Despite a less then wonderful experience studying history and “social studies” in middle and high school, it remains a strong interest of mine.

Present historical study activities include:

A Brief History of Humankind

Humankind Course Logo I have been slowly, on an occasional basis, making my way through this pretty interesting Coursera course on human history from pre-modern human species to the present offered by a professor from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I find his outlook kind of extra-pessimistic at times, but it is still pretty interesting. Probably the three most interesting (speculative) ideas I’ve taken so far are:

  1. The direct evolutionary pathway between humans’ bipedalism as cause, and social-lifestyle and cognitive adaptability as effects, due to younger births being necessary to deal with narrowing of hips with walking upright
  2. The fundamental importance of the “domestication of fire” to humans domination of the food-chain, through allowing them to be greatly more powerful than their slight stature, and also the extent to which cooking allowed for greater energy expenditure on cognitive function rather than digestion.
  3. The idea that development of tools allowed early humans to fulfill the niche of eating marrow, which without an easy ability to crack bones, other scavenging animals left behind.

A People’s History of the United States

People's History cover I recently decided to undertake Zinn’s well-respected, class-focused history of the United States. I have only made it up to the Revolutionary war so far, but it is definitely an interesting perspective different from the ones I got in school. If you were so inclined, you can follow my progress and possible commentary on Goodreads.

(As a largely irrelevant aside, it is interesting to note that Zinn is the father-in-law of Kabat-Zinn who wrote the book at the center of my currently developing meditation practice. Notably, Kabat-Zinn took the hyphenation upon marrying Zinn’s daughter. I find this an interesting thing to do. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if it was simply a reasonable gesture of egalitarianism in marriage, but I also could imagine it was motivated by a) desire to associate himself with this Zinn and his work, b) to create a punned “zen” quality to his name)

Internet History, Technology, and Security

IHTS logo Due to the combination of my interest in history broadly, my education and livelihood as a computer scientist, and the profound impact of the accelerating information technology on our world, I’ve always had a special interest in the history of computing. To this end I highly recommend the fantastic early computing history book Hackers by Steven Levy, as well as the somewhat less-well-written, somewhat more sensationalized volume focused on the west coast parts of the story, What the Dormouse Said.

While I have previously studied the beginnings of computing, I have not previously focused as much on the Internet. I am partially remedying this by presently taking Dr. Charles Severance’s Coursera class Internet History, Technology, and Security. While a lot of the information is stuff I know, the course is interesting in that the videos contains a lot of interviews with pioneers of the Internet and the Web, some conducted recently and some conducted contemporaneously to their work.

Philosophize This!

Philosophize This logo I have also been enjoying this pretty cool podcast on the major ideas and history of philosophy, Western and Eastern. It is independently produced as a labor of love by a young, American man who otherwise works in a warehouse. It is pretty great. I recommend it. I have learned a lot from him (Stephen West).