Sep. 22, 2010

Theories of Time and Space

by Natasha Trethewey

You can get there from here, though
there's no going home.

Everywhere you go will be somewhere
you've never been. Try this:

head south on Mississippi 49, one-
by-one mile markers ticking off

another minute of your life. Follow this
to its natural conclusion dead end

at the coast, the pier at Gulfport where
riggings of shrimp boats are loose stitches

in a sky threatening rain. Cross over
the man-made beach, 26 miles of sand

dumped on the mangrove swamp buried
terrain of the past. Bring only

what you must carry tome of memory,
its random blank pages. On the dock

where you board the boat for Ship Island,
someone will take your picture:

the photograph who you were—
will be waiting when you return.

"Theories of Time and Space" by Natasha Trethewey, from Native Guard. © Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1888 that the first issue of National Geographic was published. The National Geographic Society had been formed earlier that year by an enthusiastic group of 33 gentlemen who were excited about maps, about traveling, about facts and ideas associated with geography. The first issue of National Geographic was a scholarly journal, it was very technical, had a plain cover, and it was sent to 200 charter members.

One of the founding members was young Alexander Graham Bell. When the National Geographic Society was losing money and membership hadn't increased, Bell thought that it should reach out to regular people. He didn't really have the time himself, but he hired the man who would eventually be hisson-in-law, Gilbert Grosvenor, to be the editor. Instead of academic writing, he used travel stories and simpler language.

Membership grew exponentially, especially after Grosvenor made the decision in 1905 to include photographs. He was short on material for an issue and needed to fill 11 more pages, so he stuck in photographs of Tibet. He thought everyone would be so angry that he would be fired, but instead everyone loved it. When Grosvenor had first gotten hired, there were 1,400 members. By the time he took over as president of the society in 1920, the National Geographic Society had more than 700,000 members. These days, the magazine has a circulation of more than 8 million.

It was on this day in 1991 that the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, opened up access to photographs of the Dead Sea Scrolls to scholars for the first time. The first of the Dead Sea Scrolls had been discovered by the Bedouin in 1947. They turned up in 11 caves along the Dead Sea, 13 miles east of Jerusalem. The Dead Sea Scrolls comprise about 900 documents, most of them fragments, written mostly in Hebrew, as well as Aramaic and Greek. They include texts that are also in the Hebrew Bible — at least part of every book of the Old Testament besides the Book of Esther.

Access to the Scrolls had been limited for many years to a small group of members of the academic elite. But on this day in 1991, the Huntington, without asking any permission from the Israel Antiquities Authority, which held the scrolls, announced that they would make their photographs of the Dead Sea Scrolls available to any scholar who wanted to come and study them.

It's the birthday of physicist and chemist Michael Faraday, (books by this author)born in Newington Butts, England (1791). He had almost no formal schooling, but he taught himself by reading books about chemistry and physics while he worked as a bookbinder's errand boy. Young Faraday got the chance to go and hear four lectures by the famous physicist Humphry Davy. Later, Davy hired him as his assistant.

Eventually, he became one of the greatest scientists of his era, even though he never learned the complex mathematics that many people considered a necessary context for science. He made huge breakthroughs in the field of electromagnetism — he discovered magneto-electric induction, the law of electro-chemical decomposition, the magnetization of light, and diamagnetism; and he discovered benzene.

It was on this day in 1961 that President John F. Kennedy signed legislation that created the Peace Corps, which has enabled many Americans, about 10,000 volunteers each year, to go and help in the aid of developing countries.

Among the many Peace Corps volunteers over the years have been Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle, Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd, Home Improvement expert Bob Vila, journalist Bill Moyers, and travel writer Paul Theroux.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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