History is Bad for You. Science Told Me So

When -- as Alex Rosenberg did in Salon the other day -- you publish a piece with the title "Why Most Narrative History is Wrong”, and subtitle it “Even the best histories fail to identify the real causal forces that drive events. Science explains why”, you create certain expectations in a reader. To wit: You … Continue reading History is Bad for You. Science Told Me So

Perpetual Motion: Technology, Slavery, and History

Once we stop thinking of the past as a failed but noble attempt at the present, many of its inexplicable, repulsive, or ridiculous aspects take on a new colour. A good example is alchemical transmutation, an evident impossibility that nevertheless occupied -- and not just occupied, but motivated -- the likes of Newton or Boyle, … Continue reading Perpetual Motion: Technology, Slavery, and History

New Publication: Towards a History of Projects

In his 1697 Essay on Projects, Daniel Defoe referred to his era as a "Projecting Age": a time of schemes, plots and plans to make life (life in general, and the projector's life in particular) better. Many projects were what we would call scams, and many more looked that way. In a conservative and moralizing age, projects were … Continue reading New Publication: Towards a History of Projects

I, University

We are, like so many public institutions, in the midst of austerity. Some of it is up-front, such as the "voluntary departure" schemes encouraging staff and faculty to take themselves off the payroll for early retirement -- and leaving academic departments chronically understaffed. Much is coated with an icing of rhetoric about strategic planning or buried amid myriad … Continue reading I, University