Giants' Shoulders no. 69

It is with great pleasure that I host this edition of the Giants' Shoulders STEM carnival. For this month's theme, I have chosen  the tunnel - given that China is set to build the largest underwater tunnel in the world. There will be more on tunnels at the end of this post, once we have emerged from the only approximately arranged passageways of STEM links both accumulated and contributed to Giants' Shoulders No. 69.

* Science vs. Myths about Science, and a Deeper Look at History
Why Newton's Apple is Not a Good Story by Thony C, who also penned an article taking on more gems of historical ignorance in Oh FFS!, which explains the inaccuracy of the term Dark Ages and explains the very active role of the monastery in science of the Early Middle Ages.
On the awareness of the methodological problems of the professional historian including the point that the bad drives the good out
History: "A School of Morality to Mankind" by Juan Gomez who revisits the 18th century education of Turnbull who compared facts and instruction on virtue to experiments and conclusions in natural philosophy. 
Rehabilitating Simon Marius by Thony C with the valuable observation that not rushing off to print one's research observations may lead another, like, say, Galileo, to accuse one of plagiarism
Did 'Cosmos' Pick the Wrong Hero? by Corey S. Powell on the much blogged about TV series: this is my favourite because it is concise but gives a solid starting point for further reading, like part ii in which Powell takes to debate with AMNH's Stevn Soter - does it matter where scientific ideas come from? And Thony C takes the argument home with A Strange Defence which warns us of presentism and ends with a really useful explanation and illustration of Wirkungsgeschichte
For purposes of revision let us add here, An Alphabet of Ages of Scientific Terms, and on that note, this brief article about scientists born in February at the Science Museum Blog
Also wasn't sure where to put this: the recently published Scientific Discovery at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy reviewed by Brandon Myers as including a "discussion of Whewell [which] is quite good"
And on rethinking the ways in which the scientific paper has been and should perhaps be presented today, Why Publish Original Scholarship On-line? by Michael Hendry, thought provoking if not perhaps convincing for the yet professionally unpublished scholar
* Technology and Money: War and/or Politics
Old Trains and Mesopotamia: The Outbreak of the First World War by Carl Cymrus - this article may also belong above, filed under myth-busters
A (Con)Fusion of Money and Politics by Patrick McCray, on the tortured history of fusion
Rivers as Weapons in Ancient War by Adrienne Mayor - on how enemies were flushed out, and more
60th Anniversary of Castle Bravo Nuclear Test, the Worst Nuclear Test in U.S. History by William Burr with links to related documents, "equivalent to 1,000 Hiroshimas"

* Science and Health (and Death)
Earthing Grounding Sleep Research by Matt Sutherland on curing insomnia through getting 'grounded'
Midwife or Surgeon? The obstetric choices of Quaker Women in 18th-century Leeds by The History Fox on the wide variety of those present at the birth of this close-knit circle
How to Care for a Newborn 1254 ed. Elizabeth Archibald - children wrapped in crushed roses and salt!
I thought it would spice things up to post Horse Love Pills in this section, by Laurence Totelin - those troublesome but prestigious mares of 7BCE
The First Cut is the Deepest by Paul Middleton on two engravings from the 15th century Defining Gender: "These woodcuts and engravings were also crammed full of metaphor and symbolism, which highlighted the cultural and religious frameworks in which the practice of dissection took place."
Of Quacks and Caustics: When Evidence Didn't Matter? by Samantha Sandassie - today it might matter to the RSPCA first!
The Recipes of Cleopatra by Jennifer Park on a kind of recipe not associated with women in early modern times
"Tony Megaphones": Invisible Antiseptic Eardrums by Jaipreet Virdi - what really stood out to me about this text was how it included digital images of the first hand sources, which added charm to the piece - ads from early 20th century New York newspapers! Also see her Powell's Electro-Vibratory Cure for Deafness
An Eighteenth-Century Case of Cotard Delusion? by Lisa Smith on a delusion also known as Walking Corpse Syndrome
The Syphilitic Whores of Georgian London by The Chirurgeon's Apprentice including a link to "a pocket guide to London’s prostitutes published annually starting in 1771". The post inspired a response from Jaipreet Virdi: Syphillitic Invasions of the Ear
Ramey’s Medicator: an inventor’s survival by Caro on the fascinating story of the man behind the invention of a rather curious inhaler - includes facsimiles of original advertisements
If being alive counts as health, How to Tell if Someone Is or Is Not Dead, c. 1380  as Elizabeth Archibald writes, the method sure beats checking for a pulse!
And speaking of the wish to stay alive: Longevity by Kees-Jan Schilt on Newton's later years - including balsams and strange correspondence...
Reaching death, we have The Artist of Death by Luuc Kooijmans on the Dutchman Frederik Ruysch whose anatomical preservation and dioramas of human parts figured into novels and, stranger than fiction, were meant at times to be humourous
* Stars, Space, and Time
Aristotle on Absolute Space and Time by Brandon Myers, was Newton anti-Aristotelian on some points and would Aristotle have agreed with Newton?
But to just speak of time, Thony C keeps the tradition of heated pamphleteering alive in Where does the AD/BC dating convention come from?, a post which points out the potential misdating inherent in the calendar too easily taken for granted
Calendar and Conversion by Michal Coptiany looks at the individual reasons behind arguing for a new calendar as opposed to the old and shows a 16C argument that "time is not an article of faith"
Also by Thony C, and filled with mathematical twists in plot and Renaissance calendric warping, A Double Heliocentrism Anniversary?
Darin Hayton in 17C Tory and Quaker Astrologers writes of John Gadbury with illustrations of star charts that shows how while he advocated the Baconian experimental approach to astrology he was still embroiled in party politics that predicted well for the monarchy he supported - good stuff.
John Quincy Adams' Role in American Astronomy by John E. Ventre on the unsung hero behind some of America's observatories
Einstein's Lost Theory Uncovered by Davide Castelvecchi, in which he considered something quite opposite to the Big Band Theory: the universe as expanding steadily and eternally
Albert Bierstadt and a British Physicist by Patricia Moss, who asks what the painter of nature and the proponent of science could have possibly shared in common. My answer: alpinism? Tyndall wrote books on the subject.
Romantic Science: Measuring the Blueness of the Sky by Rocio Carvajal on the cyanometer, a beautiful device (post includes a picture) that would be held up to the heavens...
Accommodating Science: Astronomy by John Wilkins ends with a great sentence the pious J. C. Maxwell would agree with and seeks to answer the question: " If science and religion do conflict, what are the points of conflict that have occurred?"
Understanding Special Relativity through History and Triangles (pt. 1) by Scott B. Weingart who, in the post linked two, explains how other physicists (mis)understood Einstein's theory at the time
Black Hole Sound Waves at NASA Science: "Sound waves 57 octaves lower than middle-C are rumbling away from a supermassive black hole in the Perseus cluster."
* Telescopes and Observatories
The Henrietta Telescope by Pillownaut: while "the spirit of exploration has no gender" this most excellent post reveals that there was a "girls' area" in what was called the "Pickering Harem" - read on for more
The Observatory and the B-29s by Will Thomas on how observatory workers were borrowed to help with air force tactics. Also connecting war to the stars, Under the Dome by Daniel Engber, on the Nazi's persecuting the inventor of the planetarium. In an opposite tale, theoretical physicist Max Planck's Letter to Hitler was Discovered, in which he pleads Hitler to spare his son's life, though his son had made an attempt on Hitler's
Who Made the Planetarium? Daniel Engber (please note NYT paywall if you are near the end of your free monthly viewing!) and similarly, 100 Years Ago: Planetarium Concept Born by Glenn A. Walsh on the success of the Carl Zeiss scientists in imitating through technology the movement of the planets
The Fight to Keep an Iconic UC Observatory Open by Glen Martin on how the fate of a perfectly good summit observatory may be eclipsed: bigger and better is not always best

* Maps, Visualizations - and Exhibitions, too
How the North Ended up on Top of the Map by Nick Danforth who shows through examining maps across time in different cultures that it is not necessarily natural that it is 
The Woman Who Mapped London's Streets into the A-Z by Zeljka Marosevic - would you believe that no one wanted to publish it at the time? also see her 16C warfare manual reveals readers were just as interested in cats as we are…but as weapons (with illustrations, nothing squeamish, fear not)
New British Library Exhibition Pays Tribute to Most Amazing Scientific Diagrams in History by Nick Clark about "how important a role picturing data plays in the scientific process" and its role in communicating science to the public and pushing through reforms, also reviewed by Rebekah Higgitt who critiques the exhibit and suggests how it might be viewed, in Information, Images, and the Imagination: Beautiful Science Exhibition Explores Data Visualization
Evolving Images of Darwinism by Lalita Kaplish on the 1860 German publication, Evolution of Household Items now available online, exploring both the amusing illustrations of Darwin's ideas in that publication and, more broadly, how 19th century mass media cartoons were used to shape popular thought on evolution.
Revealing the Georgians by Katy Barrett on the British Library Exhibition on maps of roads, drinks for the lower class, libraries, and prints - but something was missing from this depiction of 18C Britain...
* Geology, Cats and Birds, Nature, Alchemy
The Metaphysician and the Hole in the Ground: did you know that Leibniz was also into mining? By Charlie Huenemann
1895: Cats meddle in geophysics by Skulls in the Stars - nothing trivial about contemplating cats in motion! 
The Fickle Flight of Darwin's Galapagos Finches by Henry Nicholls on the collection of birds that were evidence, auctioned, a source of dispute; also related, Aussie Birds Prove Darwin Wrong by Keiren McLeonard who "investigates the curious conspiracy that has kept some of Australia's best voices out of the evolutionary spotlight" (includes podcast)
A Century in the Solomon Islands includes some beautiful pictures assembled by the American Museum of Natural History
Stormy Weather by Kate Morant who quotes Halley's 17C accounts of how storms hit ships: "the seas groe far more outragious" and the men "dishartened", decks being cleared of water - you can almost hear those waves
John Evelyn meets Raymond Chandler by Anita Guerrini who writes a beautiful post on the significance and propagation of timber, including an innovative look on the planting of foreign species; "The “paradise” of the forest was divinely inspired but made by humans." Also on John Evelyn's manuscript Sylva In Retrospect: Sylva by Gabriel Hemery
Traces of the Alchemist who Discovered the Philosopher's Stone in Paris by Sarah Blake, "It is called a stone not because it is like a stone, but only because by virtue of its fixed nature and that it resists the actions of fire as successfully as any stone."
And though this next article is about DNA, it concludes that "science erases what was formerly true" which seems transformative enough to follow the previous listing: It's No Secret The Double Helix is 61 by Nathaniel Comfort - a very readable account of some of the history of DNA, beginning with Francis Crick bursting into a pub exclaiming, "We have found the secret of life!"
* Paeans to Natural Philosophers, Their Spin Offs, et. al.
Sliding to Mathematical Fame by Thony C on William Oughtred, including the tension and excitement of " an invention waiting to happen" and "splendid pamphlet priority wars"
Ludwig Boltzmann and Statistical Mechanics by Tabea Tietz at Yovisto, which appears to be a German-based site for research that includes videos of the researchers explaining their work, on the great man and lecturer behind the kB
Herman Hollerith and the Mechanical Tabulator at Yovisto on the physicist whose late 19C work on the Kinetic Theory of Gases was disputed, as was Boltzmann's at first, as some disbelieved in atoms and molecules 
Henri Becquerel and Radioactivity at Yovisto on accidental discoveries in radioactivity prequelling the Curies' results
In Search of Feynman's Van (book extract) by John and Mary Gribbin, "it's nice to know that something which demonstrates so clearly Feynman's sese of fun and irreverence, as well as referring to his Nobel-prizewinning work, still exists"
John Pickstone, 1944 - 2014, by Venessa Heggie, who opens: "No one becomes a great academic just by writing good books; what makes a difference is the way they teach and inspire future generations"
Sympathy for Strangelove: Kubrick's Film at 50 by Will Thomas goes into the (scientific) underlying message of the film
Leo Szilard, war criminal? by Alex Wellerstein on an unusual nuclear scientist who seems to have been better at raising the moral questions behind the discoveries
And now for something completely different: Don't Try This At Home: Scientific injuries in the Royal Society archives by Noah Moxham ... including von Humboldt braving painful voltage, it is the little things one admires in one's favourite minds

* Things: Vessels, Revolvers, Porcelain and Tin, Cigarettes, etc.
The Tablet that Altered the Story of Noah's Ark including interesting speculation by a museum expert on the shape of the vessel and when it took place, by Sandy Rashty
Tell Tull to till Until Told - the story of Jethro Tull by Mike Rendell - you will learn what a seed drill and a rock band have in common
Tin: What the World Owes this Grey Metal by Justin Rowlatt who explores its use for over 5,000 years, its affordability, rust-proof advantage, use in electronics and on ships - and answers the question: what does tin have to do with glass?
All the Parts Combined by Dan Piepenbring on Colt's poetic 1836 patent for his revolver
The (20th century) Travels of Mr. Harrison's Watch  by Rebekah Higgitt on the Ships, Clocks and Stars exhibition that will feature John Harisson's prize-winning longitudinal watch, explaining the significance of the arrival of this exhibit
Who Invented the Light Bulb? by Elizabeth Palermo who remembers the "Many notable figures ...  remembered for their work with electric batteries, lamps and the creation of the first incandescent bulbs" (emphasis added)
Podcast The Man who Brought Porcelain to Europe  "At the time porcelain was as valuable as gold, so no surprise that it took an alchemist to do it"
More Doctors Smoke Camels by Johanna Goldberg who presents facsimiles of some rather surprising ads from the 1930's to 1950's - definitely worth a look even if you are not interested in smoking for its revelation of how much mores change
The thing here being things that cut in an article binding surgeons and barbers, called The twenty-eighth of February, 2014: the most unkindest cut of all by Richard Smyth
Lots of interesting posts on the technology of books and other STEM themes if not exclusively at another history carnival, Carnivalesque 101, hosted by Adam Hooks at anchora
How the Refrigerator Got Its Hum by Alice Bell on the social history of technology and the choices behind this domestic appliance
Speaking of sounds: Are Stonehenge Boulders Actually Big Bells by Robinson Meyer - apparently this story came out first a few months ago, but is gaining new coverage even with video and covered also by the Smithsonian's magazine
Medieval Candelabra Hints at Forgotten Sea Routes by Stephanie Pappas on how a bronze object atypical for Ibiza suggests shipping route
* Miscelaneous
Given the popularity of Stefan Zweig given Wes Anderson's new film apparently based on his only novel, I revisited Zweig's Conqueror of the Seas: The Story of Magellan, with such gems as: "We learn from Martin Behaim’s famous Nuremberg globe … that Indian spices had to pass through at least twelve hands before they reached the consumer" and, "Wonderful things happen in history when the genius when the genius of an individual coincides with the genius of the times". Possibly worth a peek - to be filed under how to write about the history of technology?
* Cities, Development vs. Quieter Times
Ancient Settlements and Modern Cities Follow the Same Patterns of Development, "contemporary cities as lying on a continuum of all human settlements in time and place."
Dirt or Development by Anna P. H. Geurts, on the changing mores of dirt, citing a wonderful bit by anthropologist Mary Douglas that dirt is "matter out of place".
The Past is an Unlit Country by Joanne Bailey, on unlit evenings, a perfect read to dream oneself away from the humming, LED of technology that never seems to turn off
How celestial events influenced orientation of the great constructions of the Nabataeans at - the maths in building to capture the events of the sun, moon, and stars
* More on Tunnels
Seneca's Tunnel? Or Virgil's? by Carolin Lawrence
Hadrien's Tunnel at Tivoli by David Meadows (be sure to check out his newsletter)
The tunnel below the walls of Dura Europos by Judith Weingarten
Tunnels covered by Geoff Manaugh at
And finally, what of the effect of tunnels on the consciousness? An extract from The Bridge by Hart Crane:  And so   /   of cities you bespeak   /   subways, rivered under streets   /   and rivers. . . . In the car the overtone of motion   /   underground, the monotone   /   of motion is the sound   /   of other faces, also underground—

Giants’ Shoulders #70 will be celebrating the 354th birthday of Sir Hans Sloane at The Sloane Letters Blog on 16th April 2014 with Lisa Smith (@historybeagle) as host.


  1. As it happens, long ago I somehow made my way by train to the stop near that tunnel opening close to the alleged site of Virgil's grave. I was quite young, and met an old man whom I asked where I could find "la tomba di Virgilio."

    In contrast to Ms. Lawrence's obviously correct comment that "Although Virgil’s real burial place is probably lost in antiquity, he wasn’t forgotten," the old man looked at me and said, with a gesture of dismissive disinterest, "Questo Virgilio - e chi e?"

    1. has to love the assembly of information on the internet: now on this blog there are two degrees of separation from me and the Virgil tunnel (was never there myself...) grazie per il tuo commento!

  2. Grazie a Lei per questo post stupendo!