Thursday, February 15, 2018

On Cell Theory

On Cell Theory: After modern compound microscopes became available in Europe during the 1600s, scientists used them to study everyday objects like shoes, teeth, plants, and wood. One such scientist, Anton van Leeuwenhoek from Holland, started as a lens grinder who was able to invent his own microscope. Another such scientist, Robert Hooke from England, began to document what he observed in a book titled Micrographia (1665), which contained a series of drawings and sketches that popularized the emerging science of microscopy. And even though these early microscopes could only magnify objects up to 300 times, these scientists were fascinated by what they saw. Yet it was not until the 1800s that anything tangible regarding "cell theory" became codified. In fact, it's usually two German scientists (Schwann & Schleiden) who are credited with formulating the basic pillars of cell theory (the idea that cells are the fundamental units of life). However, Hooke named them "cells," because they reminded him of where monks went to pray and sleep.

Monday, January 15, 2018

1970s New York City = Rock Bottom

1970s New York City = Rock Bottom: On the verge of financial collapse, NYC in the 1970s was not a place that you wanted to be. Known for its high crime rates, high suicide rates, widespread rat infestations, graffiti-plagued public transit, and political corruption, NYC had reached a low-point in its urban history. Facing bankruptcy, the city was able to secure a series of federal loans topping $3.5 billion. However, these loans came with strict stipulations such as drastically cutting municipal services, including buses, subways, libraries, and police/fire stations. Even NYC's teachers' union, headed by Albert Shanker, had to fork over as much as $150 million from its pension fund to keep the city afloat. Yet aside from financial problems, NYC had also garnered negative press in the 1970s for a variety of other reasons. Perhaps the most infamous was the police department's corruption scandal, which saw detective Frank Serpico testify about the need for vast reforms within the NYPD. Such reforms involved subjects like officer accountability, internal affairs investigations, and confidential informants.

Friday, December 15, 2017

On Thomas Nast's Political Cartoons

On Thomas Nast's Political Cartoons: In mid-19th-century America, when literacy rates of the general public were not particularly high, Nast's abilities as a cartoonist had a powerful effect on people. One of his first jobs after art school (as a teenager) was to illustrate news stories for a popular magazine (Harper's Weekly). It was clear at an early age that Nast had a knack for drawing. But when a friend encouraged him to caricature evil-doers (especially in the world of politics), it pushed Nast to create the modern political cartoon. And while residing in New York City during the age of Boss Tweed and corruption at Tammany Hall, he incessantly lampooned politicians for their unjust ways (embezzlement). It's stated that between the 1860s and 1880s, Nast's political cartoons even had a profound impact on presidential elections. Perhaps the two most lasting images of Nast were the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant, which became the symbols for each political party.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

On Dorothea Dix and Mental Asylums

On Dorothea Dix and Mental Asylums: As one of the earliest advocates for the mentally ill, Dorothea Dix spent much of her life helping to establish America's first generation of state hospitals. Having grown up in the 1810s in Worcester, Massachusetts, Dix extensively lobbied the state to open one of these hospitals in her city. Designed to care for the mentally unstable, these hospitals would operate in a very different manner than prisons. In fact, Dix made a point of going into prisons and identifying those who were mentally unfit for incarceration. She took them back to state hospitals because she believed there was a big difference between common criminals and those who suffered from debilitating mental afflictions. Criminalizing or socially isolating these individuals only made their mental illness worse. Unfortunately, Dix herself suffered from some serious bouts of depression at times, but she persisted in her attempts at "lunacy reform" (which originated in England).

Sunday, October 15, 2017

On the French and Indian War

On the French and Indian War: From 1754 to 1763, Britain and France fought for land in North America. Each country had substantial colonial interests (in the "New World") alongside Spain. Britain's lands were primarily coastal with ports extending from what is now Maine down to Georgia. New France's territory included interior lands stretching from Quebec, Canada, past the Great Lakes, and down to the Mississippi Valley. For the most part, British colonists were farmers, which meant they required vast swaths of (cleared) land in order to subsist. On the other hand, French colonists mostly consisted of hunters (fur trappers & traders). Thus, the French colonial lifestyle was more in line with how local Indians were living, including the Iroquois, Mohawk, and Seneca. When violence first erupted between the British and French in Western Pennsylvania, it was only natural for Indians to join the French. In fact, certain British officials like General Edward Braddock were notorious for referring to Indians as "savages," which made British-Indian collaboration (during the war) all but impossible.