The American Lab

by eea | Wednesday, August 15, 2018 - 12:00 PM

Many people have asked me why I wrote the book and why I chose the title, The American Lab . Much of the motivation arose out of the events associated with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s 50 th anniversary in 2002, the last major event that I organized as Director of the Laboratory. The year preceding the final anniversary celebration was filled with retrospective looks at all the major areas in which the Lab had worked -- nuclear weapons of course, but also lasers, energy, environment, basic science, and even biology. In nearly every field the Lab had contributed significantly, and in some cases changed the landscape. It also became clear that Livermore was almost alone among the large national labs in having no comprehensive history of its evolution and achievements. There were many books about Los Alamos, histories of Sandia, Brookhaven, the Jet Propulsion Lab and several others but nothing on Livermore other than newspaper-like summaries on the occasion of various anniversaries.

So after the anniversary events had faded away I began to explore the limited written record and also to take oral histories from people who had been at the Lab in its early...Read More

Long Journey Into Publication: Finding Raymond Loewy’s Story

by eea | Monday, August 13, 2018 - 12:00 PM

Most journalists believe in their heart that they “have a book in them.” Too often, however, events and circumstance prevent most reporters from digging into that compelling story. Reporting assignments pile up. Your editor says, “Leave of absence? Are you joking?” The entire media industry experiences massive downsizing and journalists are suddenly writing press releases instead of releasing a best-seller.

The story behind Streamliner: Raymond Loewy and Imagemaking in the Age of American Industrial Design begins at a newspaper. I was the main feature writer at the Altoona Mirror in central Pennsylvania in 1987 and the subject of a profile had a book on his desk open to a photo of a huge streamlined locomotive. The caption in agate type was “S-1 locomotive, built in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Designed by Raymond Loewy." Since all news is local, to mangle a Tip O’Neill phrase, I wrote a 1,500-word story on the design and construction of the S-1. I spoke to almost two dozen retired railroaders and read Raymond Loewy’s “Industrial Design” and “Never Leave Well Enough Alone.” Then I moved on to other things.

But Loewy’s story nagged at me. Before I worked at the...Read More

Why Frankenstein Matters 200 Years Later

by eea | Friday, August 10, 2018 - 12:00 PM

Although “Franken” has in the cultural zeitgeist become a watchword for the power of science to destroy humanity, Mary Shelley had a far more open view of science. Don’t mistake the messenger, Victor, for the message. In fact, in her day, “science” had a lower status than the arts, and hardly anyone made their living by doing science. This lower status meant that the power and value science now has fuels a paranoid reading of the scientific past as if this anachronistic wariness has the power to cleanse the present and to do away with any present obligation to work against the difficulties science presents. Even more surprising, in her day, science and ethics went hand in hand in part because science and feeling were aligned. Goethe, we recall, praised the “tender empiricist.” Good scientists feel the beauty of nature and use that beauty to fuel their careful observations. Perhaps the most important provocation Shelley's novel can make is to get us to think about the costs of the separation between science and ethics, and why science seemingly turned its back on sensibility and feeling.

What, you may be wondering, in a novel teeming with death, underwrites my claim...Read More

Thesis Research Aims to Deepen Student Connections

by bjs | Thursday, August 9, 2018 - 10:00 AM

A pair of Haverford College librarians recently published " False Starts and Breakthroughs: Senior Thesis Research as a Critical Learning Process " in the journal portal:Libraries and the Academy . Haverford students have to complete a senior thesis or work featuring comparable research. Margaret Schaus and Terry Snyder researched students in two majors to determine how future students could better use the research options available to them. The pair joined us for a Q&A on the study.

What value do you see in senior theses written by students at your college?

Students in all departments identify questions they want to answer, compile or generate data, and build arguments. For many students the research and writing lasts a full year with independent inquiry in archives, communities, and laboratories. The thesis represents a culmination of the work done in an academic department and a shared experience among seniors. At the same time, it promotes individual thinking and connections with the wider scholarly community. Students in our study often reported thesis research as a revelation because of its depth, complexity and unexpected power to change their thinking....Read More

Reading and the Making of Time in the 18th Century

by eea | Wednesday, August 8, 2018 - 12:00 PM

One of the claims I make in Reading and the Making of Time in the Eighteenth Century is that the feeling of not having time to read is almost as old as books themselves. We tend to imagine that when books were new media people struggled to put them down, a bit like tablets or smartphones today. But I went into this project knowing that many eighteenth-century readers felt as distracted from their books by work, by duty, and by magazines, broadsheets, and newspapers as I do by my email. Even back then, more sustained reading was something people hoped to do, or to have done -- something they did in snatches -- something dependent on the ebb of work that came with Sunday or the seasons.

Since finishing the project I’ve had cause to think a bit about this claim especially as I’ve started going with my family to a remote cabin without Internet. Being there has made me realize that all of us, and my kids in particular, find it much easier to sink into books there than they do at home. Perhaps our modern lack of reading time is more specifically connected...Read More