Thursday, February 27, 2003

I don't want to be too rude about historical theories or even post modernists ones - I like the work of Quentin Skinner, Thomas Kuhn (even though he is wrong), Paul Feyerabend (ditto) and the Annales school. But we must not lose sight of what we are trying to do which is understand the past - not just analyse texts here in the 21st century. The ridiculous idea went around a while back that you had to look at texts in isolation and not try and see them in the context of their own time and motives. We still have to avoid old fashioned positivist history of 'what really happened' and 'how we became civilised'. This is especially important with History of Science where the view of most people is of this wonderful march to modernity as we threw off the shakles of superstition and became rational creatures. Science may be rational enough but the discovery of it was anything but.

We are doing Copernicus in the Renaissance class tonight and I've been reading his De revolutionibus. Quite interesting seeing him combine traditional scholastic ideas that all orbits must be based on circles with the his new idea that they all go around the sun. One thing is clear - neither he nor his editors were worried about ecclesiastical censure. It was his fellow natural philosophers that worried him and not the clergy.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

The debate about Acts has collapsed into recriminations with Prof Robbins insisting he doesn't actually want to debate but 'learn new things'. He then came up with a 'new thing' that Troas, where Paul visits in Acts, is actually ancient Troy and Luke is repeating the voyage of Aeneas to Rome. Never mind that Alexandria Troas, where Paul sets off, is not ancient Troy, never mind that Illium actually is ancient Troy and Paul never goes there, never mind that Paul heads back to Palestine which Aeneas never goes anywhere near, and never mind that Paul never sets foot in Carthage where Aeneas stays for ages. I cannot believe that serious grown up scholars even give this kind of thing the time of day and is further proof of the damage done to the subject of History by the virus of extreme post modernist literary criticism.

Sunday, February 23, 2003

Found an Old English font so I can type up my notes from palaeography class. Apparently it won't work on the web site unless the other person has it too but still useful to be able to type thorns and wynns.

Friday, February 21, 2003

The Times Literary Supplement had a review of The Way and Word this week by Sir Geoffrey Lloyd and Nathan Sivin. It is a comparison between ancient Greek and ancient Chinese science which looks very interesting. The key question of why the scientific revolution never happened in China has never been properly answered and is often seen as an embarrassment to ask. Joseph Needham tried grasping the nettle but never really sorted the problem out either. Lloyd is lecturing on the subject at Cambridge at the moment so his thoughts are likely to develop further. The TLs review says this book does not provide an answer to the question (which it calls the elephant of history of science) either, but does point out some useful avenues of enquiry. The Way is the Chinese world view - everything is harmonious and one. The word is the Greek view - debate and argument to reach truth. Clearly they are different although one must be careful when trying to fit complex societies into one word generalisations. Should be an interesting read.
Report for Isaac Newton - Trinity School, Cambridge

Isaac performed very well with his mechanics but his optical work was copied off a classmate. Given his undoubted ability it is a pity he wastes so much time with theology and other pointless subjects. Also, his alchemy work is all wrong and he seems to find this much more interesting than his proper science.

Report for Cotton Mather - Salem High School

Master Mather started badly when he instigated a witch hunt in the third grade. This showed he was superstituous and irrational. Then he grew up and, despite opposition from his teachers, injected a classmate with small pox. This was much more encouraging and rational and we have high hopes for his future.
Thursday nights this term is a course on Magic Science and Religion in the Renaissance that you can read about here. The professor is completely anti-positivist and gets very cross with people who try to use 21st century science to make judgements about how well people were doing science in the past. I call this the examination school of history - you have a big score sheet of modern science and give ticks to Newton and Descartes but black marks to John Dee and Pico della Mirandola. Of course, Newton gets told off for spending too much time of theology and alchemy. So the positivist judges historical figures by how well they anticipated what we believe to be true. He will also tend to read modern notions into old texts where they are absent. Even the professor was doing this last night when he compared Arabic theories on rays to modern ideas about sound and light propagation. I couldn't see it myself.

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Found this web site on Old English which is an entire university course on the web. Looks like there is more than just Beowulf to read! I hate starting things I know I have no time to finish so I will just have to leave off this for the moment. One of my bosses used to call me an intellectual fruit fly who flitted from subject to subject as they caught my fancy. Not entirely fair but I certainly couldn't stay focused on just one thing.
I had a palaeography class last night. It is only a beginners class and everyone there seems to be over seventy apart from me. We are working our way through English scripts from the eighth to the sixteenth century over two terms so it has been Saxon all the way so far. Still, reading off photocopies of the Book of Kells, the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Leningrad Bede has been well worth while. Our first bit of coursework is to transcribe some Old English (not sure what it is of yet). It would be fun to learn Old English too although there is not a great deal of it to read and only Beowulf is really famous. Is it worth learning a language just for one poem? Also it is inflected like Latin and more like German than modern English so it is rather harder than might be expected for a direct ancestor of your own language. Maybe one day and I'll keep an eye out for a beginners guide.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

The argument is at the Crosstalk yahoo group which may or may not be visible to non subscribers. Otherwise it is being discussed on the Internet Infidels discussion board.
Need to edit the code on this page and a link from my site would help too.
I am watching an argument with Vernon Robbins, the professor who came up with that idea that the 'we' passages in Acts are simply a literary convention and do not mean the author was actually there. Up against him are two e-friends who seem to be winning hands down. The trouble is that Robbins is a post modern literary critic who does not seem to have much attachment to traditional history. For him it is axiomatic that 'all history is fiction' or at least narrative. Also his langauge is that of a professor stuck in an ivory tower. It remains to be seen if a connection can be made between my friends' concerns for history and Robbins for literature.