Week 4: Science and Politics

At first, science and politics don’t seem to exactly go hand and hand with each other. Except they do. In reflection of the group presentations (Adam and Chris—along with others) it was interesting to see how science at Oxford has developed in parallel with the needs of the time. When there was a need for science—such as during the World Wars—there was a boom in the field. War, amongst other things, acted as a catalyst for the need of the increase in scientific study. In the presentation, it noted that Oxford was becoming overlooked as a university because it focused on the humanities rather than science. Politically speaking, if the university wanted to ‘retain’ its standing, it would have to focus on the more ‘popular’ field at the time, which was scientific study. As a result, there was an increase of revenue towards science.


Another presentation that came to mind was the animal testing group. I thought it was interesting to consider how the animal testing developed and had ideas stemming from initial concepts of researching corpses. For the sake of science, people were trying to understand how the human body worked, but after a while of grave robbing and turning stolen bodies into a hot commodity, laws had to be put in place to control how bodies came into the hands of science. What is interesting is that the bodies being taken were those of a lower class and the drudges of society. In some perspective, this might be seen as using bodies that people might not miss (because they might have been considered unimportant) are therefore, perfectly acceptable for the use of scientific investigation. However, the introduction of laws controlling the ‘ownership’ of the deceased expresses political opinion on what bodies should be used and what society believed was the ‘proper’ way to obtain bodies for research.


In Edinburgh, the Scottish nationalism was felt throughout the museum. Many of the exhibits (though unfortunately, I did not have the chance to explore its entirety) often highlighted ‘Scotland’. Many instruments, ideas, etc. were accompanied by mentions of Scotland when explaining what they were or their important. Through Edinburgh itself, there was a great sense of ‘Scotland’ rather than ‘Scotland as a part of the Commonwealth and the UK”. One of the notable scientific ‘inventions’ was Dolly the Sheep. The cloning process took place in Scotland and Dolly’s presence in the museum, along with the many other artifacts, appears to let everyone who visits to see what Scotland has accomplished. That Scotland is independent, or that it can accomplish great things within itself.


Maybe this is my personal opinion, but I think Dolly the sheep put Scotland at the forefront of what was considered possible for science. Yes, there were many failures before Dolly, but the fact that there was a successful clone showed advancement in the scientific field. Looking at Cambridge, Oxford and all the other British universities with a focus in scientific research, the fact that Scotland was able to produce something like Dolly seems incredible. Even though it is just a commonwealth state, it was able to accomplish something great. Other than Dolly, I am not sure what other standout scientific research Scotland has accomplished, but in the eyes of politics, perhaps it showed a sense of personal growth. Even though England has so many research universities, Scotland was able to accomplish something like Dolly the sheep.

Science and politics doesn’t always seem to be clear. There is a relationship, but it appears heavily dependent on the public or nationalistic tendencies. Of course there may be other relationships, but science seems also driven by politics (take, for example, the nuclear arms race with Sputnik and America landing the first man on the moon).


Week 3: Considering Instruments

Without instruments, many of the modern tools we use today wouldn’t exist. The scientific tools we use today are largely based and developed upon by previous models. At the Museum of Natural Science, it was incredible to see what tools people used to use in the past. It seems like a lot more understanding of how the tool worked and the science behind it was necessary in order to be able to use it.IMG_0299

Today, we have computers and other tools that make what people in the past did easier. We don’t need sundials to tell how much time has passed or need to calculate latitude and longitude in order to tell where we are. In order to use the tools, the user had to be knowledgeable on what it was they were trying to do because there was nothing like Google to help them figure out how to work a tool if they didn’t know how.

Users were specialized or informed on how to use the tool. From a modern day perspective—or at least mine, at first glance, the tools looked like pieces of art and it seemed fascinating at how intricate each instrument was in order to accomplish something like position in relation to the sun. Looking at them, I could see pieces of a puzzle, but not know how they fit together.

It amazes me to think how educated the inventors had to be in order to develop such things. All of their knowledge then added to the instruments we use today. By their initial findings on how to calculate things like time, latitude and longitude, modern day’s society was able to create objects like clocks and the GPS navigation system.

Back when those instruments were first invented, it seems like they weren’t just used a tools, but as ornaments—for example, the astrolabes.  It’s something that, even when not being used, can be enjoyed, which is much different than many of the instruments today. Instruments of the past have a feeling of antiquity, while there is nothing special about a modern day one—other than being new and expensive.IMG_0302

One of the most fascinating things is how instruments have changed over time. Stonehenge was erected using simple tools and yet it is a masterpiece of building. With such simple tools, they must have possessed an expansive knowledge of their tools and stones—how to lift great weights and place the stones in specific manners. Not only that, but the stones align themselves with the sunset and sunrise.

Instruments have become more and more complex—able to do more as they advance in technology. Looking back on the tools people used before, it’s a wonder how science and innovation have grown to what they are today. So many of the instruments we use to today are influenced by those of the past. Without them, we wouldn’t have the tools we have today.

It’s only from constant understanding and research that instruments are able to advance in their respective fields. Instead of perhaps dragging stones into place, we have cranes that can lift objects into place with one person at the helm instead of hundreds. Instead of calculating by hand latitude and longitude in order to determine location, we have computers that already have that knowledge installed into them.

IMG_0308Visiting Stonehenge and the Museum of Natural History was nothing short of an eye opener. I feel like a lot of the instruments that we use today are ones that can easily be taken for granted. Today, we have computers, cell phones, cars, etc.—thing that in the past, might have seemed unimaginable.

Week 2: From London to Oxford

Though part of the same country, Oxford and London are uniquely different. Oxford is very much a university city. London has a hustle and bustle kind of attitude from the different people who travel to visit it. It is the site of much history and the birth of many thoughts and ideas—not that the same couldn’t be said for Oxford, but it is shown in a different way.


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Oxford is built of colleges scattered around. Shops line streets and are often neighbored by colleges. At the heart of the city, this might be the case, but around the outskirts and the Bodleian the atmosphere is very different. The noise isn’t the same as it is in London. There are more ambulances screeching at every hour of the day and Oxford feels a little less tailored towards tourists.

Of course there still is a tourist vibe, but it’s a little different. Walking throughout Oxford, besides from the name, it’s clear that this is a student driven area. While London did have a university campus nearby, it’s not to the scale of Oxford. The city is the university. Everywhere you look, there are reminders that before being a city, it is a university. The best way to describe it, in my opinion, is that while Oxford has both a city and university mixed together, it is the city growing out from the university.



There are pockets of the educational setting everywhere. London seems much more scattered. It’s building have been bombed and redeveloped, modernized and as a mix of different eras. For the most part, Oxford is just oxford. The buildings are old and built of stone. Sight of modern redevelopment seems far off, or not as easily to find as in London. People are living inside the city like London—where there were narrow passageways. Everywhere in Oxford, the streets are wide and the sense of area is different.

London has high walls as living complexes. Those don’t seem to exist as clearly in Oxford—or perhaps I just missed them. Here in Oxford, the buildings seem to be set shorter unless it’s a tower or something else meant to be tall. Otherwise, most of the buildings are short and stocky stone buildings. Oxford doesn’t seem like it was built for workers to be working within the area. Parks and other public spaces are set as large, green areas. Finding a place to sit seems more difficult than it was in London.

At least in London, the parks provided seating area whereas, if the seating at a café or restaurant is full, there is a lack of places to sit other than the occasional bench or empty doorstep (that you hope the door it belongs to is both locked and in no fear of being opened). But Oxford in itself is like a large public space. While the colleges themselves might not be open to visitors, people are welcome to walk around and enjoy the same spaces that students and educators enjoy.

Oxford and London both limit what is public and private through the use of space. Oxford doesn’t specifically designate “true” public spaces like parks, but it gives public space in the aspect of shops and areas that allow “free” entry. Colleges create private areas much like one would do for a residential area where the colleges themselves are houses of knowledge where most individuals are not allowed to pass through unless they belong to it.

As a city, London seems much more structured than Oxford. In Oxford, the buildings just seem like they’ve been tossed together and scattered about. Oxford contains the thinkers, while London the builders. It seems that both Oxford and London were built on different concepts, which can be seen through what both appear to value most—discussion or intellectuals and education.

Week 1: London

London is a city largely shaped by the people that inhabit it. One of the first things that seem most notable are the buildings. Some streets are wide while others are narrow and when you look up, the buildings seem to stretch so far upwards that it is easy to imagine how difficult it might be for light to kiss the ground. This seems most apparent when walking through Soho, though, it is a trait that can be witnessed almost anywhere in London. Looking at the poverty map by Charles Booth the rich appear to box in the poor. While the wealthy looked over wide city streets, the poor lived in narrow and grungy passageways that likely smelled of sewage and other distinct and horrid smells.


Then if London is a city shaped by its people, then why isn’t the poor who are demanding attention? Well, if the rich box in the poor, then either they were a social status largely ignored or many of wealthier ranks wanted to believe that such people didn’t inhabit the same bit of land that they did. Where social mobility might appear difficult, this may largely be attributed to the posh attitude of the wealthier. They weren’t like some kinds of street urchins, running about in the muck and grime. No, they belonged to something of a higher class where they could afford to purchase handmade goods fitted to their purpose and standing.


Throughout Soho, there are places that seem to compartmentalize types of stores along the same street. For example, one street may be lined with cloth and clothing makers, while another might be dedicated to shoe making. Things like Harrod’s and other department stores were something new and different that the wealthy class not initially inclined to. Used to tailored and fitted clothes, it seemed strange to them to be purchasing ready made clothes that any individual of any class might be able to purchase as well. Essentially, most of the wealthier classes paid little attention to the lower class and felt disinclined to interact with them.


With the cholera outbreak affecting many members of the working and lower class, it seems almost ground breaking at how much attention was being paid to discovering the source of the deaths and sickness. Instead of ignoring the problems of the lower class, John Snow went around mapping the deaths in an attempt to actually understand a figure out what was happening. As someone who understood that the disease wasn’t passed through miasma and was something that could just be left alone to somehow disappear, he tried to find the source of the deaths.

“He [John Snow] had spent more time than anyone working through the intimate details of the lives and death–first attending the sick as a clergyman, then investigating the outbreak as an amateur detective” (Johnson 199).

By mapping out who died and where, slowly he began to piece together the parts of the puzzle that led to the source of the Cholera outbreak. Where social lines become blurred, science is able to create breakthroughs. I am not sure how many other people during the time of John Snow and the Cholera outbreak wondered what exactly could it be that was making so many people die, or that it wasn’t being spread by miasma. How many during that time would have walked around until the found the answer and along the way, discovered that the ones who survived were the same who had been drinking alcohol instead of water.

There seems to be a level of care needed to break through and blur the lines between the social classes in order to advance science. By caring for those who lack opportunities that are otherwise available to the wealthy, science is able to discover the sources and treatments for diseases.