The Mystics of Environmental History and Ethnobotonical Research

Gradina Botanica, Bucharest

By Ayanda Netshisaulu, Gale Ambassador at the University of Johannesburg|

Let me set the scene. Right at the beginning of my postgraduate career, starry eyed and interested in gender history, I was offered the opportunity to join a group of students from the University of Johannesburg and Western Sydney University for a two-week programme in the Kruger National Park in north-eastern South Africa. The programme mostly consisted of Zoology students who understood the importance of land gradients and wild animal feeding patterns. As a Humanities student I felt a bit out of place but I wasn’t particularly bothered considering I was enjoying the safari and learning about rhino’s territorial marking patterns!

It was during this trip, however, that I learned that historical narratives can be extracted from anything. We had been discussing land gradients – which to this day I don’t completely understand – when my History professor asked me: “gradients and the science aside, Ayanda what did you get from what was just said now?” What did I get? I was still trying to get my Humanities brain to catch up to the science of it all! How could I “get” anything? He then went on to explain how, for a historian, there is a story in everything. A historian would be asking themselves questions about past land use, about past peoples and about how they would have navigated this land. How did societies of the past know, for example, to burn the grass to allow for the fresh regrowth that would attract game? Whilst initially I had never felt so out of place, it was during this trip that I fell in love with the historical narratives of the environmental past.

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The eruption of Krakatoa, August 1883: the first global media event

On August 26th 1883, Krakatoa erupted. Not, of course, out of a clear blue sky; ash columns and steam plumes had been filling the sky over the island and its archipelago for days, the area had been experiencing tremors and earthquakes for years, and smaller explosions had been throwing up ash, changing the tides and, presumably, worrying the locals for months.

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“This is all mind-boggling stuff”: The Reception of A Brief History of Time

the cosmos and me

On January 8th 2017, Professor Stephen Hawking celebrates his 75th birthday. Few scientists have such a strong place in the popular imagination, being the subject of numerous media from Hollywood films to documentaries to books, among many others. For 30 years he held the post of Lucasian Professor at Cambridge University, a chair held by no less than Sir Isaac Newton, filling some rather large shoes.

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Early Arabic Printed Books from the British Library – tracing the exchange of ideas between East and West in the new Sciences, History and Geography module

Early Arabic Printed Books from the British Library continues to grow this week as we launch the next module, Sciences, History and Geography. As Editor, this module has been a particular joy to work on because of the breadth and depth of subject matter, covering everything from Alchemy to Zoology, and containing some of the very earliest printed works in Europe. Indeed, the presence of these early European printings in this module indicates the exchange of ideas between the Islamic and European worlds, and I thought I’d look to see if I could trace this exchange using the content in Sciences, History and Geography.

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Total solar eclipse and the birth of an element

March 8th/9th will see a total solar eclipse over Indonesia and the Pacific. Since astronomers have been able to predict when and where eclipses would be visible people have travelled near and far to witness these events. A total solar eclipse is both a magnificent celestial spectacle and an extraordinary scientific opportunity.

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