The biologist in the ashram (with a walk-on by Harpo Marx)

12 September 2015 A week ago I drove up to Portland with my grad student Elizabeth to interview the biologist John Tyler Bonner. We were both amused, or bemused, by the declaration of the Institutional Review Board at Oregon State that the interview did not qualify as research (and therefore did not need IRB approval, …

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Modiano and the Weight of History

I picked up my first novel by Patrick Modiano in a bookstore in Strasbourg last fall.  He had just won the Nobel Prize and it was obvious that the bookstore had scrambled to find copies of his books: there were new paperbacks with moody photographs on the covers and red paper straps that read “Prix …

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“Can Cookery,” 1928

28 January 2015 At Powell’s the other day, I picked up a pamphlet-style cookbook from 1928 called The Book of Can Cookery, published by Woman’s World magazine. Not to be confused with the modern tabloid magazine of the same name, this Woman’s World began in the late 19th century and ceased publication in 1940. It …

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A Sonnet to an Anatomist

Montpellier surgeon Barthélémy Cabrol (1529-1603) first published his Alphabet anatomic in 1594. A series of tables that graphically represented the parts of the body, it was immensely popular, with eleven editions in the seventeenth century as well as translations into Latin and Dutch; the Dutch translation in 1633 was by Descartes’s friend and correspondent Vopiscus …

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An Ostrich for the New Year

Aristotle had not been entirely certain that the ostrich was a bird, but it took pride of place among the birds in the Versailles menagerie and in the 1676 Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire naturelle des animaux.   Ostriches had first made the long journey from Africa to Paris in the early seventeenth century; the young …

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The work of printing

Last week, while at the massive International Congress of the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (ICHSTM) in Manchester, England (more on that in another post),  I visited the John Rylands Library.  It’s a wonderful late-Victorian neo-gothic building that opened on 1 January 1900 as a private library endowed by the widow of John Rylands, …

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