Standards are the means by which we construct realities. There are established standards for professional accreditation, the environment, consumer products, animal welfare, the acceptable stress for highway bridges, healthcare, education—for almost everything. We are surrounded by a vast array of standards, many of which we take for granted but each of which has been and continues to be the subject of intense negotiation.
In mid-twentieth century France, the term “social space” (l’espace social)—the idea that spatial form and social life are inextricably linked—emerged in a variety of social science disciplines. Taken up by the French New Left, it also came to inform the practice of urban planning. In The View from Above, Jeanne Haffner traces the evolution of the science of social space from the interwar period to the 1970s, illuminating in particular the role of aerial photography in this new way of conceptualizing socio-spatial relations.
Global warming skeptics often fall back on the argument that the scientific case for global warming is all model predictions, nothing but simulation; they warn us that we need to wait for real data, “sound science.” In A Vast Machine Paul Edwards has news for these skeptics: without models, there are no data. Today, no collection of signals or observations—even from satellites, which can “see” the whole planet with a single instrument—becomes global in time and space without passing through a series of data models. Everything we know about the world’s climate we know through models.
Although nature conservation has traditionally focused on the countryside, issues of biodiversity protection also appear on the political agendas of many cities. One of the emblematic examples of this now worldwide trend has been the German city of Berlin, where, since the 1970s, urban planning has been complemented by a systematic policy of “biotope protection”—at first only in the walled city island of West Berlin, but subsequently across the whole of the reunified capital.
In the middle of the nineteenth century, German and Austrian concertgoers began to hear new rhythms and harmonies as non-Western musical ensembles began to make their way to European cities and classical music introduced new compositional trends. At the same time, leading physicists, physiologists, and psychologists were preoccupied with understanding the sensory perception of sound from a psychophysical perspective, seeking a direct and measurable relationship between physical stimulation and physical sensation.
For more than three thousand years, the science of astronomy depended on visible light. In just the last sixty years, radio technology has fundamentally altered how astronomers see the universe. Combining the wartime innovation of radar and the established standards of traditional optical telescopes, the “radio telescope” offered humanity a new vision of the universe.
Although Hermann von Helmholtz was one of most remarkable figures of nineteenth-century science, he is little known outside his native Germany. Helmholtz (1821–1894) made significant contributions to the study of vision and perception and was also influential in the painting, music, and literature of the time; one of his major works analyzed tone in music.
In Progressive Enlightenment, Leslie Tomory examines the origins of the gaslight industry, from invention to consolidation as a large integrated urban network. Tomory argues that gas was the first integrated large-scale technological network, a designation usually given to the railways. He shows how the first gas network was constructed and stabilized through the introduction of new management structures, the use of technical controls, and the application of means to constrain the behavior of the users of gas lighting.
In ThermoPoetics, Barri Gold sets out to show us how analogous, intertwined, and mutually productive poetry and physics may be. Charting the simultaneous emergence of the laws of thermodynamics in literature and in physics that began in the 1830s, Gold finds that not only can science influence literature, but literature can influence science, especially in the early stages of intellectual development. Nineteenth-century physics was often conducted in words. And, Gold claims, a poet could be a genius in thermodynamics and a novelist could be a damn good engineer.
For much of the first half of the twentieth century, meteorology was more art than science, dependent on an individual forecaster’s lifetime of local experience. In Weather by the Numbers, Kristine Harper tells the story of the transformation of meteorology from a “guessing science” into a sophisticated scientific discipline based on physics and mathematics.