Jul. 16th, 2017

essentialsaltes: (eye)
Science journalist and umbraphile David Baron makes canny use of the upcoming solar eclipse to market this fine story of the 1878 eclipse, and the efforts of the nascent scientific power of the US to observe and record the event in what was then a pretty wild west as the path crossed from Montana Territory through Wyoming and Colorado to Texas.

Among the teams being assembled:

Simon Newcomb and Thomas Edison in Creston, Wyoming.
Samuel Pierpont Langley atop Pikes Peak. (Meteorologist Cleveland Abbe was so struck with altitude sickness, he was obliged to come down the mountain and make what sketches he could.)
Asteroid hunter James Craig Watson in Rawlins, Wyoming.
And a team of six from Vassar, including recent alumnae and astronomer Maria Mitchell, providing witting and unwitting fodder to the controversies surrounding the vote for women, and recent claims on the effects of education on women, epitomized by Clarke's ridiculous-yet-infuriating Sex in Education (1876):

 The delicate bloom, early but rapidly fading beauty, and singular pallor of American girls and women have almost passed into proverb. The first observation of a European that lands upon our shores is, that our women are a feeble race ; and, if he is a physiological observer, he is sure to add, They will give birth to a feeble race, not of women only, but of men as well. " I never saw before so many pretty girls together," said Lady Amberley to the writer, after a visit to the public schools of Boston ; and then added, "They all looked sick." Circumstances have repeatedly carried me to Europe, where I am always surprised by the red blood that fills and colors the faces of ladies and peasant girls, reminding one of the canvas of Rubens and Murillo ; and am always equally surprised on my return, by crowds of pale, bloodless female faces, that suggest consumption, scrofula, anemia, and neuralgia. To a large extent, our present system of educating girls is the cause of this palor and weakness.
...
Those grievous maladies which torture a woman's earthly existence, called leucorrhcea, amenorrhcea, dysmenorrhoea, chronic and acute ovaritis, prolapsus uteri, hysteria, neuralgia, and the like, are indirectly affected by food, clothing, and exercise ; they are directly and largely affected by the causes that will be presently pointed out, and which arise from a neglect of the peculiarities of a woman's organization. The regimen of our schools fosters this neglect.


The book does a great job setting the stage for who all the players are, and their preparations and difficulties in getting equipment (or failing to get equipment) to the middle of nowhere, with dangers ranging from Native Americans to feuds between competing railroads.

And then, of course, the event itself is all of three minutes long.

And there is what follows. The good (American science on the upswing, Mitchell drawing a crowd of more than a thousand to hear her lecture at the Woman's Congress in Providence), the bad (Edison's much-touted but not very useful tasimeter, although presaging IR astronomy), and the ugly (Watson's erroneous claim of the discovery of Vulcan, a planet within the orbit of Mercury -- his later misguided efforts to vindicate his view may have inadvertently led to his early death).


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