Skip navigation


  • Page 3 of 21
From Babel to the Big Bang and Beyond

When did the “silent deeps” become cacophonous and galaxies begin to swim in a sea of cosmic noise? Why do we think that noises have colors and that colors can be loud? How loud is too loud, and says who? Attending, as ears do, to a surround of sounds at once physical and political, Hillel Schwartz listens across millennia for changes in the Western experience and understanding of noise. From the uproarious junior gods of Babylonian epics to crying infants heard over baby monitors, from doubly mythic Echo to amplifier feedback, from shouts frozen in Rabelaisian air to the squawk of loudspeakers and the static of shortwave radio, Making Noise follows “unwanted sound” on its surprisingly revealing path through terrains domestic and industrial, urban and rural, legal and religious, musical and medical, poetic and scientific. At every stage, readers can hear the cultural reverberations of the historical soundwork of actresses, admen, anthropologists, astronomers, builders, composers, dentists, economists, engineers, filmmakers, firemen, grammar school teachers, jailers, nurses, oceanographers, pastors, philosophers, poets, psychologists, and the writers of children’s books.

Drawing upon such diverse sources as the archives of antinoise activists and radio advertisers, catalogs of fireworks and dental drills, letters and daybooks of physicists and physicians, military manuals and training films, travel diaries and civil defense pamphlets, as well as museum collections of bells, ear trumpets, megaphones, sirens, stethoscopes, and street organs, Schwartz traces the process by which noise today has become as powerfully metaphorical as the original Babel.

The endnotes and bibliography are not available in the physical book. Download both here.

Diseases and Economic Development

In Parasites, Pathogens, and Progress, Robert McGuire and Philip Coelho integrate biological and economic perspectives into an explanation of the historical development of humanity and the economy, paying particular attention to the American experience, its history and development. In their path-breaking examination of the impact of population growth and parasitic diseases, they contend that interpretations of history that minimize or ignore the physical environment are incomplete or wrong.

The authors emphasize the paradoxical impact of population growth and density on progress. An increased population leads to increased market size, specialization, productivity, and living standards. Simultaneously, increased population density can provide an ecological niche for pathogens and parasites that prey upon humanity, increasing morbidity and mortality. The tension between diseases and progress continues, with progress dominant since the late 1800s.
Integral to their story are the differential effects of diseases on different ethnic (racial) groups. McGuire and Coelho show that the Europeanization of the Americas, for example, was caused by Old World diseases unwittingly brought to the New World, not by superior technology and weaponry. The decimation of Native Americans by pathogens vastly exceeded that caused by war and human predation.

The authors combine biological and economic analyses to explain the concentration of African slaves in the American South. African labor was more profitable in the South because Africans’ evolutionary heritage enabled them to resist the diseases that became established there; conversely, Africans’ ancestral heritage made them susceptible to northern “cold-weather” diseases. European disease resistance and susceptibilities were the opposite regionally. Differential regional disease ecologies thus led to a heritage of racial slavery and racism.

Israeli Intellectuals and the Nationalist Myth

The idea of the Jewish nation was conceived before the organization of the Zionist movement in the nineteenth century and continued long after the creation of the state of Israel. In The Words and the Land, post-Zionist Israeli historian Shlomo Sand examines how both Jewish and Israeli intellectuals contributed to this process. One by one, he identifies and calls into question the foundation myths of the Israeli state, beginning with the myth of a people forcibly uprooted, a people-race that began to wander the world in search of a land of asylum. This was a people that would define itself on a biological and "mythological-religious" basis, embodied in words that today feed Israeli political, literary, and historical writing: "exile," "return," and “ascent” (Alyah) to the land of its origins.

Since 1948, most intellectuals in Israel have continued to accept this ethno-national image and embrace an exclusive state identity to which only Jewish people can belong. The first challenges to this dominant idea didn’t appear in Israel until the 1980s, in the innovative work of the "post-Zionist" historians, who were bent on dismantling the nationalist historical myth and arguing for a state that would belong equally to all its citizens. Analyzing how Israeli intellectuals positioned themselves during the Gulf War and in the new era of communication technologies, Sand extends his analysis globally, looking at the status of intellectuals in all societies.

An Essay on Religion in Late Medieval Europe

In the period between 1150 and 1550, an increasing number of Christians in western Europe made pilgrimage to places where material objects—among them paintings, statues, relics, pieces of wood, earth, stones, and Eucharistic wafers—allegedly erupted into life by such activities as bleeding, weeping, and walking about. Challenging Christians both to seek ever more frequent encounter with miraculous matter and to turn to an inward piety that rejected material objects of devotion, such phenomena were by the fifteenth century at the heart of religious practice and polemic. In Christian Materiality, Caroline Walker Bynum describes the miracles themselves, discusses the problems they presented for both church authorities and the ordinary faithful, and probes the basic scientific and religious assumptions about matter that lay behind them. She also analyzes the proliferation of religious art in the later Middle Ages and argues that it called attention to its materiality in sophisticated ways that explain both the animation of images and the hostility to them on the part of iconoclasts.

Seeing the Christian culture of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries as a paradoxical affirmation of the glory and the threat of the natural world, Bynum’s study suggests a new understanding of the background to the sixteenth-century reformations, both Protestant and Catholic. Moving beyond cultural study of “the body”—a field she helped to establish—Bynum argues that Western attitudes toward body and person must be placed in the context of changing conceptions of matter itself. Her study has broad theoretical implications, suggesting a new approach to the study of material culture and religious practice.

Fashioning Apollo

When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped onto the lunar surface in July of 1969, they wore spacesuits made by Playtex: twenty-one layers of fabric, each with a distinct yet interrelated function, custom-sewn for them by seamstresses whose usual work was fashioning bras and girdles. This book is the story of those spacesuits. It is a story of the triumph over the military-industrial complex by the International Latex Corporation, best known by its consumer brand of "Playtex"—a victory of elegant softness over engineered hardness, of adaptation over cybernetics.

Playtex’s spacesuit went up against hard armor-like spacesuits designed by military contractors and favored by NASA’s engineers. It was only when those suits failed—when traditional engineering firms could not integrate the body into mission requirements—that Playtex, with its intimate expertise, got the job.

In Spacesuit, Nicholas de Monchaux tells the story of the twenty-one-layer spacesuit in twenty-one chapters addressing twenty-one topics relevant to the suit, the body, and the technology of the twentieth century. He touches, among other things, on eighteenth-century androids, Christian Dior’s New Look, Atlas missiles, cybernetics and cyborgs, latex, JFK's carefully cultivated image, the CBS lunar broadcast soundstage, NASA’s Mission Control, and the applications of Apollo-style engineering to city planning. The twenty-one-layer spacesuit, de Monchaux argues, offers an object lesson. It tells us about redundancy and interdependence and about the distinctions between natural and man-made complexity; it teaches us to know the virtues of adaptation and to see the future as a set of possibilities rather than a scripted scenario.

Technology and the Western Millennium

Why does technology change over time, how does it change, and what difference does it make? In this sweeping, ambitious look at a thousand years of Western experience, Robert Friedel argues that technological change comes largely through the pursuit of improvement--the deep-rooted belief that things could be done in a better way. What Friedel calls the "culture of improvement" is manifested every day in the ways people carry out their tasks in life--from tilling fields and raising children to waging war.Improvements can be ephemeral or lasting, and one person’s improvement may not always be viewed as such by others. Friedel stresses the social processes by which we define what improvements are and decide which improvements will last and which will not. These processes, he emphasizes, have created both winners and losers in history.Friedel presents a series of narratives of Western technology that begin in the eleventh century and stretch into the twenty-first. Familiar figures from the history of invention are joined by others--the Italian preacher who described the first eyeglasses, the dairywomen displaced from their control over cheesemaking, and the little-known engineer who first suggested a grand tower to Gustav Eiffel. Friedel traces technology from the plow and the printing press to the internal combustion engine, the transistor, and the space shuttle. Friedel also reminds us that faith in improvement can sometimes have horrific consequences, as improved weaponry makes warfare ever more deadly and the drive for improving human beings can lead to eugenics and even genocide. The most comprehensive attempt to tell the story of Western technology in many years, engagingly written and lavishly illustrated, A Culture of Improvement documents the ways in which the drive for improvement has shaped our modern world.

Reproduction and Human Agency in Europe and Asia, 1700-1900

This pioneering study reconceptualizes the impact of social organizations, economic conditions, and human agency on human reproduction in preindustrial communities in Europe and Asia. Unlike previous studies, in which Asia is meeasured by European standards, Prudence and Pressure develops a Eurasian perspective. Drawing on rich new data and the tools of event-history analysis, the authors challenge the accepted Eurocentric Malthusian view that attributes “prudence” (smaller families due to late marriage) to the preindustrial West and “pressure” (high mortality due to overpopulation) to the East, showing instead important similarities between Europe and Asia in human motivation and population behavior. The authors analyze age, gender, family and household, kinship, social class and power, religion, culture, and economic resources in order to compare reproductive strategies and outcomes. They reveal underlying similarities between East and West in two major components of the reproductive regime--marriage and childbearing--and offer evidence showing that preindustrial reproduction was motivated and governed by human agency at least as much as by human biology. Prudence and Pressure is part of a large-scale interdisciplinary effort to use new data and methods to re-examine the Malthusian paradigm of population growth. It represents a significant advance in the fields of historical demography, history, and sociology.

The Birth of Naval Architecture in the Scientific Revolution, 1600-1800

"Naval architecture was born in the mountains of Peru, in the mind of a French astronomer named Pierre Bouguer who never built a ship in his life." So writes Larrie Ferreiro at the beginning of this pioneering work on the science of naval architecture. Bouguer's monumental book Traité du navire (Treatise of the Ship) founded a discipline that defined not the rules for building a ship but the theories and tools to predict a ship's characteristics and performance before it was built. In Ships and Science, Ferreiro argues that the birth of naval architecture formed an integral part of the Scientific Revolution. Using Bouguer's work as a cornerstone, Ferreiro traces the intriguing and often unexpected development of this new discipline and describes its practical application to ship design in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Drawing on previously untapped primary-source and archival information, he places the development of naval architecture in the contexts of science, navy, and society, across the major shipbuilding nations of Britain, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, and Italy.Ferreiro describes the formulation of the three major elements of ship theory (the science of explaining the physical behavior of a ship): maneuvering and sail theory, ship resistance and hydrodynamics, and stability theory. He considers the era's influential books on naval architecture and describes the professionalization of ship constructors that is the true legacy of this period. Finally, looking from the viewpoints of both the constructor and the naval administrator, he explains why the development of ship theory was encouraged, financed, and used in naval shipbuilding. A generous selection of rarely seen archival images accompanies the text.

A Fifteenth-Century Maritime Manuscript
Edited by Pamela O. Long

In the fifteenth century, a Venetian mariner, Michael of Rhodes, wrote and illustrated a text describing his experiences in the Venetian merchant and military fleets. He included a treatise on commercial mathematics and treatments of contemporary shipbuilding practices, navigation, calendrical systems, and astrological ideas. This manuscript, "lost," or at least in unknown hands for over 400 years, has never been published or translated in its entirety until now.

In volume 3, nine experts, including the editors, discuss the manuscript, its historical context, and its scholarly importance. Their essays examine the Venetian maritime world of the fifteenth century, Michael's life, the discovery of the manuscript, the mathematics in the book, the use of illustration, the navigational directions, Michael's knowledge of shipbuilding in the Venetian context, and the manuscript’s extensive calendrical material.

A Fifteenth-Century Maritime Manuscript
Edited by David McGee

In the fifteenth century, a Venetian mariner, Michael of Rhodes, wrote and illustrated a text describing his experiences in the Venetian merchant and military fleets. He included a treatise on commercial mathematics and treatments of contemporary shipbuilding practices, navigation, calendrical systems, and astrological ideas. This manuscript, "lost," or at least in unknown hands for over 400 years, has never been published or translated in its entirety until now.

Volume 1 is a facsimile of the manuscript, reproduced in full color. The text is written out by hand and beautifully illustrated (probably at least in part by Michael himself), featuring color diagrams and illustrations of naval architecture, original drawings of astrological signs, calendrical charts, and a coat of arms Michael devised for himself.

  • Page 3 of 21