons, forest fires in Russia, the exodus of people from New England have been looked at as isolated events, but when looked at together we see a system of vulnerability. At the end of his lecture, Wood said that looking at history with an ecological perspective must be practiced because our relationship with the environment is only getting worse. Due to our industrial and technological dependencies, we have been impacting the natural environment in ways that will cause repercussions. Therefore, we must use the Tambora eruption as a model of how vulnerable we are to changing weather systems because our weather patterns will become more extreme as we continue to disrupt the environment.

Wood believes that the impacts that occurred because of the Tambora eruption are comparable to the climate changes we are witnessing today because of our industrial impacts on the environment, which is evident if we look at the cause and effects of Hurricane Katrina. Wood argues that there are three stages of climate shock response that people experience after they go through a traumatic event: proto-revolutionary violence, flight into hell, and creative sympathy. In the wake of the hurricane, violence broke out in New Orleans. People were terrified because there was no law enforcement, so many looted to feed themselves and other people tried to fight the looters. And even now, there are many parts of New Orleans, such as the Lower Ninth Ward, that are still considered dangerous because they have not been reconstructed since the hurricane hit. This mirrors the rioting, and violence done to themselves or others of the 1800’s.

Wood also spoke of the flight into hell or the way the poorest were treated in Switzerland. Due to the intersection of race and class, many poor black people in New Orleans were left to die because of a lack of government support during the event and afterwards. Wood talked of the beginning of government assisting in humanitarian efforts, but the work done by FEMA and federal government was delayed and lacking. And as a result, the poorest people were not givens safety, were turned away by their neighbors, and largely ignored by their country. Although efforts were made by certain charitable groups, the reaction to one of the most devastating events in recent US history was severely underwhelming.

Creative sympathy was what Wood defined as humanitarian compositions in response to the devastation. The bicycle was invented because horses were being killed and eaten, or Frankenstein was written because Mary Shelley was trapped inside due to the bad weather and the character Frankenstein was a symbol of the starving, half-dead Swiss population. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina yielded similar results. Books were written detailing the destruction by authors like Dave Eggers. But perhaps the greatest change was the completely new school system that was put in place. Every school in New Orleans was shut down, all teachers rehired, and the schools themselves were turned into charter schools. New Orleans was a national experiment to see if charter schools could save the American public school system. Although some schools have done better than others, graduation rates have improved. Wood spoke about how we need to look at our history to prepare ourselves for extreme weather events to come, but I think we are already experiencing mass destruction and desolation because of already changing climatic systems, and we must look at how we respond and who we are helping and who we are ignoring.

What is a revolution?

The Scientific Revolution is recognized as the beginning of experiential science and inquiry, otherwise known as the basis of modern science. However, this was not the first time inquiry based exploration and scientific practice had been used. In fact, it originated in the classical period with Aristotle and his contemporaries. So while many people understand this period as a revolt against medieval science, which means a revolt against superstition, religion, and politics as they affect science, it is in fact a continuation of scientific processes from the classical and medieval time periods. What did change was our definition of science.

Aristotle said, “All people by nature desire to know.” Our views are always changing with different discoveries and reflections. And Aristotle observed how we understand how we understand the world. Starting from observation and then experimenting is part of the modern scientific method. Although the conclusions people came to are considered “unscientific” now, they were considered scientific when they were first published. And many scientists risked their reputations, careers, and imprisonment because their findings were so innovative that many people, especially the church, felt threatened. What made this period of discovery unique was the fundamental shift in what we believed was science. However, I predict that there will be shifts in thinking what is and isn’t the appropriate way to study science in the future.

In his lecture, Professor Cohen argued, “the most revolutionary part of the Scientific Revolution is that we use the metaphor of revolution.” A revolution means that one is revolting against something, an institution, a tyrant, a system of ideals or beliefs. That is why the Scientific Revolution is considered a break with medieval science methods. However, if it is a reversion to the classical era and Aristotle and his contemporaries’ methods, then it cannot be considered a revolution. However, we deemed their scientific processes modern and that was revolutionary. The dramatic change was in the way we decided what was scientific and then attacked what we decided was not scientific.

In every revolution, political or otherwise, whomever “wins” gets to decide how we look back on that period in history. In this instance, Descartes, Galileo, and Bacon were the leading minds and they shaped how we study science today by reverting back to classical era thinking. Because of this, other scientists in other parts of the world who practiced science this way are not part of the history we study. The term revolution is also interesting to deconstruct in a more modern context, as well. For instance, in American history, we have the American Revolution, in which we revolted against the British because our ideologies were different and we were being controlled by a foreign super power. We refer to it as a revolution because there was a dramatic change of power, and we won. However, if you look at the Civil Rights Movement, it is called a movement rather than a revolution because people of color did not gain all their rights, and are still fighting for them today. The dramatic shift in ideology did not completely occur, and those in power, white people, would not concede this power. So, regardless of whether the scientific revolution should be considered a revolution, the term, revolution, gives authority to the period, the discoveries made, and the scientists who made them.