Johann Kepler: Life and Works

As Curator of the exceptional Kepler collection at the OU History of Science Collections, I’ve been invited to give talks on Kepler to various audiences, including the 2013 Okie-Tex star party at Black Mesa, Oklahoma. Much as with similar talks on Copernicus and Galileo, this is framed as if we were in the vaults of the OU History of Science Collections, turning the pages of the beautiful rare books together. The talks are an introduction to these astronomers through their works. They synthesize scholarship in the history of science, pitched for an interested public at about the same level as a lecture in a history of science survey class.

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Copernicus and the Motion of the Earth

Back in 2005, I created a planetarium show, “Copernicus and His Revolutions,” for the Cosmology and Cultures Project of the OBU Planetarium (available here).

Soon after that, as Curator of the remarkable Copernicus collection at the OU History of Science Collections, I was invited to give talks on Copernicus to various physics and astronomy programs around the country. A version of this Copernicus talk has been presented at Michigan State University (2007), Florida State University (2008), and at the Okie-Tex star party near Black Mesa (2009), among others.

Much as with similar talks on Kepler and Galileo, this talk is framed as if we were in the vaults of the Collections, turning the pages of the beautiful rare books together, in order to see what stories are evident in the works themselves. These talks introduce these astronomers through their works. They synthesize scholarship in the history of science, pitched for an interested public at about the same level as a lecture in a history of science survey class.

A PDF handout contains quotations, names of people mentioned, resources for further reading, and question prompts for discussion and reflection.

This presentation is too long to watch in one session. Take breaks between any of the 10 major sections to stretch your legs and process what has been presented. The final two sections offer questions for reflection and resources for further reading.

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My work in the library

We have a new incoming dean of libraries, arriving in May. She asked every library employee to respond to several questions. Here are my responses.


How do you contribute to University Libraries?

I tell stories that connect people with the wonderful, humane, creative, instructive and ongoing story of science and scientific culture. Libraries are not only about curating and communicating information, they are also places of meaning. Stories provide meaning. Stories invite participation, and the construction of new stories.

Here’s an example of what that looks like in practice: We had an exhibit in 2015 about Galileo. As a result, I held full-day workshops for several years for teachers in a NASA space grant program. One elementary teacher who had participated was working with a second grade student who could not yet read. The teacher shared with the girl stories about the stars. They inspired her so much that she created her own story about the stars, about a constellation she called “Hoot the Owl.” Then the girl wanted to learn to write in order to make her own book about her new constellation. “Hoot the Owl” is now my favorite constellation; you can read her story, “How the Constellation Hoot the Owl Began,” just the way she wrote it, with her family’s permission, here: http://lynx-open-ed.org/OERs/Hoot-the-Owl.pdf. Without doubt, my favorite outcome of the Galileo’s World exhibit was that it inspired this 2nd grade student in El Reno to learn to read and write.

What do you like most about your job?

The variety of people I encounter. Here is an example, expressed as a contrast between two libraries:

I remember one summer day I arrived at the front door of the —- Library in —, –. It was before 8 a.m., so that I could make best use of my one day visit. The moment the doors opened, I was invited inside and began the registration process, which was expedited for me, both because their history of science curator was a friend of mine and because I had visited the library (but not the reading room) before. Yet after I completed all the forms, answered all the questions, sat for a mug-shot, and signed a contract to credit them in the publication that would result, it was more than two hours later when I saw the inside of the reading room.

That very same summer, on a rainy day, a massive six-foot-four construction worker, perhaps in his mid-50’s with grey hair flowing down to his shoulders, a full grey beard, and a round cheerful face that would do credit to Santa Claus, walked in to the History of Science Collections. Whenever his construction site would close due to weather, he enjoyed coming in to see if we could bring him anything in Anglo Saxon. With no university education, he had taught himself to read it and translating it was his passion. He would spend all day translating whatever it was into his beloved paper notepad. Whenever I walked by our reading room and saw him there, it was as if a bard from the age of Beowulf was come back to life. Yet he would never have been allowed entrance to the —‘s reading room. Instead of an elite and exclusive private institution, we are a public research university library that welcomes all.

What UL accomplishment are you most proud of?

There are two that stand out head and shoulders above all others: open access and archives.

1. When I began working for the libraries in June 2000, image requests that came in during my first month on the job made clear to me how many creative uses images from our books could be put to by resourceful researchers, artists, and lay persons in unexpected pursuits. Since that time, it was my goal to make it a distinctive reputation of the OU History of Science Collections to serve these needs. It was a service appropriate to our home within a public research university library. It was also an advertising and promotional strategy that money couldn’t buy — to increase the visibility of a special collection with international reach located obscurely in a flyover state. That very summer, a PBS documentary on Galileo began production that would eventually list us as the first institutional credit. Fast forward to 2011, when the most important book on Copernicus to be published in the last 50 years included this sentence in the preface: “I wish to register special thanks to the University of Oklahoma History of Science Collections for its enlightened policy of making available free online use of visual material from its rich collections of rare primary sources.” At that time, we had roughly 60,000 print-quality images available for download (in contrast, our current repository does not yet support direct downloads of print-quality images). But while we had an opinion from OU Legal that agreed to direct downloads, the images were copyrighted, and the question of their continued availability always seemed precarious. Then in 2014, Rick Luce became Dean of Libraries, and the very first month on the job he visited Berlin to open a collaboration with the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science to co-develop an open access academic series of primary source editions. Under Luce, OU Legal approved a blanket policy of open access applied to all of our images, including the History of Science materials in the repository.

2. The History of Science Collections have long held interesting archives, including the papers of Jens Rud Nielsen (who studied with Niels Bohr before helping to found the physics program at OU); papers related to meteorology (including the National Severe Storms Laboratory here in Norman); papers relating to geology (such as the Alexander Ospovat Collection on Abraham Werner and German mineralogy in the 18th century); and papers on technology (such as those on the development of RAM memory and other computer technology during the post-WW2 years). The problem was that these archives were not processed and therefore not available to scholars. We also stood on the sidelines when important archives went to other institutions or languished unpreserved. All that changed just about three years ago. We are now beginning processing, learning ArchiveSpace (thanks to Bailey Hoeffner!), and have launched an initiative that I believe is a strategic and mission-critical priority for us: a new History of Geology Archive. A distinguishing feature of this archive is that it offers a home for the papers of historians of geology that will benefit future researchers. This year the archive will begin to be available to the public featuring the papers of the three most prominent and distinguished historians of geology in the world (measured by lifetime achievement awards from the geological societies of America, England, France, and Russia)…. Before the pandemic, we already had two visiting scholars use the archive even as it was being processed. Once we begin to publicize it this coming fall, it will solidify our place as one of the leading centers in the world for research in the history of the earth sciences.

These seem to me truly to be the two most significant achievements for the History of Science Collections in my career.

What is your favorite UL memory?

When you walk into the Marilyn B. Ogilvie Room on the 5th floor, take a close look at the portrait that hangs on the wall. Marilyn was the second curator of the History of Science Collections (Duane Roller was the first). I was blown away when she asked me one day if I would be interested in becoming her assistant. I jumped at the chance, and with Dean Sul Lee’s offer I turned down pursuit of an opportunity to go to the university in my home town, although I am very close to family there. Marilyn was one of my chief mentors academically; she served on my dissertation committee. But more than that, I remember as a graduate student (spending inordinate time in the Collections) the moment she became curator, for that was when the atmosphere of the History of Science Collections opened up to be a safe and welcoming place for all of us, and for visitors of all kinds, including external school and community groups. I came on board in 2000, and became curator myself in 2009, but those precious years of working side-by-side with Marilyn will always mean more to me than my own tenure as curator. Marilyn is truly the “face” of the OU History of Science Collections. For in all I do in the Collections, I do out of gratitude for what Marilyn and Ken Taylor and Duane Roller and a few other mentors here at OU have meant to me. Gratitude is why I came to the Libraries, and that is why I am still here. Here is a photo of the painting and an interview I did with Marilyn: http://lynx-open-ed.org/node/696

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Gabriele Beati and Jesuit Cosmology

This long-ago presentation was the banquet address for 2005 at the 48th annual meeting of the Midwest Junto for the History of Science. A later version was published as Kerry V. Magruder, “Jesuit Science after Galileo: The Cosmology of Gabriele Beati,” Centaurus 2009, 51: 189-212.

The research about global sections mentioned in the talk was later published in two related articles: Kerry V. Magruder, “Global Visions and the Establishment of Theories of the Earth,” Centaurus 2006, 48: 234-257; and a sequel, Kerry V. Magruder, “The Idiom of a Six Day Creation and Global Depictions in Theories of the Earth,” in Martina Kölb-Ebert, ed., Geology and Religion: Historical Views of an Intense Relationship between Harmony and Hostility, Geological Society of London Special Publications, no. 310 (London: The Geological Society of London, 2009), 49-66.

While the last two decades have seen an explosion of research in Jesuit science, perhaps this talk might still be of interest. For more recent work, however, see Christopher Graney, Setting Aside All Authority: Giovanni Battista Riccioli and the Science against Copernicus in the Age of Galileo; and Mark Wadell, Jesuit Science and the End of Nature’s Secrets; among many others.

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I’ll remember this day

White House 500,000 memorial

Such a strange feeling this memorable day brings. I received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on the same day we passed the milestone of half a million deaths from Coronavirus in the United States — in only a year, more than the fatalities of World War 1, World War 2, and the war in Vietnam combined.

IMMY LabsAs for the vaccine, what an amazing experience, courtesy of the people at IMMY Labs here in Norman, the Cleveland County Health Department, Norman Regional Hospital, and quite a few OU students who partnered together to administer 10,000 doses today at the Embassy Suites just a few blocks down from the IMMY headquarters. I’ve never placed a sticker on my Mac, ever, none, and I’ve had Macs since 1986. But I did today.

As we approached the hotel, traffic was backed up for blocks in all directions. My appointment was early in the morning, and apparently lots of people had come in advance just to be sure. Police officers were everywhere — in the intersections, and then throughout the parking lots, guiding us to open spaces. The traffic jam did not last long; there was no trace of it when we left – they did their work expertly.

I stood in line outside the building until it was time to enter. Everyone was masked. There was no crowding or pushing. A worker was standing at the door, opening the door to let people inside in a measured way.

Once inside, I was met by a sequence of workers who checked my temperature with a contact-less IR beam, then directed me along a hallway, where I was accompanied by a worker, walking beside me, who confirmed my name and date of birth. And another worker who said she liked my astronomy mask that Candace made. Before I had time to stand still, the line turned left and filed into the large convention room where chairs were set up in columns. We never stopped moving. All the check-in phases were accomplished while standing up and moving in line. Those around me were respecting the 6-feet of separation.

I sat down in the chair indicated for me. Two workers with a cart moved into the space in front of me, between me and the next chair forward from me. One confirmed my name and date of birth and prepared the vaccination card that I’m to bring with me for the second dose. The other gave me the shot in my left arm. She was good at it; I could hardly feel the stick at all. As they were working simultaneously instead of in sequence, it seemed to be over in no time; they quickly moved on to the corresponding chair in the column to my right. After 15 minutes, a worker dismissed my column. We stood up to the right of our chairs, walked to the front and then exited left out of the convention room, through a different hallway, and back outside.

The experience was a splendor born of the combination of flawless logistics and human kindness in the midst of our desperate pandemic year. IMMY Labs had so many workers that there was never a question about what to do or where to go next, and no needless waiting. Equally unexpected, all those workers were kind, offering welcoming greetings, asking how we were doing.

From the time I entered the building until I left, I was actually nearly in tears just at the combination of such competence and compassion — and of the wordless affirmation, by deeds alone, of the reality of the pandemic, as they devoted themselves to its mitigation. Not to mention the improbable fact that I have survived long enough to get the first dose of the vaccine. My goodness, all the people in the chain who made that happen, from the research scientists around the world to the day workers here in this city today, I’m so thankful for them all. Bless them, dear Father! Hallelujah. If you are reading this, I pray it goes the same for you and that your turn will come soon.

500,000. This evening we cried our way through the memorial service President Biden held at the White House at sundown. Long after the moment of silence, while still watching the White House beautifully illuminated with candles, Candace proclaimed: “Congratulations, Mom, you got a president to speak at your memorial!” (Twice!) Phyllis passed from Covid on January 17th, just short of Biden’s first Covid memorial, held on the Mall on January 19, the eve of his inauguration. As with so many, her memorial service is postponed until a safer time. So, to us, both of these sunset services were for her. They acknowledged our grief and our gratitude.

Tonight, President Biden repeated a line from his brief remarks on the Mall: “To heal, we must remember.”

I will long remember this day. Enduring thanks to all of those who, directly or indirectly, have touched my life today.


IMMY Labs vaccination clinic

Story in the OU Daily

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Ash Wednesday 2021

What does God do with dust?

He breathes upon it and creates new life.

As Chrysostom said: “Dust now sits at the right hand of God.”*

This was the theme of the Ash Wednesday service last night at the First United Methodist Church in Kirksville (our family’s home church, which has been a wonderful presence of grace to us throughout the pandemic).

This year for Lent, Candace and I are reading aloud Tish Warren’s Prayer in the Night, using it to pray compline; and reading Malcolm Guite’s Word in the Wilderness, in company with a Rabbit Room reading group.

———–

* See Gerrit Dawson, Jesus Ascended (2004).

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Fare Thee Well 2020

This is a beautiful New Year’s celebration in Scotland, so appropriately crafted for looking back on 2020 and forward to 2021.

Watch with closed captioning, in order to catch the Gaelic. Afterward, don’t miss the “Behind the scenes” video featuring interviews with those who made it happen. The poem is by Jackie Kay, poet laureate of Scotland.

Beautiful – the whole world can give thanks for this articulate lament and hopeful adaptation of the Hogmanay celebration.

————–

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Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (2020)

Norman Rockwell, Union Station, Christmas 1944
Norman Rockwell, Union Station.
Cover for Saturday Evening Post, Christmas 1944

For most of my life, I have not appreciated this popular Christmas song. It seemed too nostalgic and smarmy. But 2020 has made me think of it in a different light, and now I appreciate it as doubtless it was intended to be. For I understand it now as a daring proclamation of hope in the midst of World War II, before the end of the war was in sight. Whether sung then, or now in this pandemic year, it seems less like wistful nostalgia and more like courageous defiance of the obstacles and uncertainties of our world.

Sung by Judy Garland, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” debuted in the movie, Meet Me in St. Louis (IMDB, Wikipedia), a musical released for Christmas 1944. Setting aside the wartime context, even considered solely within the plot of the movie, the song expressed a moment of maximum uncertainty and sorrow: the family, who lived in St. Louis, were facing an impending move to New York because of a change in employment for the father. They were facing the disruption of both new and long-lasting friendships. Their world was turning upside down; they were being uprooted.

When preparing the song, written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, Judy Garland changed a key line. She deleted a dismal lament: “It [this Christmas] may be your last, next year we will be living in the past.” In its place, Garland substituted a hopeful call to take heart: “Let your heart be light, from now on our troubles will be out of sight.”

This classic Christmas song seems as relevant for us in the pandemic year of 2020 as for war-weary singers in 1944.

Song at Wikipedia.


Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
From now on our troubles will be out of sight

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the Yuletide gay
From now on our troubles will be miles away

Here we are as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more

Through the years we all will be together
If the fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bow
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now

Through the years we all will be together
If the fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bow
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now

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Sonder

Sonder: the mystery of bearing the image of God…

Sonder from Wild Gravity on Vimeo.

n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own — an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.”
John Koenig, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows


More…

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Drs. Anthony Fauci, Francis Collins, and Luciana Borio at the National Cathedral

An evening with Drs. Anthony Fauci, Francis Collins, and Luciana Borio at the National Cathedral, presented as the Cathedral’s 2020 Ignatius Forum.

youTube.

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