Alumnus Ben Howe & his Core-themed brewery

source: enlightenmentales.wordpress.com

source: enlightenmentales.wordpress.com

Ben Howe (CAS ’07), an entrepreneurial Core Curriculum alumnus, has opened a nano brewery and appropriately named it Enlightenment Ales!

To our delight, the titles of his individual ales are, in our minds, very much Core-themed: Cosmos, Illumination, Enlightenment.

As Ben describes on the company website, the nano brewery makes Bière de Champagne.

For the laymen in brewery terminology:

  • Nanobrewery - a type of very small brewery operation, often culturally defined by a less than 4 US beer barrels brew system.
  • Bière de Champagne - one of the newest and most interesting styles of beer. It has much potential within the beer industry as a top-shelf crossover beer. Primarily brewed in Belgium, these beers typically undergo a lengthy maturation. Most are delicate, high in alcohol, highly carbonated and sometimes spiced. Color can range from very pale to dark hues.

Ben (left) at Enlightenment Ales' first official tasting, 2012 ACBF.

Ben (left) at Enlightenment Ales’ first official tasting, 2012 ACBF.

The Edible Boston magazine recently wrote up a profile for Enlightenment Ales, giving it the attention it deserves. Here is an extract:

Upon graduating from Boston University in 2007, Howe’s homebrewing experience earned him a volunteer position at the Northampton Brewery and, several months later, a part-time job at the Cambridge Brewing Company (CBC). He learned fast and continued to homebrew as much as possible, and in 2010 he received a scholarship to study brewing science and engineering at the American Brewers Guild in Vermont.

Roughly three years into his career in beer and newly equipped with a wealth of technical knowledge and money he’d saved while waiting tables, Howe decided to go it alone. A bottle of beer inspired him to start his own company. And as luck would have it, Will Meyers, the brewmaster at CBC who had hired him, offered nothing but encouragement. “Ben is a very talented and creative brewer,” Meyers explains, “hard working, unafraid of putting in the long hours required in honoring the term hand-crafting. I think the light bulb went off after drinking some DeuS, which I may or may not have given him as a Christmas present.”

Those of you over 21: be sure to check out these Core-themed ales!

The Downsides of Everyone Being a Critic

Not everyone is as lucky as those of us in Core. Very few can boast such an encompassing grasp of great works as we can; even less learn how to talk about these works, yet we, also, are able to hold a conversation with the best of them concerning Suicide, The Republic, any of the books we read in however many semesters of Core we take.

Yet we are the minority. Yes, more of the population than ever now attends university (rough estimate of 21.8 million students nation wide in 2013 an increase of over 6 million students since 2000), but many of these students will go their entire college careers without reading any Dante or without even knowing what the Daodejing is. All of which is perfectly fine, of course. For many of these students, the idea that every person should be “well-read” was never reinforced, and the books they read in high school seemed more a chore than a joy helping them educate and enlighten themselves. This applies even more to those who never went to college, although avid readers pop up everywhere, single-handedly keeping libraries and used book stores in business. Without a doubt, the literary world is not the hot topic entertainment source of one hundred, even fifty, years ago.
And as I said, this is ok. Despite many of our personal feelings on the increasingly small literary sphere, no one can be faulted for mass societal changes; no one can fight shows like Breaking Bad or Downton Abbey. Who would even want to? Some things need to be accepted. The real problem comes with the growing idea that being well-read is an elitist pursuit of the pretentious. I remember growing up, if you liked to read you were a bookworm or a nerd (although the title rarely mattered because the books you read provided such assurance of your later success)…

But now we have snobbish. As Laura Miller puts it in this wonderful article about the supposed elitism of the literary world:

Intellectual insecurity is, alas, a pervasive problem in the literary world. You can find it among fans of easy-to-read commercial fiction who insist (on very little evidence) that the higher-brow stuff is uniformly fraudulent and dull, and you can find it among those mandarin bibliophiles who dismiss whole genres (on equally thin evidence) out of hand. One of the favorite gambits of people secretly uncertain about their own taste is identifying some popular book of incontestably lower quality than their own favorites and then running all over the Internet posting extravagant takedowns of it and taunting its fans. Yeah, I’m not crazy about “Fifty Shades of Grey,” either, but I’m not going to invest that much energy in proclaiming this sentiment to the world. To do so suggests you’re less interested in championing good writing than you are in grabbing any chance to feel superior to somebody else.

So there it is, the new question. Is literature becoming more pretentious or are people simply less attuned to it? Let us know what you think in the comments below, and as always, have a wonderful weekend!

Gulliver’s Kingdom Theme Park

Gulliver Haikyo 9001

CC202 started off the academic year with Gulliver’s Travels – an apt text for students who start the semester feeling like giants in one class and like Lilliputians in another.

Michael John Grist describes, on his website, what used to be a Gulliver’s Kingdom Theme Park in Japan:

Gulliver once rested in the shadow of Mt.Fuji, bound and nailed to the ground by the hair. His giant body was the main attraction of the now defunct and dismembered Gulliver’s Kingdom Theme Park in the shadow of Mt. Fuji, built in 1997, closed in 2001 due to defaulting bank loans, and demolished around 2007.

Perhaps a contributing factor to its ultimate failure was the proximity of Kamikuishiki- a small village that was the main base for the cult Aum Shinrikyo at the time of their deadly 1995 Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway. Tourists on a day-trip with the kids to a theme-park would have been likely to steer clear. Now every reminder of the place is gone, the village has been rezoned, and the name Kamikuishiki removed from all maps.

Gulliver Haikyo 90013

Have you been to a Core-related theme park? Let us know, in the comments section below!

“It’s over, book… you’re an inferior technology”

An amusing comic strip, on how we choose to read:

source: theawkwardyeti.com/books

source: theawkwardyeti.com/books

An interesting read may be our article From Scroll to Screen.

Notes from the February 2014 EnCore Book Club: What is Life?

What-is-Life-coverThis month, EnCore book club attendees struggled with Erwin Schrodinger’s slim volume, What is Life?, a book that, as quoted in Goodreads, was “written for the layman, but proved to be one of the spurs to the birth of molecular biology and the subsequent discovery of DNA.”

Erwin Schrodinger is an inescapable figure in Core’s Natural Science course, CC105; the Austrian physicist was instrumental to the study of quantum mechanics, and he is most well known for the paradoxical thought experiment that carries his name (and is efficiently summarized here). We were all intrigued as to what would it be like to read about biology from a physicist’s perspective.

The result was a bit lackluster. Why were most attendees less than enthusiastic? Was it simply a language barrier (Schrodinger himself apologizes for his English in the text)? Or perhaps it had to do with the nature of science writing in general? How simple is too reductive, and how complicated is too dense and difficult? Does a science writer need to relate every phenomenon to everyday life?

The EnCore book club is sending out request; please let us know what are the science books that you have most enjoyed, and that you would most recommend to the layman. Let us know, and join us next month at book club!

Next meeting, on March 5th, we shall be reading Sir Christopher Rick’s work, Milton’s Grand Style. Whether you get to read/finish/open the book at all or not, join us for free food and discussion at the Core office; don’t forget to BYOB if you are of age!

Dante For Kids

Recently, someone had the idea that if Dante’s description of an eternal blazing netherworld were reprinted in comic sans, alongside understandably disturbing yet cartoonish illustrations, it might be more accessible to children. Consequently, a series of picture books based on Dante’s Divine Comedy, titled “Dante for Fun”, was published. Originally in Italian, the books simplify each of the three installments in the epic poem (one per book) for young readers.

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From reading this review–and simply from viewing sample pages of the books–”Dante for Fun” doesn’t quite seem fitting for a child. Then again, this is exactly the creepy, back-of-the-library kind of book that I remember being secretly captivated by as a kid.

What do you think of these picture books? Are you or a young’un you know enthralled by images of diviners with their heads on the wrong way, crying into their butt cracks? Let us know in the comments.

Ancient seals & amulets found in Turkey!

Late Babylonian seal depicting a praying man in front of divine symbols Source: Forschungsstelle Asia Minor

Late Babylonian seal depicting a praying man in front of divine symbols
Source: Forschungsstelle Asia Minor

Most Core students start off with Classical antiquity and its myriad cultures.

Integral to those cultures is their art, and we keep digging up more of it! Take, for example, the massive discovery of more than six hundred ancient seals and amulets in a sanctuary in Turkey, at the sacred site of the storm and weather god Jupiter Dolichenus.

“Such large amounts of seal consecrations are unheard-of in any comparable sanctuary”, said excavation director Prof. Dr. Engelbert Winter and archaeologist Dr. Michael Blömer at the end of the excavation season. In this respect, the finding of numerous pieces from the 7th to the 4th centuries B.C. close to the ancient city of Doliche is unparalleled.

“The amazingly large number proves how important seals and amulets were for the worshipping of the god to whom they were consecrated as votive offerings”, according to Classical scholar Prof. Winter. Many pieces show scenes of adoration. “Thus, they provide a surprisingly vivid and detailed insight into the faith of the time.” The stamp seals and cylinder seals as well as scarabs, made of glass, stone and quartz ceramics, were mostly crafted in a high-quality manner. Following the restoration work, the finds were handed over to the relevant museum in Gaziantep in Turkey.

Up to now, the researchers were able to identify late Babylonian, local Syrian Achaemenid and Levantine seals. “The large find provides new impetus for research to answer unsolved questions of cult practices, cult continuity and cult extension – above all, these are important for the understanding of the early history of the sanctuary in the 1st millennium B.C., which had been unknown until recently”, according to Prof. Winter. Later, in the 2nd century A.D., Jupiter Dolichenus turned into one of the most important deities of the Roman Empire.

To read on, visit the full article.

Also: don’t forget that your BU ID grants you free entry into the MFA (a mere 20 minute walk away from campus), where you can experience treasures such as the ones described above.

Voltaire & the Republic of Letters

A depiction by Achille Devaria of Voltaire greeting Ben Franklin and his nephew as they visit France. —© DeA Picture Library / Art Resource, NY

A depiction by Achille Devaria of Voltaire greeting Ben Franklin and his nephew as they visit France.
—© DeA Picture Library / Art Resource, NY

CC202 has just moved on from Candide. Voltaire strikes even the casual reader as a captivating persona, with wit and intelligence.

However, Voltaire’s role in the “Republic of Letters” is certainly worth a mention. To escape arrest, Voltaire lived at Cirey for fifteen years. He wrote a steady stream of letters to stay connected with his friends in Paris and others who were abroad, which helped promote his plays, historical works, and essays, while keeping him up to date with the latest intellectual developments.

This recent article from the National Endowment for the Humanities tells us more:

“Republic of Letters” sounds like a term coined by a historian, but it was one used by the participants themselves. In an era defined by monarchical government, class hierarchy, and religious divisions, the members of the “republic” saw themselves as engaging each other on intellectual—and therefore equal—terms. “Letters” refers to both learning and the way that intellectual and scholarly developments spread throughout Europe and abroad. In thousands upon thousands of letters, members tried out new theories, critiqued ideas, relayed the newest gossip, and chronicled the mundane matters of life. The more international your network, the more cosmopolitan you were thought to be.

Correspondence was such an integral part of scholarly life that Montesquieu mocked it in his Persian Letters, when he has a boorish astronomer brag, “I have very little contact with people, and among those I do see, there are none that I know. But there is a man in Stockholm, another in Leipzig, and another in London, whom I have never seen, and no doubt shall never see, that I maintain such a regular correspondence that I never fail to write each of them with every mail.”

Scholars have used these letters to trace networks of friendships and shared knowledge. Who wrote to whom? Where did that idea come from? Did the English influence the French? Or, mon dieu, did the French influence the English? What about the Dutch? Have you heard the latest about Voltaire and his endorsement of Newton?

Much like our late-night Facebook chats or Skype calls with our old friends, these letters document how people at that time stay abreast of the trends and news of their time.

Working with the Packard Humanities Institute and the Electronic Enlightenment Project, the Stanford team created a database that logged the metadata for each letter, including sender, recipient, date, and location. A team of students led by Jeffrey Heer, then an assistant professor at Stanford, designed the visualization software. The tool, RPLVIZ, lets users select which authors to display, along with options to render the full correspondence, or only letters sent or received.

The resulting maps not only proved that correspondence could be visualized in a useful way, but also yielded surprising results. “Most of the correspondence networks were far more national than you would gather from reading the letters,” says Edelstein. Voltaire’s network explodes like a firework over France, with tails to England, Russia, and the Swiss cantons. John Locke’s covers England and Scotland, with a foray to Dublin. Correspondence by Joseph Addison, who founded The Spectator, sprawls from London to Dublin, Paris, Chennai, and Venice.

It is not surprising to see these spheres spread to the newly-formed United States of America.

If Voltaire left an indelible mark on eighteenth-century France, then the same can be said of Benjamin Franklin and America. Before Franklin became one of the Founding Fathers, he made a name for himself in Philadelphia as a publisher and innovator. In 1727, at the age of twenty-one, he formed “Junto,” a group of tradesmen and artisans who gathered to discuss key issues of the day. Four years later, he came up with the idea of creating a subscription library, which made it possible for members to read and share books they might not otherwise be able to afford. He also founded the Academy and College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania), becoming its first president in 1749. Along with running his own printing business, Franklin also served as the publisher of the Pennsylvania Gazette. When he wasn’t moving type and discussing politics, Franklin conducted scientific experiments, inventing the Franklin stove (a metal-lined fireplace) and bifocal glasses, not to mention his famous proposal of flying a kite with a key during an electrical storm to prove that lightning is electricity.

If the Republic of Letters was an imagined community of Western thinkers, then Franklin was certainly a member. But as a resident of Philadelphia, which had a population of 25,000 in 1750, Franklin didn’t have the same resources as someone who lived in a European capital. Paris had 565,000 residents, while London was bursting with 700,000. There’s also the matter of the Atlantic Ocean, which presented a vast physical obstacle to connecting with his European counterparts.

Perhaps, this “Republic of Letters” has evolved into Tweets and vlogs, and Snapchats. Do you see our communication as a natural successor to what happened in Voltaire’s time? Leave a comment and let us know!

Famous Winters and Famous Symphonies


As February continues to barrage us with snow and ice, cold winds and cloudy skies, it can seem to many of us, especially those from warmer climes, that winter will never end, the snow will never melt, the days will never grow longer. At such a time, it can be nice to get a little perspective and think that, despite the cold and the damp and the gray, most of us will be spending these winter days inside where it’s warm (perhaps even too warm if you happen to be living in the overzealously heated dorms) and dry; we are all well fed and surrounded by hot chocolate and warm tea, and, oh yes, Hitler’s army isn’t laying siege to our walls.

Now many of us know more, already, than we want to about the harrowing 900 day siege that beset Leningrad in the early 1940′s. Death, despair, and famine all against the backdrop of Russia’s brutal weather and extreme winters. Russia has always been a country in opposition to the elements, carving cities out of ice it seems, even to those New Englanders who have been here in the chilly North winter after winter. It takes a tough breed to last those Russian winters, and this tough skin along with cold and hunger made them formidable foes to the Nazis, despite their own loss and suffering.
Of course many books, both fiction and nonfiction, have immortalized the story of Leningrad’s perseverance, but Brian Moynahan’s new book Leningrad: Siege and Symphony puts the siege in a different perspective by telling two tales simultaneously: the resistance against the Nazi’s and the creation and first Leningrad performance of Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony, dedicated to the battered city and a symbol of opposition and the free world to the West in the days following the war. Yet, according to this review of the book by Stephen Walsh, even more moving than the symbol this symphony did and has become is the descriptions of the concert where music was created against unimaginable odds:

How else to explain the successful performance of the Seventh Symphony that following August? It was a full-blooded 70-minute work for an orchestra of more than 100, performed by a radio band reduced by death and infirmity to a mere handful of sickly regulars, augmented by military-band players from the battlefront and by whatever extra wind and string players could be drafted in from the city’s dilapidated musical substrata, and directed by a conductor — Karl Eliasberg — who could himself barely hold a baton or stand upright.

Even more moving is the realization of this concert:

Yet eventually, at the final rehearsal, it all suddenly comes together, and the performance is an incredible triumph, greeted by a packed Philharmonie with a standing ovation that begins even before the end of the work, as the players falter and the audience urges them on.

The human will is an amazing thing that can create beauty and music in such conditions. Every year, still, there is a performance of this over an hour long piece in the very same concert hall where the original performance happened. If you need more inspiration than that to get through the rest of winter, here it is, the complete symphony that inspired a city about to break.

Beethoven’s 9th Symphony

Today students in CC202 will be treated with a lecture on Beethoven by the Boston Conservatory’s Professor Elizabeth Seitz. Here are two excellent performances of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony:

Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic

Abbado conduting the Berlin Philharmonic

All are welcome to come to the lecture in CAS B12 at 12:30 pm today to enjoy a full hour and a half of Beethoven!