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These pages are for my students, who need a place to find links to their courses, and for anyone else who might be interested in my historical work or links to experimental publishing projects.
By way of introduction, I’m posting this photo taken by Linda Burton at the Seattle museum of science fiction. Gort was the robot from a movie called The Day the Earth Stood Still. Despite the uncanny resemblance, I’m the handsome one on your right. The museum is extremely cool, and if you don’t see it next time you’re in Seattle, Gort will know where to find you.
Why do historians like science fiction? It has something to do with what history is and what it ought to be.
Revolutions in Communication is a critically acclaimed survey of media history now available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and directly from the publisher, Continuum International Press. The book has topped the Amazon sales list for media history for two years and has now gone into a second printing.
The book is a social and technological history that explores four major epochs of the mass media through the technologies that characterized their development — printing, imaging, broadcasting and digital media.
The historical narrative in Revolutions in Communication centers around technological change — a common thread that unites global media history. This approach also provides an alternative to nationalistic and professionally oriented narratives that have guided media history in the past.
Revolutions in Communication points out that communication technologies often change because an older media does not speak in the voice of a newer generation. Innovators and inventors then find ways to use new technology to circumvent the old barriers. Historians call this a social construction of technology.
Things can go pretty far off track when science meets the press. When we read shallow generalizations and inaccurate interpretations of studies, we wonder how it could have happened.
So here’s a case in point: Some day soon, an oil & gas industry representative will probably tell a journalist, or a politician, or a concerned parent: “Fracking water is as safe as dish soap. Check out the 2014 University of Colorado study.”
And of course that will be very much at odds with other studies. So then, at best, people will chalk the difference up to the old adage: For every PhD, there is an equal and opposite PhD. Or, more likely, they will just take the study at face value.
The 2014 Colorado fracking story is an example of one of many chains of errors in the science reporting system. It started with a scientific paper about
Konrad Lorenz and his dog.
(Reposting a 2o12 article following events in Paris, Jan. 7, 2015).
Austrian psychology professor Konrad Lorenz used to tell a story about his dog. On their regular walks, his dog would always run along a neighborhood wall and bark at another dog that was on the inside of the wall.
The two dogs continued this behavior for years, barking and snarling at each other every day, until — one day — an accident took out part of the wall. That day, the two dogs raced along the wall as usual but then came to the broken spot. And the two dogs faced each other for the first time. After a moment of confusion, they quickly returned to their respective sides of the wall and started barking across the wall again.
So the lesson, Lorenz said in his 1955 book Man Meets Dog, is that this ability to moderate aggression is a survival skill that animals seem to have. Could we learn something from their example that applies to our communication problems today? Continue reading
By Bill Kovarik
They say that American Southerners are a lot like Japanese people – they drink a lot of tea, they eat a lot of rice, and they worship their ancestors.
Maybe that’s why the Confederate defenders today remind me of Hiroo Onoda, who died last year in Tokyo. Onoda was the Japanese Army officer who refused to surrender in 1945, at the end of World War II, and fought on in the remote jungles of the Philippines until 1974.
Confederate marchers. Roanoke. Dec. 12, 2014. Photo by Dan Smith.
The way they finally got Hiroo Onoda to surrender was to send his former commanding officer to the Philippines with a formal order telling him to cease all military activities.
Would that work, here in the former Confederate States of America?
Well, OK, here goes:
As a descendant of a Confederate colonel who perished in the Civil War, also known as the Recent Unpleasantness and the War of Northern Aggression, I hereby order all descendants of Confederate veterans to cease all military and civic hostilities after the 150th anniversary of the surrender: April 12, 2015.
There. That should do it.
Two weeks in the Maine woods, and my morning commute is remarkable: I walk down a short gravel road to a pathway, then amble a mile to work through tall hemlocks and oaks. Mid-way, I mosey slowly across a long wooden bridge — the product of 20 years effort, I’m told. I have to stop and watch Sandy Stream as it meanders down to the great green Atlantic, reflecting my world like lady with a liquid mirror.
On this day in 1924, Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall is indicted for taking bribes from the oil industry to lease government owned oil reserves in Teapot Dome, Wyoming. Before Watergate (1972-74), the Teapot Dome oil scandal was considered the most sensational in American politics, although many previous scandals had involved oil and politics.
Endangered species: Virginia college faculty.
By Bill Kovarik
The advent of what the Roanoke Times calls “Higher Education for the Masses” through Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) might be a hopeful sign for colleges, as noted in this June 6th, 2003 editorial.
But there is a problem.
According to the Times, paraphrasing Larry Sabato, “universities must come up with a business model that ensures they don’t give away their intellectual [property] …”
(Ahem). Whose intellectual property?
World oil reserve comparison USGS vs US DOE proven reserves.
By Bill Kovarik
One of the more painful lessons of recent history involves the way money and politics can slant scientific information.
Take the curiously sudden abundance of fossil fuels. Not long ago we had looming shortages, certain oil scarcity, and the supposed need to go to war to protect the lifeblood of the world’s economy.
But now, seemingly out of the blue, we have an abundance of natural gas from fracking, heavy oil from Venezuela and unconventional oil from Canada’s tar sands. And much more conventional to come from the Dakotas, the Arctic, Latin America and the coasts of Africa.
How do we explain the “sudden” abundance of fossil fuels?
- “We were wrong on peak oil,” said George Monbiot of the Guardian in July, 2012. “There’s enough to fry us all.” Environmental strategies must change now because “the facts have changed,” he said.
- The Washington Post reported that the “center of gravity” for world oil resources has shifted to the Americas. It’s “quickly changing the dynamics of energy geopolitics in a way that had been unforeseen just a few years ago.”
- USA Today noted that Venezuela had become No. 1 in the world for proven oil reserves. “Exploration of Venezuela’s 21,000-square-mile Orinoco belt shows that its oil deposits exceed the proven reserves of even Saudi Arabia.”
- Foreign Policy published an analysis about the “new” petroleum abundance and impacts on climate change. The new golden age may indeed shake up the currently rich and powerful and create new regional forces, Steve Levine said.
Published in Environmental Health News, Jan. 9, 2013.
Richard Nixon would be 100 years old today, and on the anniversary of his birth, it’s tempting to portray the 37th U.S. president as a major environmental advocate.
That would be a mistake, for it would let modern-day politics trump an important history lesson.
Nixon did say and did things about the environment that seem courageous from today’s perspective: “Clean air is not free, and neither is clean water,” he said in his 1970 State of the Union address. “Through our years of past carelessness we incurred a debt to nature, and now that debt is being called.”
Such rhetoric has made Nixon’s environmental legacy a source of ongoing debate among environmentalists, scholars and reporters. Not long ago, Michael Lemonick of the news site Climate Central said Nixon was “a champion of protecting the environment, like no president before him since Teddy Roosevelt and like no president since.”
But Lemonick and others holding that view displace history with politics. One of history’s first lessons is the need to understand people and events in the context of their times…