To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin in 2009 and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, Melvyn Bragg presents a series about Darwin’s life and work. Melvyn tells the story of Darwin’s early life in Shropshire and discusses the significance of the three years he spent at Cambridge, where his interests shifted from religion to natural science. Featuring contributions from Darwin biographer Jim Moore, geneticist at University College London Steve Jones, fellow of Christ’s College Cambridge David Norman and assistant librarian at Christ’s College Cambridge Colin Higgins.
Tagged with “history” (220)
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the craze for gin in Britain in the mid 18th Century and the attempts to control it. With the arrival of William of Orange, it became an act of loyalty to drink Protestant, Dutch gin rather than Catholic brandy, and changes in tariffs made everyday beer less affordable. Within a short time, production increased and large sections of the population that had rarely or never drunk spirits before were consuming two pints of gin a week. As Hogarth indicated in his print ‘Beer Street and Gin Lane’ (1751) in support of the Gin Act, the damage was severe, and addiction to gin was blamed for much of the crime in cities such as London.
Inventing toward delight
Humanity has been inventing toward delight for a long time.
Johnson began with a slide of shell beads found in Morocco that indicate human interest in personal adornment going back 80,000 years.
He showed 50,000-year-old bone flutes found in modern Slovenia that were tuned to musical intervals we would still recognize.
Beads and flutes had nothing to do with survival.
They were art, conforming to Brian Eno’s definition: “Art is everything you don’t have to do.”
It looks frivolous, but Johnson proposed that the pursuit of delight is one of the prime movers of history—of globalization, innovation, and democratization.
Consider spices, a seemingly trivial ornament to food.
In the Babylon of 1700 BCE—3,700 years ago—there were cloves that came all the way from Indonesia,
5,000 miles away.
Importing eastern spices become so essential that eventually the trade routes defined the map of Islam.
Another story from Islamic history: when Baghdad was at its height as one of the world’s most cultured cities around 800 CE, its “House of Wisdom” produced a remarkable text titled “The Book of Ingenious Devices.”
In it were beautiful schematic drawings of machines years ahead of anything in Europe—clocks, hydraulic instruments, even a water-powered organ with swappable pin-cylinders that was effectively programmable.
Everything in the book was neither tool nor weapon: they were all toys.
Consider what happened when cotton arrived in London from India in the late 1600s.
Besides being more comfortable than itchy British wool, cotton fabric (called calico) could easily be dyed and patterned, and the democratization of fashion took off, along with a massive global trade in cotton and cotton goods.
Soon there was an annual new look to keep up with.
And steam-powered looms drove the Industrial Revolution, including the original invention of programmable machinery for Jacquard looms.
Consider the role of public spaces designed for leisure—taverns, coffee shops, parks.
Political movements from the American Revolution (Boston’s Green Dragon Tavern) to Gay Rights (Black Cat Tavern in Los Angeles) were fomented in bars.
Whole genres of business and finance came out of the coffee shops of London.
And once “Nature” was invented by Romantics in the late 1800s, nature-like parks in cities brought delight to urban life, and wilderness became something to protect.
Play invites us to invent freely.
On Monday October 26th, Scott Clemons was guest speaker at Type@Cooper in the Herb Lubalin Lecture series and delivered this talk at The Cooper Union. In the last decade of the 15th century, a middle-aged private tutor named Aldus Manutius made the stunning decision to leave the comfortable employ of a noble family and enter the cutthroat world of printing. The implications of that career change reverberate to this day throughout the worlds of textual criticism, book design, typography, book production, copyright law, collecting and classical philology. Whether by accident or design, Aldus’s decision put him in the right place at the right time to apply the relatively new technology of printing with movable type to the difficult task of printing Greek. As a result, virtually the entire surviving Greek canon found its way into print for the first time, and therefore into posterity. G. Scott Clemons has collected the Aldine Press since his days as an undergraduate in the Classics Department at Princeton University. He currently serves as the President of the Grolier Club, Treasurer of the Bibliographical Society of America, and is a past Chairman of the Friends of the Princeton University Library. Outside of his bibliophilic interests, Scott is the Chief Investment Strategist of Brown Brothers Harriman & Co., a privately-owned investment firm in New York City. Scott curated the exhibition Aldus Manutius: A Legacy More Lasting Than Bronze, on display at the Grolier Club this past spring, and is the co-author of a companion volume to the exhibition, is available from Oak Knoll Books.
“So… Three things: A widescreen iPod with touch controls. A revolutionary mobile phone. And a breakthrough internet communications device. An iPod… a phone… and an internet communicator… An iPod, a phone… are you getting it? These are not three separate devices. This is one device! And we are calling it iPhone.”
—Steve Jobs, January 9, 2007
Those words have become so famous in the history of technology that I imagine a large percentage of readers have them memorized. Ten years ago this Monday, January 9, Steve Jobs stood on stage and announced the iPhone to the world. It was the crowning achievement in the career of the greatest technologist of our time, the moment that the modern era of computing began.
On the ten year anniversary of the birth of the iPhone, this is the story of that moment and the history of that device which can take a rightful place alongside the original Macintosh, the first IBM PC, the Apple I, the Altair 8800, the DEC PDP-8, the IBM System/360 and the ENIAC as one of most important machines to have brought computing into everyday life.
The background, root causes and rough outline of the dotcom bubble. How it happened, why it happened and why it’s unlikely to happen again anytime soon.
Surprisingly, Uncle Sam played an essential role in the creation and development of the iPhone - of course, much has been written about the late Steve Jobs and other leading figures at Apple and their role in making the modern icon, and its subsequent impact on our lives. And rightfully so. But who are other key players without whom the iPhone might have been little more than an expensive toy? Tim Harford tells the story of how the iPhone became a truly revolutionary technology.
The boom in global trade was caused by a simple steel box. Shipping goods around the world was – for many centuries – expensive, risky and time-consuming. But 60 years ago the trucking entrepreneur Malcolm McLean changed all that by selling the idea of container shipping to the US military. Against huge odds he managed to turn ‘containerisation’ from a seemingly impractical idea into a massive industry – one that slashed the cost of transporting goods internationally and provoked a boom in global trade.
Saving lives with thin air - by taking nitrogen from the air to make fertiliser, the Haber-Bosch Process has been called the greatest invention of the 20th Century – and without it almost half the world’s population would not be alive today. A 100 years ago two German chemists, Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch, figured out a way to use nitrogen from the air to make ammonia, which makes fertiliser. It was like alchemy; ‘Brot aus Luft’, as Germans put it, ‘Bread from air’.
Haber and Bosch both received a Nobel prize for their invention. But Haber’s place in history is controversial – he is also considered the ‘father of chemical warfare’ for his years of work developing and weaponising chlorine and other poisonous gases during World War One.
IIn many ways, the built world was not designed for you. It was designed for the average person. Standardized tests, building codes, insurance rates, clothing sizes, The Dow Jones – all these measurements are based around the concept of an “average.”
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