HoST Fall 2010

Tues/Thurs. starting at 4:00 in Babio 203

Back to HoST Fall 2010 Syllabus

Email me:

Week of 11/2 and 11/4

Don't forget to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night on Nov. 5!

Assignment 9





Read about early gun powder in Bown pp. 1-49.  [This books reads really fast. DonÕt let the length of the assigned reading intimidate you.] You should own this book.  In case your copy is still stuck in the mail, here is the first reading.  I won't post the rest.  You need to get this: 

Bown_MostDamnableInventionChs1-2_100.pdf [4.2MB]


Homework: This is the first step to your final project. Fill out this form: Project Form.  Print it out and turn it in on Tuesday.  This might take 20 minutes or so.




Read Leigh PDF: pp. 6-7, 10-13 [technical details], 17-19 and pp. 23-53 (skip 45-50)  -33pp.


Leigh_WorldsG-estFix-Chs1-2-8.2MB.pdf  [High resolution version]


Leigh_WorldsG-estFix-Chs1-2-100dpi-4.5MB.pdf  [Low resolution version]


Read Lucretius Book VI, up to line 640.


Late addition: Dan Castonguay found a news story that synchs up nicely with the Gunpowder Plot and Guy Fawkes Day: Link Here

Citations to the assigned readings.


Bown, Stephen R. A Most Damnable Invention : Dynamite, Nitrates, and the Making of the Modern World. 1st ed. New York: T. Dunne Books, 2005.  This book is a bit shaky on some of the older history, but it is easy to read and has lots of fun details of interest.  It really hits its stride in the 19th-century parts, which we will probably read later in the term.


Leigh, G. J. The World's Greatest Fix: A History of Nitrogen and Agriculture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.  This book is probably the best history book of this reading set.  As a result it is slightly dryer, but its information is pretty solid except for some of the early alchemical observations.



Short and Long Essays.

We now have a lot of background to work with.  Short and Long Essays still need to refer in some manner to the readings for this week, but now you should be able to also refer to previous readings and maybe even launch out on your own a bit.  Be creative.  Don't forget that image analysis is always an option.  Fictional dialogues between different characters... comic books... even sci-fi plots or historical fictions that incorporate some of the theories and technologies we read about.  Cite sources.

Long Essay sources:



:::::AV:Fine arts:Bosch c. 1500:Earthly Delights;Prado;Bosch:HellDetailDespeckled-a.jpg

Detail from "The Garden of Earthly Delights," Hell section.

Bosch, ca. 1500


I'll add more long essay sources shortly....


De Waal, Frans. "Morals Without God?" New York Times - Online Edition 2010.

Here is a link to the Bosch triptych referred to in this article: Here it is closed: Triptych Closed.   Here it is open:  Triptych Open.


Bragg, Melvyn. "Alchemy." In In Our Time, 45 minutes. London: BBC, 2005. IOT_ Alchemy.mp3

-Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of Alchemy, the ancient science of transformations. The most famous alchemical text is the Emerald Tablet, written around 500BC and attributed to the mythical Egyptian figure of Hermes Trismegistus. Among its twelve lines are the essential words - Òas above, so below". They capture the essence of alchemy, that the heavens mirror the earth and that all things correspond to one another. Alchemy was taken up by some of the most extraordinary people in our intellectual development, including Roger Bacon, Paracelsus, the father of chemistry, Robert Boyle, and, most famously, Isaac Newton, who wrote more about alchemy than he did about physics. It is now contended that it was NewtonÕs studies into alchemy which gave him the fundamental insight into the famous three laws of motion and gravity. With Peter Forshaw, Lecturer in Renaissance Philosophies at Birkbeck, University of London, Lauren Kassell, Lecturer in the History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge, Stephen Pumfrey, Senior Lecturer in the History of Science at the University of Lancaster.


Bragg, Melvyn. "Perception and the Senses." In In Our Time, 45 minutes. London: BBC, 2005. IOT_ Perception.mp3[Incredibly interesting]

-Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss perception: how the brain reacts to the mass of data continually crowding it. Barry Stein's laboratory at Wake Forest University in the United States found that the shape of a right angle drawn on the hand of a chimpanzee starts the visual part of the brain working, even when the shape has not been seen. It has also been discovered that babies learn by touch before they can properly make sense of visual data, and that the senses of smell and taste chemically combine to give us flavour.

Perception is a tangled web of processes and so much of what we see, hear and touch is determined by our own expectations that it raises the question of whether we ever truly perceive what others do.

What governs our perception of the world? And are we correct to distinguish between sight, sound, smell, touch and taste when they appear to influence each other so very much?

With Richard Gregory, Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Experimental Psychology, Bristol University; David Moore, Director of the Medical Research Council Institute of Hearing Research, University of Nottingham; Gemma Calvert, Reader in Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Bath.


Bragg, Melvyn. "Memory." In In Our Time, 45 minutes. London: BBC, 2003. IOT_ Memory.mp3 [Incredibly interesting]

-Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the function and significance of memory. The great writer of remembrance, Marcel Proust, declared ÒWe are able to find everything in our memory, which is like a dispensary or chemical laboratory in which chance steers our hand, sometimes to a soothing drug and sometimes to a dangerous poisonÓ.

The memory is vital to life and without it we could not be the people we are, but can it really contain the sum of all our experience? Is it a repository constantly mounting events waiting to be plucked to consciousness, or if not, then under what criteria are memories turfed out?

With Martin Conway, Professor of Psychology at Durham University; Mike Kopelman, Professor of Neuropsychiatry at King's College London and St ThomasÕ Hospital; Kim Graham, Senior Scientist at the Medical Research CouncilÕs Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit.


Bragg, Melvyn. "Hell." In In Our Time, 45 minutes. London: BBC, 2006. IOT_ Hell.mp3  [Hell is a happening place.]

-Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss hell and its representation in literature and the visual arts, through the ages from Ancient Egypt to modern Christianity. Why do certain religions have a Satan figure and others donÕt? And why did hell shift from the underworld to here on earth in 20th Century representations?

A fiery vault beneath the earth or as Sartre put it, other people - it seems our ideas of hell are inevitably shaped by religious and cultural forces. For Homer and Virgil itÕs a place you can visit and return from, often a wiser person for it. With Christianity itÕs a one way journey and a just punishment for a sinful, unrepentant life.

Writers and painters like Dante and Hieronymus Bosch gave free rein to their imaginations, depicting a complex hierarchical world filled with the writhing bodies of tormented sinners. In the 20th century hell can be found on earth in portrayals of war and the Holocaust but also in the mind, particularly in the works of TS Eliot and Primo Levi.

So what is the purpose of hell and why is it found mainly in religions concerned with salvation? Why has hell proved so inspirational for artists through the ages, perhaps more so than heaven? And why do some ideas of hell require a Satan figure while others don't?

With Martin Palmer, Director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education and Culture; Margaret Kean, Tutor and Fellow in English at St HildaÕs College, Oxford; Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum.


Kahn, David. "Secrets of Nature : Astrology and Alchemy in Early Modern Europe." In Secrets of Nature : Astrology and Alchemy in Early Modern Europe, ed. William R. Newman and Anthony Grafton, ?-?? Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2001. Kahn-Newman-Grafton-Rosicrucian_Hoax-9.7MB.pdf


Newman, William R. "From Alchemy To "Chymistry"." In The Cambridge History of Science: Early Modern Science (1490-1730), ed. Katharine Park and Lorraine Daston, vol. 3, 497-517. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Newman_FromAlchemyToChemCh21-4.5MB.pdf


Mauskopf, Seymour H. "Gunpowder and the Chemical Revolution." Osiris 4 (1988): 93-118.  Mauskopf-GunpowderChemRev.pdf


Karpinski, Caroline. "The Alchemist's Illustrator." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 19, no. 1 (1960): 8-14.  Pictures.  Karpinski-AlchemistIllustrator.pdf






You may find these interesting in relation to lines 800-840 or so in Book VI of Lucretius. You might find a homework essay in here somehowÉ  -  This site is rather stupid, but it tells the story in an engaging way.  ItÕs a really fascinating story and short.  I highly recommend reading this article. - This is the same story but written up Wiki-style.

Sources for some of my powerpoint images and descriptions on Black Powder:

lrich Bretscher's Black Powder Page [HeÕs a Swiss chemical engineer who likes black powder.]


Dowsing and Water Witches


McKinley-On Parched Farms, Intuition Used to Help Find Water- NYTimes 8/8/08

Science? If science wonÕt tell you what you want to hearÉ. try, try again.



How Does Dowsing Work? –

This is an excellent short documentary on how using big words and associating yourself with

quantum entanglement will make you credible to anyone desperate enough to want to believe. 

Why DeBroglie waves are not mentioned is a mystery to me.  They would be perfect for their purposes.

The nuclear blast in the eyeball near the end of this video is particularly weird.

Disclaimer: IÕm very biased.

Back to HoST Fall 2010 Syllabus


Email me:

This is one of the worst episodes ever, but it has Kirk making black powder.