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May 18, 2011

Centennial Scholars Project

It has been a while since I posted; the spring semester at Barnard has ended and I have finished my first semester apprenticeship with the Centennial Scholar Program, which this blog encompassed. I gave a photo hint in my last post about what my Centennial Scholars Project, which has grown out of the reading, writing, and feedback this blog has encompassed. Well, now that my project has been approved, I can tell you what I actually plan to do!

April 24, 2011

The evolving frontier of my study of frontiers

I wrote a paper my junior year of high school entitled "The American Frontier: Its Allure and Effect on the American People." That's a pretty ambitious essay topic for a high school junior. I went back and read that essay: I looked at three of Willa Cather's novels in the context of Frederick Jackson Turner's Frontier Thesis. My analysis, looking back, is highly oversimplifying, but I was also felt kind of proud, looking back at my sixteen year-old self, for choosing a topic that still interests me today. 

I probably would never have gone back and read my junior essay if I hadn't been reading two books about frontiers, both scientific and physical. Helen M. Rozwadowski, in Fathoming the Ocean: The Discovery and Exploration of the Deep Sea, discusses the origins of oceanography and marine biology in the nineteenth century. (Rozwadowski also sailed with SEA Semester in college, the same program I sailed with in fall 2010!) Robert E. Kohler, Rozwadowski's Ph.D. advisor, wrote a book in a similar vein entitled All Creatures: Naturalists, Collectors, and Biodiversity, 1850-1950. In this work, Kohler explores the period of natural history survey, a distinct moment in the history of biology and taxonomy. 

April 12, 2011

Wanted: multilingual scientists

I have been writing a lot lately about scientific images, their power of communication as a visual language, and their interactions with other languages, like the visual language of art. My mentor, Nick Christie-Blick, sent me a link from the National Science Foundation's website that made me think about this visual language, and the language that science employs overall, from a different perspective.

"Helping the Public Get Beyond a Blind Date With Science"

April 3, 2011

The visual language of geology

Reading Martin J.S. Rudwick's "The Emergence of a Visual Language for Geological Science 1760-1840" and Susan B. Keller's "Sections and Views: Visual Representation in Eighteenth-Century Earthquake Studies" while re-hashing the field work I did two weeks ago was a strange self-reflective experience for me. I was reading about the production of the very first "geologic" images at the same time I was grappling with how to produce my own images that convey what I learned in the field. Reading these texts reinforced the absolute importance and also power of visual representation in geology, but it also forced me to look at some of the caveats that have persisted in geologic images despite the incredible improvements in geologic sections and imagery since the eighteenth century.

March 26, 2011

Re: Marissa in the field

After two days of frequent naps and catching up on work, I feel finally recovered after spring break and five days of field work in the Resting Spring Range, California. I considered blogging about my field experience while I was sitting in McCarran, waiting for my red-eye flight back to New York on Wednesday night. Perhaps an in-the-moment reflection would have been more revealing. But the truth is, I was dead tired. I felt ten times more exhausted after this bout in the field that was only half as long as my "field season" in January.

March 6, 2011

Marissa in the field!

To go along with my posts about reading related to the history of women in field work, I also plan to post about my own experiences doing field work and relate them to the history I am exploring. I did some field work back in January in California for my senior thesis, and I spent all of last semester doing field work on a tall ship in the equatorial Pacific through SEA Semester. Unfortunately, I hadn't started this blog then and I wasn't actively thinking of how to blog about the experience in a historical context (although class S-232 did keep a daily blog about our adventures, which you can read here). 

But! I have two new and very exciting field opportunities to write about coming up, and I hope to post about them here, with pictures! First, I will be going to California over spring break to take a field course but also to continue my senior thesis field work. My project is a combination of mapping and geochronology in the Resting Spring Range, three ranges east from Death Valley. The goal of this research is to constrain the timing of faulting by dating tilted volcanic units and use this timing to distinguish between possible mechanisms of extension. Here is an image of a really famous outcrop at Resting Spring Pass, part of my field site:

Outcrop at Resting Spring Pass.
Second, I met with my summer research adviser at Princeton this weekend, Professor Danny Sigman, and there is a good chance that I will be going to the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences for a few weeks this summer to conduct a study on live foraminifera in the water column. Maybe I could do some side research about the history of field-based science in Bermuda while I'm there? Fingers crossed!

The scientific imagINation!

My first set of readings introduced me to the topic of women in the history of science and the cultural constructions that prevented women's involvement in professional science. As my motivation for this project is to explore the history of women doing field science, the logical next step was to read about the history of field science at large. The journal Orisis, 2nd Series, Volume 11, Science in the Field, contains a wealth of essays related to the history of field science. The two I have already mentioned--one by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang about Elizabeth Campbell and the expeditions of the Lick Observatory, and one by Naomi Oreskes on the heroic rhetoric of field science--focus on the roles and recognition women have received in the field sciences. As I read the other essays in Science in the Field, which cover diverse topics such as the role of Alfred Wallace's personal relationships in his success as a natural history collector and the interactions of the public with the balloon as a scientific instrument in Victorian England, I became fascinated with the notion of scientific imagery and national identity. In examining some of the essays in Science in the Field, I hope to explain the title of this post, "The scientific imagINation!" and why I am so excited about it!