All posts by John Stewart

Percy Julian

I wanted to spend a day on 20th-century chemist Percy Julian, but ran out of time.  Here’s a link to the interactive Chemical Heritage Foundation site about Julian’s life.  Within the site, the CHF also links the very good NOVA video about Julian.

Wired has an article on DDT Paraphanalia

Greg Miller wrote an article for Wired’s website entitled, “Vintage Pesticide Paraphernalia From the Glory Days of DDT.”  The article draws on the collections of the Chemical Heritage Foundation and ties nicely to our recent discussions of Silent Spring.  Objects like those shown in the article help historians with an extended set of questions about an historical episode as compared to what we can pull out of books and articles alone.

Day 18: “Calorie Man” – GMOs, IP, and Dystopia

In our last class of the summer session, we will discuss Paolo Bacigalupi’s short story “Calorie Man.”  Set in Bacigalupi’s award-winning WindUp universe, “Calorie Man” focuses our attention on the ethics of genetically modified organisms and intellectual property rights.  In a world where the main focus of the police is to protect corporations from piracy, geneticists can be deemed enemies of the state and terrorists for trying to feed people.   We will use this literature as an entry point into a discussion of the Green Revolution, GMOs, and gene patenting.


  • Study for the final exam
  • Finish your personal essay
  • Review the course on

Day 17: Climate Change

Having watched one of Naomi Oreskes’ presentation on the Merchants of Doubt students will discuss the history of climate change theory.  We will start with a brief timeline of scientific research on climate change.  Then we will work in groups to study the greenhouse effects of carbon dioxide based on Spencer Weart’s digital version of The Discovery of Global Warming.  We will close with a discussion of technological efforts at climate engineering.  Students will discuss James Fleming’s Chemical Heritage article, “Manufacturing the Weather.”


  1. In Bacigalupi’s WindUp world, food is measured in calories and energy in joules bound up in springs. In what ways does reducing these staples to homogenized, commensurable numbers symbolize a dystopian future.
  2. How is science to blame for the dystopia?
  3. How different is this dystopian future from our modern reality?


Day 16: Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring

Today we will be discussing Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring and its impact on the use of pesticides in America.  We will start by looking at some of the background history of DDT from the 1940s and 50s.  We will then discuss Carson’s biography, her book, and her legacy.