Thursday, August 28, 2014

10 Books That Have Made Me Who I Am

I accept the challenge of Nathan Koozer and have come up with the following list of books that meet this criteria: "List 10 books that have stayed with you in some way... Don't over think it."
These books all came to me at critical moments in my life and have made me who I am. Though telling an academic not to "over think it" is like telling a baby to stop crying.
1. Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Catholic Church, and United States Catholic Conference. The New American Bible: Translated from the Original Languages with Critical Use of All the Ancient Sources Including the Revised Psalms and the Revised New Testament. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.
2. Sagan, Carl. Cosmos. New York: Random House, 1980.
3. Merton, Thomas. Zen and the Birds of Appetite. [New York]: [New Directions], 1968.
4. Harland, Richard. Superstructuralism: The Philosophy of Structuralism and Post-Structuralism. London: Methuen, 1987.
5. Tolkien, J. R. R. The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of The Lord of the Rings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co, 1993.
6. Eckert, Allan W. The Frontiersman. Little, 1967.
7. Latour, Bruno, and Steve Woolgar. Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986.
8. Cohen, I. Bernard. Revolution in Science. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1985.
9. Manchester, William. American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur, 1880-1964. Boston: Little, Brown, 1978.
10. Hesse, Hermann, and Hilda Rosner. Siddhartha.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Crisis in the Humanities? Ask the Organization Man.

There is a great deal of talk about the so-called crisis in the humanities today.This is nothing new as the perceived value of the humanities has risen and fallen over time. There are some fascinating periods of time in which the humanities were greatly valued, and it is instructive to understand them, especially in times of crisis.

 I am a Professor of History at American Public University System, and I have researched and published on one such case in the 1950s when many considered the humanities a savior to counteract the threats of the Cold War.

Many technical and business experts believed that the liberal arts could compensate for the scientific and technical lead that the Soviet Union appeared to hold over the United States during the 1950s. Humanistic studies also appeared as the best way to broaden the minds of American managers who spent their entire lives in a narrow, specialized field of work. I wrote an article on this and called the phenomenon “The Organization Man Goes to College.”

The rationale went something like this: The key to countering Soviet technical superiority, suggested Clarence B. Randall, former chairman of the board of Inland Steel Company, was the liberal arts. In the 1950s he said, the Soviets could not compete with the United States in humanistic scholarship. As Randall argued, “No where have I heard Russia boast about the number of graduates she is turning out in the liberal arts.” He was confident that the liberal arts would “prove to be the Achilles heel of the Communist dynasty,” counteracting the problems of automation, helping to balance overspecialized training, and in the end preserving democracy and the free enterprise system during the Cold War.

Many business leaders across the nation agreed and used the liberal arts as the way to broaden overspecialized managers and offset America’s apparent technical disadvantage in the early years of the 1950s.

AT&T took the lead. In September 1953, a small group of promising young middle managers received a job reassignment from their AT&T corporate headquarters. Their relocation was not to another AT&T division but to the University of Pennsylvania, where they spent nine months in an “unusual and exciting education experience.”’ They did not study new accounting methods, telephone technology, or managerial techniques; instead, they learned philosophy, history, and literature during the day, and went to concerts, museums, and other cultural events at night. Educators called this the AT&T “Institute of Humanistic Studies for Executives,” and its goal was nothing short of preparing a new generation of business leaders to continue America’s economic prosperity.

Sadly the program ended by the early 1960s, not because it was a failure, but because the next generation of AT&T leadership simply did not value the humanities.  

I would suggest we need to get back to seeing the ways that a humanities education is of broad value in an increasingly complex and global society. My hope, and current research, is that the Digital Humanities can breathe new life in to the “perception” of an antiquated discipline. I firmly believe that the growing vigor and sophistication of Digital Humanities will serve as an antidote to the persistent rumors that the humanities are in crisis. To end with a literary allusion, as Mark Twain famously said in 1897, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.” I can assure you, the humanities are alive, well, and thriving in the digital world of the 21st century. We just need to convince others of this reality.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

You Lost Me at Bruno: Review of Cosmos 2.0

Carl Sagan inspired my love for science as a kid. I eagerly followed everything he did from Cosmos, to Contact, to Carson. I eventually earned a Ph.D. in the history of science from Case Western Reserve University. And now as a Professor of History, I show a few of the Cosmos episodes in my history of science graduate course that I teach. 

However, I was very disappointed that in episode 1 of Cosmos 2.0, of all the things that could and should have been the focus, it was the story of Bruno that got the most airtime. It was very clear that in showcasing Bruno, Seth MacFarlane (executive producer) and Neil deGrasse Tyson (host) were transparently advancing an agenda. This overemphasis of an event in the history of religion is far removed from Sagan's beautiful and poetic wonderment of the mystery of the universe and our story within it.  

The tragic tale of Bruno's burning at the stake at the hands of the Catholic Inquisition also had very little in reality to do with science, though that seemingly "small" point was lost in Cosmos 2.0.
Consider what Sheila Rabin wrote the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "in 1600 there was no official Catholic position on the Copernican system, and it was certainly not a heresy. When Giordano Bruno (1548–1600) was burned at the stake as a heretic, it had nothing to do with his writings in support of Copernican cosmology, and this is clearly shown in Finocchiaro's reconstruction of the accusations against Bruno."

That Cosmos 2.0 gives so much attention to a tale more appropriately told in the history of religion is further perplexing because Bruno lived between Copernicus and Newton, and Bruno was the one that received the most airtime. Galileo also garnered little more than a mention in the first episode.

The history of the relationship between science and religion is so much more interesting and complex than the naive "thought police" comment Neil deGrasse Tyson made in the first episode of Cosmos 2.0. Professional historians of science and religion have long moved past the simplistic "conflict model" that this series seems to want to promote. And that is unfortunate. 

To learn more from scholars who actually spend their lives studying the relationship between science and religion in an intelligent way, consider someone like David Lindberg, the Hilldale Professor Emeritus of History of Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Writing a chapter in in Gary Ferngren's book Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002) he said, "There was no warfare between science and the church. The story of science and Christianity in the Middle Ages is not a story of suppression not one of its polar opposite, support and encouragement. What we find is an interaction exhibiting all of the variety and complexity with which we are familiar in other realms of human endeavor: conflict, compromise, understanding, misunderstanding, accommodation, dialogue, alienation, the making of a common cause, and the going of separate ways."

Or consider what Lindberg had to say in his book The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, Prehistory to A.D. 1450  (University of Chicago Press, 2007.) He wrote that the interpretation of the conflict between science and religion historically "depends largely on the attitudes and expectations that one brings to the question." He further described it like this: "If we compare the early church with a modern research university or the National Science Foundation, the church will prove to have failed abysmally as a supporter of science and natural philosophy. But such comparison is obviously unfair. If, instead, we compare the support available from any other contemporary social institution, it will become apparent that the church was one of the major patrons—perhaps the major patron—of scientific learning."

There was much more blending between science and religion than we see now. Newton, who died in 1727, spent a significant portion of his life thinking about God. As Karen Armstrong wrote in her A History of God (A.A. Knoph, 1993): "Newton began with an attempt to explain the physical universe, with God as an essential part of the system. In Newton's physics, nature was entirely passive: God was the sole source of activity." In Gale Christianson said in Isaac Newton (Oxford University Press, 2005) that throughout his life Newton would "write an estimated 1,400,000 words on religion, more than alchemy, more than mathematics, more even than the physics and astronomy that made him immortal...Unlike many thinkers today, he saw no conflict between science and religion and wrote that the world could not operate without God being present."

And to conclude this point on the interesting blending between science and religion, J.L. Heilbron states in The Sun in the Church: Cathedrals as Solar Observatories (Harvard University Press, 1999) that historically the "Roman Catholic church gave more support to astronomy…than did any other institution."

Back to Cosmos 2.0 now. It should be clear that the horrible Bruno episode by itself really sheds little to no light at all on anything related to the history of science. Unless of course one wanted to advance an atheist position (which both Tyson and MacFarlane both are). Everyone has a right to their beliefs, but in making an arguments for said belief, one should not manipulate the past to make an inaccurate point in the present. 

Certainly it is quite clear that the Inquisition was a terrible thing. It is a sad testimony that any great mind is silenced. It is a period that even Catholic Popes have apologized for. If Cosmos 2.0 is making their point to sway religious Fundamentalists against their militant position against science and the teaching of evolution, then once again Cosmos 2.0 is attacking the wrong branch of Christianity. Catholics are not the ones that oppose teaching of evolution. As Pope John Paul II wrote, "In his encyclical Humani Generis (1950), my predecessor Pius XII has already affirmed that there is no conflict between evolution and the doctrine of the faith regarding man and his vocation…"
What the Cosmos 2.0's first episode fails to note (and this would have been an interesting aside as to how far the Catholic church has come from that time) is that the Vatican Observatory is one of the oldest astronomical research institutions in the world. 

Furthermore The Vatican Observatory Research Group operates the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT). This is done in partnership with the University of Arizona (and other universities). Real science is done here, and no one is being put to death for it. Remarkably they have not even threatened to burn any of the astronomers at the stake. 

As a brilliant astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson surely knows this. But somehow to him this seems insignificant to the much more compelling story of the horrors of the church and its supposed silencing of scientific genius.

My hope is that the remainder of the Cosmos 2.0 episodes can stick to the wonders of science and refrain from espousing the anti-religious agenda of its creators.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Bowles Debate at

The following is a deeply insightful pedagogical debate about my teaching skills excerpted from the online site I can usually predict when one of these anonymous posts will appear...after a disgruntled student gets a bad grade or an enthusiastic student completes an excellent MA thesis. The truth, as always in life, is somewhere in the middle. Except of course for the last comment, which is completely accurate. 

The Detractors: Professor Bowles is a “poor teacher.”

The Supporters: Just wait a minute, he is an “outstanding professor.” He "provides feedback ASAP."

The Detractors: But his knowledge is “limited to personal interest.”

The Supporters: That is wrong. Bowles really "knows his stuff" and is “extremely knowledgeable in American history.” He was "one of the best professors I have had."

The Detractors: How can you say that? He does not “provide much guidance” for his students.

The Supporters: Are you kidding me? Bowles is “always willing to help out.” He “communicates quite a bit,” and he is “very involved” in his classes.

The Detractors: You know “He can’t handle being corrected.”

The Supporters: I agree with you there, I mean "
Don't disagree with him!!!" But he is “patient,” “extremely helpful” and “one of the best professors I have had.” The bottom line is "I highly recommend him."

The Detractors: No way. "I would not recommend him." Have you noticed the "typos common in his instructions."

The Supporters: Who cares! He has a "great sense of humor," he is "engaging," and "makes the class a whole lot of fun with interesting written lectures and videos."

The Detractors: Maybe so, but I can tell he has a “conservative bias.” He is just "not a great teacher."

The Supporters: Yeah, but "based on his photo, he's hot!"

Friday, October 18, 2013

Becoming a Footnote in History...

When I first considered going to graduate school in 1991 I set a seemingly small goal for myself—to be footnoted just once. I shared this odd idea with my father, and while it seemed insignificant, I explained it to him like this. To be footnoted I would have to: enjoy moderate success in grad school, conduct work in an archives, compose a scholarly article or book based on that research, find a publisher to accept my work, pass a peer review process by experts in my field, hold one of my published works in my hand, convince (or force) other people to read my article or book, and impress (or infuriate) people enough to actually cite my work in their own publication. 

Therefore a single footnote of my work, from my vantage point of just entering graduate school, seemed like a monumental achievement and a way to secure my legacy of literally becoming a footnote in history.

I was fortunate to pass my way though grad school and earn a Ph.D. in history in 1999 from Case Western Reserve University. It was in that year that my first footnote appeared in a book (pictured below).

Zachary, Gregg Pascal. Endless Frontier: Vannevar Bush, Engineer of the American Century. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999.

The author cited me twice and even reproduced a drawing that I made of an early computing device. Here are the two footnotes...the first of my career. 

The footnotes (numbers 26 and 28 above) were to an article I published three years earlier, in 1996, in the Annals of the History of Computing entitled “The Age of the Analog Brain.” 

Since Zachary asked my permission to use my drawing, I knew that I was going to appear in his book and anticipated the release of his book more than I did my first published article.  I remember anxiously going to Border’s Book Store (back in the day when one actually went to a store to buy a book), pulling it from the shelves, and scanning the book not for scholarly content, but for my name. Indeed, it was purely an exercise in vanity, but it meant a great deal. 

My drawings reproduced in Zachary's book.

Since that time I have managed to publish a number of books, and I have also enjoyed serendipitously running across footnotes to that scholarship. It is one of the many pleasures of my career. Each time I do, I think about that promise to my father long ago, who passed away in 2001. 

So my message to aspiring graduate students is “Dream big…become a footnote.”

Here are the covers of my top ten favorite books that I appear in, not in an overtly significant way, but as a footnote to history. 


1.       Black, Alistair, Dave Muddiman, and Helen Plant. The Early Information Society Information Management in Britain Before the Computer. Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2007.

Boden, Margaret A. Mind as Machine: A History of Cognitive Science. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006.

Creager, Angela N. H. Life Atomic: A History of Radioisotopes in Science and Medicine. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.

Dick, Steven J., and Roger D. Launius. Societal Impact of Spaceflight. Washington, DC: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 2007.

Downey, Gregory John. Closed Captioning Subtitling, Stenography, and the Digital Convergence of Text with Television. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008.

Evans, Ben. Tragedy and Triumph in Orbit: The Eighties and Early Nineties. New York, NY: Springer, 2012.

Hersch, Matthew H. Inventing the American Astronaut. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Mirowski, Philip. Machine Dreams: Economic Becomes a Cyborg Science. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2002.

Neufeld, Michael J. Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War. New York: Vintage Books, 2008.

Swade, Doron. The Difference Engine: Charles Babbage and the Quest to Build the First Computer. New York: Viking, 2001.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Lament that the US Government will not let me view a waterfall

In riding my bike along the outskirts of a closed national park today I was reminded of the Ken Burns documentary entitled "The National Parks: America's Best Idea."

In it Dayton Duncan said this: "At the heart of the park idea is this notion that by virtue of being an American ... you, you are the owner of some of the best seafront property this nation's got. You own magnificent waterfalls. You own stunning views of mountains and stunning views of gorgeous canyons. They belong to you. They're yours."

Somehow, the American people have lost the right to that ownership.

Below is a waterfall that I was not allowed to explore today. Well, I could have explored it, but there is a penalty of a monetary fine. There is a maximum penalty of 6 months in prison.

Whose America is this?

Monday, September 2, 2013

Prof. Bowles Discusses Capital Punishment

I recently started a heated  Facebook discussion over Capital Punishment and a recent editorial in the Cleveland Plain Dealer entitled: "Ohio's vanishing stock of execution drugs is yet another sign that it's time to eliminate the death penalty in Ohio." You can read it here:

I strongly agreed with this editorial and while engaging with several people on Facebook who were staunchly in favor of the death penalty, I realized that many opinions about it are simply uninformed by scholarship. As a result, I compiled the following argument for the termination of the death penalty in the United States.

What is true of nearly all debates like this is that often one’s personal beliefs (and life experiences) shapes the validity ascribed to the facts presented. I promised some friends of mine who are in favor of the death penalty some quality research and opinions on this subject. And I offer the following for your consideration. As you might expect, all of what appears below supports my deep belief that capital punishment in America must end.

Here are some key facts about Capital Punishment from a collection of scholars writing a book published by Duke University Press. You can read the book: Garvey, Stephen P. Beyond Repair?: America's Death Penalty. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003.

1. Public Opinion: Since 2000, more people are seeking the abolition of the death penalty. This includes Republican Governor George Ryan from Illinois who halted executions in his state after the THIRTEENTH innocent man left death row. Read the governor’s address entitled “I Must Act” which he presented at Northwestern University College of Law. It was reprinted in the NYTimes here: In my opinion this alone should convince anyone to rethink the death penalty.  

2. Innocence: DNA technology has shown how remarkably flawed our judicial system has been in sending men to death row. Since the 1970s over 100 men have been set free when DNA technology exonerated them.

3. Capital Juries: Interestingly judges do the sentencing in noncapital cases, while juries sentence in capital cases. Professors John Blume and Theodore Eisenberg have asked the question: “How do jurors decide between life and death?” After extensive research they determined: “The results are disquieting. Far  too many unqualified jurors end up serving; many capital jurors fail to understand the basic constitutional principles on which their deliberations should proceed;…and a defendant’s fate can turn not just on the facts and circumstances of his case but also on the race of the jurors who sit in judgment of him.”

Let’s look more at race in an article published in New York University Law Review. Consider this scholarly article entitled “Devaluing Death: An Empirical Study of Implicit Racial Bias on Jury-Eligible Citizens in Six Death Penalty States." The law professors simply concluded: “Stark racial disparities define America’s relationship with the death penalty.They further went to explain their findings: “A new study testing internal attitudes and stereotypes among potential jurors in six death penalty states may help to explain the racial disparities that persist in the application of capital punishment. Researchers Justin Levinson (l.), Robert Smith (r.), and Danielle Young tested 445 jury-eligible individuals and found they harbored two kinds of racial bias: they maintained racial stereotypes about Blacks and Whites and made associations between the race of an individual and the value of his or her life. Those studied tended to associate Whites more with "worth" and Blacks with "worthless." The study further found that death-qualified jurors held stronger racial biases than potential jurors who would be excluded from serving in death penalty cases.”

4. International Law: Remarkably “Most of the nations with which the United States prefers to keep company have abolished the death penalty. Indeed, most of them now see capital punishment as a human rights violation.” Therefore, this weakens our global stature in fighting against other human rights violations. You can read more about this in a National Geographic article which said that only 21 countries in the world executed someone in 2012. The US had the 5th highest number of executions, though China keeps its numbers secret.

By the way, in December of last year 111 countries (that is more than half of the countries in the world) sided with a UN resolution to end state sponsored executions.  

I could suggest that everyone opposed to the death penalty read Austin Sarat’s book When the State Kills: Capital Punishment and the American Condition. This is an academic book, published by Princeton University Press with all the peer review and scholarship that goes along with this type of endeavor. His central argument is that capital punishment “undermines our democratic society.” He argues that “state executions, once used by monarchs as symbolic displays of power, gained acceptance among Americans as a sign of the people's sovereignty. Yet today when the state kills, it does so in a bureaucratic procedure hidden from view and for which no one in particular takes responsibility.” There are forces that manage to maintain this culture of acceptable killing that includes “racial prejudice, and the desire for a world without moral ambiguity.” Sarat, Austin. When the State Kills: Capital Punishment and the American Condition. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001.

Other academics, this time professors of law published by Oxford University Press, ask the following important questions: “Why does the United States continue to employ the death penalty when fifty other developed democracies have abolished it? Why does capital punishment become more problematic each year? How can the death penalty conflict be resolved?” They suggest that the reason that this remains such a divided issue is because it reveals that “the seemingly insoluble turmoil surrounding the death penalty reflects a deep and long-standing division in American values.” The division is this: “On the one hand, execution would seem to violate our nation's highest legal principles of fairness and due process. It sets us increasingly apart from our allies and indeed is regarded by European nations as a barbaric and particularly egregious form of American exceptionalism. On the other hand, the death penalty represents a deeply held American belief in violent social justice that sees the hangman as an agent of local control and safeguard of community values.” The conclusion here is that “the most troubling symptom of this attraction to vigilante justice in the lynch mob.” Zimring, Franklin E. The Contradictions of American Capital Punishment. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

These legal and academic studies go on and on and on…I will list just one more from June 2013. This was from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) who released their report on the death penalty in California and Louisiana. Their main conclusion was that the death penalty in these states was “arbitrary and discriminatory.” The authors wrote, “States must also ensure that all persons charged with a death-eligible offense have timely-appointed, competent, and experienced representation at all stages of a capital case, and that appointed counsel have adequate funding to carry out the tasks necessary to provide effective representation.” You can read the report here:

Finally, here are five salient points on why the death penalty does not work from Amnesty International (

1. Innocent people are on death row. Republican Governor of Illinois Georg
e Ryan said: "I cannot support a system which, in its administration, has proven so fraught with error and has come so close to the ultimate nightmare, the state's taking of innocent life... Until I can be sure that everyone sentenced to death in Illinois is truly guilty, until I can be sure with moral certainty that no innocent man or woman is facing a lethal injection, no one will meet that fate." Since 1973, over 130 people have been released from death rows throughout the country due to evidence of their wrongful convictions. In 2003 alone, 10 wrongfully convicted defendants were released from death row.

2. The death penalty is racially unjust. In a 1990 report, the non-partisan U.S. General Accounting Office found "a pattern of evidence indicating racial disparities in the charging, sentencing, and imposition of the death penalty." The study concluded that a defendant was several times more likely to be sentenced to death if the murder victim was white. This has been confirmed by the findings of many other studies that, holding all other factors constant, the single most reliable predictor of whether someone will be sentenced to death is the race of the victim.

3. It is costly. A 2003 legislative audit in Kansas found that the estimated cost of a death penalty case was 70% more than the cost of a comparable non-death penalty case. Death penalty case costs were counted through to execution (median cost $1.26 million).

4. It is arbitrary. Almost all death row inmates could not afford their own attorney at trial. Court-appointed attorneys often lack the experience necessary for capital trials and are overworked and underpaid. In the most extreme cases, some have slept through parts of trials or have arrived under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.

5. It is not a deterrent. A September 2000 New York Times survey found that during the last 20 years, the homicide rate in states with the death penalty has been 48 to 101 percent higher than in states without the death penalty. FBI data shows that all 14 states without capital punishment in 2008 had homicide rates at or below the national rate.

In conclusion, I sincerely hope that the American public will become more informed about the significant debate surrounding Capital Punishment. 

Professor Bowles