Author: swgray20

Why wait to act, act now!

In the final talk of the revolutions lecture series, Professor Marcos Perez delivered a talk about the importance of revolutions and also why people decide to be revolutionary in the first place. This was a perfect way to finish the series, where for most of the lectures, various revolutions were discussed in detail, but the rationality and sociology behind a revolution in generally had not really been discussed much. He began the talk by saying that revolutions are “crucial and nebulous.” They are crucial in sparking social change and nebulous because, as many of the talks have touched on, they are not generalizable. They are not really well-defined and often times, major revolutions may have little to no effect on a vast majority of the human population of that time or in the future. Also, an important point he mentioned is how it takes a while to feel the effects of a revolution. To supplement this, historians are the ones who generally attribute this title to a specific event, maybe those people of the time just thought their actions were necessary. They didn’t need praise; they just did it.

Throughout the talk, Professor Perez discussed the role of individuals in revolutions but also why would they join and where the ideal location for a revolution would be. This discussion left me with a few major ideas to ponder. The first of these is the idea that no matter what your involvement is in a revolution, unless you are leading it, you won’t be making a substantial contribution. This is an interesting idea. For many this is discouraging and leads to such ideas like not going out to vote or deciding to be a bystander. However, this idea should ideally produce the opposite line of thinking. One contribution might not be much, all the more reason to gain support and rally people together to fight for a common goal. People who fall victim to this ideology fail to see this quality of revolutions. It is not about a single contribution; it is about the collection of people fighting for the same cause.

The second major point I got from this final talk was that all of the theories Perez presented focused on mobilization. This is a vital component of any successful revolution, for obvious reasons. The reason for this mobilization is still up for debate. Some theories argue that becoming part of a movement provides purpose in times of social change and the countering of old ideas. Some people may feel lost in this time and search for refuge in a like-minded group. Other theories focus more on the idea that protest is simply the rational course of action to counter grievances. No matter the proposed reason, the commonality is, in social revolutions, that when a group of people is no longer able to function properly in a society, they will band together to fight this. My counter to this conventional idea would be this, why wait? Throughout all of the discussion about social revolution throughout this course, this question lingers in my brain. Why wait until society starts to be harmful to you? If there are faults in a system that may lead to these issues, people should work to fight the conventions together before the pain is inflicted. A struggle should not be needed for a revolution to occur. Why not fight it before it happens?

“You say you want a revolution, well, you know, we all want to change the world…”

Professor Peterson spoke in stark contrast to the other talks given during the revolutions lectures. He discussed at length the ideas of Bruno Latour, specifically in his book We Have Never Been Modern. I thought that this was an interesting contrast to the other talks, and although I may not agree, looking through other posts it would appear that I am not alone, I think it is an important point. Latour asserts that we are not revolutionary as we assert ourselves to be.

I have no knowledge of philosophy. The complex visuals that Professor Peterson displayed along with most of the specific language he used did not resonate with me. However, he did allow for me to think about the idea of a revolution in a different way than I had throughout this course. Leaving the lecture, I had a few questions. The first of these was, “Why are we so obsessed with being modern and revolutionary?” The answer to this is not simple. One idea that I attempted to understand was that often society, not nature, is what shapes truths and falsehoods for us humans in recent times. Along this same string of thinking, the idea of modernity in society would feed into the modern concept of a revolution. Humans are looking for answers in society, so if we help society to progress and improve, the perception is that we are in some way contributing to and part of a revolution. This is not a holistic view. What is forgotten is that this perceived modernity is not the same for everyone. A revolution should ideally involve the furthering of everyone, the entirety of society. Not just a group, a faction.

That leads me to my other question, a question that this whole lecture series has pointed towards, “What is the definition of a revolution?” but also “Why does it matter?” I think Latour was not only being critical of people who yearn to be a revolutionary, but also the creation of a “revolution” at all. The modern idea is rather pitiful. It has become an obsession. The term itself has lost so much value. The meaning is slipping away headline by headline. I don’t believe that Latour was trying to devalue revolutions and those who have fought for what was right and just for not only them but the ones they love. I think that he wanted all who heard his theories to question just what the idea of a revolution has become. He was looking to add value to this idea. I spent some time reconsidering just what a revolution is. It has little to do with modernity, absolutely nothing to do with self-fulfillment or the idea that revolution is even quantifiable. As of now, many revolutionary events have been taken for granted or actively opposed by those who cannot handle the change. Whether the revolution is political, social, scientific, in the arts, etc. a true revolution must continue, the goal should not be finite. Why do people obsess over the word? Because humans want to see the product, they want to be reassured that what is being done actually works. The real significance is in the process of change. What steps led to it? Why did anyone even care? Who helped? Why? Revolution should not be some grandiose idea; it should be rudimentary. Do your part, but don’t worry about what mark you leave on the world, focus on each day as building towards the next. Why must it be a revolution to be significant?


I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now

Professor Jeremy Popkin spoke about the Haitian Revolution, something I had never heard about before this talk. Throughout my schooling, I have studied the American Revolution at different times and at varying intensities. I have studied the French Revolution, though in less detail. I find history to be intriguing, but I left this talk with a feeling of uncertainty and an intense curiosity. If I had been sheltered throughout my education, being it 12 years since I entered 1st grade, and only now hearing about a successful, important revolution. If I had not heard about the largest slave rebellion in world history, a 12-year revolution in which the underdogs came out on top, then what else have I not been introduced to? I am not well-versed in history, but I left this talk not only feeling like I haven’t learned enough, but also questioning if what I had learned about anything was the whole story.

Deeper than this idea of how history is taught through a Eurocentric and white lens in American schools, Popkin also hit on the idea that the writers of history are the ones who frame it for all generations to come. This is a frightening reality. The thought that any historical fact could have been altered by the person who documented it is hard to grasp. Primary sources have been translated time and time again. Something as simple as a different interpretation could affect how significant an event was in a given context, and also how that event impacts ideologies of today. A large-scale game of telephone can have interesting and potentially devastating effects on the future. Some events are set in stone and well-documented, but any historical account must be analyzed through many different lenses. Even after looking at all of the facts; biographical information about the writer, historical context and cultural context, etc. there is still a great deal of assumptions. Who really knows what mindset of the writer was on that day or what their personal views are? How can one tell how willing the writer was to impose their interpretation on the facts? These are important questions and favor a holistic and detailed approach to studying history. I’m sure many others feel this way, but this is the first time that I’ve really spent time reflecting on my personal history of studying history. I felt a certain passion that I hadn’t before.

So, if Professor Popkin’s exigence in delivering this talk was to inspire listeners to question history and look deeper than what is being spoon-fed, then he succeeded. Any time that I have to analyze a historical event, I will make sure to approach it from unique and varied angles. I will look into sources that counter each other and investigate why they might be in opposition. And just as the Haitian Revolution was not spoon-fed to me, I want to learn more about the history that hasn’t directly impacted my peaceful life in America. I want to learn about the failures, noting where civilizations have failed, but also about the successes and the positive parts of human history. Why not spend time looking at how people worked together and fought for what was right and succeeded? I hope to improve my knowledge of history, I hope to attain a more holistic and unfiltered knowledge.

Extreme Repurpose Monument Edition

On November 7, Professor Jeffrey Schnapp delivered a talk about monuments and their place in history. Many monuments can outrun their historical importance and relevance. Depending the original motive behind their creation, even the presence of said monument can stir up conflict between people. The surrounding history begins to shape how the monument is viewed, whether that be good or bad. The monuments themselves can also begin to contrast a more industrialized and urban city. Schnapp mentioned throughout his talk that even monuments created as a symbol of bad things should not be stripped of their architectural significance.

The architecture of a monument allows for an appreciation that is not related to the reason that it was built. It is to appreciate the monument as purely an object. It is important to look at this object as related to other objects in this time, looking as to what may have impacted the decisions of the builder. It is interesting to try and discern what elements are part of a larger piece. Then, objectively, it is also interesting to look at why the monument was built, and what the builder chose to include to express that message. Even in this case, where the message was to convey a fascist presence in this small border town, it is interesting to see what the builder included in the monument to show this. An interesting dichotomy is created when dealing with such oppressive and evil monuments, but there can be an appreciation for this symbol of hate strictly as a work of art.

Although they may not be timely, in respect to their appearance or symbolic meaning, it is important that the history of the piece itself is not forgotten. The message that was initially intended to be passed throughout generations may not be the same, but a message can still be preserved. Schnapp has shown through his efforts that this preservation can be a challenge. One false step and the support of the surrounding community can be lost. This is especially true when dealing with monuments that were built in times of division and war. Any event attached to the monument that either empowers or degrades a particular group of people is likely to cause feelings of contention.

Repurposing monuments can be a tricky process, but the creative solutions can be beneficial to the surrounding community. Schnapp’s story of his project went into detail about the process taken to repurpose the Monument to Victory in Bolzano and turning it into BZ 18’-45’. The project remained a secret for 5 years. It was carefully crafted to stay away from altering the exterior of the monument, but creatively implementing an informative exhibit in the basement that was not previously utilized. The resulting, creative solution repurposed the monument so the surrounding people and visitors to the area could learn the history of the monument and gain an appreciation for it as a piece of architecture. The previous associations are not gone, but the site has been adapted to have a more neutral purpose. Solely that of unbiased information.


“What does this data mean?” “It’s right there sir, see for yourself.”

Professor Aaron Hanlon delivered a talk on the introduction of the word “Data” into the English language in the 17th century. From here, he explored the ways in which this was used and how that has shaped the use of the word today. What began as meaning literally, “the word of God” data has now become a ubiquitous term in everyday language. Professor Hanlon showed the google n-gram viewer for the usage of words data, fact and truth. A trend can be noted that the usage of “fact” and “truth” diverged near 1850, “fact” increasing and “truth” decreasing. “Data” also began to increase rapidly in usage from throughout the 20th century and the usage of “truth” plateaued, falling well below the usage of “data” and “fact” by 2000.  What can these trends say about the meanings of these words have changed.

The general trend would tell an observer that the transition has been from a word more related to belief to more neutral and scientific words. The word “truth” implies intimacy, a type of interaction with the information where it is the truth, but it is also taken as the truth. It means the same as fact but facts imply a separation from the interpreter. Facts are simply what is presented. Data is what builds these facts and truths. The analysis of data can lead to conclusions. Today, data has instead become synonymous with evidence. Not support, but more related to facts and truths. This is problematic because data is nothing without proper context. Data can be framed and manipulated to be evidence for anything.

I’m not sure how revolutionary this idea is, but it is alarming that we are moving towards a reality where data functions alone. Instead of relying on the context, people simply look at the raw data and set aside why or how it was collected in the first place. Data should not reveal anything without some context. This is not a framing of the information, but rather an actual description. In a time with excessive information, it is important to remember this. All of this random information must be supported. And even then, the supported information relies on how and why it was collected and analyzed. This may shape the interpretation and may also lead to faults in the method of collection. There is a lot more to data than simply interpreting the magnitude of numbers compared to one another. Data is extremely important, but it must be appreciated for what it is.

What Professor Hanlon was getting at is that data has always been visual but in current times, it is becoming evidence for people’s claims. What is surrounding the specific data has been losing importance over the years. The interpretation of data cannot be generalized. Depending on a critical lens, not only can data have varying importance, but it can lead to completely different conclusions. When a person looks at data, they need to take context into account and also look at the reason for this data in the first place. Evidence, facts and truths can come from data, but it is wrong to assume that this is always true.

Even if there was a goal, why would humans be it?

Science is far from human-centric. All life on earth is not striving to become human. Evolution is not goal-oriented. These are the types of issues that Dr. Stone discussed during her talk, “The Unfinished Business of the Darwinian Revolution.” The misconceptions that have formed around this topic have proven to be harmful in a number of ways. The construction and reinforcement of these faulty ideas has led to oversimplification. In the minds of many, evolution has become solely based in the idea of competition. Species actively competing against each other to become the most “fit”. This of goal-oriented, typological thinking pattern has masked the true importance of evolution by natural selection. In this talk, Dr. Stone said, “If species are types, then variation is imperfection”. Darwin tackled this misconception head on and steps should be taken to help eliminate this idea from the general public today. Its implications impact some contemporary issues.

Variation is far from imperfection. It is vital to the continuing survival and diversity of life on earth. Species may be selectively pressured, depend on the environment in which they live, and only those that survive will be able to pass on their genetic information. No species is striving to become the “perfect species”. There is no such concept. An organism can only be “perfect” for its environment. Even this is subjective. More than one species can be perfect for the same environment. Success is only measured by reproduction and the passing of genetic information. The idea that evolution is goal-oriented can be attributed in large part to popular science. Inaccurate artwork often depicts evolution as ladder-like rather than branching. This can skew the thinking of many who are not formally educated in biology. Also, some headlines are focused exclusively in the role that genes play in susceptibility to illness. The effect of these is two-fold. Establishing that people with this specific trait are less fit. In actuality, they just have an unfortunate variation that has given them a slightly higher chance of developing a disease. Also, these headlines lead people to believe that genetic factors are the only important component to the susceptibility, when environmental factors may also be contributing.

Another interesting concept that Dr. Stone addressed is the idea that race is a construct. All humans on earth are Homo sapiens. There is no subspecies of human, but for some unknown reason, people have been separated based on physical qualities. There are other factors that separate people; like geography, language, culture, etc. However, race has become a default in separating humans into subspecies. All humans share many common characteristics, but many chose to focus on the differences. Skin color has become such a defining characteristic of humans when that is just one of many variations that make each human unique. Among the possible mental and physical qualities that we share, why is the focus on skin color? It would be as easy to separate people based on eye color or the size of their feet. Typological thinking and misinformation can lead to harmful cognition and behavior. Steps should be taken to eliminate this as a construct, it is unhealthy. An informed population not only understands evolution for use in the sciences, but also for its applicability in daily life among humans.







Some “Erratic” Thoughts on Revolutions in Climate Science

In Professor Kerry Emmanuel’s talk, we were introduced to some of the revolutions within the field of climate science during the last 300 or so years. The occurrences mentioned during this talk support the idea that revolutionary ideas are those that are monumental in importance, but also are a significant change from what was held to be true before the introduction of said idea. I have come to the realization, through listening to these talks, that many revolutionary ideas come about when people decide to think differently. People abandon what they know and have been taught is true, and begin to explore. Professor Emmanuel also spoke about how one revolution can spark another, even in a different discipline. This idea is fundamental in the idea of a revolution. Often times, discovering new information about one specific subject can reveal related information about another. However, sometimes, even when the two subjects aren’t related, success due to a change in thinking can inspire other people to approach problems within their field differently. Revolutions can create a type of intellectual momentum that is incredible.

Professor Emmanuel mentioned two specific revolutionary events that occurred in the field of climate science in the last 300 years. The first of these was the discovery that much of the Earth was covered in enormous ice sheets at points in its history. The retreating of these large glaciers explained many natural phenomena such as “erratics,” terminal moraines, etc. More support was given to this hypothesis in 1875 when orbital variations were discovered. The orbital cycle of Earth, where over a given period of time the shape of this orbit would stretch and then shrink, bringing Earth generally farther away and closer to the sun, was determined to by 100,000 years by Milanković. The obliquity cycle was also found to by 41,000 years. These findings as well as the experiments conducted by Urey and Emiliani determined that there had by 14 glacial cycles in Earth’s history. This is also an excellent example of physics and climate science coming together to contribute to a common idea.

The second major even Emmanuel Spoke about was the curiosity some climate scientists had about the Earth’s surface temperature. It was observed that heat from the sun could travel to Earth easily but that once it was here, it became almost trapped. In 1859, Tyndall discovered that although the atmosphere consists almost entirely of N2, O2 and Ar (99%), that the trace molecules like H2O, CO2, N2O, etc. are what keep the Earth warmer. The ideas here inspired physicists like Stefan and his student Boltzmann to study black body curves, and they eventually created an equation to express the emission of radiant energy from a black body. Planck was then inspired to study black body curves in 1900 where he eventually determined that radiant energy must be quantized into packets. This became the basic idea behind quantum physics.

Professor Emmanuel spoke about two major revolutionary events in climate science that he feels have helped to shape the field today. However, he also included how these events led to revolutions in other scientific fields. Revolutionary thinking is contagious, whether the revolution be social, political, scientific, etc. This idea has been proven throughout history and without it, we may not have made the advancements that we have up to this point.


Tools of Revolution

During a revolution, art can be a versatile and dynamic tool. In many cases, revolutionary ideas come about as a response to limited expression. Citizens no longer feel like their voices are heard by those in control or that their voices are being silenced in some way. Humans need to express themselves. We are social creatures and cannot be forced to keep our thoughts and feelings internalized. So, in times of revolution, people turn to various means of expression to release their anger, frustration and realizations into a social space. Khalid Albaih chose art as his tool during the Arab Spring. He is a political cartoonist and is now known worldwide for his cartoons. He chose art as his tool of expression because he knew that this was a way he could contribute to and impact the revolution. He saw the functions that art could serve in this time of unrest and although at times he did not feel like he was doing enough, his art made a definite impact in the Middle East and across the globe.

Art is often one of the first modes of protest. It illustrates feelings and thoughts about a situation differently than can be done with only words. Albaih’s art illustrates his thoughts and feelings in a way that is aesthetically pleasing, thought-provoking and symbolic. Some are more serious than others, but there is always a depth that requires some analysis past the surface. One must focus on his cartoons, taking time to admire the cognitive and physical work that went into its creation before he/she can get the full and personal experience. Albaih created and continues to create these cartoons to perform a few specific functions. Originally, his works were simply created to catch the viewer’s attention and persuade them to look into pressing issues. He wanted people to talk about his drawings and the topics they focused around. This started a dialogue. Eventually, his works became symbols for revolution during the Arab Spring. He created these to inspire his people to fight for their rights and for the rights of those around them. Art can give people a visual representation of their struggle and this can be reprinted countless times until the image comes to embody the revolution. It can become a visual that people rally around and feel unified by. Whether the cartoons are actively revealing social injustice through intense and often unsettling visuals or simply pointing out flawed mechanisms in the current political regime, they can serve as a rallying point where the thoughts of many can be illustrated by a single depiction.

Albaih also realized that as his art became more well-known around the world, its function was expanding. His art could give the uninformed a window into the world of the revolution. This view would not be plagued with the doublespeak of the media or the interpretations of those looking in. Instead, his art could provide a personal and informed expression of the disorder and injustice occurring all around him. Not only is he inspiring his people to continue the fight back home, but he is also informing others so that they can support the revolution. As illustrated by Albaih, art can function in many ways to support the efforts of a revolution. This function can be exhortative, unifying, revealing, informative or a combination of these. No matter the specific function, expression is powerful, why else would some political regimes work so hard to limit it?

An Eruption of Innovation and Humanitarianism

“Without a struggle, there can be no progress.” This quote from Fredrick Douglas illustrates one of the most prominent points I took from the talk. In this talk, The Tambora Revolution: The 1815 Revolution that Changed the World, Professor Gilley D’Arcy Wood spoke about the eruption of Mt. Tambora in 1816, but also focused on the aftermath and what came from the conditions that this natural disaster created. The first stage of climate shock response, as described by Professor Wood, is creative sympathy. In the aftermath of such an enormous crisis, innovation was needed to cope with and overcome the challenges that citizens encountered. The innovative ideas that emerged as a result of this stress creative sympathy. This response manifested itself in many forms. It was present in the literary world, inspiring works such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the poem “Darkness” by Lord Byron. In the world of meteorology, the first modern weather map created after the eruption. Political ideology in Europe was becoming more humanitarian as the safety of citizens became the priority. As for technology, the first bicycle prototype was created to replace the many horses that died as a result of the food shortage.

My goal here is not to downplay the violence and social unrest that came as a result of this natural disaster. Wood outlined these events in great detail. The Subsistence Crisis of 1816-17 resulted in social uprising throughout Europe, including a group of 10,000 citizens gathering in Manchester, England where rebels were hanged in town square. Infanticide was an imminent issue as mothers would much rather prevent their children from having to deal with starvation. Many suffered from starvation and many left their homes to find shelter and food anywhere they could. Some resorted to slavery, either selling themselves or their children. This was an awful time, but I am choosing to focus on the positive outcomes because this epitomizes a social phenomenon that is at the roots of human nature. After a disaster like this, humans come together. This situation is a bit different because many people were simply fighting for survival, no matter what that entailed. On the other hand, Professor Wood provided many examples of humanitarianism in the aftermath of the eruption. Among these acts were priests creating makeshift hospitals in Ireland, the Bourgeois of France creating helpful programs and legislatures passing helpful laws. After such a major event, people feel vulnerable. Social connection is an important component to human psychology. Most people, no matter if they realize it or not, are protective of fellow humans. This innate quality can be revealed after a major disaster.

1816, the year without a summer, had its fair share of tragedy, but there were also many positive consequences. After a disaster like this, a type of revolution can ensue where society feels broken and needs to be built back up. Specifically in Europe, following the Tambora Eruption and subsequent Subsistence Crisis, action was taken by many to help the common in this time of need. Struggle can bring out the worst, but often also brings out the best, the most humanitarian qualities, in people. Maybe every day should be treated as though we are recovering from a disaster.

Thoughts on an Important Time of Revolution in Science

After listening to Professor Cohen’s talk, “How Revolutionary-and how Scientific-was the Scientific Revolution?” I had a difficult time to discern what his personal feelings were concerning this period of time. In the context of this talk, the span of this event was the 16th and 17th centuries; this seems to be the consensus across many of the sources that discuss this event. It seemed that one point of contention was the title of this event being the Scientific Revolution. I would have to agree, that although major, this, nor any other event in the history of science should be given this title. Science is always changing, ideas are improved upon, new information is constantly ousting the outdated. To give this label to a single era of human exploration into science is questionable. I would disagree that the Scientific Revolution was, or will be, the most notable time period in the history of all science, as the name denotes it to be. I recognize why this may be troublesome and I shared his eagerness in identifying this as an issue.

Throughout the talk, three major questions were asked, “How revolutionary…?” “How scientific…?” and “How unique was the Scientific Revolution?”. The revolutionary aspect of this event had a lot to do with the breaking away from traditional religious explanations of scientific phenomena. Although this was more of a social change, it seems as though it was certainly radical and different for the time, people were affected by this new information and began to question their ideas. When the next question was tackled, “How scientific was the Scientific Revolution?” a sizeable amount of time was devoted to explaining how many of the major players during this time were simply wrong. Examples were noted, such as Copernicus saying that the orbit of all heavenly bodies was circular. Another example would be that Descartes believed that the pineal gland was exclusively in humans and that this is where the soul is held. Failure is not the opposite of success. In many cases, a single failure can lead to a new style of thinking about an issue that leads to later successes. This is one of the most rudimentary ideas in science; that a failure can often be as important as a success. Many of the ideas cultivated and expanded upon during the Scientific Revolution would be the basis of many improvements upon and new ideas of the future. The answer to the question of how scientific the Scientific Revolution was should be approached by looking at the impact this had on science and the thinking of scientists of the future. Not only focused around the raw information accrued during this time. So, I would disagree that this period could be deemed less scientific simply because the scientists of this time were wrong with some of their ideas.

The idea of this time being scientific and also revolutionary is that the people began to think outside of what was currently accepted. People began to disagree with the current means of scientific exploration and ideals that governed the scientific. The universe no longer rotated around the Earth thanks to Copernicus, new scientific methods were utilized thanks to Descartes, Galileo clarified the properties of gravity and gravity was no longer exclusive to Earth thanks to Newton. As importantly, the failures of Copernicus, Descartes, Bacon, Galileo, Kepler, among other major players in the Scientific Revolution, began to open people’s minds. These scientists were exploring. They went for it, invested time into these projects, often times only to be proven wrong. That is what science is about, endless discovery. These people knew to never settle and to keep questioning. People regained a certain curiosity during this time and the inspiration that was product of the new questions being asked was certainly revolutionary in science.