One pub, many publics

To Bradford, for a day at the British Science Festival, ending up at the well-preserved gem that is the New Beehive. I’m frankly envious of the various colleagues who manage to arrange their contributions to these events thus:

(a) give talk

(b) go to pub.

This arrangement has a pleasing simplicity and an overwhelming logic behind it. For me, though, the sequence is usually as follows: Continue reading

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Small beer to you, perhaps

Following up on this, I should probably note that last week I finally managed to do a research-based broadcast in which a tiny particle of the research was actually done by me.

Last week’s edition of Radio 4’s Questions, Questions featured a piece (on the iPlayer, starts 22:49) inspired by that traditional historical-empathy favourite, “Was Everybody Drunk All The Time (in any given period)?”

Briefly summarised, the established and reliable answer to that question is Continue reading

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It’s that Delivery Plan again!

Iain Pears has said very nearly all there is to say on this. Thom Brooks’ email suggesting things to do about it is reproduced here. Not much to add, really, except… Continue reading

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The F-word

Over at Whewell’s Ghost, Becky Higgitt has been pondering how far academic historians of science simply come across as a big bunch of spoilsports to general audiences who enjoy popular writing of the Dava Sobel school. We don’t believe in lone geniuses, we scorn heroic stories of upward progress, and we positively abominate endowing past people with present-day motives and beliefs.

Much the same applies to historians of technology. In the hist of tech, though, there’s one common popular-history device which offends on all three of the above points in a very neat and seductive fashion. If you want to cause the maximum of annoyance to a scholarly historian of tech with the minimum of effort, show her a First. Continue reading

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A civil servant writes

So, in response to the AHRC’s continuing to say nothing much you’d want to hear about this Big Society business, there is another petition – this one pointing its basal paragraphs in the direction of Rick Rylance’s head.

I was discussing the whole sorry affair recently with a friend who is a civil servant with a policy role. (Yes, you’re quite right. As a clueless humanities academic, I should have no idea that any such activity as government administration even exists, and should spend the entire time eating toasted buttered punts in the ivy-lined seclusion of a book-clad turret or something. My apologies.)

Anyway. With her permission, I’m going to quote part of her response verbatim here. Continue reading

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I shan’t tell you again…

Curious announcement from the AHRC today.

Devoted readers will recall that body’s Important Statement of 28 March, which rebuts a confused and confusing allegation made recently in an article in the Observer. The new statement focuses, rather oddly, on repeating the rebuttal in substantively the same terms as before. Continue reading

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In a responsive mood

Apologies to anyone on tenterhooks waiting for me to discuss the Joule paddle-wheel experiment in more detail, but this AHRC/Big Society thing seems to be the only game in town at the moment. Where were we? Continue reading

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That AHRC/Haldane dust-up, in chronological order

The humanities fishbowl has been fizzy since Sunday over hotly denied allegations that the Government has been telling the AHRC what to think (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here, and don’t come back till you’re confused and crying slightly).

Usually, when my students come to me with arguments in this state, I suggest they try rearranging them in chronological order to see if that helps. Applying this approach, we get the following…

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On television, part 2

I said I’d try to post some thoughts on the content of the Horizon I was in: it’s about to disappear off the iPlayer, so this seems as good a time as any. (Tip for UK university staff/students looking for recent TV and radio: your institution may have subscribed to Box of Broadcasts without telling you. Well worth a trawl: archive goes back to 2006, and is suspiciously catholic in coverage.)

Being incredibly vain, I had a good look at the blogosphere responses to “What Is One Degree?” on first broadcast. They were decidedly mixed. For the most part, people with a physics background were seriously irked or disappointed, whereas non-physicists found it a nicely put together introduction. Continue reading

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On television

I got offered my first talking-head-expert-type television appearance the same month I was appointed to a lectureship. “Flipping heck,” I thought: “proper faculty members must get telly invitations all the time.”

Invitation Number Two duly turned up about six and a half years later. A splendid colleague at UCL STS put me in touch with some people making an edition of Horizon for the BBC, based on the question “What is one degree of temperature?” The theme – uncommonly open-ended for Horizon – obviously offered plenty of scope for the shoving-in of philosophical or historical oars. Rather unusually, the idea had come directly from the presenter, Ben Miller from off of TV and radio’s Armstrong and Miller, with whom I in due course ended up discussing thermodynamics in a copper-lined wort cooler in Wisbech. As you do. Continue reading

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