HoST Fall 2010

Week of 8/31/10 (and 9/2/10)


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This is 2010, not 2011...


Assignment 0

In the Beginning There Was HoST...

 Updated: 8/31/11 4:19 PM


:images for syllabus:AstronomySlideB.jpg

Pastiche incorporating William Blake's "Ancient of days"  (ca.1800)

Welcome to your first assignment page


This assignment page is much longer and goes into much more detail than usual,

for it describes the mechanics of using this web site and our class materials.

Normally these pages won’t be so wordy.

How to Use the Assignment Pages and How to Prepare and Submit Homework:


All assignments will be posted on pages like this one.


They will generally consist of a list of commands like Read, Write, Draw, Consider… etc.


Readings will be from the books I asked you to buy or from web materials that will be located in the eLibrary [I will usually provide direct links to these], or I will provide links to outside sources. Sometimes a PDF in the eLibrary will be rather large [e.g. 10 MB].  When this is the case I will generally post a smaller but fuzzier resolution version along with the large master copy so that anyone with a bad internet connection will have a fighting chance of downloading the reading.  Be patient with the PDF downloads.  Sometimes they may take a few minutes.  You can print them if you want, or just read them on your computer.  Whatever you want, but I highly recommend that you take notes as you do the readings. Quite often the act of taking notes gets you thinking and an essay can quickly develope from this activity. 


Homeworks assignments are due the week on which they are assigned unless specified otherwise.  In general a written assignment will be due on a Thursday. I prefer physical paper for assignments so that I can more easily comment on your work, but if an electronic medium is more appropriate for your particular submission, i.e. you have done a short movie or a web site or a graphic intensive essay, or of your printer is acting up, submit it via email.  Homework submitted electronically tends to be graded slower than paper homework. 


Cite everything.  I’ll let you know if you are going to far with citations, but I can’t think of this ever having happened.  Cite me from a lecture, cite your roommate’s strange observation, cite the conversation you had with your pals at 3:00 am around the family hookah (or narghile or nargileh), cite your dream about early animal domestication or the video game that referred to some idea you had… make up the format if you are not sure… cite the newspaper article you read and mentioned, cite your mother.  Think of your life as one giant lab.  Record all data.  Not only are citations good for avoiding plagiarism, but it is good to keep track of ideas and know where they came from.  The more you understand how and why you think, the better you will think. 


Reminder: Refresh web pages frequently.  I often add stuff at the last minute.  Your browser might show you last week's version of the syllabus.

For Thursday:  (It looks like there is a lot to do for Thursday, but much of it is really easy and not time consuming.)


1- Email me at from an email account that you check regularly so that the return address is functional.  [I suggest you put this email address in your address book.] If you have any special interests or things you’d like me to know about, feel free to tell me about them, otherwise you can just say, “Hey.” If you have any special needs, let me know about them either in this email, or talk to me directly.  If you are not officially registered for this class, tell me your status in this email. This email is extremely important.  It is worth points in my gradebook, very easy points.


2- Read this class policy document: Class Policies-HoST- F10.  These are the nuts and bolts for the class.  A link to this is also on the HoST Fall 2010 Syllabus.  Be prepared for a quiz on this.


3- Buy your books.

i) McClellan, James E., and Harold Dorn. Science and Technology in World History: An Introduction. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press.  This should be in the Stevens bookstore.  Get this immediately.


ii) Lucretius’ On the Nature of the Universe (De rerum natura) (Penguin Classics) by Lucretius (Author), Ronald E. Latham (Translator). Used copies start at under $3 online. There are numerous translations of this book, but I insist that you use the Latham translation and not any of the translations available on the web as these tend to be more poetic and less interested in the natural philosophy.  The Latham is the easiest to read in terms of "science."  Get the Latham translation.  Most Penguin editions are Latham, but they have recently put out another translation, just to make things confusing.  [The Kindle edition is not Latham's translation.]  Amazon sells this book new for about $10, and it is available used starting at about $1.  I suggest you order this a.s.a.p. since it might take a week or two to arrive.


iii) Bown, Stephen R. A Most Damnable Invention: Dynamite, Nitrates, and the Making of the Modern World. New York: T. Dunne Books, 2005.  This is available at Amazon in limited supply [don't buy the "book review" by accident] and is readily available at used book stores on the web. You shouldn't have to pay more than $18 for this book, and if you hit the used sites quickly, you might be able to get it for $1 plus shipping.  Again, I suggest you order this soon so that it will arrive in time. 


For used books I like to use ABE [Advanced Book Exchange].  Anyone who has a problem buying on the web should contact me a.s.a.p., and I'll help you figure it out. 

For Thursday (continued):


4- Read: Read pp. 31-42 , in Chapter 3 of McClellan and Dorn (the textbook) on ancient river civilizations.  If for some reason you cannot get the book, here is a PDF with the reading.  It's pretty bad quality.

McClellan%26Dorn-31-55.pdf [2.8MB]


5- Read chapters 1-3 (often referred to as Books I-III) in Genesis from the Judeo/Christian Bible found here:  Genesis:1. If this one is still too difficult try this one: Genesis:Vulg.  Perhaps this one?: Genesis-Ara.pdf.  Can you identify what languages these are in?

          I am guessing that the above Genesis readings were too difficult for most.  Now seriously, everybody read the following parts: Read pp. 9-12, which introduces this translation, and 17-28 which is the actual translation of Books 1-3 into English. Read the footnotes too.

Alter_Five_Books_of_Moses-Genesis1-3.pdf 4.8MB [better resolution]


Alter_Five_Books_of_Moses-Genesis1-3.pdf 3.7MB [poorer resolution]



                      Now go to this web site: Linked-Word-Project put up by "The Worthwhile Company," but previously put up by Bob Jones University. Look at the first three books of Genesis again.  Each word or phrase from this different English translation is linked to a Hebrew dictionary. Click on a word or phrase and in the box at the right you will get the transliterated Hebrew word (e.g. "and he rested" in Chapter 2 is "shabath" in Hebrew transliterated into our alphabet.).  Also in this box you will find definitions for the word or phrase, usually several definitions.  Poke around this site and look up a few words (by clicking them) here and there and see what sorts of alternate meanings you find. Note the similarities and differences. 


6- Homework- Write -  Select a section of about 2 or 3 or so lines from the Genesis reading and re-translate it using the dictionary feature in the "Linked-Word-Project" site [linked above] and totally screw around with the meaning of the passage.

Format for this task:

a) Write out the English passage that you have chosen to “translate” as given in the "Linked-Word-Project" site. 

b) Now write out the same passage from the Alter translation that I had you read [linked above in step #4].  Comment on differences between the two English translations.  Are the differences overt or subtle?  Comment on how the differences might alter the meaning of the passage.

c) Now give your version. See what you can make it say by screwing around with the alternate definitions that you can find in the "Linked-Word-Project" site. For example, click on the work “heaven” and you get several meanings: heavens, sky, abode of the stars, visible universe, atmosphere, etc.  Comment on what you have done and discuss tricky decisions you had to make in order to make your version make sense or make nonsense. 

Granted, this is a silly exercise, but it gives you a taste (though overly simplistic) of the translator’s dilemma and may demonstrate that translation is trickier that it seems, especially when translating literature from a society with a very different view of how the world works.  [It would be better if this site gave the Hebrew text first and were a bit more rigorous, but hopefully you get the point.]  For any of you who might read Hebrew, Greek, or Latin, you could similarly translate a section from the sites I linked to above using your own dictionary. See what you come up with.  Have fun with this.  There are no wrong translations.  Don’t be boring!  Push it as far as you can. 

                      My observation: Languages with small vocabularies tend to give multiple meanings to the same word.  This makes for good poetry and lots of fun making puns, but it can be a bit tricky for technical or scientific writing.  Also, a metaphor in one time or society may not be a metaphor in another.  E.g. “The sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening.”  We now imagine a heliocentric solar system, whereas most people before the 15th century imagined a geocentric terra-system.  The statement isn’t wrong then or now, but the type of statement changes.  One is more metaphorical, and the other is literal.


          (This writing assignment is Homework and is to be done by everyone.  It does not count as one of your essay assignments as described in the Class Policies-HoST- F10 page.  It is to be turned in on Thursday, 9/2.)



There is no essay assignment for this week.  [See  Class Policies-HoST- F10 if you don't know the difference between "essay" and "homework."]  Essay options will start up next week or the week after.

Here are the citations for the above works:


The Bible: The Unbound Bible. Produced by Boila University., accessed 2010.  [This site allows you to compare different tranlsations side by side.  I didn't assign anything from this site, but it is quite fun to poke around.]


The Linked Word Project.  Produced by The Worthwhile Company, accessed 2010.  [This is not a very good citation and furthermore, the site is pretty sketchy and lacking in scholarly information.  I'm using it because it does what I want it to do, but I would never cite this site in a paper read by historians.  It simply doesn't have the hallmarks of good scholarship.  What do I mean by "hallmarks of good scholarship?"]


McClellan, James E., and Harold Dorn. Science and Technology in World History: An Introduction. Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.


Alter, Robert. The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary. 1st ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2004.  [It's hard to find translations of biblical material that isn't filled with a religious agenda.  Alter looks at the texts with the eye of a translator and Hebrew scholar rather than as a theologian.  It is better suited for my purposes.]

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Images for Your Perusal [just for fun at this point]


Here are a few images from Genesis as interpreted by a few European artists from the past.  How well do they represent the story as you read it?  Are they chronologically accurate?  What things are invented?  Why are they invented?  Although I am not asking that you do anything with these images officially for this week, these could have been good essay material.  Why are these images so weird?  The answer has as much to do with Aristotle and Greek philosophy as it has to do with the Bible.  We will be discussing some of this in later classes. 


Pay attention to the worlds shown in these images.

There is/are physics and chemistry and medicine and astronomy and botany and zoology and in these pictures.

Here are two images from the mystic Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179).

She was an artist, a composer, a theologian, a mystic, and an all around interesting woman.

Here is a link for more information on her: Hildegard-Grove_Article




Interesting Science News

(I will often put links to interesting science and technology news items. Sometimes they are relevant to what we are studying, and sometimes they are not.  These are not required reading.  I found them interesting and thought you might too.  If you run across an interesting story, let me know.)


Nijhuis - Friend or Foe? Crows Never Forget a Face, It Seems

Crows know who you are and where you live.  Watch out!



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Added 10/18/2010

Exam notes:

Just know the Genesis reading and think about how it relates to what we subsequently read and discussed.

-Translation issues.

-Theories of the cosmos and creation.

-God as designer or magician.

-Agriculture and childbirth.