Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), who trained as a neurologist and general psychologist, pioneered psychoanalysis, the technique of encouraging free association. From his practice he developed the theory of repression, the idea that certain thoughts were held back from both oral expression and the patient’s conscious mind. His work also developed the notion of the unconscious, which he suggested was behind much of our thoughts and actions. In Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud argued that to be civilized is to be unhappy, because it was civilization itself which forced us to repress out natural instincts—those most notably of aggression and sexuality. In this excerpt he discusses how aggression is a primal instinct and looks at how this instinct, along with the instinct for sex, is controlled and repressed in “civilized” society, to the detriment of ultimate human happiness.
From Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents. Trans. and ed., James Strachey. New York: W. W. Norton, 1961, pp. 58–63.
René Descartes (1596–1650) has been called the Father of Modern Philosophy because of his work in philosophy, metaphysics, theology, and mathematics. Perhaps best known for the groundbreaking maxim, “I think, therefore I am,” Descartes lays out a method for creating solid foundations upon which he can build theoretical arguments—an epistemology known as Cartesianism. The Discourse moves from autobiography to philosophical tract and recounts how Descartes came to the thoughts and processes that redefined philosophy.
From René Descartes, A Discourse on the Method of Correctly Conducting One’s Reason and Seeking Truth in the Sciences. Trans. Ian Maclean. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 5–11, 28–30, 374.
Sir Charles Trevelyan
Sir Charles Trevelyan (1807–1886) spent fifteen years as a British colonial officer in India, where he pursued reform of living conditions; when he was recalled to England, he worked to combat the Irish potato famine. His account of the Great Famine (1845–1852) provides his thoughts on everything from the potato to relationships between social classes. This introductory portion of The Irish Crisis lays out contemporary viewpoints on the famine and frames the disaster as a failure of the “agrarian code” that drove Ireland into socioeconomic imbalance.
From C. E. Trevelyan, Esq., The Irish Crisis. London: Longman, Brown, Green & Longmans, 1919, pp. 2, 4–9.
Although most famous for his novel Robinson Crusoe, Defoe (c.1660–1731) was also a prolific pamphleteer and journalist, focusing on issues such as English religious intolerance between Catholics and Anglicans and the political tumult around the 1706 unification of England, Wales, and Scotland into “Great Britain”—for which topics he was a frequent visitor to the pillory. In this work, Defoe narrativizes the Plague of London (1665) through the viewpoint of a fictional main character—though Defoe himself was a child when the pestilence hit and purportedly used his uncle’s journals to flesh out the chilling subject matter.
From Daniel Defoe. A Journal of the Plague Year (revised edition). Ed. Louis Landa and David Roberts. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011, pp. 16, 49–50, 68–9, 105.
An Italian astronomer, physicist, and mathematician, Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) made many significant contributions to science—such as improvements to the telescope and work with sunspots—but is remembered for his support of a heliocentric model of the solar system. His conviction led him into conflict with the Catholic Church; he was accused of heresy and finished his days under house arrest. Aside from his astronomical texts, Galileo also corresponded with leading figures of his day. This letter, to the Benedictine mathematician Benedetto Castelli, addresses one of the main articles of the problem with Galileo’s heliocentrism: how to reconcile observable scientific fact with the words of the Bible, held to be literal and inviolable in 17th-century Italy.
From Galileo Galilei, Selected Writings. Trans William R. Shea and Mark Davie. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013, pp. 55–61.
This famous letter is often cited as an early sign of Galileo’s inevitable conflict with church authorities over the Copernican system of planetary motion—and the theory’s theological, as well as its scientific, ramifications. Galileo (1564–1642) would be condemned to house arrest in 1632 and forced to make a public repudiation of the heliocentric theory first advanced by Copernicus in the sixteenth century. However, Galileo’s connection to the renowned Medici family of Florence was also cause for comment—and caution—from 1610, when he received an appointment and an implicit endorsement from them.
Constructing a telescope in 1609 (which he proudly claimed could “magnify objects more than 60 times”), Galileo trained it on the moons of Jupiter, which he tracked over several days in 1610. Having named these objects for the Medici family, he rushed these and many other astronomical observations into print in the Sidereus Nuncius (The Starry Messenger). Inviting other scientists to “apply themselves to examine and determine” these planetary motions, Galileo demonstrated a preference for the Copernican theory and elicited sharp responses, particularly from church officials. In 1615, the dowager Grand Duchess Christina, mother of his patron, Cosimo II, expressed her own reservations about the implications of the Copernican theory for a passage in the Old Testament. Galileo’s response attempts, or seems to attempt, to reconcile experimental science and received religion.
Galileo Galilei, The Essential Galileo, ed. and trans. Maurice A. Finocchiaro (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2008), §4.2.5—4.2.6, 140–144.
Mary Wortley Montagu
Mary Wortley Montagu (1689–1762), who was born into the British aristocracy, sought out an acquaintance with the leading literary and scientific figures of her day, and traveled with her husband to Constantinople while he was ambassador to the Ottoman emperor. Although her husband was recalled to England within a year, Lady Mary had endeavored to learn as much as possible about Turkish customs and behavior, especially those concerning women and children. She frequently had paintings made of herself (and her son) dressed in Turkish costume, and she considered it patriotic to import Turkish customs that she thought could benefit her fellow Englishmen. Her introduction of the Turkish practice of inoculation against smallpox drew the great admiration of Voltaire, who praised her intelligence and her willingness to learn from others in his Letters Concerning the English Nation (1733).
Mary Wortley Montagu, Letters from the Levant during the Embassy to Constantinople, 1716–18 (New York, Arno, 1971), 124, 128–129, 146–148.
Sir Charles Lyell (1797–1875), a friend of Charles Darwin, was a Scottish geologist who was so notable that to this day, in his honor, a crater on the moon and a type of armored fish both bear Lyell’s name. Lyell examined the premise that the earth is governed by the same principles regardless of era and that geological evolution can be broken down into tiny changes over long spans of time—a notion that also appears in Darwin’s evolutionary theory. This selection examines revolutions in climate over the eons, using evidence from, among other phenomena, mammoths preserved in ice.
From Charles Lyell, “On Extinct Quadrupeds,” Principles of Geology. London: J. Murray, 1830–1833, pp. 74–82.
Charles Darwin (1809–1882), a British naturalist, propounded the theory of evolution in his famous work On the Origin of Species (1859). With this theory, Darwin launched a massive debate concerning the spiritual repercussions of belief in natural selection—such as the contradiction inherent in the evolution of humans from apes and the story of the Creation of Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis. This second work, The Descent of Man, explores the physiological connections between mankind and what Darwin calls “lower animals.” This selection examines the notion of sociability and how it plays out in various associations of animals; Darwin even makes a case for “lower animals” (like dogs) having characteristics that would be called “moral” in humans. Consider the impact of such “scientific discoveries” on a society that views humans as an elevated creation modeled on God.
From Philip Appleman, Ed., Darwin: A Norton Critical Edition, Second ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1980, pp. 196–203, 208.
Marchione di Coppio Stefani
The Black Death was an outbreak of the bubonic plague in Europe, beginning in 1347. Although there had been outbreaks before, the plague had not been present in Europe in centuries. The populace was already weakened by a famine in the first two decades of the century, and was thus especially susceptible to the reappearance of the plague. Unfortunately, fourteenth century Europeans lacked scientific understanding of what caused the deaths; it was usually referred to as the pestilence. The Black Death produced many different responses by people afraid of dying, and many theories as to what caused the many deaths, as evidenced by this account by Marchione di Coppio Stefani of what happened in Florence.
Stefani, Marchione di Coppo. Cronaca fiorentina. Rerum Italicarum Scriptores, Vol. 30. ed. Niccolo Rodolico. Citta di Castello: 1903-13.
The name of Charles Darwin (1809–1882) is inextricably linked to the earth-shattering and (even today) controversial theory he proposed in 1859. However, it is also important to remember that he was a writer of exceptional skill and a best-selling author—even though many of his observations and conclusions were certainly too difficult for nonspecialists to appreciate. The 200th anniversary of his birth—and the 150th anniversary of the appearance of The Origin of Species—in 2009 resulted in a series of commemorative events around the world, a brief sample of which can be viewed online at http://darwin-online.org.uk/2009.html. Among the most famous elements of the book is the tangled-riverbank image introduced in the long book’s final paragraph, and Darwin’s stimulating view of the “grandeur in this view of life.”
Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life and The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (New York: Modern Library, 1936), 353, 372, 373–374.
Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856–1915) was a mechanical engineer (and champion tennis player) who aimed to increase industrial efficiency by training laborers to work with minimal movement and maximum speed in order to make their efforts in tune with the mechanical efficiency of the machines they operated. Only a scientific study of labor – the number of physical movements required, for example, to bolt an automobile tire onto its mount, or the ideal pace at which workers should shovel coal into a blast furnace in order to maintain steady heat – could bring about the efficiency made possible by machinery. Taylor’s Principles of Scientific Management (1911) was for many years the foundational text used at the Harvard Business School, established in 1908. The following excerpt comes from the book’s opening chapter.
From Principles of Scientific Management, By Frederick Winslow Taylor. New York. Harper and Brothers. 1911.
This qibla map (qibla roughly translates as “sacred direction” in Arabic) is centered on the holiest place in Islam—the Ka’ba in Mecca. The obligation to pray in the direction of Mecca is central to Islamic belief. The fundamental importance of sacred direction in Islam gave rise special charts and maps, such as this “qibla map” in which the world is divided into sections, with the Ka’ba in the center of the world.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Traditional Micronesian and Polynesian maps of the Pacific, such as this example from the Marshall Islands, from about 1880, show sea lanes across the ocean in the form of reeds that link islands and atolls, which are represented as small shells. Each straight stick indicates regular currents or waves, while the curved sticks show ocean swells.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
This “upside down” map is oriented so that south is up, north is down, east is on the left, and west is on the right. The Southern Hemisphere is thus at the top of the map, instead of at the bottom. “Upside down” maps are not new. It was only in the sixteenth century that the convention of orienting maps with north on top became standardized in Europe, and for millennia Islamic maps were oriented with south on top. But with decolonization, globalization, and the end of the Cold War, it has become popular in Australia, New Zealand, and South America to show the “Global South” on top, literally.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
The only child of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India, Indira Gandhi served in turn as prime minister between 1966 and 1977 and again from 1980 until her assassination in 1984. She was the third of the country’s prime ministers and the first female to hold the position. Gandhi pursued many of the same policies as her father, supported the Non-Aligned Movement, and was especially concerned to promote the interests of the women and girls her nation and of the world,. This speech, delivered to students in a women’s college, reveals her concern to combine women’s rights with India’s drive for modernization.