It’s Not Pagan; It’s White Magic

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Officially, the early medieval Church opposed magic, and the penalties for using it for evil were harsh. But the faithful, including members of the clergy, more often used magic for good. In addition to prayers, they would employ rituals to heal sickness or ensure an abundant harvest.

We in the 21st century would see this as pagan practices coexisting with Christianity. My eighth-century Christian characters fighting pagans in Saxony would be indignant. To them, charms and amulets were white magic, nothing to do with a religion they considered devil worship.

The belief in magic plays an important role in my novels. It was so widespread that I could no more ignore it than I could the role of religion. The following excerpt from The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar reflects the ambiguity of medieval attitudes toward magic.

Gosbert slapped his large thigh. “Ives, why did you insist that this wizard join us? He eats too much.”

“He eats no more than you,” Ives snapped. “And I asked him to join us because he’s clever and knows magic.”

“How much magic?” Gosbert asked.

“Enough,” Deorlaf answered. His hands started to sweat.

“Enough for what?”

“Enough…” Deorlaf hesitated, trying to think of something believable, “enough to charm objects and heal wounds.”

Ives gave a curt nod. “And that is all you would teach Julien? No devil worship?”

“Absolutely no devil worship.” Just a few words in Saxon.

“Very well. You have my permission to teach him.” He turned toward his nephew. “Just because you can charm an object, it doesn’t mean you act like an idiot. You still duck if someone shoots an arrow at you.”

For more about the intersection of pagan and Christian beliefs, see my post at Unusual Historicals.

13th century phylactery

A 13th century phylactery worn for personal protection (Walters Art Museum, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license, via Wikimedia Commons)

5 Surprising Facts about Christianity in the Dark Ages

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Religion plays a central role in the lives of my early medieval characters, but portraying Christianity in the days of Charlemagne takes more than having prayers in Latin. Visit Novel PASTimes for 5 Surprising Facts about Christianity in the Dark Ages.

St. Sturm: A Spiritual Warrior

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In The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, Sturm, the real-life abbot of Fulda, makes a brief appearance in 772 amid the ruins of the Irminsul, a pillar sacred to the pagan Saxon peoples. Here is an imagined sermon, as heard by my heroine’s son, Deorlaf:

“I am Father Sturm,” he said. He spoke the common tongue but his accent was strange. “My companions and I want to free you from the Devil’s bonds and bring you to the True Faith.

“We tried to teach you peacefully, but you committed an abomination when you burned our churches and slaughtered our missionaries. This,” he said, holding his hand toward the blackened ground, “is retribution.

“You were taught that your devils will smite anyone who tries to harm the pillar, but your devils are powerless before the one true God. If you think you are suffering now, think of how much worse hell will be, like being dragged in a barrel full of red-hot irons. But you have a choice. Accept baptism, and you will know an eternity of joy.”

My characters have only this encounter with Sturm, but the abbot led an interesting life, one that involved nine years in the wilderness looking for the perfect spot for a monastery, a fight over a relics, royal politics, and the Christian mission in conquered Saxony. Visit Tinney Heath’s Historical Fiction Research and learn what my characters didn’t know about St. Sturm.

Codex Eberhardi

By Brother Eberhard at Fulda monastery (12th century, public domain image via Wikimedia Commons)

Light Waves by the Numbers

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In this installment on the history of atom theory, physics professor (and my dad) Dean Zollman explains how 19th century physicists turned to mathematics as they sought patterns among those dark lines in the spectra, hoping to better understand how light was emitted. – Kim

By Dean Zollman
Dean Zollman
After the seminal work of Gustav Kirchhoff and Robert Bunsen, the collection of information about spectra moved somewhat rapidly. Many researchers were able to obtain spectra of elements and molecules. Advances in photography enabled these physicists and chemists to increase the precision of their measurements and to improve their knowledge of visible, ultraviolet, and infrared light. However, progress on understanding how the light was emitted from matter moved much more slowly.

When deep understanding is lacking, a common technique in science is to look for patterns. If a pattern can be seen in the data (particularly a mathematical relation), then maybe that pattern can be used to discover some important underlying feature or (better) a cause for the data. This process did occur in understanding how light was emitted by atoms. However, it would unfold over about 40 years and involve several important discoveries. So, we need some patience to tell the story.

Physicists and chemists began looking for mathematical relations among the wavelengths of the various spectra by about 1870. The chemists tried to connect the spectra to the relatively new periodic table. That line of reasoning did not lead to much progress, so we will not follow it here. Physicists tried to discover mathematical connections among the wavelengths of light. As we shall see shortly, it took a mathematics teacher in a high school for girls to make the real breakthrough.

Good Vibrations?

George Johnston StoneyOne of the physicists’ dead ends is somewhat interesting in that it gives some understanding about how science works. In the 1870s, George Johnston Stoney (1826-1911) pursued the idea that the emission of light was related to vibrations of the atom or molecule. At that time, he had no idea what an atom was. However, lots of things vibrate, so it was reasonable to assume that atoms did also.

He attempted to show that the spectral lines were components in a harmonic series related to these vibrations. If that were true, he should be able to find a simple relationship similar to the octaves on the piano, where concert A is a vibration of 440 Hertz, the next highest A is 880 Hertz and so forth. (For a short discussion of harmonic series see “Physics of Music – Notes.”)

Stoney was able to come up with some possibilities, but it was a stretch. For example he concluded that some of the lines in the hydrogen spectrum were the 284th, 288th, 291st, 293rd, 296th, and 297th harmonics of a vibration which had a period of vibration of T/9.0572, where T is the time it takes light to travel one millimeter. To obtain harmonics for the entire hydrogen spectrum, Stoney needed to have four different periods of vibration, each of which resulted in a few very high harmonics being emitted.

This theory had a couple of serious issues. First, why are some of the harmonics missing? Second, what is the meaning of periods of vibrations? So, the theory was not on good grounds. The final blow came from Arthur Shuster (1851-1934). Shuster was able to show that he could obtain a similar type of “fit” to the data using a set of random numbers. Thus, the connection to the data was not much better than a mathematical connection among results of rolling dice. While the results were not positive, the idea was worth pursuing and helped eliminate one option.

In spite of this ill-fated idea, Stoney did have a successful career as a physicist. For example, he is given credit for conceiving the idea that there is a fundament unit of electricity for which he “ventured to suggest the name electron.” The electron was not discovered for more than 20 years after Stoney coined the term, but he was right about there being a fundamental until of electricity and the name stuck.

Playing with Fractions

Johann Jakob BalmerMeanwhile, at the urging of a colleague, Johann Jakob Balmer (1825-1898) took on the task to find a mathematical relationship among four visible spectral lines in hydrogen. Balmer taught mathematics at a secondary school for girls in Basel, Switzerland, and was a part-time math faculty member at the University of Basil. The challenge was to find some common mathematical way to express the wavelengths that had been carefully measured by Anders Ångström (1814-1874).

These wavelengths were: 656.210 nanometers (nm), 486.074 nm, 434.01 nm, and 410.12 nm. (I will use modern units rather than the ones that Balmer and Ångström used. A nanometer is 1/10,000,000th of a centimeter.) I could probably stare at these numbers for many years and not see any simple relation. But Balmer had talents that I can only dream about. In a short paper in 1885, he described a remarkable conclusion: “The wavelengths of the first four hydrogen lines are obtained by multiplying the fundamental number h = 364.56 nm in succession by the coefficients 9/5; 4/3; 25/21; and 9/8.”

We might say, “So what?” We take a seemingly random number (364.56 nm) and multiply it by four fractions that also seem to be picked out of a hat and get the correct wavelengths. But Balmer had no doubt taught his pupils that we can multiply the top and bottom of a fraction by the same number and get a new fraction with the same value.

When he multiplied the numerators and denominators of the second and fourth fractions by 4, he obtained an interesting result. The new fractions were 9/5, 16/12, 25/21, and 36/32. Now the numerators are the squares of 3, 4, 5, and 6 while the denominators are (9-4), (16-4), (25-4) and (36-4). To obtain the wavelengths of each of the hydrogen lines he multiplied
9/5 x 364.56 nm = 656.208 nm
16/12 x 364.56 nm = 486.08 nm
25/21 x 364.56 nm = 434.01 nm
36/32 x 364.56 nm = 410.01 nm.

These numbers are in remarkable agreement with Ångström’s measurements. In fact, Ballmer states that, “The deviations of the formula from Ångström’s measurements amount in the most unfavorable case to not more than 1/40,000 of a wavelength.” That kind of match is extremely rare in science.

Balmer wrote his result as a mathematical equation: 364.56 x m2/(m2-n2) where n = 2 and m = 3, 4, 5, or 6. He calculated the value of the wavelength for m = 7 and found a wavelength that should be visible. But he knew of no such observation. It turned out he was just not up-to-date on the experiments. Indeed, someone had discovered such a spectral line. So, Balmer’s formula fit the existing data and predicted another data point correctly.

We know very little about how Balmer came up with his result. He was not an academic. The paper that he wrote reads more like a blog post that a scientific document. So, he does not talk about his reasoning process or how long the process took. Some of his notes indicate that he was aware of some of Stoney’s work. We do know that Balmer liked to play with numbers, and the playing paid off in a big way.

A New Equation

About three years later, Johannes Rydberg (1854-1919) was able to generalize Balmer’s result. He proposed the equation:

Physics equation

Johannes RydbergIn this equation, λ (lambda) is the wavelength of the spectral lines in hydrogen, R is a constant number, n is an integer starting with 1, and m is an integer which is greater than n. Rydberg found that when n = 1 and m= 1, 2, 3, …, he could get the wavelengths of the ultraviolet lines in hydrogen. For n = 2 and m = 3, 4, …, his equation matched Balmer’s. When n = 3 and m= 4, 5, …, he got the wavelengths for some infrared lines in hydrogen.

The agreement between Rydberg’s and Balmer’s equations and the experimental results were extremely good. But the equations did not explain how the light was emitted or what the atoms did to create the light. In fact, many people still did not agree that atoms even existed.

However, the equations created a new challenge for anyone who would try to explain how matter emitted light. Any theory that was to explain this emission needed to be able to derive these equations from the theory. This was a big challenge, but the first attempt at this theory would come. However, several important discoveries would need to be made before it could happen. More on all of this next time.

Public domain images via Wikimedia Commons.

Previously

What Are Things Made of? Depends on When You Ask.

Ancient Greeks Were the First to Hypothesize Atoms

The Poetry of Atoms

Atom Theory in Ancient India

Religion, Science Clashed over Atoms

Medieval Arabic Scholarship Might Have Preserved Scientific Knowledge

Rediscovering a Roman Poet – and Atom Theory – Centuries Later

Reconciling Atom Theory with Religion

Did Atom Theory Play a Role in Galileo’s Trouble with the Inquisition?

Did Gifted Scientist’s Belief in Atoms Led to His Obscurity?

Does Atom Theory Apply to the Earthly and the Divine?

A Duchess Inspired by Atoms

Separating Atoms from Atheism

Isaac Newton: 300 Years Ahead of His Time

Issac Newton and the Philosopher’s Stone

When Chemistry and Physics Split

Redefining Elements

Mme Lavoisier: Partner in Science, Partner in Life

With Atoms, Proportionality and Simplicity Rule

Despite Evidence of Atoms, 19th Century Skeptics Didn’t Budge

Mission of the First International Scientific Conference: Clear up Confusion

Rivalry over the First Periodic Table

The Puzzle of Dark Lines amid Rainbow Colors

The Colorful Signature of Each Element

Dean Zollman is university distinguished professor of physics at Kansas State University where he has been a faculty member for more than 40 years. During his career he has received four major awards — the American Association of Physics Teachers’ Oersted Medal (2014), the National Science Foundation Director’s Award for Distinguished Teacher Scholars (2004), the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching Doctoral University Professor of the Year (1996), and AAPT’s Robert A. Millikan Medal (1995). His present research concentrates on the teaching and learning of physics and on science teacher preparation.

A Battle for Land and Souls

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When Charlemagne waged his first war against the Continental Saxons in 772, he did something different than his ancestors. He went after a pillar sacred to pagan peoples: the Irminsul.

Why target a religion in addition to strategic territory? I explore that question in my post about the monument’s destruction at Unusual Historicals.

Destruction of the Iminsul

1882 illustration by Heinrich Leutemann of the destruction of the Irminsul, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Why So Many Languages? Just Look at the Map.

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Map of Frankish territiories

Paul Vidal de la Blache’s 1912 Atlas général d’histoire et de géographie illustrates Frankish territory in 714 (public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).

The Frankish kingdom has a lot of languages and dialects when Charlemagne assumed sole rule of the kingdom in 771. He ruled all of the colored areas above and then some. Some of the tongues were derived from Latin, others were Germanic. Then, there was the Latin of the Church and official documents that few people spoke, fewer read, and still fewer wrote.

See my post at Anna Belfrage’s blog for more about the diversity of languages in Charlemagne’s realm and how I addressed them in my novels, The Cross and the Dragon and The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar.

How One Visit Changed a Life and a Village

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When I was researching my post about seventh-century Frankish Saint Richarius (also called Riquier), I found myself asking: What if? What if those two Irish missionaries had not come to Centula, as it was known at the time? What if Richarius had not offered his hospitality?

We’ll never know, but after that visit, Richarius and his village were never the same. Read my post at English Historical Fiction Authors to find out more.

St. Riquier Abbey

A 17th century illustration of St. Riquier Abbey, by Dom Germain (Bibliothèque Nationale de France) public domain via Wikimedia Commons

A Heroine’s Vocation Drawn from History

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Hand of Fire Tour GraphicIt’s my pleasure to welcome friend and fellow Fireship Press author Judith Starkston as she introduces her debut Hand of Fire to the world. Judith’s book has been getting a lot of attention and deservedly so (read my review on Goodreads). Today, Judith talks about how she discovered her heroine’s profession. – Kim

By Judith Starkston

Judith StarkstonThe Trojan War threatens Troy’s allies, and the Greek supply raids spread. A young healing priestess, designated as future queen, must defend her city against both divine anger and invading Greeks. She finds strength in visions of a handsome warrior god. Will that be enough when the half-immortal Achilles attacks?

Hand of Fire, a tale of resilience and hope, blends history and legend in the untold story of Achilles’s famous captive, Briseis.

That’s a “back cover” intro to my novel Hand of Fire. It’s clear this healing priestess, Briseis, has a lot on her hands, trouble both mortal and divine. But just what is a “healing priestess”?

The term is actually my attempt to translate a Hittite word, hasawa. These highly respected women did everything from officiating at major festivals where they were entrusted with the fertility of crops, herds and women, to delivering babies, to doctoring illnesses, to restoring harmony between gods and men (there’s a no-stress job!).

But Hittite? Why am I translating Hittite, I hear the readers of this blog asking. Isn’t this book about Trojans? Cue that screeching sound of a record going backward. First off, Briseis was actually a princess in Lyrnessos, a city allied to Troy—so says Homer, the epic poet from about 3,000 years ago who brings us the bare bones of Briseis’s story. Briseis ended up at Troy as a captive of the Greeks.

Corum Museum cuneiform tabletThe Hittites come into the picture because they controlled what we now think of as Turkey during this Late Bronze Age time, and Troy was a semi-independent kingdom on the edge of the Hittite Empire. Trojans and Hittites share the same cultural, religious, and political traditions to a large extent. We happen, through the vagaries of archaeological preservation, to know a lot more about the Hittites than we do about the Trojans. Amazingly, huge Hittite libraries of cuneiform clay tablets have been excavated and translated in the last decade or two. For the historical novelist in search of accurate but vivid details about this period to build her characters and their world, the Hittite libraries are a superb place to go.

And there, on those tablets (or rather the translations of them), I found the materials for a flesh and blood version of one of these powerful, literate healing priestesses. The rites she performed, the beliefs she held dear, the roles she served within her society. These women combined recitation of sacred tales with precise rites—we’d call them magical, for the most part. They believed their words, their stories, had power in a very concrete way. This is a very appealing theme to a novelist—the transformative capacity of words.

The discovery of the hasawa came as an exciting revelation to me. I had been looking for a woman who psychologically could fall in love with Achilles (that’s what Homer claims)—a warrior who is also a poet-bard and a healer. It’s complicated, since Achilles has destroyed Briseis’s life and killed her brothers, not such a romantic introduction. But now I’d found two deep bonds—stories and healing—that could create a bridge between these two.

Sometimes history completely astounds me. There she was. A perfect job for Briseis written down by her real life compatriots.

I did find one other bond between Achilles, the warrior/poet-bard/healer, and Briseis. That was another revelation that came out of the blue, although I think its source was more primal, certainly more disturbing. It does involve weapons, but that’s all I’m telling. You’ll have to read Hand of Fire to find out how Briseis overcame the final hurdle and fell in love with Achilles, that half-immortal, brilliant hunk. Hmm? How bad could that have been?

perf6.000x9.000.inddJudith Starkston writes historical fiction and mysteries set in Troy and the Hittite Empire. Judith is a classicist (BA University of California, Santa Cruz, MA Cornell University) who taught high school English, Latin, and humanities. She and her husband have two grown children and live in Arizona with their golden retriever Socrates. Find an excerpt, Q&A, book reviews, ancient recipes, historical background as well as on-going information about the historical fiction community on her website www.JudithStarkston.com. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter and visit on Goodreads Hand of Fire page.

The Colorful Signature of Each Element

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In this installment on the history of atom theory, physics professor (and my dad) Dean Zollman discusses how a chemist and a physicist teamed up to figure out why dark lines appeared in spectra.

By Dean Zollman

Dean ZollmanLast month, we saw one of the mysteries in the early days of studying light emitted by matter. When scientists looked at the spectrum of the sun, they saw dark lines in the rainbow of colors. The lines were named after Joseph von Fraunhofer (1787 – 1826) because he investigated them thoroughly. The mystery came when Fraunhofer compared the wavelengths of the dark lines with those of bright lines found in light emitted by certain salts when they were burned. Why did some of the wavelengths of the dark lines in the solar spectrum match the bright lines emitted by matter when it was heated in the laboratory?

Gustav Robert Kirchhoff and Robert Bunsen

Gustav Robert Kirchhoff (left) and Robert Bunsen (Courtesy Edgar Fahs Smith Memorial Collection, Department of Special Collections, University of Pennsylvania Library, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Sorting out this mystery took a physicist and a chemist who today are known primarily for other contributions in advancing science during the 19th century. Gustav Kirchhoff (1824 – 1887) was the physicist. In addition to his work in spectroscopy, he developed rules for analyzing electrical circuits and an equation for the heat released in a chemical reaction. Robert Bunsen (1811 – 1899), the chemist, is most famous for the Bunsen burner, the device used by all of us who took a chemistry course in high school or college. Its most important property is that when properly adjusted it has a colorless flame.

Bunsen met Kirchhoff while he was on a travel grant and visited Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland), where Kirchhoff was a professor. One account that I read said that Bunsen’s most important discovery while traveling was Kirchhoff. Later, Bunsen became a professor of chemistry at the University of Heidelberg and arranged for Kirchhoff to become a professor of physics in Heidelberg. There, they collaborated on measuring and understanding the light coming from matter.

Hold the Salt

Prior to Bunsen and Kirchhoff’s studies, an important development by William Swan (1818 – 1894) set the stage nicely. We saw in the last post that two closely spaced bright yellow lines were present in almost all spectra that scientists looked at. Swan did a series of carefully controlled experiments to identify those lines. He used a Bunsen burner with its colorless flame and put the substances on a platinum wire because platinum did not emit light.

In his experiments, he would dip a wire in distilled water and look at the light emission. Then, he would try minute quantities of a salt. He found that even the smallest amount of sodium chloride (ordinary table salt) would produce the yellow lines. Thus, he could conclude that the yellow light that seemed to come from everything was actually coming from sodium chloride. He was able to narrow the emission to the sodium in the salt. This work was confirmed by Volkert van der Willigen (1822 – 1878).

The conclusion was that previous investigators had not been careful in making their substances pure. They always had some contamination of salt. So, they always saw that yellow light and frequently got somewhat confusing results because of the impurities. (If you ever did flames tests in high school chemistry, you probably had the same problem. I certainly did.)

At that time the reigning expert on creating pure substances was Robert Bunsen. He and Kirchhoff teamed up to investigate the spectra of various elements. They devised a spectroscope which is shown below. This drawing appeared in an article published in Annalen der Physik und der Chemie in 1860. The item label F in the middle is the prism that broke the light into it constituent colors.

Spectroscope

Kirchhoff-Bunsen spectroscope (from Annalen der Physik und der Chemie, Poggendorff, Vol. 110, 1860, public domain image via Wikimedia Commons)

These studies showed that each metal emitted a unique spectrum when it was heated in a flame. Now a spectrum could be used to identify the components of a substance. Further, one could discover new materials by finding lines in spectra which were not identified with any known substance. Bunsen and Kirchhoff discovered two previously unidentified elements – cesium and rubidium. Each of these elements was named for some of the light that it emitted. Cesium is derived caesius, the Latin word for sky blue. The name rubidium is related to the Latin word for dark red.

In the Annalen der Physik und der Chemie paper, they stated “Spectrum analysis, which, as we hope we have shown, offers a wonderfully simple means for discovering the smallest traces of certain elements in terrestrial substances, also opens to chemical research a hitherto completely closed region extending far beyond the limits of the Earth and even of the solar system.” They were certainly correct. Today spectral analysis is an important part of astronomy research as well as terrestrial bound investigations. (English translations from The Chem Team.)

About Those Black Lines

Kirchhoff then began a series of experiments to try to understand the dark lines in the solar spectrum. His basic process was to pass the solar spectrum through a flame that came from a burning element. He directed light from the sun through a sodium flame and noticed some interesting results.

The real breakthrough came when he passed the light through a lithium flame. The normal solar light had no dark lines corresponding the emission lines of lithium. Yet, after sunlight had passed through the lithium, it had dark lines that corresponded to the emission spectrum of lithium.

Even then the process of getting to the explanation took a while. Eventually Kirchhoff came to the conclusion that the lithium was absorbing some of the solar spectrum and reemitting in directions different from the one that the sunlight was travelling. This result led to the conclusion that sunlight was passing through gases before it reached the Earth. The sunlight started as a full spectrum with no dark lines when it left the surface of the sun. As it passes through the atmosphere around the sun, the elements in that atmosphere absorb some of the light. That absorption leads to the dark lines which Fraunhofer had studied earlier in the 19th century.

With these studies Bunsen and Kirchhoff connected the dark lines and the bright lines. What was doing the absorption (atoms, molecules, something else) was not clearly understood. In fact, I have avoided using the word atom in this post because it was generally not part of the explanations given by Kirchhoff and Bunsen.

And then there is the question of the mechanism of emission and absorption. What happens during either emission or absorption of light by an element? We have another half a century before we will get to an answer of that question. In the meantime, we will look at progress toward understanding that atoms were involved.

Previously

What Are Things Made of? Depends on When You Ask.

Ancient Greeks Were the First to Hypothesize Atoms

The Poetry of Atoms

Atom Theory in Ancient India

Religion, Science Clashed over Atoms

Medieval Arabic Scholarship Might Have Preserved Scientific Knowledge

Rediscovering a Roman Poet – and Atom Theory – Centuries Later

Reconciling Atom Theory with Religion

Did Atom Theory Play a Role in Galileo’s Trouble with the Inquisition?

Did Gifted Scientist’s Belief in Atoms Led to His Obscurity?

Does Atom Theory Apply to the Earthly and the Divine?

A Duchess Inspired by Atoms

Separating Atoms from Atheism

Isaac Newton: 300 Years Ahead of His Time

Issac Newton and the Philosopher’s Stone

When Chemistry and Physics Split

Redefining Elements

Mme Lavoisier: Partner in Science, Partner in Life

With Atoms, Proportionality and Simplicity Rule

Despite Evidence of Atoms, 19th Century Skeptics Didn’t Budge

Mission of the First International Scientific Conference: Clear up Confusion

Rivalry over the First Periodic Table

The Puzzle of Dark Lines amid Rainbow Colors

Dean Zollman is university distinguished professor of physics at Kansas State University where he has been a faculty member for more than 40 years. During his career he has received four major awards — the American Association of Physics Teachers’ Oersted Medal (2014), the National Science Foundation Director’s Award for Distinguished Teacher Scholars (2004), the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching Doctoral University Professor of the Year (1996), and AAPT’s Robert A. Millikan Medal (1995). His present research concentrates on the teaching and learning of physics and on science teacher preparation.

A Made-up Story to Reveal Some Truth

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One criticism of historical fiction is that we novelists make stuff up. Yes, we do. We call it fiction for a reason.

That criticism assumes that history tells us everything. It doesn’t. Not by a long shot. While I am grateful for primary sources, their authors did not hesitate to omit events that made the boss look bad or twist the truth to make the boss look good.

I am fascinated by the history of the early Middle Ages, the time period for my novels, but no primary source will tell you what it was like for an ordinary pagan family in Saxony to watch a sacred monument be destroyed. Nor will it say what it was like for a woman and her children to lose the freedom they took for granted.

See my guest post on Royalty Free Fiction for more about why I decided that the best way to learn about an ordinary early medieval family was to make one up.

perf6.000x9.000.indd

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