William J. Turkel

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“In a sense, all life consists of the colonization of an electric world. But to see that, we have to go back to the very beginning.” William J. Turkel’s new book traces the emergence and inhabiting of an electric world through the span of human history and beyond. Embracing a “big history” approach to the archive, Spark from the Deep: How Shocking Experiments with Strongly Electric Fish Powered Scientific Discovery (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013) is a story of the human understanding and use of electricity through the study of strongly-electric catfish, rays, and eels. It’s a history of intimacy between life and the electric, humans and instruments, life and death, from the earliest history of human interaction with strongly electric fish through the modern world. Turkel collects a fascinating set of sources and stories on therapeutic, experimental, and conceptual encounters with fish as apparatus, and readers will find wonderful engagements with the work of Darwin, Volta, Galvani, von Humboldt, Faraday, Du Bois-Reymond, and many more writers and thinkers. Spark from the Deep is also the result of a very inventive and thoughtful approach to digital history, and we talk about Turkel’s research methodology and engagement with digital tools and sources in the course of the interview. As a result, this will be of interest to listeners who seek stories of the electric, as well as listeners interested more broadly in the craft of history. Enjoy!

You can find Turkel’s introduction to doing research with digital sources on his website.


Alon PeledTraversing Digital Babel: Information, E-Government, and Exchange

November 7, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in Technology] Failure by government agencies to share information has had disastrous results globally. From the inability to prevent terrorist attacks, like the 9-11 attacks in New York City, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania, to the ill-equipped and ill-fated responses to disasters like the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima, and Hurricane Katrina, a common denominator [...]

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Ethan ZuckermanRewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection

November 6, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in World Affairs] In the early days of the Internet, optimists saw the future as highly connected, where voices from across the globe would mingle and learn from one another as never before.  However, as Ethan Zuckerman argues in Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection (Norton, 2013), just because a connection is possible does not [...]

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Lawrence LipkingWhat Galileo Saw: Imagining the Scientific Revolution

November 5, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in Astronomy] Lawrence Lipking’s new book, What Galileo Saw: Imagining the Scientific Revolution (Cornell University Press, 2014) examines the role of imagination and creativity in the seventeenth century developments that have come to be known as the Scientific Revolution.  Whereas some accounts suggest that this period involved the rejection of imaginative thinking, Lipking traces it through [...]

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Kara W. SwansonBanking on the Body: The Market in Blood, Milk, and Sperm in Modern America

October 20, 2014

How did we come to think of spaces for the storage and circulation of body parts as “banks,” and what are the consequences of that history for the way we think about human bodies as property today? Kara W. Swanson’s wonderful new book traces the history of body banks in America from the nineteenth century [...]

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Hugh F. ClineInformation Communication Technology and Social Transformation: A Social and Historical Perspective

October 9, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in Technology] There is no doubt that innovations in technology have had, and are having, a significant impact on society, changing the way we live, work, and play. But the changes that we are seeing are far from novel. In fact, most are a continuation of changes to society and societal structure with [...]

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Robert StolzBad Water: Nature, Pollution & Politics in Japan, 1870-1950

October 2, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in East Asian Studies] Robert Stolz’s new book explores the emergence of an environmental turn in modern Japan. Bad Water: Nature, Pollution & Politics in Japan, 1870-1950 (Duke University Press, 2014) guides readers through the unfolding of successive eco-historical periods in Japan. Stolz charts the transformations of an “environmental unconscious” lying at the foundation of [...]

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Susan HaackEvidence Matters: Science, Proof, and Truth in the Law

October 1, 2014

[Cross-posted from New Books in Philosophy] Our legal systems are rooted in rules and procedures concerning the burden of proof, the weighing of evidence, the reliability and admissibility of testimony, among much else. It seems obvious, then, that the law is in large part an epistemological enterprise.  And yet when one looks at the ways in which judges have wielded [...]

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Michael OsborneThe Emergence of Tropical Medicine in France

September 11, 2014

In The Emergence of Tropical Medicine in France (University of Chicago Press, 2014), Michael Osborne offers a new way to think about and practice the history of colonial medicine. Eschewing pan-European or Anglo-centric models of the history of colonial medicine, Osborne’s book focuses on the centrality, transformations, and ultimate demise of naval medicine in France [...]

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John TreschThe Romantic Machine: Utopian Science and Technology after Napoleon

September 5, 2014

John Tresch’s beautiful new book charts a series of transformations that collectively ushered in a new cosmology in the Paris of the early-mid nineteenth century. The Romantic Machine: Utopian Science and Technology after Napoleon  (University of Chicago Press, 2012) narrates the emergence of a new image of the machine, a new concept of nature, a [...]

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