Weekly Wanderings: September 30, 2016

The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man waves at drivers crawling along Philadelphia’s Schuylkill Expressway near the Passyunk Avenue exit.

▪ As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a huge Ghostbusters fan; were it not for the condo regulations in my development, I’d definitely have a 13-foot-high inflatable Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man on my front lawn for the next month. My brother assures me that my still furniture-free living room is large enough to accommodate him, but I worry that I’d wind up like fellow historian Mar Hicks, who inflated her own Mr. Stay-Puft inside the house and discovered that he takes up quite a bit of room. Her deadpan tweet—“I have made a grave miscalculation,” accompanied by photos of the ever-expanding marshmallow man—quickly went viral and makes me giggle every time it comes across my feed.

▪ But, I’m glad that Hicks did make this 13-foot miscalculation, as it’s brought her research on women and the history of computing—subject of her forthcoming book, Programmed Inequality—to my attention. At one point very early on in my graduate education I thought I’d specialize in the history of science or medicine, and although I left that field behind pretty quickly to research, uh, cartoons, I still like to read about it. Combine it with gender history and I’m definitely placing an Amazon pre-order.

I also find it interesting that we’re seeing a little flurry of work on this topic: in addition to Programmed Inequality, there’s also Nathalia Holt’s Rise of the Rocket Girls* (on female programmers in NASA’s early years; I reviewed it at Goodreads), and Hidden Figures* (on black female programmers at NASA), which is not only a book by Margot Lee Shetterly but also a movie coming to theaters in February. Very cool that these largely overlooked women and their work are finally getting the attention they deserve.

▪ Going many thousands of years further back in history, there have been a couple of archeological discoveries in the news lately that point to early contact between Europe and Asia. In London, two skeletons identified as possibly of Chinese origin and dating from the 2nd to 4th centuries AD indicate that at least a couple of people made their way over from East Asia to the territory of the Roman Empire. Going the other way, researchers excavating at a castle in Okinawa, Japan found a handful of Roman Empire coins that also originated around the 4th century AD. It’s most likely that they didn’t come directly from Rome to Japan, but rather circulated through Asia before winding up in Okinawa many centuries later. As classicist Mary Beard reminds us, we shouldn’t rush to assume that these types of finds completely rewrite our understanding of relations between Asia and the Roman Empire; rather, they point to the direct and indirect exchanges that happened all over the ancient world, long before Marco Polo went to China (or didn’t*).

▪ Facebook reminded me this morning that it’s been exactly two years since I landed in Yangon, Myanmar for an incredible week-long trip. I’d love to go back at some point, and would be especially interested to see any changes in the state of historic preservation there—something that can either go really well or really wrong (like turning the Great Wall into a skateboard ramp). The Yangon Heritage Trust has just issued its 24-part conservation strategy for the city, although those are just recommendations, not a definite plan for what will happen. Fingers crossed that the government proceeds with YHT’s suggestions in mind.

▪ It has been pouring rain in Ann Arbor for most of the past two days, and the weekend forecast is for more of the same. Perfect weather for lots of reading, writing, napping, and trying out the new cauliflower soup recipe Smitten Kitchen posted earlier this week. TGIF, everyone!

* Amazon Associates link. If you make a purchase via this link, I will receive a small commission from Amazon. Thanks for your support! ~Maura

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