VSI Online

“So who were the Druids? … Given the range of attributes, it is probably best to regard them as a caste of intellectuals. Caesar’s famous generalization, that in Gaul there are only two classes of men who are of any account or importance – the Druids and the Knights – puts them on a par with the tribal elite.”

It’s the Vernal (or Spring) Equinox today, and many people will be coming together to celebrate the Druid ceremony. But who actually were the druids?

Image: Historical Druid Temple, public domain via Public Domain Pictures.

Oooo! Shiny and new!

OUP’s new Very Short Introductions online is an extension of their pretty little print volumes on subjects ranging from Egyptology to anaesthetics to education. The new online resource is as clean and succinct as their print counter-parts.

  • The ever multiplying VSIs are available in full text–by whole book and by chapter
  • The page is clean and intuitive to navigate
  • Simple search box with additional advanced search page that has a great range of search options
  • Tracks searches and recently visited content for easy backtracking
  • In each entry, keywords are 1-click to other books/chapters
  • In addition there is a great deal of outside content–encyclopedia entries on keywords and people as well as author websites
  • Buttons for easy print, save, send, and social media sharing, AND citation export 

My only suggestion–add auto-fill for searching names. I can never remember how to spell Kierkegaard. 

Top ten facts about knowledge

Jennifer Nagel, author of Knowledge: A Very Short Introduction, has created a list of ten facts about knowledge. How much do you know about knowledge?

1.       Groups of people can together know things that aren’t known by any individual member of the group.

2.       If John Locke’s theory of knowledge is right, no person alive today can actually know that John Locke ever lived.

3.       It’s possible to gain knowledge of a fact even when some of your relevant evidence is misleading.

4.       The deepest objection to Alvin Goldman’s causal theory of knowledge was formulated by Alvin Goldman.

5.       In 1963, an American philosopher became famous for discovering a way to prove that knowledge is not the same as justified true belief, but what he discovered had been found over a thousand years earlier in Eastern epistemology.

6.       Contextualists think that the verb “to know”, like the adverbs “tomorrow” and “here”, picks out different targets depending on when and where it is used.

7.       There is a brain region near your right ear that is specialized in adults for tracking what people think, want, and know.

8.       According to the American philosopher Jennifer Lackey, you can sometimes gain knowledge of a fact by hearing it from someone who doesn’t even believe it to be true.

9.       Ancient Academic Sceptics concluded that knowledge was humanly unattainable; ancient Pyrrhonian Sceptics went one step further and doubted all conclusions, even the Academic one about knowledge being unattainable.

10.    “Know” is one of the top ten most common verbs in English, and there’s a word meaning “know” in all of the 6000+ languages spoken on Earth.

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Very Short Fact: On this day in 1605, Londoners lit bonfires to celebrate the failure of Guy Fawkes’s treasonous Gunpowder Plot the evening before. Guy Fawkes was tortured to give up the details behind the plot:

Although the English common law prohibited torture, an exceptional procedure allowed the king to issue ‘torture warrants’ through the Star Chamber. One of the most famous individuals subjected to this procedure was Guy Fawkes, caught trying to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. He was then tortured into giving up the names of his accomplices. The judges of the House of Lords in a recent human rights case have reminded us of this episode in English history. This form of investigation became seen as emblematic of the abuse of power by the King, it was therefore abolished, along with the Star Chamber, in 1640.

[p. 83, Human Rights: A Very Short Introduction, by Andrew Clapham]

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Image: Behind the mask, by Shan’s Photostream. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Flickr.

Very Short Fact: In advance of Valentine’s Day this weekend, we find out what love really means:

Contrary to what is often assumed, love is not an emotion. To be sure, the thought of love is likely to conjure up delicious and tender feelings. These loving feelings are indeed emotions, but they are from being the only emotions that constitute erotic love. Depending on circumstances – depending on where you are, in just what love story – love might be manifested in sorrow, fear, guilt, regret, bitterness, gloom, contempt, humiliation, elation, dejection, anxiety, jealousy, disgust, or murderous rage.

[p. 5, Love: A Very Short Introduction, by Ronald de Sousa]

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Very Short Fact: On this day in 1879, using a filament of carbonized thread, Thomas Edison tests the first practical electric incandescent light bulb. It lasted 13½ hours before burning out:

Nikola Tesla complained of Edison’s concentration on instinct and intuition over theory and calculation, and practices at the laboratory did occasionally seem haphazard. When searching for the best material for the light bulb filament, he experimented with unlikely materials ranging from horsehair to cork to the beards of his workers. When the breakthrough came in the carbon filament incandescent lamp, Edison’s staff did not realize the extent of their discovery for several months after the event.

p. 90, 91, Innovation: A Very Short Introduction, by Mark Dodgson and David Gann]

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Very Short Fact: On this day in 1926, American poet Allen Ginsberg (who Daniel Radcliffe portrayed in the film, Kill Your Darlings) was born. He would be one of the defining voices of America’s Beat Generation.

More than any other Beat figure, Ginsberg understood that the unspeakable visions of the individual had become the unstoppable desires of a new, flamboyant generation, and he stood with it gladly, nonviolently but outspokenly protesting war, censorship, bias and prejudice of every kind, and the unearned privileges of the wealthy that sustain the exploitation of the poor.”

[ p. 103, The Beats: A Very Short Introduction by  David Sterritt]

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Very Short Fact: This Friday 10 April marks 103 years since the RMS Titanic set out on its maiden voyage. Today, the wreckage is a hotbed for scientific discovery:

In the past thirty years huge numbers of new bacterial species have been identified. This has been partly because we are better able to identify and distinguish unique bacterial species, largely because we are able to analyse their DNA; however, it has also resulted from our ability to explore new environments that were previously inaccessible. A notable example is Halomonas titanicae, a bacterium found in the rusticles of the wreck of RMS Titanic, 3,800 metres below the surface of the Atlantic ocean.

[p. 121, Bacteria: A Very Short Introduction, by Sebastian G. B. Amyes]

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Image: RMS Titanic, 1912. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The interplay between these new theoretical ideas and new high‐quality observational data has catapulted cosmology from the purely theoretical domain and into the field of rigorous experimental science. This process began at the beginning of the twentieth century, with the work of Albert Einstein.
—  Free chapter from Cosmology: A Very Short Introduction on the history of cosmology and how it extends from myth to science. This chapter is free until 25 September on Very Short Introductions Online.

A Very Short Fact: On this day in 1305, William Wallace, a Scottish revolutionist, is captured by the English near Glasgow and transported to London for trial and execution.

“…the Declaration of Arbroath is a dark hint that, should the king fail to protect his subjects, [the Scots] could legitimately depose him in favour of a better defender and, before and after this, guardians of the realm could legitimately stand in for weak kings, even adults. William Wallace was a guardian.”

[p. 34-35-Scotland: A Very Short Introduction by Rab Houston]

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In the mid-nineteenth century, archaeologist Austen Henry Layard excavated the ancient Assyrian capital, Nineveh. In the ruins of King Assurbanipal’s palace Layard discovered a forgotten library containing around 26,000 tablets and fragments.

All this week we sharing fun, free, and fascinating library content to celebrate UK National Library Day on Saturday, 6 February 2016.

Image credit: excavations of Nineveh by Austen Henry Layard. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Very Short Fact: On this day in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivers the Gettysburg Address at the dedication ceremony for the military cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania:

“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure … It is for us the living … to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us … that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

[p. 70, Democracy: A Very Short Introduction, by Bernard Crick]

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Image: Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, by the Library of Congress. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Very Short Fact: On this day in 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first successful man-powered airplane flight, near Kitty Hawk, N.C.

As the science [of structural engineering] became ever more powerful so did the specialization. For example, in 1903 a new specialization began to emerge after the first successful powered flight by the Wright brothers. The first flimsy, odd looking machine was made of spruce and cloth with two wings, one placed above the other. Aeronautical and aerospace structural engineers are now very highly specialized because minimizing weight is so important; they use aluminium and lightweight composite materials. 

[p. 52, Structural Engineering: A Very Short Introduction, by David Blockley]

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Very Short Fact: Today marks the 45th anniversary of Earth Day. Why not honour our home planet by learning about the environmental problems mankind will face over the next few decades?

“With rapid economic development, the environment will come under increasing pressure. For example, by 2030 global food and energy demand will have increased by 50 per cent and water requirement will have increased by 30 per cent. This is partly due to the rise in global population but most is caused by the rapid development of lower income countries and a huge increase in consumption.

[p. 168, Climate Change: A Very Short Introduction, by Mark Maslin]

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Image: Earth, by WikiImages. Public domain via Pixabay.

Very Short Fact: on this day in 1547, Henry VIII died. His nine-year-old son, Edward VI became King and the first Protestant ruler of England.

The accession of the boy-king Edward VI in 1547 was a godsend for those seeking further reform. Tutored by men who were zealous advocates of evangelical reform, Edward gave his approval to various steps long favored by such men. Shrines that honored saints were closed, religious statues that Protestants believed promoted idolatry were destroyed or defaced, church wall paintings whitewashed, stained glass windows depicting religious scenes replaced, and musical instruments sold off, vandalized, or destroyed.

[p. 5, Puritanism: A Very Short Introduction, by Francis J. Bremer]

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Image: Edward VI of England. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Very Short Fact: On this day in 1965, 25,000 civil rights supporters, led by Martin Luther King Jr., successfully completed their four day, fifty mile march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. 

“A March 1965 demonstration in Selma, Alabama, pitted an increasingly militant SCLC and younger activists against Selma’s bigoted sheriff, whose deputies tear-gassed and beat marchers, again in full view of national television. Protesters poured into Selma and completed a planned march to Montgomery, Alabama’s capital. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 soon followed. This measure further strengthened the government’s powers to prevent discrimination against black voters. These measures of 1964–65 marked major victories in America’s long battle against racism.”

[p. 118-119, American History: A Very Short Introduction, by Paul S. Boyer]

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Image: Abernathy children, Selma to Montgomery. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.