Thursday, June 22, 2017

American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century

Gary Gerstle. American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century.

Gary Gerstle’s America is a place where race relations, particularly racial discrimination, have been the overwhelming catalyst behind both domestic and foreign policy for the entire twentieth century.  His work, American Crucible, charts the impact of race on twentieth century America and the conflict between the competing forces he calls “racial nationalism” and “civic nationalism”.  Civic nationalism is the age-old founding myth of the United States as “the nation’s core political ideals, in the American belief in the fundamental equality of all human beings, in every individual’s inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and in a democratic government that derives from the people’s consent,” (4). In contrast, racial nationalism “conceives of America in ethnoracial terms, as a people held together by common blood and skin color and by an inherited fitness for self-government,” (4). American Crucible makes the case that both ideologies find their roots in America’s founding documents – the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, and are therefore embedded features of American political thought.

To make his case, Gerstle starts with Theodore Roosevelt, who becomes his icon for an America that struggles with a desire for a nation that truly meets the criteria of civic nationalism where all citizens are valued for their abilities and all citizens have an equal chance of making a decent life for themselves, but cannot quite keep from using race as a lever.  American Crucible presents the racial basis for Roosevelt’s philosophy of what makes an American and what made the United States a great nation first, which certainly gives the impression that it was the most important part of his philosophy.  The Theodore Roosevelt described believed that the quest to conquer North America from the Indians forced the Scottish, Irish, English, German, Dutch, and Swedish settlers “was enough to weld [them] together into one people,” which caused them to “become Americans, one in speech, though, and character,” (21). This in itself does not seem overly concerned with race, or how it influenced the development of the United State, other than demonstrating Roosevelt’s belief that disparate peoples could be forged into an American whole through adversity.  This is further illustrated by the method he used to recruit men into the Rough Riders, or 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, which included frontiersmen from the Southwest and a leavening of other types of Americans, particularly “the fifty men, most of them athletes, who had come from Harvard, Princeton, and Yale and who possessed a refined sensibility and a capacity for leadership…” and “a smattering of Irishmen and Hispanics, at least one Jew, one Italian, four New York City policemen…” (27). Specifically excluded by Roosevelt were blacks and Asians, who were kept out of the Regiment for the same reasons that Roosevelt praised the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act saying, “From the United States and Australia the Chinaman is kept out because the democracy, with much clearness of vision, has seen that his presence is ruinous to the white race,” (23).

The role of blacks, both in Cuba and in American society, was a vexing problem for Roosevelt, according to Gerstle.  On the one hand TR believed that their importation as slaves was a blight on America because they could not be truly assimilated, and they could not play the role of the savage opponent necessary to bind white Americans together.  Roosevelt also believed that black could not be treated as equals because “Negroes … would not take well to democracy, a form of government that depended on the kind of self-control and mastery that only the white races had attained,” (23). As a result, while Roosevelt praised the skill and effectiveness of black troops in Cuba, because their effectiveness did not mesh with his world-view, he immediately began to diminish their contributions and worked to eliminate them from America’s military services. In essence, the composition of the Rough Riders mirrored Roosevelt’s views on race: any European was welcome as long as they were willing to give up all ties to their former nations.  This combined with Roosevelt’s ideas that all citizens should have equal rights and that government should reign in the excesses of large businesses for the good of all to create a new paradigm in American politics that would come to fruition in the New Deal

Gerstle continues chronologically through the 20th Century cataloging the rise and fall of both racial and civic nationalism, which seems almost cyclical in nature.  Wartime policies seem rooted in racial nationalism, with racially motivated policies appearing during both World Wars, with the most extreme example the internment of Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast.  This is not to say that American Crucible neglects the anti-immigrant policies of the 1920s.  Gerstle discusses these in great detail, particularly as they relate to immigration restrictions for Europeans and Asians, as well as the reform policies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s and 1940s.  FDR’s policies included repealing prohibition and increasing immigration quotas.  FDR also focused on the Depression as the enemy, rather than a separate racial group as had Theodore Roosevelt and the World War I generation.

Indeed, FDR ushered in an era where racial nationalism does not seem to be a key component of policy or debate, with the exception of the war in the Pacific, which Gerstle claims was more savage due to racial conflict between Americans and Japanese. The war against Japan, Gerstle contends is a “race war”, fueled by the Japanese assault on American’s belief that they were racially superior to all non-whites. Despite this, Gerstle believes that American intellectuals working with FDR created an image of the United States where “people of all races, creeds, and religions coexisted and prospered,” (195). This illusion survived until the Civil Rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s.
American Crucible blames the fall of the new atmosphere of relative tolerance and domination of civil nationalists on three things: the civil rights movement, Black Nationalism, and protests against the Vietnam War.  The reason for the inclusion of the first two is simple: Gerstle argues that, “By forcing a showdown with the racial nationalist tradition, King and his black supporters triggered furious resistance from white Americans who could not accept the elimination of race as a defining characteristic of American nationhood,” (269). This movement, which Gerstle claims was incubated during the New Deal, simply involved black Americans requesting, at long last, their place at the table of political and economic equality.  Martin Luther King, Jr. and his supporters were operating under the assumptions of the civic nationalist New Deal, which proclaimed that all Americans should have equal access to government protections.  Unfortunately, American racial nationalism was still alive.

Gerstle blames the dormant and unchallenged racial nationalism of the South for the rise in Black Nationalism after the Democratic National Convention of 1964, when Freedom Democrat delegates were not seated. The new emphasis by some Civil Rights groups, particularly that of Malcolm X, on “Black Power” and that the uniqueness of black culture had an inherent value, led irrevocably, according to Gerstle to the rise in multiculturalism among ethnic Americans, which increased America’s consciousness of race.

America’s Crucible closes with the aftermath of the Vietnam War, which Gerstle seems to see as a victory of sorts for American blacks due to their increased acceptance to positions of responsibility in the United States military, particularly in command positions over white soldiers.  He goes on to address Ronald Reagan’s discomfort with blacks and issues of race, while still trying to promote the ideal that anyone can succeed in attaining the American Dream.

In all, Gerstle does an admirable job of illustrating the centrality of race to the development of the United States in the 20th Century.  Particularly important is the depiction of American reactions to other European “races” such as Italians, Jews, and Irish from the 1890s to the 1920s.  This conception of race may not occur to those steeped in the modern mind-set concerning race relations.  Gerstle also provides valuable in-depth analysis of the Civil Rights movement and its impact on race relations and the continuation of the New Deal and civic nationalism.  However, because American Crucible has not been updated since its original copyright in 2001, it does not deal with issues related to the post-Sept. 11, 2001 world.  He also does not adequately deal with issues of the 1980s and 1990s such as the riots following the Rodney King verdict or the trial of O.J. Simpson for murder.  In future editions, if there are any, discussions of these topics would strengthen American Crucible and make it more valuable for understanding issues of “racial nationalism” in the current time.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology

Winchester, Simon. The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology.

The Map that Changed the World tells the tale of “a map whose making signified the beginnings of an era not yet over, that has been marked ever since by the excitement and astonishment of scientific discoveries that allowed human beings to start at last to stagger out from the fogs of religious dogma, and to come to understand something about their own origins,” (xvi). In setting out to tell the story of what he sees as the most important map of the 19th century, Simon Winchester ends up telling the story of the map’s creator: William Smith.  In doing so, he not only describes the birth of the new science of geology, but also provides a compelling picture of late 18th and early 19th century England from the perspective of the struggling middle and lower classes.  By telling the story of William Smith and his stratigraphical map of England, Winchester introduces the reader to the economic, social, cultural, and scientific issues of the day, which may be the most important feature of his book.

The map in question is William Smith’s groundbreaking geological map that showed, in vivid color, the age and type of rocks throughout England and Wales.  Interestingly, Scotland and Ireland are excluded from Smith’s colossal undertaking, which required him to cover the length and breadth of the area on foot.  Winchester claims that this particular map is ultimately responsible for “the making of great fortunes – in oil, in iron, in coal, and in other countries of diamonds, tin, platinum, and silver – that were won by explorers who used such maps.  It is the map that laid the foundations of a field of study that culminated in the work of Charles Darwin,” (xvi). According to Winchester, the creation of the map is different from all of the other great scientific creations of mankind because it is the sole creation of one man, not a group effort.

Other than the development of geology as a unique and separate area of research, Winchester focuses on changes in England’s economy and a move away from the literal interpretation of Scripture for the explanation of all phenomena, as well as social barriers from within England’s natural philosophy establishment to those from the lower classes.  The first two areas are critical to the development of the map and the direction of William Smith’s life, and show how he was able to support himself while creating the map, while the third illustrates the political infighting among scientists and the dangers of not publishing what are now known as “least publishable units” to lay claim to a specific area of inquiry so that the unscrupulous could not claim it as their own after copying research notes or learning new methods directly from the source.

Economically, turn of the century England experienced drastic changes, one directly related to geology and one related more to the quality and quantity of food produced by English farms.  Geology became economically important as the use of coal increased exponentially, methods for its extraction improved, and the creation of canals for inexpensive transportation of coal from mine to market grew.  Coal was used for heating, for powering the fires of industries, for use in the new steam engines, and after conversion to tar to fuel lamps.  Technological increases, particularly the use of steam engines, allowed coal to be mined at greater depths and with less risk to the miners. At the same time mine owners, desiring to increase their profits by reducing their transportation costs, began building canals from their mines to the location of their markets. These three coal-related issues combined to increase interest in geology, when William Smith showed that the location of coal deposits could be extrapolated from the rocks found in a region.

Smith came to this conclusion after he noted that the rock strata in mines in a small geographical area all appeared in the same order and with the same slope.  This meant that he could tell approximately where and at what depth coal seams could be found in an area.  After traveling throughout England and Wales studying various rock formations he was able to determine what strata were located under a given location.  Canals come into the picture because their construction, in which Smith was consulted, gave him the chance to examine the strata through which the canal was cut.  This enabled him to determine which strata were found in the different regions the canal ran through, increasing his understanding of the geographical layout of England.  He had also correlated the appearance of fossils with different rock strata and noted that the fossils, like the strata always appeared in the same order.  This allowed him to examine the fossils found on the ground and determine what strata lay beneath – and lays the groundwork for the creation of his geological map.

The other major change in the English economy that Winchester focuses on in telling the tale of William Smith and his map is agriculture.  The great new innovation in English agriculture was the enclosure acts, which radically altered English agriculture by enclosing fields for the use of individual farmers and increased agricultural efficiency.  The old method of English farming held the fields near a village in common, with farmers taking strips of land for themselves and leaving others fallow, while the new method closed off the fields and introduced the use of new machines, new theories of crop rotation, and the introduction of new livestock.  According to Winchester this economic change resulted in better foods such as white bread and roast beef, and a lengthening of the English lifespan.  Winchester introduces this for several reasons.  First, the world of agricultural change was that which Smith was born into: his birthplace of Churchill was not “enclosed” until the 1770s.  Second, Winchester sees it as part of a greater trend of enhanced knowledge of the world and comfort in it that was the hallmark of the era.

As well researched and readable as The Map that Changed the World is, it also has some quirky problems.  The first is the minor issue that Winchester frequently steps aside to describe landscapes, houses, farms, and stone as plain, pretty or uninspiring.  It is not entirely clear whether this is a value judgment, or if it is meant only to provide the reader a different feel for different locales.  One excellent example is his description of Smith’s birthplace of Churchill, which Winchester describes the new system as creating “the English countryside that we still see today, mannered, orderly, and inordinately pretty,” while the old method “was woefully inefficient, the landscape it created plain and uninteresting,” (18). He also notes that the weathering of older stone buildings “are quite sublime,” (185). The only time that it is obvious that Winchester may be passing a value judgment that might interfere with his objectivity is found in the prologue, in which he calls Smith’s map “incomparably beautiful,” (xvii).

An additional issue with Winchester’s text is his digression into his own childhood experiences in Dorset with its Jurassic period strata and his early fascination fossils.  It would be easy to dismiss this as merely an attempt to draw the reader further into the story of geology and his love for it, or to provide a more personal feel for how William Smith felt when discovering his first fossils, or noting that he could read the strata from the lay of the land.  It seems strange that Winchester would choose to insert himself into the text in this manner, where it had not had the feel of a personal journey before.  It is also interesting that the text quickly loses this personal touch.  It almost seems as if Winchester is attempting to makes a connection between himself and Smith, no matter how tenuous.

These two issues aside, The Map that Changed the World is valuable on many levels.  First, it re-introduces modern society to another of the great scientific minds that laid the groundwork for our understanding in the world.  If, as Winchester claims, Smith’s geological work ultimately led to Darwin’s Origin of Species, then he deserves the same level of approbation as Einstein, Newton, and Copernicus.  Second, it provides the reader with a look at the changes in English society at the turn of the 19th century almost from the perspective of the individuals they affected.  A major benefit of Winchester’s informal tone is that his work is accessible enough for readers to feel some of what Smith and others experienced.  Finally, Winchester shows that the world of science is beset by the same vanities and prejudices as the societies the scientists are part of.  By showing that Greenbough went through a large amount of effort to in effect steal Smith’s work on the map, Winchester shows that scientists frequently have the same motivations as the “regular” people.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Isaac Newton

Gleick, James. Isaac Newton

“Newton was not the first of the age of reason.  He was the last of the magicians, the last of the Babylonians and Sumerians, the last great mind which looked out on the visible and intellectual world with the same eyes as those who began to build our intellectual inheritance rather less than 10,000 years ago,” (188). John Maynard Keynes’ words to his students perfectly describe the Isaac Newton portrayed by James Gleick in his unswerving biography.  Simply named Isaac Newton, Gleick’s short book shows Newton as an eccentric scientist-philosopher, who shrank from public debate of his theories, avoided human contact, saved the coinage of Great Britain, challenged the teachings of the Anglican Church, and brought about the modern age of scientific inquiry.

The greatness and importance of Isaac Newton is intuitive to modern Americans due to his prominent place in high school physics texts, which teach his three laws of motion as the basis of modern physics.  What is left out of high school education is the impact that his theories and methods had on methods of scientific discovery. Gleick attributes a move toward precise measurement of time, space and chemicals to Newton, saying that, “like no other experimenter of his time, alchemist or chemist, he weighed his chemicals precisely, in a balance scale.  Obsessed as always with the finest degrees of measurement, he recorded weights to the nearest quarter of a grain.  He measured time, too; here a precise unit was an eighth of an hour,” (102). However, his apparent penchant for measurement did not always make it into the accounts of Newton’s experiments.

Newton’s description of his Experimentum Crucis, which he claimed showed that light consisted of “Rays differently refrangible”, and that color was an inherent attribute of light,  was received with some consternation and his methods disputed.  The account of Experimentum Crucis was published by the Royal Society, and debated in its newsletter.  While there were varying opinions regarding the nature of light, particularly whether is was a wave like sound or a particle of some kind, the true uproar was that other members of the Royal Society could not reproduce his results at the long distances he described. This controversy calls into question the importance that Newton placed on precise reporting of his results, although Gleick notes that the experiment reported did not occur all at once, but rather was a summary of months of observation. The episode also calls into question Newton’s dedication to reasoned intellectual debate.

After fifteen months of debate, Newton announced that he wished to cease all correspondence saying that, “I intend to be no further solicitous about matters of Philosophy.  And therefore I hope you will not take it ill if you find me ever refusing doing any thing more in that kind,” (89). In Gleick’s reading of the affair, Newton had “sacrificed his tranquility” after sharing his discovery and wished to withdraw to the peace of Cambridge.  Newton’s withdrawal from open debate at this point represented his penchant for avoiding close contact with society, including his students at Cambridge, and his distaste for being challenged that is in some way reminiscent of Galileo’s dealings with his critics.

Isaac Newton’s religious beliefs occupy a significant place in Gleick’s work, although their relevance to his thesis is not obvious at first.  Newton’s theology differed from that of the Anglican Church and Trinity College where he held a fellowship in one important aspect that separates him from orthodox Christianity to this day; he rejected the theological construct of the Holy Trinity.  Gleick introduces Newton’s theological differences with the Church of England to illustrate three things: his relationship with the hierarchy of his college, his approach to research, and his connection to philosophy as much as science.

Newton’s rejection of the Trinity became an issue when he reached the seventh year of fellowship at Trinity College, when he would normally be required to enter Holy Orders.  This requirement existed because England’s collegiate system primarily existed to expand and promote the practice of Christianity. Newton denied the divinity of both Christ and the Holy Spirit due to his intense study of various versions and copies of scripture, of which he made copious notes.  If his heretical beliefs had become public knowledge, Newton could have lost his position at Trinity College and been imprisoned.  Somehow, Newton was able to keep his theology secret and also receive a dispensation from the king from entering Holy Orders, though Gleick’s notes indicate that no one knows how the King was persuaded to intervene on Newton’s behalf.

The real significance of Newton’s Arianist beliefs in Gleick’s text is to demonstrate the vigor and precision he pursued research of all types with, as well as to show that Newton combined philosophy, religion, and science as interchangeable aspects of knowledge.  In the case of theology and the Trinity, Gleick describes Newton as assiduously comparing English Bibles to those written in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and French and examined the teachings of early Christian thinkers.  According to Gleick, Newton’s motivation with his Biblical studies was the same as that for his precise inquiries into mathematics and alchemy: he was doing God’s work to recover knowledge that had been lost, hidden, or altered by the blasphemous. Gleick contends that Newton was either the last philosopher who practiced science, or the last scientist who practiced philosophy until the arrival of Albert Einstein on the scientific scene.

In addition to showing that Newton applied substantial vigor to all of his researches, it also provides an explanation for Newton’s work beyond that of curiosity or to provide support for himself beyond the farming of his forefathers.  The belief that he was called by God to bring Truth to the world can provide easy explanation for his single-mindedness in pursuing a line of research, as well as his antipathy for debate and his dislike for those who challenged his methods and theories.  Those who challenged what he saw as God’s work were either ignorant or deliberately trying to keep mankind in the dark.

Gleick’s final example of Newton’s passion for precision earned him a knighthood.  In 1696, with the English economy suffering with a debased coinage that was susceptible to counterfeiting and trimming, Newton accepted the position of Warden of the Mint, and was charged with a complete re-coinage of Great Britain’s currency.  During his tenure at the mint, not only did Newton make an extraordinary amount of money, but also he ensured that the nation’s coins were the most uniform in weight and purity with the technology at hand. Strangely, while interesting and somewhat useful in continuing to illustrate Newton’s insistence on measurement and his service to England, it does not mention his methods at all, other than to say, “he ran the Mint with diligence and even ferocity.  He was, after all, the master of melters and assayers who multiplied gold and silver on a scale that alchemists only dreamed of,” (160). Given that Gleick dealt with Newton’s penchant for measurements of all types when discussing his alchemical, physical, and mathematical endeavors, it is difficult to fathom why he spent much space on Newton’s efforts at the Mint other than to explain his knighthood and wealth in later life.

In all, Gleick does an admirable job of examining Newton’s successes and failures, his quirks and excesses.  He shines at showing, in the later portions of the text Newton’s influence on later thinkers.  Gleick credits Newton’s proof that all of nature obeys rules, which he attributed to God, for the inspiration for the Declaration of Independence. He also awards Newton credit for turning science away from flights of fancy and toward things that can be empirically proven and tested, in effect separating science from philosophy until Einstein’s theory of relativity posited without proof that less time passed for those moving at light speed than for those moving more slowly.  Ultimately, Gleick lays all of the results of Newton’s work on his insistence on measurement of phenomena, which proved to be the birth of the modern scientific method.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Einstein’s Clocks, Poincare’s Maps: Empires in Time

Galison, Peter. Einstein’s Clocks, Poincare’s Maps: Empires in Time.

Contrary to popular belief in the United States, Einstein did not operate in a scientific vacuum, and his time as a patent “clerk” in Bern was not a dead-end that was a complete waste of his talents and abilities. At least that is the opinion of Peter Galison’s Einstein’s Clocks, Poincare’s Maps.  Focusing on the time period between 1890 and 1910, Galison examines the role of developments in coordinated time theory, the impact of France’s Ecole Polytechnique on research methods, and the training Einstein received in the patent office in the development of his theory of special relativity.  At the same time, Galison places both the adoption of standard measurements for time, space and geography in the context of late 19th century international politics and traditions of European scientific thought.

Although it is disguised in biographical studies of Henry Poincare and Albert Einstein, Galison’s real target seems to be the development of the theory of special relativity, which he ultimately attributes to Einstein.  Although he credits Einstein with the discovery, Galison repeatedly states that the theory was the outgrowth of physics research involving electromagnetic fields and time coordination efforts of cities, railroads, and nations.  In this respect, the biographical treatment of Einstein and Poincare is merely a tool that provides understanding of the main topic.  This is not to imply that Einstein and Poincare are an afterthought, rather they are the main characters in a story that involves them, but is not about them.

The reason Galison takes this tack is that it provides the most accessible method for discussing the development of the theory of relativity in the greater context of scientific inquiry and the pressures of international competition over weights and measures, universal time standards, and the location of the prime meridian.  However, at times, Galison focuses so much on these issues that it is easy to lose sight of Einstein, Poincare, and relativity.  It can be argued that Galison provides so much background and historical context that it overwhelms the reader with excessive amounts of detail.

Galison chooses Einstein as one of his two speakers on the topic of coordinated time and relativity simply because it was Einstein’s 1905 paper “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies” that signaled the change from an emphasis on classical mechanics in the study of physics to a new theoretical-practical model.  Poincare, on the other hand, is chosen as the foremost practitioner of the practical mechanical philosophy, and a product of the foremost school of engineering in Europe. (14) The contrast between the scientific philosophies of the two men allows Galison to illustrate the profound significance of the change represented by Einstein’s theory of special relativity, and is easiest to illustrate biographically.

Before leaping into the intricacies of international relations, the training of engineers, or the workings of Swiss patent offices, Galison takes the time to explain Einstein’s theory of special relativity and how it was different from prevailing thought on how electromagnetic fields work.  In 1905, when Einstein introduced the theory of special relativity, most physicists believed that light waves moved through some unknown substance as waves in the ocean or sound waves through the air.  Unable to quantify the unknown media light moved through, 19th century physicists dubbed it ether, and hoped that eventually they would be able to identify it empirically. The problem with using ether to explain physical phenomena went beyond merely being unable to quantify it or study its effects; it required that identical events require multiple explanations depending on minimal changes in the experiment.  The example Einstein used to introduce his theory was that under the old classical mechanics methodology using ether, the electricity generated in a coil when near a magnet was explained differently depending on whether the coil moved toward the magnet, or the magnet moved closer to the coil.  Einstein believed that there should be a single explanation for the electrical field generated regardless of whether the coil or magnet moved, and he blamed the requirement for separate explanations on physicist’s insistence that ether existed.

Einstein’s solution was to dispose of the ether entirely.  He did this for two reasons.  First, he believed that there should be a single explanation for what he saw as a single problem, and second, because the existence of ether could not be demonstrated empirically.  Without any proof of ether’s existence, Einstein saw no reason to jump through scientifically questionable hoops to account for it.  This led him to the postulate that there was “no way to tell which unaccelerated reference frame was at rest”, which meant that physical objects that were not accelerating behaved independently of the reference frame they occupied. This new principle of relativity is interesting not only in the impact it had on 20th century scientific understanding, but that Galileo had noted that when at sea in smooth waters, experiments, such as ball drops, behaved in the same manner they did on land.  As Galison puts it, “ There was simply was no way to use any part of mechanics to tell whether a room was ‘really’ at rest or ‘really’ moving.” The general idea behind the theory of relativity was understood for at least three hundred years before Einstein published his paper.

Relativity enters into Galison’s broader topic due to Einstein’s extension of it to the speed of light.  Einstein contended that the speed of light was always exactly the same, regardless of the speed of the source relative to the observer.  What this meant was that rather than light moving at 300,000 kilometers per second + the speed of the source, light always moved at exactly 300,000 kilometers per second.  This impacted physicists’ conception of simultaneity, which in turn affected ideas of how the coordination of disparately located clocks should be done.  Einstein insisted that the concept of simultaneity be defined procedurally, saying that just because he received to signals at the same moment did not mean they were sent at the same moment if the signals traveled different distances.  Einstein demonstrated the solution using a clock coordination scenario, which was particularly apt given the importance of clock coordination for the running of trains and the prestige of governments. Einstein’s procedure for clock coordination said that users should have, “one observer at the origin A send a light signal when his clock says 12:00 to B at a distance d from A; the light signal reflects off B and returns to A.  Einstein has B set her clock to noon plus half the round trip time.” If the speed of light remained the same in any direction, then it could be used to determine trip time so that clocks could be easily coordinated over large distances.

In isolation, Einstein’s theory, even with its deliberate inclusion of a procedure for time coordination, could have been significant only to scientists.  However, Galison points out that it had an almost immediate impact on time coordination, which stretched along rail lines and across oceans, due to the research of James Clerk Maxwell.  A Cambridge physicist, Maxwell developed a theory that “showed light to be nothing more than electric waves.” This allowed Einstein’s theory of relativity to have an immediate impact as railroads and telegraph stations used electricity to coordinate their clocks.

The immediate applicability of the theory of relativity to clock coordination highlights two issues of international concern at the turn of the 20th century, which Galison concentrates heavily on.  The first issue was the development of standard units of measure for both weight and distance.  After diplomatic maneuvering the honor of creating, distributing, and storing the standard meter and kilogram fell to France, which painstakingly created the copies to be held by other nations and kept the originals and “witnesses” in carefully protected vaults.  The second issue was of standardized, universal time, and it was much more difficult to resolve.

Galison discusses in detail the task of laying undersea telegraph cables, which were used both for communication, but also for mapping and time coordination.  While the use of the cables for time coordination is an immediately obvious use of the cables given Einstein and Maxwell’s work, their use for mapping is not so intuitive.  Both mapping and time coordination were pre-requisites for the adoption of universal time standards.

Mapping comes into the equation because of the difficulty of mapping accurate longitude lines.  Longitudinal calculation requires extremely precise measurement of time, a task that was near impossible with the chronometers available for rail and shipboard use.  Laying undersea telegraph cables, which could be used for time coordination, also allowed cartographers to determine extremely precise calculation of the longitude of the receiving stations.  While this solved the problem of determining exactly where any geographic location was in relation to another, it did not solve the issue of where to start counting longitude from, which was a political issue.

For every day people, the solution to the international political dispute over where the prime meridian should be located is what makes Einstein’s theory of special relativity relevant.  This dispute, which focused on whether the prime meridian, or longitude of zero degrees, should be at Greenwich, England, or Paris, France, was ultimately decide by the United States’ adoption of standardized time zones based on Greenwich as the zero line and England’s dominant role in overseas shipping.  Of course, Galison does not immediately leap to this conclusion, and continues to discuss the lives and training of both Poincare and Einstein after discussing it, but this is the essence of Einstein’s Clocks, Poincare’s Maps.  As he says himself, his work is the story of the development time coordination, and the adoption of a universal time standard represents the ultimate in time coordination, which is ultimately the legacy of Henri Poincare and Albert Einstein.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love

Sobel, Dava. Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love

Arguably the greatest scientific mind of the early modern era, Galileo Galilei challenged the Catholic Church’s stance that the Copernican theory that the Earth was not the stable center of the Universe, while attempting to stay true to his faith, and Dava Sobel relies on the letters of his eldest daughter Suor Maria Celeste Galilei to show the depth of the conflict between the two imperatives.  These letters provide Sobel with the title for her work, although after reading the text, the subtitle, “A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love,” seems more apt than the main title, “Galileo’s Daughter,” because the text focuses far more on Galileo and his life than Marie Celeste.
Indeed the title of Sobel’s work, in conjunction with the opening pages, imply that Galileo’s tale will be told through the eyes of Marie Celeste via her surviving letters to her father.  The reality of Galileo’s Daughter is quite different, with Marie Celeste’s letters not truly coming to the forefront until Galileo’s confrontation with Pope Urban VIII and the Office of the Holy Inquisition over his espousal of Copernicus’ work in his book Dialogue of Galileo Galilei…Concerning the two Chief Systems of the World, Ptolemaic and Copernican, Propounding inconclusively the philosophical and physical reasons as much for one side as for the other.  The extensive bibliography and notes show that the vast majority of the material in Galileo’s Daughter comes from sources other than Marie Celeste’s letters to her illustrious father.  As a result, readers who expect to gather great insights into Galileo though the eyes of his daughter may find themselves looking for more.

In truth, a biography that focused entirely on Suor Maria Celeste Galilei’s life and her interactions with Galileo would be only marginally interesting to any but the most dedicated Galileo scholars.  These dedicated individuals are the ones who seek out, as Sobel did, Marie Celeste’s letters are decipher them on their own, or seek out direct translations of the type that appear scattered throughout the text as supporting material.  Rather than taking that tack, Sobel seamlessly intertwines existing Galileo scholarship with English translations of the letters to provide an emotional and familial context for Galileo’s ordeal.

Sobel places Galileo’s work and life in historical perspective by focusing on four key events: the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, Copernicus’ promulgation of the Pythagorean theory of the sun-centered solar system, the election of Galileo’s friend as Pope Urban VIII, and Galileo’s refinement of the telescope as an astronomical instrument.  The first three factors combined to negatively color the Church’s official response to the publication of Galileo’s controversial Dialogue, while the third placed Galileo in the position to confirm Copernicus’ theory that the Earth revolved around the Sun through empirical observation.  Galileo’s confirmation of this theory is what placed him in conflict with the Church in Rome and the Office of the Holy Inquisition.  This conflict did not develop immediately, and Sobel uses Marie Celeste’s letters to trace its course and impact on Galileo’s psyche.

Galileo was first drawn into conflict with the Church as a result of his popularity in Rome and elsewhere, which was derived from his assault on the Aristotelian system of physics in his astronomical works The Starry Messenger and History and Demonstrations Concerning Sunspots and Their PhenomenaThe Starry Messenger described the surface of the moon and its phases, four moons orbiting Jupiter, and movement of Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter across the heavens.  History and Demonstrations Concerning Sunspots and Their Phenomena described and traced the paths of sunspots during the Sun’s revolution on its axis.  These two works combined with Galileo’s public debates with critics regarding the behavior of masses in water to attack the basis of Aristotelian and Biblical dictum that the heavens were forever unchanging.  Galileo’s success debating his opponents and advocates of traditional views of physics was exacerbated by the humiliation he dealt opponents through physical demonstrations, as well as his popularity in the Roman and Florentine social scenes.

According to Sobel, the first indication that he might experience problems with the church due to his scientific discoveries came from a friend in Rome, who wrote to him, “that a certain crowd of ill-disposed men envious of your virtue and merits met at the house of the archbishop there [in Florence] and put their heads together in a mad quest for any means by which they could damage you, either with regard to the motion of the earth or otherwise.”  This warning came during his work on Bodies in Water, which disputed Aristotelian theories regarding the behavior of objects floating in water and inflamed his enemies, may have provided the final impetus Galileo needed to send his daughters into the convent for their protection.  The publication of History and Demonstrations Concerning Sunspots and Their Phenomena caused his critics to take things to a more dangerous level by involving the Church hierarchy, and according to Sobel, Galileo gave them a perfect opening to attack him.

The ammunition that Galileo’s critics used against him were a letter he sent to his former student and friend Benedetto Castelli, who had earned the displeasure of Pisa’s Grand Duchess Mother Madama Cristina with his discussion of the moons of Jupiter and the motion of the planets around the Sun, and a letter sent by Galileo to the Grand Duchess in an attempt to explain how Copernican theory did not dispute the contents of the Bible.  Galileo’s argument, which Sobel quotes extensively, was that not only did Copernican theory explain Joshua’s stopping of the Sun’s course across the sky better than Aristotelian theory, but that the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit in such a way as to explain events and the path to salvation to those who would not understand the more complex workings of the universe.  Galileo also contended that Scripture could not be interpreted literally, but must be accepted allegorically in order to avoid heresy at all turns.  Unfortunately for Galileo his letter to Castelli was copied and distributed repeatedly, only to fall into the hands of his enemies.  After altered copies of his letters to Castelli were presented to the Office of the Holy Inquisition, Galileo went to Rome to defend his theories before the Princes of the Church.

At this juncture, Sobel uses the letters of those around Galileo to describe his mental state.  The Tuscan ambassador, Piero Guicciardini, noted that “He is passionately involved in this fight of his and he does not see or sense what it involves, with the result that he will be tripped up and will get himself into trouble, together with anyone who supports his views.  For he is vehement and stubborn and very worked up in this matter and it is impossible, when he is around, to escape from his hands.”  However, she still has not introduced much in the way of letters or personality of Marie Celeste.  Granted her age at this point, thirteen years, in Galileo’s career was such that the any letters may not have produced significant insight into his life or character.

Galileo used his time in Rome to develop a new theory concerning the Earth’s tides to support the theories of Copernicus without using his observation of the heavens.  However, this new evidence would not assist him in his interviews with the representatives of the Office of the Holy Inquisition.  Based in part of the Council of Trent’s dictum reserving to the church the sole ability of interpreting Scripture, Copernican theory was declared heretical, and Galileo was formally instructed to cease discussing or teaching the theories of Copernicus with anyone.  While leaving Galileo free to research other scientific and philosophical issues, this particular instruction would play a large part in his formal trial for heresy after the publication of Dialogues. It is that trial and his subsequent imprisonment that allows Sobel to use Marie Celeste’s letters as the foundation into her revelation of Galileo the man.

The second half of Galileo’s Daughter, telling the tale of Galileo’s trial before the Inquisition and imprisonment, provides Sobel with the material to pain her picture of Galileo as a dedicated scientist, Catholic, and father.  It also allows her to introduce Marie Celeste as a dutiful daughter both to Galileo and the Church.  Galileo’s second and most serious misadventure with the Church was caused by his misplaced belief that the election of his friend and fellow philosopher as Pope Urban VIII would allow him more freedom to explore Copernican theories.

Marie Celeste’s letters, as presented by Sobel, present an interesting mix of emotional support, need, descriptions of daily life in the abbey, and the domestic affairs of running Galileo’s household.  At least while Galileo was in Rome and during his imprisonment, Marie Celeste ran his household from her home in the abbey.  One example of her concern for Galileo is evident in a letter to him at Rome, “on the one hand, this gives me great distress, convinced as I am that you find yourself with scant peace of mind, and perhaps also deprived of all bodily comforts.”   She later wrote to him to offer solace after Dialogue was banned, saying, “My dearest lord father, now is the time to avail yourself of that prudence which the Lord God has granted you, bearing these blows with that strength of spirit which your religion, your profession, and your age require.  And since you, by virtue of your vast experience, can lay claim to full cognizance of the fallacy and instability of everything in this miserable world, you must not make too much of these storms, but rather take hope that they will soon subside and transform themselves from troubles into as many satisfactions. Many of the letters devote large sections to the management of Galileo’s home and its grounds, such as the disposition of wine, lemons, and beans, or maintenance of the structures.  This part of Galileo’s Daughter is the most compelling as it most clearly illustrates the relationship between Galileo and Marie Celeste, and provides a clear picture of Italian life during the 17th century.

What Dava Sobel has achieved with Galileo’s Daughter is definitely not a biography of Suor Marie Celeste Galilei, or even a work that focuses on her relationship with her father, but a fully textured look at the life of her father Galileo in which Marie Celeste’s letters play a decisive part in adding much of the color and emotion to the story.  Sobel’s achievement with Galileo’s Daughter is not limited to her portrayal of Galileo, his work, and relationship with his children, but extends into international politics, Church politics, and competition among Europe’s foremost thinkers for notoriety.  She is also able to entwine all of the above with a subtle examination of 17th century Italian life, at least for those with a modicum of success, influence, and privilege.  The overall effect is to immerse the reader while expounding on the trials and tribulations of one of Europe’s most influential thinkers.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Bathsheba’s Breast: Women, Cancer & History

Olson, James S. Bathsheba’s Breast: Women, Cancer & History.

Bathsheba’s Breast utilizes biographical sketches, primarily of well-known historical figures, to illustrate the millennia old struggle of women against a disease that is uniquely theirs: breast cancer.  Bathsheba’s Breast concentrates on several themes central to the disease: the pervasiveness of the disease through the centuries, the progress in and barbarity of treatments, and the social problems associated with treatment and research. 

The pervasiveness and impartiality of breast cancer pervades almost the entire text of Bathsheba’s Breast.  This theme is introduced with the example of Atossa, Queen of the Persian Empire in 490 B.C.  Atossa found a lump, which she feared was cancerous and kept hidden until forced to seek help.  She ultimately sought treatment from a Greek slave, who lanced the lesion on her breast.  Luckily for Atossa, the sore was merely an abscess, not a tumor. It falls to other unfortunates to supply Bathsheba’s Breast with more concrete examples of the fear and horror experience by women actually afflicted by breast cancer.

The Roman (Byzantine) Empress Theodora provides an excellent backdrop for the discussion of ancient techniques of treating breast cancer, though she refused the recommended treatment of mastectomy, and used painkillers to maintain her dignity while dying.  Anne of Austria, the wife of Louis XIII of France, and late Renaissance nuns show the pervasiveness of the disease and that it crossed all social strata.  After spending many years visiting convents and witnessing the full effects of breast cancer in the nuns there, including a nun whose cancer had destroyed a large portion of her torso, Anne knew exactly what might lie in store for her when she found a lump in her breast.  However, understanding the course of treatment and denial also kept her from seeking medical help for months.  Anne suffered through a long and painful course of treatment that had little chance of success due to the medical technology of the age.

The second major theme of Bathsheba’s Breast is of the progress made in the fight against the disease over the millennia, as well as the horror of the treatments inflicted upon women by their male doctors. Reading the text gives the distinct impression that in many ways the conception of breast cancer has run full circle from systemic disorder to localized disorder and back again. This process is well documented by Olson and runs throughout.  Beginning with the humoral theory advanced by Hippocrates in the 5th century B.C., physicians believed that breast cancer and other ailments were caused by imbalances of forces within the body.  Interestingly enough, although not really germane to the discussion at hand, Hippocrates is responsible for the modern name of cancer, which he called karkinos after its crab-like appearance.  Clarissimus Galen, who further categorized different lesions and cancers, took up the torch of humoral theory in the ancient world.  After an interlude caused by the breakup of the Roman Empire, Galen’s theory was taken up again during the Renaissance and help sway into the 18th century.  Galen’s humoral theories were responsible for the practices of bloodletting and purging performed by European doctors at the time Anne of Austria was stricken with breast cancer.  One prominent physician blamed her condition on her hedonistic lifestyle, in which she studiously avoided bleeding.  Humoral theory ultimately fell into disuse and surgical procedures began to dominate treatment.

Despite the portrayal of humoral theory being in the ascendant during this time, however, Bathsheba’s Breast also seems to indicate that one of the first options suggested for Anne of Austria was surgical.  This option was rejected in her case due to the advanced state of her disease when she sought help.  Perhaps this was the beginning of the sea change in medical practice that would soon occur.  Olson uses the cases of Mary Washington and Nabby Adams to show that the change in practice from bleeding and humoral theory to one of surgery was not long incoming.  By the beginning of the 19th century, surgery was the preferred solution among learned medical practicians.  In Bathsheba’s Breast this also signals the change from a systemic approach to a more localized one.  This change represents another major theme in the work, as it is emphasized repeatedly, that even in the latter half of the 20th century most doctors treated breast cancer as if the disease was strictly restricted to the breast until it started to metastasize to other parts of the body.

When the surgical method reached its height after the introduction of the radical mastectomy in 1890, so too did the fear of breast cancer treatment among women.  Bathsheba’s Breast not only delivers graphic descriptions of both the radical mastectomy and the super radical mastectomy, which removed the breast, lymph nodes, and much of the chest muscle in an attempt to remove all possible cancer cells, but it describes the surgeons who performed the procedure as only concerned with preserving the lives of their patients.  The emphasis on saving or extending lives at any cost prevented the surgeons from understanding the emotional and physical damage they were causing their patients.  The philosophy of maiming women, as Olson describes it, continued to dominate American breast cancer treatment into the late 20th century, when it was at last challenged by simple mastectomy or lumpectomy combined with radiation and chemical therapies.  Interestingly, success rates for the less drastic surgery are not much different from far more invasive procedures.

One of the most important issues discussed regarding treatment of breast cancer, both ancient and modern, is that most of the doctors are male, while most of the patients are female.  An interesting correlation between the ratios of surgical oncologists of each gender and the preferred treatment method is suggested.  According to the text, in the United States, where surgeons continued to favor aggressive surgery as the primary breast cancer treatment, more practitioners are male.  This is in contrast with European nations, where a larger ratio of practitioners is female, and where less invasive and damaging treatments were adopted earlier.  This implies that the greater “cruelty” of American treatments compared to European ones (for little difference in success rates) is due to a lack of empathy by the health care provider for the emotional damage caused by drastic procedures.  Whether this is due to gender or economics is open to debate, which Bathsheba’s Breast readily illustrates.

These issues are hardly the only ones raised in Bathsheba’s Breast; they are just the most important ones.  A more thorough analysis would also discuss social factors that prevent women from seeking early treatment, or political factors that aid or hinder research into cures.  Other topics presented also include the current state of research and the impact on both research and society resulting from the publicity surrounding high profile breast cancer cases such as Betty Ford and Nancy Reagan.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Russian Attempts to Destabilize British India

The exploits of British officers, explorers, and adventurers furthering the interests of the British Empire in Central Asia are well-known and respected for their courage and dedication to the British cause.  Similarly, British paranoia regarding Russian aggression toward India is well-documented in the writings of Moorcroft, Burnes, and Curzon, among others, particularly in the modern belief that an invasion of India from Persia, Afghanistan, or Chinese Turkestan would be such an arduous task that the threat was negligible.  Less-well-known, at least in the West, are the intrigues and courage of for the Tsarist and Bolsheviks agents operating in Central Asia, and the real nature of Russian designs on India.

Russian agents were active in Central Asia for reasons ranging to a desire for territory bounded by natural borders, desire to open colonial markets, and desire to disrupt the power of their perceived enemies by attacking their possessions.  Russian interest in Central Asia in general, and India in specific was first expressed by Peter the Great, an interest that was to be continued by his heirs.  The expression of Russian interest took many forms, from invasion attempts to trade delegation to the encouragement of revolutionary movements.

Peter the Great was the first Tsar to recognize the benefits of adding even a portion of India to his domains.  Anxious to prevent France and Great Britain from seizing the entire subcontinent for their own purposes, the Tsar remembered a diplomatic offer that he had long set aside.  The Khan of Khiva had offered to become his vassal if offered Russian protection from his enemies.  Given Khiva’s location halfway between Russia and India, and its access to the Oxus river, Peter decided to see if the offer was still open.  To secure the cooperation of the Khan, the Tsar sent a well-armed force to act as either a guard for the Khan and his family, or to seize Khiva if there was resistance.  The force sent to Khiva numbered approximately 4,000 men and included infantry, cavalry, and artillery.  The force commander was Prince Alexander Bekovich, a Muslim convert to Christianity.

After an arduous march, the Russians arrived at Khiva and Bekovich plied the Khan with gifts to ensure a positive reception.  Coming to meet with Bekovich, the Khan suggested that the Russian troops be quartered in nearby villages to avoid over-straining the city’s resources.  Over the objections of his officers, Bekovich assented.  The result was disaster for his entire force. Once Bekovich’s army was dispersed the Khivans struck, brutally slaying all but forty of the Russians.  Most of these forty were allowed to return across the desert to Russia, but some were sold into slavery.  In an example that is familiar throughout the Russian and British involvement in Central Asia, no punitive expedition to Khiva was mounted by Peter the Great, who was too distracted by events in the Caucasus to avenge his men. Russia did not turn a blind eye toward events in Central Asia for long.  Forty years after Prince Bekovich went to his death in Khiva, Catherine the Great considered a plan to march her armies overland to India, appealing to local Muslim potentates along the way to join her armies to free their oppressed Indian Muslim brethren from the British.  Catherine never embarked on the plan, but it serves to illustrate that India had not slipped from Russia’s consciousness.  Indeed, her successor, Tsar Paul I developed a fascination with conquering India that drove him to first approach Napoleon with a plan for a joint Franco-Russian invasion of India of approximately 70,000 men.  Again, the plan called for gaining the sympathy of local tribesmen by saying that the invaders had come to free them from the oppressive British.  Napoleon declined Paul’s offer, believing that it was totally unworkable.  Despite Napoleon’s refusal, Paul sent a forces of his own, numbering 22,000 Cossacks and supporting artillery, which left Orenburg for India in the dead of winter without maps detailing any part of the journey past Khiva.  The mission was saved from certain disaster by Paul’s assassination and proclamation of his heir Alexander I as Tsar.

Later Russian attempts to infiltrate the Central Asian regions between their territory and British India were more cautious in nature, and functionally similar to British exploration and diplomatic missions of the time.  The first of these sent Captain Nikolai Muraviev to Khiva to offer the Khan the friendship of Mother Russia, but to also assess Khiva’s military capabilities, economic strength, and to find any information possible about the many Russian slaves sold in the markets of Khiva and Bokhara.  After making his way to Khiva, Muraviev was kept prisoner for seven weeks before receiving an audience with the Khan.  In a stroke of fortune for Muraviev, the Khan agreed to send Khivan officials back to Tiflis (modern Tbilisi) with him to negotiate trade status and alliances.

While preparations for the return trip were made, Muraviev completed the part of his mission that had the greatest consequences for the future of Central Asia.  After making contact with Russian slaves, he learned that there were at least 3,000 held in the lands governed by the Khan, and that many were treated with utmost cruelty.  This information he reported to Tsar Alexander I, who did not make immediate use of it, being distracted by affairs in Europe. However, the number of Russian slaves and the conditions of their bondage provided “an excellent excuse for their subsequent expansion into Muslim Central Asia.”

Closer to British India Russian intrigues were a bit more subtle.  Captain Yan Vitkevich was dispatched to Kabul bearing a message offering friendship and goodwill between the Tsar and Dost Mohammed, the ruler of Afghanistan.  Vitkevich’s reception was not particularly warm, and the British agent Alexander Burnes was asked by Dost Mohammed to verify the Russian’s identity and purpose in Kabul.  Burnes agreed that the Russian was likely who he claimed to be, and his messages genuine, although it would have better served his nation for it to be otherwise.

Vitkevich was treated shabbily until the British made a critical mistake in their dealings with Dost.  In a misguided and arrogant attempt to safeguard their interests, Lord Auckland sent Dost a personal letter informing Dost that he should give up any hopes of recovering his former domain of Peshawar from the Sikhs and forbade him from entering any alliances with Russia or any other power without British permission.  Further, Auckland asserted that any dealing with Russians would induce the British to allow the Sikhs to continue their aggression unchecked and that he would be removed from his throne.  The results were predictable.  Dost cast out Burnes, who he considered a friend, and received Vitkevich with all honors.  Peter Hopkirk believes that the Russian was able to achieve his goals in Kabul by simply out-waiting his rivals and exploiting their mistakes.      

Russia was not so fortunate in her next venture to counter British power in Central Asia.  In 1839, General Perovsky marched for Khiva with the intention of seizing it to use as a base for future moves against British India.  With a force of 5,000 troops and 10,000 camels, Perovsky moved south in the dead of winter.  It was the misfortune of his command that the winter was especially harsh.  After months of marching, the army headed back to Orenburg.  When the bedraggled group finally made it back over 1,000 men had died, along with 8,500 camels.

Not all Russian attempts at drawing the Khanates into their sphere of influence were subtle in nature.  In Tournament of Shadows, Meyer and Brysac report that Captain Nikiforov played on the fears of Khiva’s Khan, Allah Quli, telling him that if the British had made up their minds to absorb him or his neighbors the only way to preserve his throne was by way of a “firm alliance” with Russia, who would send troops to defend him.  This is a clear example of Russian willingness to try methods other than force to extend the Tsar’s influence into Central Asia by means of diplomacy, rather than force.  Russian willingness to use diplomacy continued in 1858, when Tsar Alexander sent a mission led by Count Nikolai Ignatiev to Central Asia to establish commercial links between Russia and the Khanates, and to counter British influence.  Like his British counterparts, a significant portion of Ignatiev’s mission was devoted to gathering military and political intelligence.

The first stop for the mission was Khiva, site of a large amount of the Russian-British competition in Central Asia.  Ignatiev borrowed the British stratagem of bringing bulky, but extremely valuable gifts to the Khan, which forced him to travel upriver to deliver them to the Khan.  This had the added benefit of allowing Ignatiev to plot the course and channels of the Oxus, a valuable bit of intelligence for both trade and invasion.  The river journey ended at Khiva at the insistence of the Khan, who also would not open his markets to Russian trade.  However, he did allow the mission to progress onward to Bokhara, where Ignatiev successfully negotiated a trade agreement and gained other temporary concessions from the Khan at the expense of the British.  The most valuable result of Ignatiev’s mission was not the Bokharan trade agreement or the temporary amity of the Khan, but the military intelligence gathered at both Khiva and Bokhara.  If nothing else, the tour provided Russia with the information necessary to carry out a successful invasion in the future.

Typically, the Russian invasion of Central Asia did not occur over the routes painstakingly ferreted out by Vitkevich and Ignatiev, but in a region known well to Russian merchants – Tashkent.  In 1865 Major-General Mikhail Cherniaev seized a golden opportunity offered by an incipient struggle for dominion of Tashkent between the Khan of Khokand and the Emir of Bokhara to invade the prosperous city.  Cherniaev used his force of only 1,900 men and twelve guns to storm the city walls in the dawn light of June 15th. The general followed up his coup by promising not to interfere with the city’s Muslim religious practices and granted an amnesty from all taxation for a year.  Finally, he visited the bazaars to meet the townsfolk and drink tea with them.

Russian acquisitions in the region continued apace, especially after the arrival of General Kaufman in Turkestan.  Soon after his arrival, he used the pretext of a possible Bokharan invasion to occupy Samarkand, with few losses in 1868.  In 1871 Samarkand was followed by Ili, near both Siberia and Kashgar, which was annexed by Kaufman with the excuse that it was too vulnerable a spot to allow it to fall into the hands of Russia’s enemies.  Khiva finally fell to Russian invasion in 1873, avenging the slaughtered mission of 1717. The Russian juggernaut next crushed Khokand in 1875 and forced Kabul into a treaty of friendship in 1878, triggering the Second Afghan War.  The British swiftly won their war in Afghanistan, in which Russia did not intervene, and signed a treaty with the Emir that gave the British control of Afghan foreign policy in return for a large annual subsidy and protection from Russian invasion.

After being rebuffed in Afghanistan and a humiliating defeat by the Turkoman at Geok-Tepe, Russian armies were again successful in 1880, avenging their 1879 loss at Geok-Tepe in a brutal display during the sack of the city.  Geok-Tepe was followed by a peaceful Russian withdrawal from Ili, which had little strategic utility, and the 1884 capture of Merv from the Turkoman tribes.  The capture of Merv again demonstrated that Russia was not above using deception to defeat their enemies.  After occupying Tejend, eighty miles away, Lieutenant Alikhanov and a small party approached Merv and convinced the city into capitulating without a fight by claiming that they were the advance party of a large artillery equipped force, and that if the surrender was immediate not garrison would be stationed in Merv.  The ploy worked and Merv was Russian.

During this outburst of Russian expansion, British authorities became convinced that Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, known as Madame Blavatsky, was a Russian agent who used her leadership of the Theosophical Society to inflame Indian nationalists. There is ample evidence that Blavatsky may have been connected to Russian intelligence operatives, partially based on a letter she wrote in 1872 to a Russian Director of Intelligence that laid out her qualifications and stratagems for ensnaring the naive and unwary “...must confess that three-quarters of the time the spirits spoke and answered in my own words...” Whether Madame Blavatsky deliberately fed the flames of Indian and Sikh nationalism will probably remain unknown, but the net effect was for British authorities to spend time and resources watching her movements and her associates for signs of subversion.  The emphasis on Blavatsky and her high profile in European and Indian society surely allowed actual Russian agents to operate more freely and in blissful obscurity.

Russian tweaking of the British did not stop at the possible exploitation of the occult and esoteric services of the likes of Madame Blavatsky.  They also allowed Indian subversives such as Duleep Singh to find safe haven in Moscow.  While Meyer and Brysac assert that this was likely due to Britains harboring of Russian revolutionaries, they also note that Singh promised Tsar Alexander III an easy conquest of British India.

Russian slyness played a crucial part in Russia’s next major acquisition, as did Alikhanov, now a Colonel. With the British seemingly ready to go to war to protect the Afghan border town of Pandjeh, the Russians agreed to attack the town unless first attacked, which meant that the Afghans would have to be the aggressors if war between the two empires was to be avoided.  At this point it was up to Alikhanov to provoke an incident.  To achieve this, Alikhanov wrote an incredibly insulting letter to the Afghan commander at Pandjeh, which accused him of cowardice.  Due to British counsel Alikhanov’s trick did not work and the Afghans maintained their defensive posture. During this time, Russian troops continued to advance, and they issued an ultimatum: withdraw or be forced out.  The ultimatum provided a five-day time frame for the Afghan withdrawal.  At the end of the five days, the Russian advance continued and, according to Colonel Alikhanov, an Afghan opened fire, wounding a horse.  As expected, the Russian force opened fire on the Afghans and slaughtered them.  The Russians had added another town to their empire.

Pandjeh was the last major town of Central Asia to fall to the Russian advance, which is not to say that they immediately lost interest in capturing Indian trade or enhancing the status of the Russian Empire.  To avoid open warfare with the British, they turned east, running a railway from Moscow to Vladivostok to promote Far Eastern trade.  The new rail link was expected to allow exploitation of Siberian resources and to cut into Britain’s monopoly on seaborne trade from the East.  This of course also allowed rapid transport of Russian troops and materiel from West to East, which was bound to cause concern for both China and Japan, the main powers on Asia’s Pacific coast.

Competition between the Russian and British Empires came to an end in 1907 with the Anglo-Russian Convention, which formally recognized that Afghanistan lay in Britain’s sphere of influence.  For her part Russia agreed to send no agents to Afghanistan and direct political inquiries to London.  Likewise, Britain agreed to maintain Afghanistan as an independent state and to discourage Afghan hostilities toward Russia.  The matter of Tibet was resolved by both sides agreeing to routes all dealings through China and to not interfere with its internal affairs.  Persia was the most complex matter dealt with in the Convention.  Here, both empires agreed to support Persia’s independence and allow others to trade within its borders.  They also divided it into spheres of influence that were not completely unlike those the allies maintained in West Germany after World War II.  At least until the 1917 Communist Revolution, British and Russian competition in Central Asia was over.