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Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve racked up prizes — and completely misled you about the Middle Ages

Recently on Facebook I made some of my friends go “hmm” when I corrected a meme that suggested the medieval church burned Copernicus at the stake for teaching that the sun is the center of the solar system. (“Contrary to popular belief, the Church accepted Copernicus’ heliocentric theory before a wave of Protestant opposition led the Church to ban Copernican views in the 17th century.” CS Monitor). The label “The…

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Neuroscientist Explores the Ethical Quandries of a Digital Afterlife

Now imagine the resources required to simulate the brains of millions or billions of dead people. It’s possible that some future technology will allow for unlimited RAM and we’ll all get free service. The same way we’re arguing about health care now, future activists will chant, “The afterlife is a right, not a privilege!” But it’s more likely that a digital afterlife will be a gated community and somebody will…

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Teaching Shakespeare in a Maximum Security Prison

Good essay by Mikita Brottman. When I read Macbeth for the first time, I understood almost nothing. The play’s immediate subjects (kingship, Scottish history, nations at war) did not engage me, nor did I have any interest in theater. I loved Macbeth not for its story but for its language. I was fascinated by the weight of the words, their sequence and rhythm, the way they made me feel, even…

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The dangers of ‘character education’ in universities

As the authors depressingly note, “the UK is one of the most economically unequal of the rich countries, and closing many of the gaps we describe will require systemic change beyond the scope of this report”. Well, quite. And herein lies the problem with teaching young people that through sheer vim and vigour they can achieve anything they want: for an individual, as the Sutton Trust report shows, it’s a…

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For News Outlets Squeezed From the Middle, It’s Bend or Bust

Hundreds of thousands of people on Facebook followed BuzzFeed’s live video of two people putting rubber bands around a watermelon until it burst. We should all reflect on how journalism can make the news that is truly important interesting enough to compete with exploding fruit. Traditional media companies face the increasingly daunting task of hooking already-inundated audiences, but they also have more tools than ever to lure them. Videos, podcasts,…

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Comment: Why women taking their husband’s name could be about biology

I’m somewhat interested in the topic, but I’m actually posting about this because my freshman writing students are now in the process of gathering sources for their research paper. I have to train them to ignore reader-friendly science journalism like this, and instead engage directly with the academic source this reporter is summarizing. That’s a daunting task, especially for a college freshman who is still adjusting to learning from college-level…

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The Novel as a Tool for Survival

Much of what Krystal writes about the novel also applies to drama, but the difference is that theatre presupposes a community. The writing, editing, manufacture, sale, and criticism of books is, of course, a communal endeavor, but the novel as an artifact can be experienced in isolation. Fiction, speaking very generally, is about the individual in society, about the expectations and conflicts that color a life when an obdurate reality…