Author: bholtzer

On Being Revolutionary.

For our final lecture of the year, we heard from the post-doctoral fellow in the Sociology Department, Marcos Perez. His talk largely focused on what it means to be revolutionary and discussed all of the possible meanings of the word revolutionary. Prior to this, most of the lectures that we heard this past semester were focused on one revolution or simply one sect of revolutions. I greatly appreciated Perez’s discussion to end the semester because, to me, it seemed as though he provided a broader perspective with which to think about revolutions.

Part of what I thought made Perez’s lecture so successful was the way in which he organized his thoughts. First, he reminded everyone about the definition of a social revolution before he got more granular and at the end was providing specific examples of revolutions. He stated that a social revolution is defined as a profound transformation in the way society is organized and ruled that creates change throughout history. By the end of his talk, he was citing the Cuban Revolution as one example of a Revolution.

After listening to Marcos Perez’s talk, I would say that I must agree with his points. As someone who spent significant time studying abroad in Cuba, I saw the effects of a revolution firsthand. Given Marcos Perez’s definition of a revolution, I must agree that the Cuban Revolution was indeed a revolution. Prior to Fidel Castro imposing a communist government, Cuba was under the rule of Fulgencio Batista- a corrupt dictator. Oftentimes, the Cuban government in the 1940s had the best interests of the American people at heart and not so much of the Cuban people. In this sense, the change from Fulgencio Batista to the communist government suggested by Castro was truly a drastic change.

This is quite different to what Keith Peterson lectured about in his lecture the week prior. In his talk, he claimed that We Have Never Been Revolutionary. As evidenced by the Cuban Revolution profoundly changing the way in which the Cuban society functioned.

Furthermore, Perez ended his talk with two ideas. First, that revolutions are crucial and second, that revolutions are nebulous. As someone who spent time in Cuba, I will agree that the Cuban revolution was crucial, but I do not agree that the Cuban Revolution was nebulous. The Cuban Revolution was a very concrete thing whose effects are still being felt today.

Writing this final reflection has made me realize truly how varied the lectures were that comprised this course. Using revolutions as a vehicle, we’ve seen the varied views that exist on one topic. In some regards, this course has been a very good representation of Colby- a place where lots of different views are offered on a subject and each is respected for its merit.

Masculinities in Post Revolutionary Cuba and Mexico

This past week I was unable to attend the lecture due to the change of days. I am in another Revolutions themed course called “Masculinities in Post-Revolutionary Cuba and Mexico.” I have been taking this course all semester and it has been excellent. Primarily, we have focused on exploring the topic of how Cuba and Mexican American Males Revolutionaries are portrayed in various performances.

In order to do so, we have read plays, listened to music, watched videos of dancing, and explored many other mediums of performance. In addition to exploring historical revolutions that already happened, we also investigated how performance can be revolutionary. For example, in the class, we discussed whether or not a photograph should be considered a performance. For me, this thought was revolutionary, as I had never considered art to be a performance. After thinking about this more, I now think that we can consider photography a performance and these performances can be revolutionary.

This past week in the class, we began planning our final project. For the project, the members of the class will come together to do a performance that focuses on a topic that we deem needs a revolution. In the class, we debated some possible ideas and two rose to the top of our list- masculinity at Colby and “popping the Colby Bubble.” Ultimately, after watching the election a few weeks ago, we decided to explore the topic of the Colby Bubble and how we could go about popping the Colby Bubble. I feel that the election showed us how sometimes at Colby we find ourselves unconnected to the outside world. In the class (and more generally at Colby) we were all surprised by the Trump Victory in the election. This is just further shows how much of a bubble Colby is since nobody on Mayflower Hill expected him to win.

For our performance, we have decided to encourage members of the Colby Community to pop the Colby Bubble. This would be a revolutionary thought for some Mules. Our general idea about what we want to do is as follows. We would like to engage students and faculty in the Spa by almost bringing the bubble to them and making them realize that this is a real issue. Our initial vision for the project is the following: we all walk into the Spa wearing Bubble Soccer Suits from Bubble Soccer. Before we enter, we would have covered the wall in bubble wrap and have a bubble machine producing bubbles for all those in the Spa. This would allow them to pop their own bubbles while metaphorically pop bubbles and think about how the Colby Bubble is a very real problem on Mayflower Hill. Our hope for the project is that people at Colby will begin to think more about life outside of Mayflower Hill.

Data and Politics

As a student of Economics at Colby, I place a lot of value on data as a tool to support the theories that I learn in the classroom. In fact, without the use of data in Economics, we would not be able to prove any of the theories or show evidence for any of the studies that are conducted. Data is a fundamental tool in the discipline. Thus, I found professor Hanlon’s discussion on revolutions in Data to be particularly insightful, as it made me think about how my own Colby career has been impacted by data becoming the main form of evidence. At the end of his discussion, Hanlon conjectured that the revolution regarding data was when it became the main form of evidence.

As recently as last Friday, I saw professor Hanlon’s conjecture in practice. In my Behavioral Economics class, we were looking at a paper detailing the Anatomy of an Experimental Political Stock Market, economists use data from the Iowa Presidential Stock Market to yield predictions of the expected vote shares of the presidential candidates in presidential elections.

Hanlon cited Francis Bacon and Robert Hooke’s use of images to convey how data functions better than words when it comes to scientific knowledge. For example, in Robert Hooke’s Micrographia, the author publishes images of the things he observes under a microscope so that the reader of the book has a visual on what it is he is describing. The inclusion of images in Robert Hooke’s book is interesting because it shows that data at one point was visual, and not necessarily what we consider it to be today. Today, the word data is synonymous with numerical and quantitative evidence.

Today, when I hear the word data, I think not of the images of Hooke’s Micrographia, but instead of the election polls that detail the number of people who are voting for each candidate in a specific state. The ever-changing numbers that appear on the news each morning are symbolic of how it is numbers, not pictures, that are the data we care about. This idea is interesting however, because it is with these poll percentages, that we almost always create a map showing which regions of the country are dominated by which candidate. It is via this manner that the political data is displayed that draws me back to professor Hanlon’s conjecture about all data being visual.

After reading some of the other student’s responses, I found one idea particularly interesting. Mike described how data can misrepresent somebody or something. I am wondering how can we think about this idea given Professor Hanlon’s discussion. He doesn’t seem to mention how data can misrepresent some things. However, given my discussion of how we display political data on a map, is it possible that when a state is shown as red or blue, that it is a misrepresentation? For example, in a state like Maine (which usually votes democratically), the weight of the population lives in York and Cumberland Counties. Is this truly how most of the state of Maine feels, or is the data a misrepresentation because a large percentage of the population live in Southern Maine?

What’s Wrong With Evolution

Prior to Professor Stone’s lecture, I had never thought about the problematic nature of how we think about evolution. The classic image where a chimpanzee crawls along the ground at the left-most part of the image and then a human is shown walking on two feet at the right-most part of the image is problematic because it forces the idea that humans are superior to another species. It supports the idea of typological thinking that Professor Stone spoke against.

The idea of typological thinking began with the work of Plato and Aristotle, and their study of taxonomy/ the systematic classification of species. The practice of Taxonomy speaks to this idea of typological thinking, because it showcases those perfect species against those who may have some kind of variation. Thus, we can see that Typological thinking is deeply rooted in history.

The work of Darwin speaks against this idea of typological thinking. He spoke against the idea of humans being genetically identical regardless of the color of their skin. We now know through additional scientific research (the Human Genome Project) that this is in fact correct. However, even though we have the scientific evidence to support the idea that humans are all the same species, racism still exists in our world. The antiquated idea that some humans are superior to others is rooted in this idea of typological thinking that Professor Stone mentioned even though in many senses it has been scientifically proven to be incorrect. Today, this manifests itself in the form of racism. For some reason, people continue to be racist even though we know from scientific evidence that there are no genetic differences among humans with different skin colors.

Another point that professor Stone made in her lecture was the difference between evolutionists and mutationists- a distinction that I did not realize until professor Stone made it during her discussion. Mutationists view mutations as the source of variation within a species and that Natural Selection hinges on how good these mutations are. Evolutionists on the other hand, recognize that the inter-species variation that exists within a species does not render one member of that species as drastically different from another. We must begin to shift our thinking from more of an evolutionist perspective from that of a mutationist.

My favorite part of professor Stone’s lecture was her final slide where she showed her proposed new image of how to depict evolution. Instead of having the image move from chimpanzees to humans, it moved from a single species and showcased the branching out to many different species. Thus, there was no single terminus point and the evolution was continuing outwards. Following this image, there is then no one species that is better than any other and the typological thought that professor Stone mentioned at the start of her discussion is eliminated.

A Series of Small Steps

Prior to this lecture, I was unfamiliar with the history of climate science. While I have been taking a Science, Technology and Society class this entire semester, we have not focused so much on the history of the discipline, more so the discipline itself. That is why I found Kerry Emmanuel’s lecture particularly interesting- it provided background on the history of the material I was learning in ST231.

Emmanuel opened his lecture with the idea that over the last 200 years, a number of small steps has been taken for the advancement of atmospheric science. Firstly, it was interesting to hear the contributions that the various scientists of old have made to the field. Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier developed the idea of how heat flows through materials. Later in his discussion, Emmanuel spoke about Max Planck and his trying to explain blackbody curves, as well as John Tyndall and his discovery that Nitrogen, Oxygen and Argon are the gasses that make up 99% of earth’s atmosphere. This fact in particular was interesting to learn, as it then proceeded to appear on our STS midterm the following week!

The idea that the field of atmospheric science came about via a series of smaller discoveries reinforces that idea that Emmanuel mentioned in his talk: the sum of a series of small steps may outweigh the advancement of a single, larger jump. This idea is interesting because it is through this series of small steps that other scientists are able to do their work. The small steps that came before them create the basis for their current work.

Personally, the most interesting part of the lecture was hearing about how climate change is a serious problem that is impacting the earth. It is via a series of “small steps” that has driven us to our current predicament regarding climate change. We must all realize that it will take a large jump to fix the current state of the earth and the warming that is occurring on our planet.

However, this problem is not universally accepted. For example, one of the presidential candidates in the upcoming election does not believe that global warming is an issue. While it seems that atmospheric science has advanced in many ways, it definitely has some additional ways in which to develop, as everyone must believe that the Earth warming is a problem before the problem can be solved.

In a sense, the idea that we must begin to believe that humans have caused major and disproportionate issues in Earth’s climate is a major revolution. Just like all of the “revolutions” in atmospheric science that we saw from the first part of the lecture, this is yet the next logical step for the field to take. The time to be complacent has passed us. We must jump into fixing the problems with the earth.

What Makes a Revolutionary?

There is no doubt that Charles Darwin is one of the greatest icons of science. Not only has he impacted science, but his presence transcends time. Even today, he has his face on the 10-pound note, has a college named after him at Cambridge, and is the focus of countless movies. Given all of this, his mass popularity begs the question, what makes Charles Darwin such a likeable figure even outside of the world of science? Why is he so often romanticized? Is this at all related to him being considered a revolutionary and being a part of our “revolutions” lecture series?

Prior to this lecture, I knew a little bit about Charles Darwin, however I wasn’t too familiar with the specifics of his life or how much he actually accomplished during his time on this earth. For example, I was unaware of the fact that Darwin came from a family of money and as a result, he was able to turn his private home into a laboratory where he could pursue his passions. The fact that he was able to completely dedicate his life to his true love of science (in my mind) is what makes him so likeable among the people of today. It is rare that today people attack their passions and dive in to them as fully as Darwin did. This may be due to personal financial problems, or simply mentally being unable to dedicate the full amount of energy required.

During the lecture, I was drawn to the likeness between Darwin and another famous revolutionary- Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. (I was drawn to make this connection because I spent last fall studying abroad in Cuba, so when I hear the term revolutionary, my mind automatically drifts there.) I think this is a fitting comparison because both had similar experiences which led them to their work. Both came from financially secure families, and were driven to do more with their lives, they both embarked on large journeys which altered their views of the world, then they used these journeys to create change in the world that we still feel today. More generally, I feel as though the lives of both have been romanticized and they will go down in the annals of history as essential figures.

I think part of what makes Darwin (and also Che) “unforgettable” is the fact that he lived his life to the fullest. While this is the goal of many people, I do not believe that it is the case for many people. It is not common for a person to find as much success as Darwin found while doing something that you are truly passionate about. It is almost as though Darwin was a precursor for the entrepreneurs of today that found tech companies and make billions of dollars by building an app that solves the world’s problems.

In any event, the characteristics that were found in Darwin have been found in many people who were/are revered by humanity as “revolutionaries,” but more than that as great humans. His legend will live on.

Changes in Revolutions

I would like to begin by saying that I enjoyed hearing Khalid Albaih speak last Tuesday. His discussion gave me a new perspective on revolutions and how the modern revolution is very different to some of the historical revolutions that we learn about in school. His discussion about the use of social media in the Arab Spring, as well as his personal use of cartoons as a means to inspire revolution, is quite contrary to everything that I have learned about revolutions to this point.

For me, when I hear about a country having a revolution, I immediately think of one place- Cuba. Since I studied abroad there last fall, the Cuban revolution automatically serves as my reference point for any other revolution. Listening to Khalid Albaih speak about his experience as a “revolutionary” in the Arab Spring in 2013 showed me firsthand how much revolutions have evolved as time has passed.

During my time in Cuba, I studied the Cuban Revolution as a part of my Cuban history class. We learned about Fidel Castro and Che Guevara slowly making their way across Cuba from east to west and convincing people slowly about their movement and building momentum for their revolution that way. Eventually, after years of building their revolution (in front of the Cuban government at the time), they eventually succeeded in rolling into Havana and taking the capital.

From Khalid Albaih’s discussion, I learned just how much the model for a revolution has changed since the 1950s. He described how he and others involved in the revolutions used social media as a vehicle to transmit information about the revolution to others. By using Facebook as a means of communication, Arab revolutionaries were able to give each other information under the nose of the current government regimes. This is the complete opposite of how Fidel and Che operated during their overthrow of Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

This comparison between the Arab Spring and the Cuban Revolution also prompted me to think about a particular question that was asked of Khalid Albaih during the discussion. “Do revolutions start with a democratic movement?” This is a particularly interesting question to reflect on when thinking about these two revolutions in particular. In the case of the Cuban Revolution, the answer is most likely no. While Batista was initially fairly elected as the President of Cuba, he later became the dictator before being overthrown by the Cuban Revolution. While Che and Fidel did not promise a democratic movement, they did inspire a complete shift to another political system.

It is this complete shift of political systems that I believe is critical when starting a revolution, and I think we saw it as well during the Arab Spring. In the case of these revolutions, people wanted intellect and freedom within the system. By using social media, Arab revolutionaries were able to appeal to the youth and again change completely their political system.

Tambora: More Than an Eruption

I would like to begin by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed Professor Wood’s visit to Colby. I especially liked the fact that he unites so many different fields of study in his research. By bringing together science, geography, history, and other he makes his work relevant and appealing to many. Ever since being at Colby and taking so many interesting and varied classes, I have thought about if there is a way to unite them all and create more of an overlap between them. Evidently, Professor Wood has figured it out.

I found it interesting that Professor Wood opened his lecture by stating the year that Tambora erupted and then asking if anyone knew why that year was significant. Almost immediately, someone stated, “That was the year that Napoleon was defeated at the battle of Waterloo.” This got me thinking about how those who write history often have the greatest impact on how it is remembered. Even though Tambora was a massive eruption, it is not often remembered simply because the ones who wrote the history books, the Europeans, chose to focus on an event that occurred closer to home. Even though Tambora had a global impact, since its immediate effects were not felt by those writing the historical narrative, its importance has been overshadowed by other events. When reflecting on this, I thought to myself, “How much other ‘stuff’ did we miss over the course of the years simply by exhibiting a selection bias on what we chose to focus on. In other words, “How many other “Tamboras” are out there that nobody truly knows about but that had a significant impact on the world as we know it. Prior to this class, I had no idea about Tambora nor its impact, simply because it was never taught to me in any of my grade school classes.

The second thing I took away from the lecture were all of the effects of the disaster. While I anticipated the immediate effects of loss and destruction, I never could have imagined were the horrible atrocities that were subsequent effects of the eruption. For example, I could never imagine selling myself into slavery in order to stave off starvation or having to kill my own children to prevent them from starving. More interestingly, I had not thought about the secondary effects of a natural disaster. These are seemingly random and affect such a wide array of people. What I mean by that is, who would have thought that an Indonesian volcanic eruption would have impacted everything from migration patterns right here in Maine to the writing of a classic novel. While the effects of the volcano were both positive and negative, all had a profound impact on the world.

The Scientific Revolution: A Blatant Misnomer?

Prior to this lecture, I had never given the Scientific Revolution much thought. This is not because I don’t think that it is important, but because I was never given the opportunity to. When I was taught the Scientific Revolution in grade school, it was almost always presented to me as though it were a history class as opposed to a science or philosophy class. For that reason, whenever faced with it, I merely accepted it as fact instead of thinking about what we mean by calling something “the Scientific Revolution.” From the class this past Tuesday, I specifically liked that the lecture was focused around the three words, “the,” “Scientific,” “Revolution.” By breaking the term down into three separate terms and analyzing each, I was able to better grasp what truly what is truly implied by “the Scientific Revolution.”

I had always assumed that “The Scientific Revolution” was very scientific. However, after listening to this lecture, I must agree that relative to the work of modern scientists, the science of the scientific forefathers, Copernicus, Newton, Darwin was incredibly unscientific. Thus, to call their work scientific is a complete misnomer by today’s standards. While it may have been revolutionary, it was not scientific. This idea prompted me to think about how we can classify Copernicus, Newton, and Darwin if we are not calling them scientists? Their theories are at the core of the science classes that are taught in school. If by modern standards, we are not going to call them scientists, then can we continue calling the courses that their work inspired science classes? Does this mean that the biology class that we take in middle school is more of history class than a contemporary science class? Upon thinking about this point, I realized that the science that I learned during much of my middle school science days wasn’t particular scientific although much of it was rooted in the work of those “scientists” mentioned above.

This class further prompted me to think about “The Scientific Revolution” in the sense of how revolutionary was it? By the definition, a revolution is when one political body revolves around another or when one political body revolts around another. In the case of the Scientific Revolution, neither of these happened, so it begs the question- is it appropriate to call “the Scientific Revolution” a revolution at all? Simply because some “scientists” made some new discoveries, is that enough to deem it a revolution? In my mind, when I think of a revolution, I think of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara riding into the streets of Havana at the end of the Cuban Revolution. That fit the definition of a revolution as they were overthrowing the dictator Fulgencio Batista. If we use the Cuban Revolution as our standard for revolutions, then we must omit “the Scientific Revolution,” as there are virtually no similarities between the Scientific and Cuban Revolutions.