Columbus’s most prized possession

September 28, 2010

Columbus feared that King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella would not honor pledges they had made to him as recompense and honor for his great work of discovery on their behalf.  Before his final voyage, he assembled a legal document showing those promises made to him, and his work for Spain.

This illustrates, once again, the human dimension of the great drama of the age of exploration, of Columbus’s stumbling on to the America’s in his efforts to get to China.

The Library of Congress and the History Channel team up again to show off these grand snippets of history:

On January 5, 1502, prior to his fourth and final voyage to America, Columbus gathered several judges and notaries in his home in Seville. The purpose? To have them authorize copies of his archival collection of original documents through which Isabel and Fernando had granted titles, revenues, powers and privileges to Columbus and his descendants. These 36 documents are popularly called “Columbus’ Book of Privileges.” Four copies of his “Book” existed in 1502, three written on vellum and one on paper. The Library’s copy, one of the three on vellum, has a unique paper copy of the Papal Bull Dudum siquidem of September 26, 1493, which extended the Spanish claim for future explorations.

Borrowed with permission from Mr. Darrell’s Wayback Machine.


Debunking creationist claims of human and dinosaur footprints together . . .

September 26, 2010

. . . from 1983!

Steve Schafersman, now president of Texas Citizens for Science, played the yeoman then:

Description of the program:

Did humans coexist with dinosaurs? The tracks tell the tale. Dr. John R. Cole, Dr. Steven Schafersman, Dr. Laurie Godfrey, Dr. Ronnie Hastings, Lee Mansfield, and other scientists examine the claims and the evidence. Air date: 1983.

Tip of the old scrub brush to the National Center for Science Education.


A missed Bill of Rights anniversary, and the 27th Amendment

September 26, 2010

September 25, 1789, Congress had approved and enrolled the proposals, and sent twelve proposed amendments to the Constitution to the states for ratification.  Ten of the twelve amendments were approved, rather quickly, and by 1791 the were attached to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights.

The two proposals that failed to earn the required approval of three-fourths of the 13 states fell into a special limbo for Constitutional amendments that became clear only in the late 1970s when Congress discussed how long to wait for states to approve the Equal Rights Amendment (this is a much-simplified explanation, I know).  Congress put deadlines on the ratification process in the late 20th century, but the first twelve proposals had no deadlines.  In the 1980s, Congress passed a law that said any amendments floating around, unapproved, would be considered dead after a date certain.

Before that date passed, more states took a look at one of James Madison’s 1789 proposals, liked it, and passed it.

That amendment became the 27th Amendment to the Constitution, on May 7, 1992, 203 years after it was proposed:

No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.


H. W. Brands on the study of history, with technology

September 26, 2010

Spent half a day with H. W. Brands, professor of history at the University of Texas, and author of at least one of my favorite history books, The First American (and several others).

Brands banned the use of computers for notetaking in his classrooms this fall.  It’s not the notes he objects to, of course, but the students’ side-activities of checking e-mail, eBay, and ESPN, rather than paying attention to the lecture, and other activities in lieu of taking notes.

Nominally our discussion centered on the decade of 1890 to 1900, the Reckless Decade, as Brands’ book on the era titles it.   Brands took a larger, circular route to the topic, today.  These discussions come under the aegis of the Dallas Independent School District’s Teaching American History Grant, and the Gilder-Lehrman Institute chipped in today, too.  We are a polyglot group of teachers of American history, and a few other related social studies subjects, in Dallas high schools.

I asked about technology beyond lecture, or “direct instruction” as the curriculum and teacher berating  rubrics so dryly and inaccurately phrase it.   Brands focused on the effects of connected students in the lecture, a problem which we officially should not have in Dallas schools.  We discovered he’s using Blackboard (probably the electronic classroom standard for UT-Austin).  I’ve used Blackboard in college instruction, and a somewhat less luxurious version in high schools.  Blackboard works better than others I’ve tried.

Over several hours Brands said he teaches best when he performs well as a story teller — when the students put down their note-taking pencils and listen.  Two observations:  It helps to be a good story teller, and, second, that requires that one know a story to tell.

Our grant could give us better stories to tell.  Most educational enterprises produce great benefits as by-products of the original learning goal.  Our teacher studies of history are no different.


Tupper takes up the quill

September 23, 2010

Karl Tupper of the Pesticide Action Network started blogging at PAN’s site, GroundTruth, a few days ago.  His carefully-thought out, informative writing turns to the issue of bedbugs and DDT in his first post.

GroundTruth, the blog of the Pesticide Action Network

Is there room for another blog?  Any blogging about science, with accuracy, is always welcome.

Karl’s second post updates us on EPA’s hearings on atrazine, and the industry campaign to slander any agency who dares to ask the tough questions about chemical safety.  Shades of the 1962 campaign against Rachel Carson, eh?


What does urban sprawl look like?

September 22, 2010

Teachers looking for a good way to portray urban sprawl, for geography and history classes, should take a look at this photo essay at the New York Times; unfortunately for teachers, Christoph Gielen’s stunning aerial landscapes cannot be copied for PowerPoint.

Gielen’s work is well known, and many of those same images can be found at other sites.  Images to illustrate “urbanization” and “urban sprawl” from internet sources generally carry a lot more punch than the stock photos delivered with textbooks.  Mind the copyrights.

Untitled X Nevada, urban sprawl in Nevada, copyright Christoph Gielen

(Caption from New York Times presentation): Untitled XI Nevada, 2010 This Vegas-area community was built by the same company that designed the circular communities on the outskirts of Phoenix in “Untitled X / XII / XI.” Credit: Christoph Gielen (Go see the presentation at the Times site to see the other photos)

More resources:


Are we mice, or fully-functioning human brains?

September 21, 2010

I’m still smiling about Ed Brayton’s post at Dispatches from the Culture Wars — here in its entirety:

From the utterly delusional Christine O’Donnell [Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Delaware], said on the Bill O’Reilly show in 2007:

“They are — they are doing that here in the United States. American scientific companies are cross-breeding humans and animals and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains.”

Which gives those hypothetical mice a sizable leg up on O’Donnell.


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