Thoreau on reading

“How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book!” Henry David Thoreau

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Interview with Marilyn B. Ogilvie

Marilyn Ogilvie (portrait by Mike Wimmer)
Marilyn Ogilvie (portrait by Mike Wimmer)

Interview:  Marilyn B. Ogilvie, 2nd Curator of the OU History of Science Collections
Location:  Marilyn B. Ogilvie Exploration Room
Date:  January 26, 2017; prior to the public unveiling of Marilyn’s portrait in the Ogilvie Exploration Room.
Interviewer:  Kerry V. Magruder, 3rd Curator

(posted with Marilyn’s permission)


KM:  The history of science is an unusual and somewhat obscure field.  Few people find their way to the history of science by a direct highway; rather, most travel through backroads and byways.  What were your early academic interests?

MBO:  I was going to be an astronomer.  When I was about 8 or 9, I was planning to go to the Moon or to Mars.  I won’t tell you about the Egishdeemen who lived on Mars, but I told my little friends all about them.

KM:  When and where did you obtain your undergraduate degrees?

MBO:  I went to Baker University [in Baldwin, KS], for a Bachelors in Biology.  Baker is a small liberal arts college.  At that point, I realized, in what I regarded as a great discovery on my part, that all knowledge seems to connect together.  Later, I earned a Masters in Zoology from KU.

KM:  What are some of the diverse life experiences that brought you to first consider the history of science as a profession?

MBO:  Chance is the biggest one.  We had been in east Africa for 2 years.  I was teaching biology and chemistry for TEA [Teachers for East Africa], in bush country outside Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika [formerly German East Africa, now Tanzania].  We were coming back to Norman because my husband Phil wanted to get his PhD in Zoology here.  While we were in Africa, we heard of Duane Roller from someone who knew him at Columbia and found out that he had some sort of collection of old books at OU.  So I wandered up, looked around, and eventually met him.  I thought the old books in history of science were so wonderful, and decided to take a reading course.  It was by Tom Smith on American science.  One course led to another.  When a seminar paper was raked over the coals, I wondered, Why am I doing this?  But I was really hooked.  I loved the old stuff.  We held class right among the old books, and used them all the time.  What was so great about being in this program is that we had it all, right at our fingertips.


KM:  Marilyn, you embody the spirit of the OU history of science program in many diverse roles, including student, teacher, mentor, scholar, professor and curator.  Let’s start with your experience as a student.  When did you begin your studies at OU, and what year did you graduate with your PhD in the History of Science?

MBO:  I started in 1963, and finished my PhD in 1973. It took so long because we had moved first to Minneapolis and then Portland, Oregon while I was working on my dissertation. When I finished, we were living at the Oklahoma City Zoo! [where Phil was director.]

KM:  Duane H.D. Roller was the first curator and professor of the History of Science at OU.   What are your memories of Dr. Roller from your student days?

MBO:  We won’t talk about the cigarettes and ash trays. Perhaps I shouldn’t say that!  He was the king.  I was scared to death of him.  He would go on trips to buy books, leaving his paperwork spread out on the big table in the reading room.  He would put all his bills on that table, which we couldn’t help but notice as we held our seminars there.  We shared the excitement as the books arrived.  His classes were absolutely inspiring, and made me realize that history of science was what I wanted to do.

KM:  Who were some of the other professors at that time, and people involved in the program?

MBO:  There were just four professors back then.  Tom Smith, history of technology.  Tom was acting curator when Duane went on trips.  David Kitts, history of geology.  I wrote my first good paper for him.  I still have it, with his encouraging comments.  And Roy Page.  Marcia Goodman was librarian, who would open the books as they arrived from Europe, with Duane’s letters telling about them.  We graduate students divided ourselves according to seniority:  the Golden Age, with Sister Suzanne Kelly, Jim Morris, Chuck St. Clair, Betty Ruth Estes and others.  Then the Silver Age.  I was in the Bronze Age.

KM:  What was it like to research in the History of Science Collections as a graduate student at that time?

MBO:  One had better be in there doing research!  Roller checked to see if we were there, and how many hours we spent.  We often stayed until almost midnight.  Roller chose who had the key to the door. The chosen few were known as the Key Club.  As long as the library was open, we needed to be there.  The Collections were on the third floor at this time.  The carrels were along each row, with the stacks in between, so we studied in the same room as the books.


KM:  You also served the history of science program as a member of the teaching faculty.  You are a professor emerita in the Department of the History of Science.  What attracted you to teaching?

MBO:  I’ve always loved teaching.  I taught secondary biology in Phoenix after receiving my Masters, and then in Africa.  Later, I taught at Portland State and at OBU before coming to OU.

KM:  You taught both undergraduate and graduate courses.  What are some memorable moments from your teaching experience?

MBO:  It’s so gratifying to receive emails from students even after all these years.  They give my Facebook name to their friends.  They remember books we read, like [Rachel Carson’s] Silent Spring.

KM:  Mentoring involves long-term relationships with students that grow out of the teaching experience.  You served on dozens of graduate student committees, including mine.  How were teaching and mentoring meaningful to your work at OU?

MBO:  Caring for the books is just a part of the job.  Relating to the students – and student employees – is just as important.  It’s not teaching facts, but teaching how to relate to people, how to bring books and the public together.  If you like people, and you like teaching, these are as much a part of being a curator as liking the books.  It’s a whole package.


KM:  OU is distinctive in having both a History of Science special collection in OU Libraries and a separate academic Department of the History of Science.  As a result, you were a faculty member in both OU Libraries and in the History of Science Department.  This special relationship between the History of Science Collections and the History of Science Department created a synergy between the two.   How did this special relationship work out in practice?

MBO:  Beautifully.  You might say there was always a blending between teaching and books.  That is what DeGolyer [the founding donor] expected, that the books were to be used, not merely decorative.  We take care of them in order that they might be used.  The reason we have the books is so we can read what’s inside the books, not to keep them on the shelf.  Many are now online, but that’s not the only way we use them.  It’s a historical feeling that you’re talking with people in the past to see where their ideas came from.  To me that conversation is what is fascinating. It’s a conversation between many different people, both past and present. We care for the books to keep that conversation going.  That’s why the faculty in the history of science department are such wonderful colleagues.

KM:  What does that special relationship mean for students, faculty and visiting researchers?

MBO:  One example is our Mellon Travel Fellowship Program.  It’s symbiosis. It happened only because of both, working together as partners.  People now come to use our books from all over the world, and our students gain a more cosmopolitan view.  To study history of science it’s not just about the books alone, or about formal teaching relationships.  We are a community of scholars.  We develop an enlarged circle of friendships.  It’s all about making a place where interesting conversations happen.

KM:  As a professional historian of science, you have given special attention to the history of women and science.  How did you begin your research on this subject?

MBO:  Just by accident, as usual.  I was teaching at Portland State, a survey class in the history of science.  Two girls wanted to write on women and science.  They could only find one woman, Marie Curie.  I couldn’t think of any either.  So I started to search.  The historian of science Marie Boas Hall came to Norman.  We met at a party, and I told her about my manuscript on women and science.  She said, “Why don’t I come over and look at it?  Maybe we can have breakfast tomorrow?”  So sitting around my kitchen table, she set me up to publish it.  MIT accepted it [Women in Science:  Antiquity through the Nineteenth Century (MIT Press, 1987)].  Then I was hooked.  Nobody was working on women in science then.  I was asked to do a two-volume encyclopedia.  I didn’t realize what I had gotten myself into, so I asked Joy Harvey to co-author it with me.  Although it was an edited work, we ended up writing most of the articles ourselves [The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science (Routledge, 2000)].

KM:  How would you answer a group of students if they were to ask which 2 or 3 of your books they should read or consult first?

MBO:  To consult, start with the Biographical Dictionary.  But I like my Boring book best [A Dame Full of Vim and Vigor: A Biography of Alice Middleton Boring, Biologist in China (Amsterdam, 1999)].  I will have a Boring book and a Nice book!  And I’m really going to like my Nice book best when I get it finished [For the Birds:  The Life and Work of American Ornithologist Margaret Morse Nice (forthcoming)]. It is really pronounced “Neece.”  The most popular one is Marie Curie [Marie Curie: A Biography (Greenwood Press, 2004)].

KM:  At the annual meeting of the History of Science Society in Atlanta this past November, a roundtable session was devoted to you in light of the significance of your work for promoting research on the history of women and science. As I recall, there were no empty seats in the room.  How has the study of women and science changed since you began your work?

MBO:  Totally different.  It could be expected, just as the history of science has changed.  History of science has become a multicultural study now.  Not just about European men and elite ideas.  Its scope has expanded.  We’re still discovering women involved in science.  But studying women and science is no longer focused upon that, upon locating and getting facts about them, but rather about interpreting their work in context.  “Women and science” is no longer a special field, but an inherent part of scientific culture and essential for capturing any intellectual milieu.

KM:  Do you have any advice or wisdom to offer someone starting out today?

MBO:  Get as broad a background as you possibly can, in as many fields as you possibly can.  Don’t try to specialize too quickly.


KM:  When and how did you became the second curator?

MBO:  They did a search, and I got one of those things in the mail indicating that you have been recommended as a possible candidate.  I filled it in and forgot about it.  I was teaching at OBU, but I was in Europe when they were trying to get a hold of me.  They tried to reach me at all my hotels, since we didn’t have cell phones.  I came back to interview with both the Dean of the Libraries and the History of Science Department.  I was thrilled to get the job, but I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do.

KM:  What were some of the most important goals and objectives you envisioned for the History of Science Collections as curator?

MBO:  I wanted to make it open to the whole campus, not just an ivory tower only for elites or a restricted group of scholars.  We want you to see the books and appreciate what we have here.  We gave as many tours as we could.  We tried to establish a connection with friends in Oklahoma City to increase our visibility.  That’s how we established the OU Lynx.

KM:  How did your collecting strategy change?

MBO:  I collected in new areas, including women in science, medicine, alchemy, astrology, and popular science.  But I still built on strengths.  We didn’t try to specify in advance what we might buy.  I never knew ahead of time what opportunity might arise.  We acquired both primary and secondary sources, everything a scholar or student would need together in one place.  Visiting scholars did not have time for inter-library loan, or to wait for books checked out to be returned. We didn’t want to lose books from obscure presses that went out of print after only a few months.

KM:  You’ve traveled widely, both before and after becoming Curator of the Collections.  Is travel important for a curator, and what has it meant for you?

MBO:  In those days it was important to travel in order to find books.  There was no internet.  I’ve set foot on every continent, including Antarctica, although I didn’t buy any books there!  In China, I did research on Alice Boring, an American geneticist who taught there.

KM:  What are some of the most memorable acquisitions you made as curator?

MBO:  Two books high on my want list were the Epitome of Ptolemy’s Almagest by Regiomontanus [1496], and the natural history of Mexico by Hernandez, published by the Academy of the Lynx [1651].  We were able to acquire both.  My favorite might be the book by Maria Merian [Erucarum ortus (1717), “The Caterpillar Garden”].  I wish I had written a book about her!

KM:  Did you acquire many books in unusual or particularly fortuitous ways?

MBO:  I loved going into little bookshops.  At that time you would find books where people didn’t realize their value for the history of science, particularly in the vernacular or for popular science.

KM:  You received an outstanding teacher award here at OU, as voted by students.  How did your teaching experience relate to your role as curator?  Were these two roles in competition, or did one role mutually enhance the other?

MBO:  Since curatorship involves dealing with people, it requires the same attributes as being a teacher.  I honestly do like people, and I’m so proud of the books that I want to show them off to people and help people come to understand them.  So teaching is important to being a curator.  I never stopped.

KM:  How did you manage the demands of professional life, and what advice would you offer for younger professionals in achieving a work-life balance?

MBO:  Love what you do.  My professional and personal lives overlapped quite a bit.  Not when my children were little; that’s different.  And very difficult.  But you have to do what you love.

KM:  You were curator of the History of Science Collections for the better part of two decades, from 1990 to 2009.  How did the role of curator change during your tenure?

MBO:  I was more interested in research.  It’s hard to balance scholarship with administration.  I didn’t like meetings.  But it didn’t seem like I was going to work each morning, because I enjoyed the work and the people I worked with so much.  It was a privilege and a joy.  I could choose what I thought was the most important thing at the time, and work on that, so it was meaningful.  I could have kept busy every weekend giving talks, but I had to limit that.  Outreach was extremely important to me.

KM:  What do you hope for, when you think about the History of Science Collections a hundred years from now?

MBO:  It’s hard to envision.  Not like it is now.  I don’t know.  I would hope that it would still be a repository but not just a repository.  It certainly will be a museum, but I want the books to be used and the context of them to be understood for their own culture and time.  Our human-ness is important to see in them.  I have the same feelings toward the books as toward museum artifacts.  But more than just objects on display, we need understanding of what they meant then and what they mean now for us and at any future time.


KM:  It takes an exceptional person to combine the many roles you have played at this university.  I feel very strongly that no monument could capture all that you have meant for OU, but this Exploration Room seems appropriate. Learning activities from every exhibit gallery are gathered together here, along with exhibit-related books for both kids and adults. Throughout your career, your students, colleagues and friends have described you as animated by a passion to bring the stories of science to everyone.  The Exploration Room is devoted to active public engagement, both on and off campus, to learners of any age, young and old alike.  How did you feel when you first heard about the Marilyn B. Ogilvie Exploration Room?

MBO:  We were having dinner with Dean Luce at the time.  I was overwhelmed with gratitude.  It’s exciting to think about how this room will be a place of learning for both young and old.  It shows that the books are for everyone to enjoy.  These books do become old friends, yet I will never cease to feel a thrill when I see them.  Through this room, many more people will come to understand.  The activities developed to use here will spread beyond to schools and homes, through the OU Academy of the Lynx.

KM:   The Exploration Room features a portrait painted by noted Oklahoma artist Mike Wimmer.  When you look at the portrait, one can see your books on the shelf in the background.  There are astronomical instruments, too.  What would you want people to notice?

MBO:  He placed my hand on my favorite book by Maria Merian.  When I think of her, I’m determined to preserve the literary culture of the past.  But more than that, we attempt to understand these people who were admirable in striving to understand and to create their world.  Looking back and understanding their efforts will help us to do the same in our world.  We can’t do that very well without help from them.  It’s never completed.

KM (postscript):  As for me, I like how Wimmer represents Marilyn’s smile.  But no painter could ever capture the fierce bright sparkle of her eyes!  Marilyn’s eyes are too bright and too lively to be believable unless you meet her in person.  Thank you, Marilyn, for consenting to this interview, and for remaining the spirit of OU history of science!

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Interdisciplinarity in the library

The following is a series of questions posed to me by a student in the Masters of Library Science program about interdisciplinary curators and library professionals.


1) Can you describe your career path? What have been the changes and shifts? How did you end up doing the work you are doing now? Did you have any interdisciplinary influences?

How many hours do you have? Just kidding. Maybe. The history of science has always appealed to me as a rigorous way of being multidisciplinary, which is a characteristic also shared by the library field. So everything I’ve ever done relates to how I’ve come to be here, and you don’t have time or interest in an autobiography! Few people can predict their career paths; I know I certainly did not, although the angels watching over me in high school must have laughed over how obvious it would appear to me, eventually. For I pored over history of science materials in high school, and even audited a survey course in my local liberal arts college, without realizing that history of science might offer a career path distinct from science itself. As an undergraduate majoring in the sciences, pursuing a career in medicine, I took as many history and literature courses as I possibly could. As a high school science teacher, I did my best to incorporate materials from the history of science to make learning more meaningful. During those years, my first period with a steady income, I read avidly in cultural and intellectual history, including the history of art, philosophy and theology, as well as science. Then I chose to come to the history of science program that had the most generalist approach, along with the most original books. For my dissertation, I chose a multidisciplinary topic, and I started searching for an interdisciplinary position. Quite unexpectedly, I found myself working as an assistant to the curator of the OU History of Science Collections, and later became curator myself — serving a quintessentially interdisciplinary role in the campus community.

2) What are your personal areas of research? What area of study/disciplines/fields does your collection cover? What academic communities do your personal research and curatorial work bring you into contact with?

(a) My dissertation topic was historical thinking about Earth up until the time when geology emerged as a distinct discipline. In other words, what I pursued was not proto-disciplinary history, but rather how new disciplines emerge through multi-disciplinary reconfigurations. This aspect of the history of science has always appealed to me. I am currently conducting research on disciplinary relations between geology and other disciplines, including theology, in the Scottish intellectual tradition.

(b) The mission of the collection is to cover all periods, all geographic regions, and all subject areas in the history of science.

(c) Academically, the history of geology is a sub-discipline, which has close connections with history of science and with geology as well. For example, the Geological Society of America and the Geological Society of London, like most geological societies, have a History of Geology group. The International Commission on the History of the Geosciences (INHIGEO) is composed of both geologists and geo-historians. In addition, because my research topic extends beyond the bounds of history of geology, and in order to represent the history of science program here (which includes the collection but also an affiliated academic department), I have regularly participated in the History of Science Society, the Midwest Junto for the History of Science, and other more general history of science communities. In more recent years I have been adding a focus on science and religion, and participating in an affiliate organization with the American Academy of Religion. Finally, I have been regularly active in the digital humanities, and participated in various academic communities related to digital scholarship in the history of science. To my detriment, I have not prioritized organizations specific to the library field or curatorship per se.

3) What research areas do you keep current in? (or did you keep current in when you were a curator)? How do find and locate material from “outside” fields?

a) History of science, history of geology, history of theology, digital humanities.

b) Isis Bibliography; book reviews in academic journals relevant to each of the above and in the blogs of colleagues; personal correspondence and conversations with colleagues; tracing sources from footnotes in the books I’m reading; and quite lastly, publisher literature, emails, or booths at major conferences. (I have not in the last decade, to my knowledge, discovered a relevant source directly from a library catalog; rather, my searches there tend to be for known items. This is because of the specialized nature of advanced academic research, which suggests to me that finding materials from outside fields needs to rely on alternative methods, such as those listed here. There is no substitute for cultivating relationships which offer opportunities for in-depth conversations with people who are experts in those disciplines.)

4) How do you make decisions about how to build and promote the collection?

To build: In recent years, we have coordinated acquisitions to our strategy for exhibits and digital projects, considering all three in tandem, as legs of a stool. This means that strengthening a target area in our holdings has been an explicit criterion in the selection of exhibits. We also try to respond to requests from graduate students and faculty that help us to identify emerging research areas in the history of science.

To promote: Given the three-legged stool model just described, via exhibits and digital projects. We also use twitter to promote our holdings. Without educational outreach, I would not wish to be curator, so educational outreach must be included in any acceptable definition of “promotion.”

5) Who do you consider to be the audience of the collections? has that changed over time and if so, how?

We begin with the “first among equals” of our constituents: scholars (graduate students and faculty) in the affiliated academic department. If we meet their needs, then we are learning, testing and refining our ability to meet the needs of others, and they serve in many ways to amplify the reach of the collection. Other audiences include undergraduate students, the faculty and students of other departments, visiting scholars from around the world, campus guests, the wider public community, and educational groups from 3rd grade through senior citizens. This has not changed in my time as curator, although at different times we have varied greatly in our effectiveness in reaching these audiences.

6) Who are your colleagues? What role do they play in your research and/or curatorial work? How do you communicate with them? Do you interact with people from multiple disciplines?

My colleagues fall into various areas, including history of science; history of geology; theology; digital humanities; and curatorship. Conversation with them, in person at conferences or via video chat, and communication via email, is a near-daily occurrence. In all these fields I have organized conference sessions, and participated in many more events, to foster these conversations. Apart from such conversations no meaningful interdisciplinary research can be attempted; we would only be ejecting void thoughts into the greater void of deep space. This interdisciplinary collegiality is also characteristic of the Department of the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, which represents a great diversity of interests, methodologies and perspectives rather than a concentration of faculty with a single area of emphasis.

7) What do you find to be easy about interdisciplinary work? What is difficult?

It’s never easy, but it may be exciting. By definition, understanding other points of view is difficult. It requires an openness to others, an eagerness to encounter and understand the new, the different, and the unfamiliar. As Einstein said, “imagination is more important than knowledge.” One must not hold back. Learning to welcome personal and institutional change is a helpful form of preparatory self-discipline. Anything that stimulates one’s imagination is a start.

8) From your experience with Duane Roller how would you describe his approach to interdisciplinary work?

Even in his pedagogy Duane was multidisciplinary. For instance, he taught via meticulously-scripted slide shows using carousel projectors. Duane began every lecture with physical maps so we would understand the particular geographic setting of the episode we were about to study. Then he would show color slides of the landscape as one approached the location today, followed by a tour of the site’s architecture or remaining ruins. Artwork and other cultural artifacts would further attune us to our topic before we would even begin to engage the figure and scientific activity of the lesson. We never studied the history of science in a vacuum apart from broader cultural history.

In developing the collection, Duane defined its scope as broadly as possible. He did not collect merely the scientific books of Newton, but also Newton’s books on theology and history. In general, the goal was to acquire every book ever written by a figure of scientific interest, regardless of the subject area, in order to allow the researcher today to step back into the world of the author and not merely the science of the time. It was in this spirit that the second curator, Marilyn Ogilvie, was able to extend the collection to cover emerging areas of interest underemphasized by Duane, such as alchemy, astrology and women in science.

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Easter theological reading

How quickly 2018 is passing! Now that Easter is here, I want to make a list of the books I’ve read or at least explored in recent years, in order to turn back to them when Lent and Easter roll around next year. They have perennial value, well-suited for repeated reading. If you’re looking for something to accompany this season in any year, maybe one of these will interest you, too.


  • Malcolm Guite, Sounding the Seasons: Seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year (2012). Amazon.
    • Malcolm’s poems provide meditations for Ash Wednesday (p. 26), the days of Holy Week (pp. 32ff), the Stations of the Cross (pp. 37ff), and Easter dawn (p. 44). Listen to him read them aloud at his blog, where they are republished along with explanatory remarks and artistic drawings or photographs.
  • Malcolm Guite, Word in the Wilderness: A Poem a Day for Lent and Easter (2014). Amazon.
    • Poems selected from various authors with Malcolm’s illuminating reflections that open up each poem for meditation.
  • Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter (2003). Amazon.
    • Some of my favorites are excerpts from Romano Guardini on Thomas; Pascal on the mystery of Jesus; Wendell Berry on taking up the cross; Henri Nouwen on the Passion; Mother Teresa on thirsting; a John Updike Easter poem; C.S. Lewis on the strangeness of the Resurrection; Malcolm Muggeridge on the defeat of death; Dorothy L. Sayers on the drama of an incarnate and suffering God; Karl Barth on the Resurrection; Philip Yancey on the image of the cross.
  • Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth. Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection (2011). Amazon.
    • One of three volumes on the gospels which superbly demonstrate how to combine biblical exegesis and theological reflection. The other two volumes which comprise this trilogy are subtitled The Infancy Narratives and From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration. There may be no more insightful and accessible introduction to the person of Jesus. I recommend every evangelical read it. For me, I regard the volume on the Nativity among my essential annual Advent/Christmas readings.
  • Dorothy L. Sayers, The Man Born to be King (Date). Amazon.
    • A play of the life of Christ with the artful insight characteristic of Sayers’ notes on Dante. C.S. Lewis read this every year for Lent. Candace read in it this year. It’s #1 on my list for next year.
  • Thomas F. Torrance, Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ (2009). Amazon.
    • A magisterial synthesis of Trinitarian perspectives on atonement, redemption, reconciliation, the priesthood of Christ, the Resurrection and the Ascension, Pentecost and the Church. This is the second volume in a series on the Person and Work of Jesus Christ; the first volume, Incarnation, makes for great reading at Advent and Christmas.


  • Thomas F. Torrance, Space, Time & Resurrection (1976). Amazon.
    • A fuller presentation of material discussed in the chapters on the Resurrection and Ascension in The Atonement by Torrance (listed above). Also, indispensable for thinking through the relations between biblical teaching and concepts of space and time in modern science.
  • Alan Lewis, Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday (2001). Amazon.
    • Thomas F. Torrance called this book “the most remarkable and moving book I have ever read.” Do we need any more reason to read it than that? While writing this book, Lewis, a professor at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary (Texas), suffered from cancer which ultimately claimed his life. This is his magnum opus, published posthumously. See the appreciative yet critical response by Lauber (next item, pp. 145ff).
  • David Lauber, Barth on the Descent into Hell (2004). Amazon.
    • #3 on my Lent and Easter list for next year. Lauber writes (pp. 150-151): “The descent into hell… does not jeopardize the unity of the Godhead… The descent into hell is an instance of God’s self-revelation, in which God reveals himself as love… How does God love the world? God loves the world and humanity by experiencing death in the absence of God and entering hell so that humanity is freed from having to perish, freed from the sentence of the second death, and freed for a future that may only be described with words whose meaning lies beyond the capabilities of human language, i.e., a future that is eternal life.”
  • Robert Dale Dawson, The Resurrection in Karl Barth (2007). Amazon.
    • Jacket blurbs: By Joseph Mangina: “How does what happened a long time ago in Jesus become real for me? Many modern theologians have answered this question by reflecting on human selfhood. For Karl Barth, it becomes an occasion for a profound series of meditations on the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” By John Webster: “As he grew older, Barth was increasingly captivated by one single fact, namely that, by virtue of his resurrection, Jesus Christ is utterly alive, utterly real and limitlessly present: ‘He is the reality!’ This lent an air of cheerfulness, confidence and calm to what he had to say, as well as a pastoral and spiritual helpfulness which no reader ought to miss.”
  • Paul Molnar, Incarnation and Resurrection: Toward a Contemporary Understanding (2007). Amazon.
    • Starting with Barth, Rahner and Thomas F. Torrance, Molnar considers the views of a variety of theologians in order to explore how “the incarnation and resurrection are so closely related that if one is compromised in the slightest way then so too is the other.” This is #2 on my Lent and Easter reading list for next year.
  • Fleming Rutledge, The Undoing of Death: Sermons for Holy Week and Easter (2002). Amazon.
    • Forty-one sermons from Palm Sunday through Eastertide. This is #4 on my Lent and Easter reading list for next year.
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The nature of the Christian University

Download slides (PDF)

March 8. Reception at 6:45; lecture begins at 7:00 pm. John Brown University, Simmons Great Hall.

This Thursday I have the privilege of presenting at JBU, invited by my friend Ken Hahn, as part of their biannual lecture series “Christian Discourses in Science & Mathematics.” The presentation is motivated by my understanding of the “Reconstructed Natural Theology” of Thomas F. Torrance – not apologetics in the sense of proving theology by means of science, but rather a searching out of how the sciences and other disciplines relate to one another in light of Christian Trinitarian theology. My title is “Galileo’s World and the nature of the (Christian) University: Connecting the Circle of Subject Areas.” A more accurate title might be “Historical explorations toward an onto-relational theory of disciplines.” Hopefully that will make more sense by the end of the presentation!

The main point is simple: Instead of thinking just about how we integrate faith and learning within our own specific discipline, how do we think about faith and learning in a multi-disciplinary matrix? And if the most pressing problems facing the world today are multi-disciplinary, how might Christian colleges lead the way in conceiving each discipline as the servant of others?

Here you can download a pdf of the slides, with presenter notes:

Here’s the abstract:

ABSTRACT: Any model of Christian education as the integration of faith and learning requires some kind of understanding of the relations between disciplines. In this presentation, we will reflect upon some implications for the Christian university arising from the world of Galileo. What particular aspects of the culture of early modern Florence sparked the creative discoveries and transformations we associate with Galileo and his Tuscan contemporaries? What examples might they offer us, both positive and negative, for the connections between disciplines? Galileo’s world illustrates how sparks of creativity arise from certain kinds of interdisciplinary relations and not from others. Healthy traditions promote connections between disciplines that spark creative transformations. We will try to discern how an ideal of mutual service between academic disciplines lies at the heart of a Christian intellectual community. In a Christian education, the disciplines each look upon one another as better than themselves in search of natural, organic, and creative connections.

UPDATE: I was so thrilled to receive this feedback from one of the JBU students:

JBU student response

And JBU has now posted a video:

UPDATE May 27, 2019: I’ve posted a companion presentation, “How to Read the Creational Theology of T. F. Torrance, Space, Time and Resurrection.” In several places, that presentation refers to the problem of how disciplines which each follow a kata physin methodology (“integrity”) can still be coordinated (“integration”) without an improper incursion upon one or the other. How two or more disciplines can be seen, a posteriori, to share a kata physin boundary in common (a key concern for Torrance’s creational theology), is explored in this talk, The Nature of the Christian University. So the two presentations complement one another as starting points for understanding T. F. Torrance’s creational theology.

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Flaming Oaks star party

At a star party last night, 13 central-Oklahoma amateur astronomers treated residents of the Flaming Oaks neighborhood to beautiful views of the universe from our own front yard. We traced the constellations of the Winter Hexagon and the circumpolar stars. We enjoyed telescopic views of the Pleiades, the Owl Cluster and the Beehive Cluster, among others, including the Great Nebula in the sword of Orion the Hunter. What a privilege and joy to live in east Norman where the skies are dark enough to see the Milky Way!

Peter Khor pointed his telescope to the Great Orion Nebula, and displayed this view of the Great Orion Nebula on an attached Mallincam screen.

Great Orion Nebula, as seen last night in Flaming Oaks.
Great Orion Nebula, as seen last night in Flaming Oaks.

What a memorable evening these astronomers gave us! Thanks to all of you for devoting an evening to sharing your love of the night sky with us. We particularly thank 6 of Eileen G.’s students from the Norman North High School Astronomy Club. They were joined by Nick Lazzaro from the Ten Acre Observatory and Odyssey Astronomy Club, among others.

Indoors, there were stars as well — adorning the varieties of cookies many FOHA neighbors brought! We enjoyed them over friendly conversations, coffee, tea and hot chocolate. A special thanks to Joyce McBee and DeeAnne Lyon for lots of help organizing and setting up. And thanks to Eris J., a Brownie Girl Scout, for setting up a display where we could purchase our own Girl Scout cookies!

Eileen G. led us in a dramatic reading of There Once Was a Sky Full of Stars, a children’s story about keeping the sky dark. She then shared information about full cut-off light fixtures, easily obtained from Lowes or Home Depot, which keep light directed toward the ground where it is needed, instead of throwing it up into the air where it creates glare and unnecessary skyglow.

Eileen G. and Nick Lazzaro explaining the use of full cut-off light fixtures.
Eileen G. and Nick Lazzaro explaining the use of full cut-off light fixtures.

To learn more about preserving our dark skies by using full cut-off light fixtures, check out these sources:

I encourage everyone who lives in east Norman to choose only full cut-off light fixtures for your outdoor lighting.

For obvious reasons, we took no photographs of people outside at the telescopes. But indoors, there were many activities as well to occupy us when we wanted to socialize, warm up, and enjoy refreshments…

Constellation cards
Constellation cards.

Constellation coloring pages
Constellation coloring pages.

Constellation Station board game
Constellation Station board game.

Star clocks - tell time by the Big Dipper
Star clocks – tell time by the Big Dipper.

Books and leaflets
Assorted books and leaflets.

Star charts and astronomy events.
Star charts and astronomy events. Cf. Night Sky Planner, Postcards from the Universe, and Star Atlas Stories.

Constellation children's books
Constellation children’s books.

Even a reading nook
Even a reading nook!

Time now for a thin mint cookie… Did you know Girl Scouts now sell gluten-free cookies? Mmmmm.

Finally, to become familiar with the stars of winter (or any season), I recommend Chet Raymo, 365 Starry Nights. Raymo’s sky chart for January 1st features the Winter Hexagon:

Winter Hexagon, Chet Raymo, 365 Starry Nights

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Historic Star Atlas Stories

On Thursday this week, it was a delight and an honor, with Brent Purkaple, to kick off the OU Department of Astronomy’s year-long series of monthly lectures, “Postcards from the Universe.” Brent and I delivered a presentation on constellations and the interweaving of science and art, entitled Historic Star Atlas Stories. That link contains an outline with links to further information on each of the historical sources; a downloadable pdf of the slides; and a video (although the video quality does little justice to the more than 230 richly-illustrated slides).

I think it went well. All comments we received were positive, but any naysayers would not be the ones to give us feedback. The auditorium was virtually full. It was a wonderful cross-section of the community. Lots of high school students, but lots of adults and families with kids as well. And educators.

The Lunar Sooners, Eileen G.’s students, Nick Lazzaro, and some OKC Astro Club folks all put on a great show outside – beginning with taking us all out before the lecture to watch the International Space Station pass overhead at 6:53 pm. The consensus among the skywatch leaders seemed to be that about 50 people lingered for telescope viewing after the presentation. One of our goals in kicking off the Postcards series was to create in everyone the desire to participate in the post-lecture skywatches throughout the year.

More than 20 made it up to the Library Exhibit Hall as well — and lingered right up until closing at 10 pm.

The best part of the evening was the opportunity to present Anna Todd’s story, Hoot the Owl. Here’s the backstory. So far as I’m concerned, that’s the one of the best things that happened in 2017 related to our exhibits. To top it off, Stacey (the educator who made it possible) was present in person to hear the audience give a round of spontaneous applause after Hoot the Owl was read aloud.

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Middle Earth astronomy: A primer

These three resources will introduce you to the constellations and starlore of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth:

Why not hold a special “Astronomy of Middle Earth” themed skywatch? It would also make an ideal way to cap off a Feast of Middle Earth.

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Hoot the Owl – the backstory

(Cross-posted from my professional blog, Lynx Open Ed; please link, cite or tweet it there)

We believe that educational outreach is at the center of our exhibitions, so nothing could have excited us more than a letter we received last November when Stacey Stevenson told us the story of “Hoot the Owl.” A children’s book, The Story of How ‘Hoot the Owl’ Constellation Began, was written and illustrated this past Fall by Anna Todd, a 2nd grade student at Rose Witcher Elementary School, El Reno Public Schools, located in El Reno, Oklahoma. Hoot the Owl is not one of the 88 official constellations recognized by the International Astronomical Union, but it’s my new favorite constellation! You can read the book and learn the backstory below. As you will see, the story of Hoot the Owl is a specific, concrete example of how knowledge of the stars enhances our lives today.

Read the book at the Lynx Open Ed site:
Anna Todd, The Story of How ‘Hoot the Owl’ Constellation Began (2017). Written and illustrated by Anna Todd, 2nd grade student at Rose Witcher Elementary School, El Reno Public Schools, El Reno, Oklahoma. CC-by-nc-sa.

Here’s the story behind the story:

Stacey has been participating in the NASA Oklahoma Space Grant Consortium (OSGC) Year-long Pre-service Educator Mentorship: Mission to Planet Earth (MTPE) which is led by Dorinda Risenhoover, the NASA OSGC Education Coordinator.*

Dorinda Risenhoover demonstrating a Space Suit.
Dorinda Risenhoover demonstrating a Space Suit in the Exhibit Hall.

We so admire Dorinda’s leadership and vision for supporting educators in this state, and appreciate her decision to bring the participating educators to OU Libraries for an all-day workshop, which we held for them last September, to introduce them to open educational resources (OERs) developed for the Galileo’s World exhibit.

Stacey at the OU Libraries workshop last September.
Stacey (far right) at the September workshop.
Left to right: Sharon Scott, Rashid Troupe, Stacey Stevenson.

I wish for any future grandchildren I might have that they will have teachers like Stacey and the other educators in this mentorship! NASA OSGC’s Mission To Planet Earth and the Galileo’s World workshop begin the story of how Anna came to create “Hoot the Owl.” On Nov 7, 2017, Stacey wrote us to explain the rest of the story:

Dr. Magruder,

Good evening! I hope this email finds you well.

I would like to share a story of early inspiration with you. I have been tutoring a 2nd grader in reading for my Diagnostics in Reading course. We have read over 50 books since we started working together. From the beginning I told her to keep in mind, as we read, that she would be writing her very own book at the end of the semester. I told her to consider the subject matter of the books we read and the illustrations as well.

Early into the semester we read Fancy Nancy Sees the Stars. The book is a level 1 reader and it explains planetariums and constellations so early readers can understand. When we were finished, she was fascinated by the idea of constellations. That night I put together several of the materials that were given to me during the HOS [workshop on] Galileo’s World. I also bookmarked a few of the pages from your site as well. The next time we met I had checked out a few more children’s books on constellations, brought my HOS materials and my laptop. She was in awe, absolutely consumed by the idea of constellations. She was able to comprehend that the pictures were not actually in the sky but “imaginary, for my heart to see but not my eyes”, those are her words. We read the captions connected to the images on the materials you handed out and on the website. After a few meetings of reading only about constellations and stars, she decided to write her book about a constellation. She decided to make up and create a story as to how the constellation came to be. The story is absolutely fantastic and she has told her teacher, her family, and her classmates all about constellations and some of the stories she has been able to remember.

I really want to thank you. I was struggling to find a subject for her to really connect with, to give her the desire to read. To her, reading was boring. She had no heart for it and did not enjoy it. She enjoys reading now. She says, “The more I practice reading, the more I will be able to read about the sky when I am older and can understand the biggest words of all”.

I have mailed you a copy of her book. I hope you enjoy the newest constellation “Hoot the Owl”.

Thank you always,
Anastasia “Stacey” Stevenson

What a story “Hoot the Owl” is! Such drama! What a plot, what a flow, how colorful! Anna wrote with amazing creativity! And to think Anna caught her love for reading from Stacey’s intervention — educators make such a huge difference in young students’ lives. Generations from now there will be ever-enduring effects from what an educator does with just one student this very semester. Maybe Anna, and her fellow students, will write many books… teach astronomy or literature or reading… or go to Mars.

As for now, in the 2nd grade, Anna wears beautiful bows, and looks great in pink!

Anna Todd with book
Anna Todd with her book

Anna Todd with sweater
Even Anna’s sweater expresses her love of the stars!

Anna Todd with Stacey Stevenson
Anna Todd with Stacey Stevenson

Congratulations to Anna and all of her fellow students at Rose Witcher Elementary School! We’re sure her principal, Mrs. Tiffany Patrick, and all the teachers are quite proud and super-excited about her new book.

An original, laminated copy of Hoot the Owl has been placed in the Marilyn B. Ogilvie Exploration Room. The Exploration Room is part of the OU Libraries’ Exhibit Hall on the 5th floor, where the Galileo’s World Reprise exhibit continues. Here, alongside other books in the Exploration Room, children who visit Galileo’s World can read Anna’s story, right where they might sit down to color their own constellation pages and imagine their own stories of the stars.

We are grateful to be able to share Hoot the Owl in both our on-site and off-site educational programs, and to share it in the Lynx Open Ed website. We think many other young children will be inspired by reading Hoot the Owl. We also think many educators will be encouraged by its example to encourage their students to write their own constellation stories. Hoot the Owl also has been placed in the ShareOK repository of the University to guarantee that it will remain available in perpetuity.

Stacey’s story of working with Anna encapsulates perfectly what I mean when I tell myself that without educational outreach, exhibits wouldn’t be worth doing. The story of Stacey and Anna is what makes the time and effort we pour into exhibits worthwhile. This story illustrates the kind of impact that can occur when libraries work with educators through exhibitions. Hoot the Owl is going to be one of my favorite constellation stories of all time! 🙂

We’re grateful to Anna Todd and her family, and to Stacey Stevenson, for giving us full permission to share Anna’s book, this story-behind-the-story, and these photographs with you. Anna’s book is published with a Creative Commons license to share-alike, for non-commercial purposes, with attribution (CC-by-sa-nc).

Read the book at the Lynx Open Ed site:
Anna Todd, The Story of How ‘Hoot the Owl’ Constellation Began (2017). Written and Illustrated by Anna Todd, 2nd grade student at Rose Witcher Elementary School, El Reno Public Schools, El Reno, Oklahoma. CC-by-nc-sa.

* MORE ON MTPE: The NASA OSGC Year-long Pre-service Educator Mentorship: Mission To Planet Earth is designed to empower pre-service educators from each of our eight affiliate universities (OU, OSU, SNU, ECU, Langston, Cameron, SWOSU, SEOSU) as STEM educators through a year of unique and hands-on STEM institutes, engagements, VIP NASA center tours, and more! Participants network with NASA educators, researchers, scientists, museum curators, and other leading STEM-related experts while utilizing the latest iPad technology. At the end of their year-long mentorship with NASA OSGC, the end goal is that each participant graduates the program with a passion and motivation to seek any and all opportunities in order to empower our next generation of STEM thinkers and doers through aerospace education as they begin to influence young minds in their own classrooms.

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White chickens

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

I have loved this poem by William Carlos Williams since I first encountered it, long, long ago, in my teenage years. (Thank you to Ms. Bullock, my patient English teacher who introduced it to me in a creative writing course.)

In “The Hazard of Modern Poetry,” Erich Heller wrote about the challenge writers face in a culture where there is no common idiom, no shared symbolism, by which they might convey meaning intelligibly. In such a world, it’s a special treasure to recognize a moment of real communication when an experience of shared meaning through art takes place. I recall an instance of this, when my mentor, Marilyn, with joyous glee, once recited the entirety of Williams’ poem at my mere mention of “white chickens.” Of course, it’s a wiser or more courteous practice to avoid making allusions that are mere speaking in tongues, without an interpretation being present, but yesterday I forgot and blurted out something about how such and such might happen depending on the white chickens.

Oops. I had no intention to speak without edification. But thankfully, as it turned out, I then had the pleasure of sharing the poem, and then interpreting it with words that went something like this:

I have always loved that poem for the way it implies that everything depends on small ordinary things that might not even be noticed. So, yes, weather, but also a whole number of factors that we do not even know and cannot foresee. So my reference to “white chickens” could simply have been stated as “other unknown factors.”

I have also loved the poem for how its form reinforces its content. The line breaks cause me to slow down. In much of life, I just plow through as fast as I can. When reading a newspaper or website, I can adopt the same tendency to just skim for the gist or to read simply for bits of information. Each line break in the poem shouts a firm caution against that. The slower pace the line breaks prompt, repetitively, reinforces the call of the poem to attend to the ordinary, to the significance of the small things that are often overlooked, i.e., the red wheelbarrow and the white chickens.

We need poetry for many reasons. For me, this poem will always exemplify several of them. If Heller is right, it is not merely poetry that we hazard, but our very lives. So much depends…

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