June 2014 in Review

This is an index and summary of the things I’ve talked about over the last month. Links for multi-post subjects go to the first post (even if it’s before this month), you can follow the internal navigation links from there. (TV shows without full posts will not be linked, but will be listed.)



“Dust” Hugh Howey. Last part of Howey’s post-apocalyptic trilogy. Library book.

“Ancillary Justice Ann Leckie. Really good space opera, with some interesting things to think about. New.

“Crown of Renewal” Elizabeth Moon. Last book of the Paladin’s Legacy series. New.

Total: 3


“Plantagenet England 1225-1360” Michael Prestwich. Part of the New Oxford History of England.

Total: 1


Arcade Fire (Earls Court, 6 June 2014).

Warpaint (UEA, Norwich 4 June 2014).

Total: 2



The Parlour.

Shadow of His Former Glory.

Strike a Pose.

Total: 4


The Bluestockings. In Our Time episode about the Bluestockings, an 18th Century intellectual movement.

Robert Boyle. In Our Time episode about the 17th Century scientist Robert Boyle.

The Talmud. In Our Time episode about this important Jewish text.

Total: 3


“Music and Dance in Ancient Egypt” Suzanne Lax-Bojtos. Talk given at the June meeting of the EEG.

Total: 1



Churches: How to Read Them – series looking at symbolism and so on in British churches.

The Crusades – series presented by Thomas Asbridge about the Crusades.

Fossil Wonderlands: Nature’s Hidden Treasures – Richard Fortey looking at three fossil sites that changed our idea of the past.

Hidden Histories: WW1’s Forgotten Photographs – one-off programme about the photographs taken by ordinary soldiers during WWI. Particularly featuring two photographers, one German and one British, whose descendants met up as part of the programme.

How the Wild West Was Won with Ray Mears – a look at how the geography of the USA affected the colonisation and history of the Wild West.

Martin Amis’ England – a one-off programme featuring Martin Amis talking about what he thinks it is to be English and about modern society. The BBC blurb for it sounds a lot more negative than I thought it actually was.

Mud, Sweat and Tractors – series about the history of farming in 20th Century Britain.

Secrets of Bones – series about bones, their biology & evolution.

The Spy Who Brought Down Mary Queen of Scots. Programme about Mary Queen of Scots, Francis Walsingham and the Babington Plot.

A Very British Murder with Lucy Worsley – series about the popular fascination with murder in late Victorian & Edwardian times.

Total: 10


A Trip to Turin (October 2013). Overview post about our holiday in Turin last year.

Total: 1

Monday Link Salad

A review of the British Museum Mummies exhibition that I enjoyed reading.

Something upsetting that’s being talked about in the SFF world at the moment is to do with Marion Zimmer Bradley (author of “Mists of Avalon”, and the Darkover series), her second husband and the sexual abuse of children. Jim Hines has a post that summarises it here – I’ve read several more posts on the subject including some of the ones that he links, I’m mostly linking to his because it has those links. In brief – MZB’s second husband was a convicted child abuser both before & after she married him. She was aware of his continuing abuse of children, and didn’t find it a problem. Her daughter has also stated that MZB abused her throughout her early childhood. Thoroughly unpleasant. I own several Darkover books, all bought 15-20 years ago & re-read several times since. I’m not quite sure what I’ll do about them – on the one hand the art is not the artist and I liked those books a lot in the past, but on the other hand how much does knowing more context about the author change how I see the books? Not a question I currently have an answer to.

TV I’m recording this week:

“Ancillary Justice” Ann Leckie

I picked up Ancillary Justice when I saw it in the bookshop the other week. It’s the debut novel by Ann Leckie, and it’s gathering awards left, right & centre. I’ve seen quite a few reviews in the various blogs I read and I don’t think I’ve seen one that didn’t like it.

The story is set in the far future, when humans have colonised many many worlds across the galaxy. The narrative has two threads in alternating chapters – one is the “now” of the story and the other tells us the back story. The protagonist, Breq, was once an AI for a ship called Justice of Toren. Justice of Toren‘s mind and persona didn’t just reside in the ship as a computer, but were also distributed across several (hundreds) of once-human bodies called ancillaries. When the story begins one of these ancillaries, calling herself Breq, is a long way from home and acting on her own. The backstory chapters reveal the world Breq came from, and what happened to get from Justice of Toren to Breq on her own. And the “present-day” plot is about what Breq is going to do about it. The action takes place on various worlds in the Radch’s galaxy spanning empire, involving military action, intrigue & politics. To avoid spoilers, I shan’t talk much more about the plot.

I liked the different cultures in this world. Leckie has done a good job of creating both a diversity of cultures, and cultures that aren’t just carbon copies of historical cultures with -in-space appended. The one we see from the inside is the Radch, the large empire of many worlds who created Justice of Toren. There’s something of the Romans about them, there’s something of the Chinese, there’s something of the British Empire. But these are resonances and flavours, the Radch is also uniquely itself.

Gender is the thing that most of the stuff I’d read about this book talked about. But it isn’t gender itself that’s a theme of the book, it’s our cultural assumptions about gender and our cultural need to know someone’s gender. The Radch language doesn’t mark gender. I think it’s clear that the humans (as opposed to AIs) are like people in our culture – most people have a gender, most people identify as either male or female. But there is no linguistic or social need to distinguish the genders. Justice of Toren/Breq hasn’t got a gender (and the ancillary bodies are of both sexes), and has no reason to care about the gender of others – which causes Breq problems speaking foreign languages in the “now” strand of the story as she tries to read unfamiliar cues without the backing of memory & resources that she had as Justice of Toren.

What Leckie has done with this is clever: she’s chosen to keep us in the Radch language perspective, and not mark gender except when Breq is speaking another language. Throughout the book the Radch pronoun is translated as “she”, and other gendered words use the feminine form (like “sister” or “neice”). Which means we get sentences like “She was probably male, to judge from the angular mazelike patterns quilting her shirt. I wasn’t entirely certain.”. Why I think it’s particularly clever is that by using feminine pronouns throughout the reader frequently has their mental images shifted by a later piece of information. It makes one’s cultural assumptions around gender suddenly snap into focus. Why has learning this character is actually male changed how you see things? Why is is so disconcerting not to know the gender of characters when it doesn’t actually matter? One of my favourite characters of the people Breq interacts with I don’t think we ever learn the gender of. I realised late on in the book that I had this person pegged in the “female” box, not just because it’s always “her” & “she” but also because of all sorts of social cues that put this person in the “social inferior” box in both professional and personal situations. And that says a lot about my unconscious assumptions, doesn’t it?

The Radch don’t divide people up by gender, but they have a keen sense of social status – which family you belong to, how long your family have been “civilised”, whether you have the right accent, the right colouring, whether or not you dress appropriately. There’s a scene in the flashback section of two (human not ancillary) officers from the Justice of Toren having dinner with two high status locals – shown from Justice of Toren‘s point of view (as the whole book is) we end up with no idea of the genders of the four people but a very vivid picture of the relative social status of the various people. And the miscommunications of that status between cultures, and the unhappiness of the lower status Radch lieutenant with her obvious lower class markers of speech etc. Justice of Toren/Breq is outside this hierarchy – as a ship she is a tool not a person – but exquisitely aware of it. However she makes her own judgements of people based on their actions that don’t necessarily match the heirarchy – which demonstrates how this obsession with birth & rank doesn’t say anything about the person in question: “better breeding” doesn’t necessarily mean a better person.

I mentioned in the last paragraph that Justice of Toren/Breq sees herself as a thing not a person. I think another thing that’s going on in this book is exploration of what it means to be a person. Justice of Toren definitely isn’t human, and doesn’t experience the world in the same way as a human. The flashback chapters show some of the effect of being simultaneously in many bodies in many places, and the different perspective it gives. But I think it’s equally clear that she (and Breq) is a person, despite her belief that she isn’t. She has a personality and her own likes & dislikes. And she has a person’s sense of self and of self-preservation. An example of this comes when Breq meets a doctor who knows what she is. Making ancillaries is now considered unethical, because you have to erase the memories & personality of the person who’s body you’ve turned into a part of the ship. The doctor is fairly enthusiastic about how she might be able to restore Breq’s body’s memories, and is asking wouldn’t Breq like to be free. But Breq is horrified – that would mean her death. The body might be free (and the person it used to be would be alive again), but she – Breq – would be dead.

There were other things I wanted to talk about, but I think I shall stop here – this review has got quite long. So did the book live up to the hype? Yes, it definitely did. As well as the things to think about that I’ve talked about above, it’s also a really good story at the space opera end of the genre πŸ™‚

“Plantagenet England 1225-1360” Michael Prestwich (Part 10)

The last section of the book I’m reading about Plantagenet England is about the society and people of the era. Prestwich starts the first chapter in this section by noting that whilst society was very stratified in this period the boundaries weren’t rigid and well defined (or least not in ways that historians can be sure of now). However, you can divide the society at this time into four rough groups – the great lords (both lay & church), the knights, the peasants and the merchants. This chapter deals with the first of those groups.

The Great Lords

The great lords were the higher nobility and there are a variety of phrases used in official documents of the time that can define them to one extent or another. The “prelates, earls and barons” is one, the “magnates and nobles” is another, or “earls, barons and magnates”. Also “magnates” can be used on its own. It’s easy to work out who the earls and the bishops are from the surviving documents, and they are well defined – it’s a specific title generally relating to a place.

The earls were the elite of the nobility. There were 30 titles during this period (1225-1360) not all of which were in existence for the whole time, and some individuals could hold multiple earldoms. This means there were very few earls at any one time – for instance in 1300 there were 9. The title itself was mostly honourific – they had few special duties and not much extra income from earldom related sources. Because of their status they had to attend the king when required, and were always summoned to parliament whenever it met. Some earldoms came with ceremonial duties (like carrying a particular sword during the coronation), some had military ranks attached (i.e. the earls of Norfolk and Hereford held the office of Marshal and of Constable during this period). So being an earl was mostly about status – one of the things that so annoyed the earls about Gaveston was his habit of giving rude nicknames to (other) earls. So rather than talking about (the earl of) Lincoln he would refer to “Burstbelly”.

Earls were wealthy – newly created earls were generally granted lands worth around 1,000 marks/year, which gives a feel for the minimum appropriate wealth (1 mark is 2/3 of a Β£). The title of an earl (which he was referred to by) related to a specific county, but that wasn’t necessarily where the earl held most lands. They also had symbolic swords, granted along with the title. During the 14th Century they started to wear coronets, and they were permitted the most costly clothing (like cloth of gold trimmed in ermine). Generally they also made much of their heraldic symbols, and used them to decorate their possessions and clothing.

During this period there wasn’t much continuity in the various titles. If there was no direct male heir, the family name died out and the lands (and titles) would be divided amongst the female heirs. That wrinkle in how inheritance worked was something I’d not learnt before – primogeniture for sons, but divided for daughters. Prestwich looks at the statistics for earldoms being extinguished (no valid heirs) and comes to the conclusion that whilst there seems to be an unusually high number of sonless and childless families, that’s probably just by chance as it’s such a small sample group rather than due to any underlying cause. Prestwich also spends a couple of pages considering the royal attitude towards extinguishing and granting earldoms. Events in Henry III’s reign encouraged Edward I to be very conservative about creating new earldoms, and to be keen to control the power of those that existed. Edward II and Edward III had more need to create new earldoms, because they had family to provide for. It was also important for the King to have enough earls – being accompanied by several earls enhanced the prestige of the King’s court, particularly important on foreign trips. And there was a general policy of granting earldoms to those related by blood to the royal family, in the hope this would keep them loyal.

There’s not much in the sources about the countesses, but what there is tends to indicate that these high status & wealth women had some influence on the events of the day. Which is not surprising, but frustrating that we don’t know more about them. Prestwich talks about several notable women. Most of what is known about them revolves around their marriages, as you’d expect in chronicles from this era. But widows (of men with no heirs) could live out their lives as the landowner & head of their estates – and their power in this area was as much as any man’s, just they had much less power in politics.

Next down the social tree from earls were barons. Being a baron didn’t confer any rights or powers, rather it imposed some requirements on you (like paying a particular tax) so it wasn’t necessarily something people wanted. Barons did have a voice in parliament, which was formally recognised. For instance in the Ordinances of 1311 many matters were set down as requiring “the consent of the baronage”. Inconveniently for the later historian not all barons were summoned individually to parliament, so there aren’t complete lists surviving. The numbers who did get individual summons varied between a low point of around 30 to a high point of around 80. Generally Baron wasn’t used as a title, those who were barons tended to go by “Lord” and can be hard to distinguish from knights. As a result it’s difficult for the modern historian to be sure how many there were, or who exactly they were. Prestwich notes that one thorough survey (by a historian who published it in 1927) came up with 135 baronies, plus another 72 probables. So this is still a relatively small elite. Again the inheritance was by primogeniture for sons, but divided if there were only daughters – so sometimes baronies fractured into smaller pieces which may’ve all had the same baronial status. There was a reasonable amount of social mobility into the baronial class, with knights who distinguished themselves in battle or supported the right earl during a domestic conflict standing a chance of being granted lands that would confer that status.

Adjacent to the secular hierarchy was the clerical one. In the category of great lords we have the archbishops, the bishops and the greater abbots. Archbishops and bishops are well defined, but as with the barons the “greater abbots” are less clear. Not all of these men were of aristocratic birth, it was definitely possible to rise through the ranks as a clergyman. Bishoprics were often handed out as rewards to men who had held government posts. Some bishops were exceedingly wealthy, on a par with earls, others less so. The greater abbots were summoned to parliament, but otherwise their political role was relatively unimportant. Again they were often wealthy. The sources of the time judge abbots on their ability as manager of their monastic estates.

These great lords did not have a fixed address – the great lived in households which moved around between their various houses and court. The household comprised all the furnishing and so on that the lord moved with him, as well as his staff. Even a relatively low status member of the elite might have 25 staff in his household, spread throughout the various departments. This number doesn’t include any knights or men-at-arms who were retained, nor people like huntsmen or carters. A large household plus other employees for an important magnate might run to 200 or more. As well as the size of the household depending on the status of the lord, over the time period that this book covers there was a general increase in the size of the magnates’ households. Staff were generally provided with robes, and with food whilst at the household. They would also get wages, which might be paid by giving them the right to the rents from a particular estate.

Prestwich discusses in detail how this era had a mix of traditional feudalism and what’s known as “bastard feudalism”. In the first, the retainer holds lands from his lord and owes him service for them. In the latter, the retainer is rewarded for his service by cash (which may be rent from an estate). The two systems existed side by side during this period, and Prestwich is quite clear that he doesn’t see it as a transition from one system to another.

The castles and manor houses that these great lords built & lived in were overt expressions of their power. Although there weren’t any explicit restrictions on who could build a castle, it took wealth to do so. Generally the great lords built new fashionable residences when they could, but it wasn’t seen as necessary – more something to do when one could afford it. During this period residences were becoming more comfortable and less defensive, although it’s the military aspects that survive to the present day (being built from stone instead of wood).

The ceremonies surrounding death were another way for a magnate’s family to indicate their status. Elaborate funerals were important, as were ostentatious memorials (such as gravestones and monuments). Families tended to be buried in the same church for generations, although this could lead to arguments particularly in the case of women who had married more than once. Prestwich gives the example of Isabella (daughter of William Marshal) who married three times, and ended up with her body buried in Beaulieu, her heart in Tewkesbury and her entrails in Missenden. Other people worried about the anticipated bodily resurrection at the Last Judgement – sometimes a person was buried in multiple places, then later their body would be gathered back up by a relative to be reburied in one place. Also important for religious reasons was to provide money for services to be held after death, to ensure a short stay in Purgatory.

Prestwich ends the chapter by being a little scathing about anyone either contemporary or modern who tries to draw conclusions about “all the great lords”, because there’s too much variance between the individuals. The stereotype is of boneheaded brawlers, and some do fit this characterisation. Others don’t, in a variety of ways.

Arcade Fire (Earls Court, 6 June 2014)

A couple of days after we saw Warpaint play in Norwich (post) we went to London to see Arcade Fire play. This was quite a different scale of gig – it was in the main venue at Earls Court, which is a really quite enormous space compared to the LCR at UEA. When we arrived to join the queue just after doors opened there was a Mariachi band playing in the front door – I think we must’ve just missed them arriving in a limo. They serenaded the audience as we walked into the venue.

Mariachi BandOwen Pallett

Once we were inside we headed to the merch desk for a t-shirt each, and then off into the hall to try & get a good spot. We ended up not that far back, about 10-15 people from the front. I think we could’ve pushed further forward at that point, but it would’ve involved more pushing & shoving. First up was a set from Owen Pallett and his band – he played electric violin most of the time as well as singing. I didn’t warm to his music much, it was very technically proficient but it felt rather like that was all it was if you see what I mean. After his set I popped out to the loos, so I apparently missed a piΓ±ata on stage and the start of the DJ set. At that point I was glad we hadn’t pushed further forward as for the first time ever I was worried I wouldn’t make it back through the crowd to where J was standing – I thought it was a fairly grumpy audience overall, not keen to let people through and very defensive about their personal space.

Arcade FireArcade Fire

Arcade Fire were great! πŸ™‚ There’s quite a lot of people in their touring band (I think they’re not all in the band per se) so there’s always something to watch even if the people standing in front of you block the view of bits of the stage. The band also all look like they’re enjoying themselves, one guy in particular runs about the stage playing drums and various bits of stage equipment as drums (always in time, despite the manic antics), but everyone seems to be having fun. There was a second stage in the middle that they used for bits of their show – dancers sometimes, and for one song Regine was singing from over there too. It wasn’t overused, so it didn’t feel like you had to watch two ways at once, but it made for a different dynamic for some of the songs. There was also a surprise special guest for one of the songs – Ian McCulloch from Echo & the Bunnymen, and they did a cover of The Cutter.

Here’s a video of one of the songs from the gig we were at – filmed from the seated bit so nothing like the view we got πŸ™‚

Mud Sweat and Tractors; Fossil Wonderlands: Nature’s Hidden Treasures; The Crusades

Mud Sweat and Tractors is a four part series about the changes in farming in Britain over the last century or so. It split it up into four areas – milk, horticulture, wheat and beef – and treated each as a separate story, so each episode seemed quite self-contained. Each time there were two or three farming families chosen who had photographs and video footage stretching back to the 1930s. So they made good case studies and could talk about why they or their Dad or Grandad had made particular decisions at particular points. And the old videos were good for showing what the actual changes were. As well as this there were several social historians or experts in other parts of the farming/food production process who could talk about the wider trends that the individual farmers & their decisions fitted into.

Separating it out like that worked for telling the individual stories, but I think I might’ve like a bit more explicit drawing together of the themes that affected all the areas of farming. I could work some of them out, it just would’ve been nice to see more discussion of it in the actual programmes. Some of the commonalities were that the Second World War, and the aftermath of it, were a turning point – farming had been in decline before that, but during the war food imports were cut off and so increased production was important. After the war there was concern that Britain shouldn’t return to the pre-war situation, so farmers were given financial incentives to stay farming and to increase food production. And a lot of effort put into scientifically improving the breeds and technology used in farming. And the common theme after that is of food production getting too high – too much that wasn’t being eaten – so the subsidies go and it gets much harder for farmers economically. In addition some of the previous good ideas become seen as not such a good thing – things like the increase in chemicals used in horticulture in the post-war era (like DDT). Or things like breeding beef cattle for larger size & less fatty meat, but then it turns out that doesn’t taste so good so you have to compensate and fatten them up a bit.

It was interesting watching this with J. I grew up in a town so it was just history for me, and someone else’s history if that makes sense. But J grew up in a very rural area, right near farms. For a while his family rented a house on a farm, most of the rest of the time they lived in a 10 house village with working farms around them. So a lot of the 70s and 80s footage included things he remembered seeing as a child. I think we watched one bit of it three or four times in the last episode, because it included a hay baler that was exactly the sort he’d been fascinated by as a little boy. It had a robot arm, and somehow hay went in, was moved around by the arm then came out as square bales. Which was kinda fascinating to watch πŸ™‚

In Fossil Wonderlands: Nature’s Hidden Treasures Richard Fortey visited 3 particularly important and rich fossil beds, and talked about what they’d taught us about the evolution of life. One commonality of the three is that they have fossils with the soft body parts preserved, which means we know so much more about the animals than is generally possible from fossils.

First (and most obvious to me) was the Burgess Shale – a section of the Rockies where early multicellular organisms are well preserved. We’d just seen that on the David Attenborough programme we watched recently (post) so this wasn’t new ground for us. Still nice to see tho, particularly as I remember reading about it when I was a teenager. The second episode took us to China and to some new fossil beds there which are re-writing our ideas of how birds evolved and what the differences between dinosaurs and birds actually are. This is because these recently discovered fossils include several feathered dinosaurs. And the last of the three fossil beds was in Germany, with many fossils from early in the explosion of mammalian diversity after the dinosaurs died out. These well preserved fossils include lots of bats (already looking very sophisticated), early horses, and the earliest known primate fossils.

This was an interesting series πŸ™‚ I’m sure I’ve said before that I wanted to be a palaeontologist when I was in my early teens – until I worked out that it would mean lots of being outside grubbing about in the dirt & rocks! So I particularly like seeing these sorts of programmes, and all the cool stuff that’s been discovered since I was reading so much about it.

We also finished watching a series about The Crusades this week. It was presented by Thomas Asbridge, and I’m pretty sure we’ve seen it before – but not during a period when I was blogging about the TV we watch so I can’t be 100% sure (this is one incentive to keep writing up the programmes we see!). Sadly the reason we’re pretty sure we’ve seen it is because the irritations seemed familiar. Some of that was the style – whenever there was a static image (like a painting from a manuscript) they’d tilt it or pan around on it in a particular irritating fashion. And there was a lot of over dramaticness to the script and the way Asbridge presented it. And for all it was billed as “groundbreaking” I didn’t really have any “wow I didn’t know that/remember that” moments (and I don’t think that’s just because I think I’ve seen it before).

It covered the Crusades in three chunks. First the start, and the initial successes (and their attendant brutalities). Next was Richard the Lionheart vs. Saladin. The final episode looked at the Muslim success in driving out the Christians, and at how it was actually the need to fight the encroaching Mongol Empire that drove this and the effects on the Christian Crusader Kingdoms were more of a side-effect.

Overall it was interesting enough to keep watching, but not as interesting as I’d hoped.

Other TV watched this week:

Episode 1 of How the Wild West Was Won with Ray Mears – a look at how the geography of the USA affected the colonisation and history of the Wild West.

Episode 1 of Secrets of Bones – series about bones, their biology & evolution.

In Our Time: Robert Boyle

I know of Robert Boyle because of Boyle’s Law (which I must’ve learnt in GCSE physics about 25 years ago although I couldn’t give you the details now), but as In Our Time explained his part in developing the scientific method is probably the more important part of his legacy. And in his own time his piety and religious writings were also important. The three experts who discussed it were Simon Schaffer (University of Cambridge), Michael Hunter (Birkbeck College, University of London) and Anna Marie Roos (University of Lincoln).

Robert Boyle was born in 1627 as the 14th child and 7th son of Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork. The Boyles were fabulously wealthy. Not all of the children survived to adulthood, of those that did the daughters were married off advantageously (although not always happily) and the sons inherited their father’s land. Robert Boyle as the youngest son probably had the least lands and income, but this still inclued lands in County Limerick and a manor in Dorset. And an income of around Β£3,000/year (if I remember right) which made him ludicrously wealthy at the time. An anecdote the experts used to illustrate this was that Boyle funded Hooke’s telescope for the Royal Society, which was almost not built because it was too expensive and Hooke couldn’t secure funds – Boyle stepped in and paid, and the programme gave the impression that this wasn’t a stretch for him.

Boyle was educated at Eton for a few years starting when he was 8 years old, just after his mother died. Then in his mid-teens he went abroad, with a tutor, and spent several years in Continental Europe including France and Italy on a sort of Grand Tour. During that time he began to develop an interest in science, but more important to him he had the opportunity to debate religion with various scholars of the day. At some point in these years abroad he had a type of religious conversion experience during a thunderstorm in which he thought he might die. On his return to Ireland (and then England) in the 1640s he began to write essays about his understanding of religion, seeing this as his life’s work. One of the experts, Hunter I think, said that if this was all Boyle had done then we probably wouldn’t remember him – his style and his thinking weren’t particularly novel or readable.

Boyle’s practice of religion was a fairly practical matter. He was part of a school of thought that felt the best way to live a godly Christian life was to carefully examine your past to determine if you’d taken the actions most pleasing to God (and then presumably you have a pattern for the future). It’s an ongoing process and would require meticulous attention to detail and thinking about other alternative things you could’ve done and so on. His scientific interests were also an outgrowth of his piety – a belief that the best way to learn about God was to learn about his creation. Bragg asked a few times if there had been a “scientific conversion” moment to match Boyle’s religious turning point, but either Hunter or Schaffer pointed out that our division between religion and science as separate things with different spheres of relevance is anachronistic when thinking about the 17th Century.

During the 1650s and later Boyle became involved with a group of men who met regularly in Wadham College, Oxford and who would later form the nucleus of the Royal Society. They were mostly university educated, and so Boyle was a bit of an outlier (although I think not the only one) with his lack of formal education past his schooling at Eton. Whilst here he formed a close working partnership with Robert Hooke, who was particularly gifted at building apparatus and the practical side of chemistry & physics experimentation. The work Boyle is remembered for on air and gases was done in collaboration with Hooke. Boyle also corresponded with one of his sisters, Lady Ranelagh, about his work – and in later life he moved to London and lived in her household (which didn’t include her husband, her marriage hadn’t been a happy one).

Boyle was meticulous about writing down his experiments, and also wrote about how one should both carry out and record scientific experiments. Roos pointed out that modern day Materials and Methods sections in scientific papers are the direct descendants of Boyle’s ideas about the scientific method. He said that one should write down exactly what had been done, so that another person could do the same experiment again. He also said that the experimenter should come to the experiment with an open mind, instead of already already decided what they expected to happen. Hunter finished up the discussion by saying that this initial development of the scientific method is Boyle’s greatest legacy.

Boyle turns out to’ve been a much more interesting man than I’d expected from my half memory of his law about the relationship between gas volume & pressure!