Aeon this weekend highlighted a 2017 article by Joel Mokyr looking at how Europe became the richest part of the world (or at least one of the richest). Historically, there have been many theories, ranging from racist rationals, cultural ones, to it merely being Europe and the overall west's turn to be on top. That … Continue reading The rise of the west and the changing sociopolitical landscape
For most of human history, the Earth was seen as the stationary center of the universe, with the sun, planets, and starry firmament circling around it at various speeds. The ancient Greeks quickly managed to work out that the Earth was spherical but struggled to explain the motions of the heavens. Eventually Eudoxus, a student … Continue reading A theory more pleasing to the mind
I've been thinking lately about the history of science, particularly the period between 1500 and 1700, what is usually referred to as "the scientific revolution." I'm a bit leery of many accounts of this period, as they often assume that there's some bright line separating science from what came before. There's a tendency to look … Continue reading The discovery of discovery
According to tradition, in the early days of ancient Rome, King Numa Pompilius established a religious institution: the Vestal Virgins. The Vestal Virgins were chaste priestesses of Vesta, the goddess of home and hearth. Their duty was to maintain the sacred flame in the temple of Vesta. The Romans believed that as long as the … Continue reading The soul of the Roman Empire
When thinking about human history, it's tempting to see some developments as inevitable. Some certainly were, but the sheer amount of time before some of them took place seem to make them remarkable. The human species, narrowly defined as Homo sapiens, is about 200,000 years old. Some argue that it's older, around 300,000 years, others … Continue reading Breakthroughs in imagination
My memory of what I learned in early grade school about the history of American voting rights went something like this. Prior to 1776, we were ruled by the king of Great Britain. He was a tyrant who oppressed us with taxation without representation, so we rebelled and set up a democracy. (UK readers, I see … Continue reading America’s long path to universal voting rights
The other day, I came across this Big Think explanation by historian Sean Wilentz on why the US always seems to gravitate to a two party system. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wnju7zOH_Zs Unfortunately, while I think Wilentz touches on the main points, his explanation doesn't seem as clear as it could be. To start off, he refers to the … Continue reading Why the US two party system is so entrenched
The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. As someone who isn't able to find an objective basis for morality, I've often wondered what that means for the above statement from Martin Luther King. It certainly feels like we're making moral progress, that the status of previously oppressed or marginalized people … Continue reading Is there a moral arc to history?
Yesterday was the anniversary of the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, for which apparently there is now a Muslim debate about whether it fulfilled Muhammad's charge for Muslims to conquer that city. I can't say I have any opinion in that particular matter. But something I do find interesting is that, in describing the event, … Continue reading When did the Roman Empire actually fall?
The NY Times has an interesting article about a study which purports to show that literacy may have been far more prevalent in pre-Babylonian exile Judah than many had thought. The implication, it's believed, is that Biblical minimalist scholars who thought that no part of the Bible was composed until after the exile, are wrong. But … Continue reading When were the earliest parts of the Bible written?