Markham and Memes: How Hurricane Florence Revealed our Agentic Anxieties

by Nicole Kaufman, UNC Charlotte

It seemed as if the whole world was watching, or at least the entirety of the United States, as a good deal of the South was recently hit by Hurricane Florence. I could slowly feel the panic rising beginning with the Wednesday before the storm, the time when many colleges and schools decided to start canceling classes and the news channels began broadcasting coverage all day long. There was worry about gas shortages, food and water scarcities, and of course damage from deadly flooding. Family that I had not heard from for months even called to check that I was doing okay in Charlotte, NC.

Meanwhile, Facebook showed me a different story. Every time that I logged on, my feed showed me memes, or humorous images, about Florence, particularly Facebook events intended to scare the storm away. I remember one in particular was entitled “Do the hokey pokey at Florence so she’ll turn herself around” and another “Everyone direct fans at Florence to blow her away.” As memes are intended to do, these jokes took the real fear and panic surrounding the storm and turned them into something lighthearted, something to make humans feel a little less afraid of nature by asserting our agency in a hyperbolic fashion. Of course, when Florence was downgraded before the storm hit the Carolinas, the idea went around that the storm had been humiliated by all of the jokes, hence the decrease in power.

In reality, we know that there is no logical connection between making fun of a hurricane and alterations in its intensity and trajectory. With that being said, there seems to be a sense that maybe deep down, we really do have the power to make tangible change in unpredictable and frightening natural circumstances. This desperate desire in particular is what interests me. Where does this obsession to prove our own agency come from? We see this same anxiety crop up in the language of Gervase Markham’s The English Husbandman. He says “that not any other sand but the salt is good or available for this purpose, because it is the brine and saltness of the same which breedeth this fertility and fruitfulnesse in the earth, choaking the growth of all weedes and bad things, which would sprout from the earth, and giving strength, vigour, and comfort to all kind of Graine or Pulse, or any fruit of better nature” (6). Here, he recognizes nature, the sand, as the cause of success or failure. Nature is portrayed as an active agent of change. While the agency of nature exists separately from humans and is not something that can be given or taken, Markham later attempts to assert his own agency over that of nature’s: “Thou whom it hath pleased God to place upon a barren and hard soile, whose bread must evermore be grounded with sweat and labour, that maiest nobly and victoriously boast the conquest of the Earth, having conquered Nature by altering Nature, and yet made Nature better than she was before” (4). This imaginary power struggle, imaginary in the sense that Markham does not really have the power to change the land in the way he thinks he does, continues throughout the piece. He seems to believe that if he follows the very specific practices he has outlined for amending soil, he can make the land do what he wants it to do. However, as seen from Hurricane Florence, no amount of preparation, anxiety, or jokes can change the course of the natural world to more readily fit our own human desires.

I think that although many of us may not be consciously aware, we are slowly moving toward Jane Bennett’s definition of agency in “The Agency of Assemblages and the North American Blackout.” This agency is distributed across an assemblage, or a web-like grouping made up of actants (445). Bennet makes a compelling argument for this view of agency: “If we don’t know just how it is that human agency operates, how can we be so sure that the processes through which nonhumans make their mark are qualitatively different?” (461). If this definition is to be believed, Hurricane Florence, the soil, electricity, and nature as a whole have agency, as do humans, including those of you reading this post right now. This can be hard to conceptualize as us humans like to believe that we are the power powerful beings in existence. However, as Markham’s anxiety shows, I think we know this is not true and it never has been. The panicked emergence of Hurricane Florence memes shows that this is still true today. Perhaps our use of humor as a coping mechanism shows that we really do believe nature has an agency that exists without human mediation.

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Spectacle and the Elimination of Personhood

by Sophie Yates, UNC Charlotte

Like many women, I found it incredibly difficult to watch the testimony given by Doctor Christine Blasey Ford to the Senate Judiciary Committee (now almost two weeks ago). It was difficult to see a woman suffer as she attempted to tell her deeply traumatic story to a room predominantly filled with men. It was difficult to watch these same men turn around and express their outrage at seeing Ford’s would-be attacker vilified and persecuted in his attempts to become a Supreme Court Justice. More disturbing, however, than these basic elements of Ford’s testimony was the way in which she was reduced, during the process of her testimony and the resulting flurry of media commentary and criticism, from a multi-dimensional woman into a blank symbol that seemed to take on whatever value the viewer or commentator required of her.

Val Plumwood, in her essay “Nature in the Active Voice,” describes the tendency in traditional Western discourse to see “the essentially human as a part of a radically separate order of reason, mind, or consciousness, set apart from the lower order that comprises the body, the woman, the animal and the pre-human” (Plumwood 21). This designation (which Plumwood refers to as “human/nature dualism”) is concomitant with Barad’s designation between the “know[ing]” subject and the “known” object in Western scientific practice (Plumwood 21, Barad 813). These strict hierarchies of being are applied, consciously or unconsciously, any time a call is made for an “empirical” examination of an entity or phenomenon. The “knowing” subject, because of its “essentially human” capacity for reason, sits in impartial judgment of the “known” object, which, by default, becomes essentially non-human or other-than-human. This is the process that, culturally, definitively shapes Western methods of inquiry and truth- seeking. An extension, incidentally, of this binary of being is the conflation of natural and feminine identities in what Carolyn Merchant referred to in her book, The Death of Nature, as the ability, when “stripped of activity and rendered passive, [to be] dominated” by such traditionally male concerns as “science, technology, and capitalist production.” Because of this structure of methodology, Ford faced a process of essential dehumanization as soon as she made the decision to testify. She was no longer a woman with a story to tell, but a resource that had to be exploited and manipulated into yielding the result desired of it.

Ford, in the opening statement of her testimony, underlined her situation as the effective object of the hearing in the words and phrases that she employed. She began her testimony by making it clear that she “was not there because [she wanted] to be,” but because she felt that it was her “civic duty.” In her testimony, Ford voluntarily removed herself from any true expression of agency. She gave her testimony and answered both friendly and hostile questions not because she wanted to, or because she felt that it would be of benefit to her in any way, but because she had been compelled by a culturally-enforced sense of duty to do so.

As soon as Ford stepped up to give her testimony, she became a resource. Both liberal and conservative sources examined and evaluated her statements, demeanor and appearance in order to determine her overall “credibility” as a witness. Deanna Paul of The Washington Post reported gleefully that Ford had been a “dream witness,” remarking approvingly of the way in which Ford had delivered her testimony, “with the intonations and in the halting way a teenager speaks.” Paul Butler of Georgetown University Law Center commented that that kind of vocal performance “can’t [be controlled by] an advocate, but when you have a witness like that, it’s golden.” Lindsey Graham, when asked if he believed that Ford had received fair treatment during her testimony, stated that the roles in the case of Ford and Kavanaugh had been reversed: Kavanaugh was the “slut whore drunk.” All of these statements (representing just a few of the many) either evaluated Ford based on her symbolic value or broke her down into a sum of her parts, each part excavated for evidence of credibility. Senator Graham commented in the same interview that he believed Ford to be “a victim” of the empirical “process” of investigation.

The active destruction of a female subject’s personhood and safety in the name of the furtherance or hindrance of two conflicting and (notably) male-dominated agendas is nothing new as a cultural event. In fact, the same dynamics that apply to Ford’s testimony (and its reception) could be applied to such seemingly disparate phenomena as the pushing-through of the Keystone Pipeline, the use of hydraulic fracturing in mining practices, or the moving of US business operations overseas in order to take advantage of profitably lax environmental and labor regulations. Christine Blasey Ford is a “victim,” as Graham claimed, but one in a process much larger and more insidious than the hearings that took place on September 27th. She is a resource, and she lives in a world where all resources must and shall be used.

How Natural is Artificial Intelligence?

By Mouli Chattaraj, UNC Charlotte

I don’t follow news channels that much given the general depressing nature of society, but keeping up with major current events is not a challenge, thanks to Social Media.  A while ago there were suddenly memes, or, for the uninitiated, pictures with funny/satiric captions out of context being posted on Sophia, the Artificial Intelligence (AI) robot created by Hanson Robotics. She was all over the internet, especially after a YouTube video of her and Will Smith. I decided to look into Sophia, this fascinating creation which (or is it who?) can record 40 different facial expressions akin to humans, can speak like humans, can feel happiness and disappointment (and the things in between). But the bugging question is, can the state of being ‘human’ or ‘humane’ be quantified into a mere list of qualities? What has been the point of eons of philosophical discourses then, if humanity can be compressed into an oversimplified binary of what we can and cannot do, with respect to our non-human counterparts?

CNBC came up with a video “Here’s how human Sophia the Robot is” to demonstrate how similar she and her actions are to the human beings with ‘natural’ intelligence, and I wonder whether it was meant to be intentionally ironic. She does not look human, that is to say, there are clear indications on her physical form which claims she is otherwise, her voice is mechanical even if her words are not, and from here there is scope for potential debate if we were to address whether she is, organically human or not. This would put to test the notion of self-identity we carry in terms of our species even though it is more of a cultural norm. But at the same time, she does features objectively similar to humans and has been considered to be “sexy” as well, which can be due to her being a female, a young female, a young female with light skin, brown eyes, a sensuous mouth. Is it all a socio-political move, can we bring in race, gender identity, contemporary cultural associations, patriarchal internalizations, into the discourse without being digressive? If Foucaultian ideals were to be implemented in the case of AI, would it then be considered outside the system of binaries, or would a third be created to accommodate this particular entity which is at the same time both more and less than human? Agency is distributive, but not equitably so, and as Bennet says in Assemblages, we need to rethink the concept of human exceptionalism and measuring the world in terms of being human or non-human.  Does Sophia, then, have sole agency or is it merely a reflection of something passed on to her by her decidedly more human creators?

Complications would arise on the question of agency if an AI could reproduce/recreate another of its kind without any human intervention by the way of coding and algorithms. But at the same time what makes humans special? Years of evolution has caused our DNAs and genes to ‘code’ in a way which allows us to survive and reproduce. We did not teach ourselves that. It has been committed upon us through ‘natural’ trial and error.  From that perspective, the position of humans with inherent agency does not hold true at all, since nature, time, electrons and protons, neutrons, proteins and amino acids have had absolute upper hand in crafting themselves. Quoting Alaimo in Bodily Natures, “‘all bodies are shaped by their environments from the moment of conception,’ then there is never a time in which the human can be anything but trans-corporeal.”, we can draw a comparison between the naturality of humans versus that of a robot. I agree to Alaimo in this regard that with the AI too, it becomes what it is fed. When Sophia uses software and mechanisms like machine learning, natural language processing, it is recreating the data which has been implemented into her system. Making something come alive is not the same as being alive, and that is a point which brings forth the next question, does speaking and understanding occur on the same level? Sophia might have a stand on feminism, she might give speeches, but she does not understand this speech, she is purely reiterating it. Had this thought process arisen in her due to her sense of morality or understanding herself and her environment, and most importantly understanding herself and her role in the society, the discussion would have been a much simpler one. The co-actants in her system, designed to designate individual agency to her, do not actually work in her favour because, simply put, she does not have autonomy.

In the 21st century, a time of technological revolution, AI systems will undoubtedly be an immense topic of both fascination and discomfort. The future of such a set up is an insidious one for humans because it deals with losing control and agency exponentially in comparison to the artificial intelligences we are breeding. In a dystopian culture, the AI becomes super-intelligence, in turn super-human. The implications of that can be as simple as manpower/labour becoming extinct, creating scope for a more socialist form of society, as Bennet looks at agency to be, or it could inherently threaten the validity of a human centric world. The concept of man over machine exists because man can think, therefore ‘he is’, but in a world where machine can think and create, this whole binary crumbles and potentially lays grounds for an age of rebirth – a kind of neo-Renaissance.

Nothing is Constant But Change

by Spencer Beasley, UNC Charlotte

I saw a Progressive Insurance commercial the other day that begins with a teenage boy walking into the kitchen typing on his smartphone. He says, “Computer, order pizza. Fridge, weather.” A screen pops up on the refrigerator and a voice tells him the weather forecast for the day. He says “trash can, turn on the TV. Ice dispenser, find me a dog sitter.” The devices in the room answer back to him as a drone flies into the kitchen delivering a pizza box and the boy puts on his virtual reality headset and begins swiping at unseen objects in front of him. His father in the other room says to the Progressive spokesperson, “What happened to my son?” and she replies, “I think that’s just what people are like now.”

This commercial illustrates the degree to which new technologies can seem normal and necessary to some of us while simultaneously appearing foreign and ridiculous to others, with the degree of acceptance often stratified by generation. The father’s reaction in this commercial, and my sympathetic identification with him, share many similarities with Mary Thomas Crane’s characterization of John Donne’s attitude toward new scientific discoveries and technological advancements in the late 16th and early 17th centuries in “John Donne and the New Science.”

Crane writes that “Donne was alive at the moment when it was becoming less possible to ‘know everything,’” and that his ambivalence about this situation shows up in his work (103). Copernican theory of the universe, germ theory of disease, and atomic theory of matter all served during Donne’s lifetime to unhinge the prevailing Aristotelian philosophy “that ordinary everyday experience of the universe must necessarily provide accurate information about its workings” (97). Inventions such as spectacles demonstrated that man-made devices could transform and improve the way humans saw and experienced the world. We know that Donne studied these new phenomena and referred to them in his writing, but his cognitive dissonance between accepting them as true and dismissing them as trivial or dangerous is evident.

I recognize myself and members of other generations today in Crane’s characterization of Donne’s distrust of new ideas. New technologies are constantly changing what “ordinary everyday experience of the universe” means, and degrees of acceptance or resistance vary widely. A modern day parallel to the spectacles of John Donne’s day is virtual reality technology (“VR”). According to Crane, Donne was “skeptical about the accuracy of these spectacles, seeing them as reflecting the preconceptions of particular, and sometimes deceptive, views of the world,” but he also exhibited “fascination with technology that might allow human beings to see into the secrets of nature” (104, 105). Similarly, critics of VR technology today point out that it falls short of actual reality and can never achieve a close enough approximation, nor should it. They also assert that engaging in VR may have detrimental effects such as causing users to withdraw from social interaction or to lead more sedentary lifestyles, impairing cognitive and physical performance. Others, like the father in the insurance commercial, just see folks with weird headsets on and wonder if they’ve gone crazy.

On the other hand, proponents of VR technology point out its uses not only in recreation but in physical and psychological therapy and disability studies. For instance, VR graded exposure therapy has been shown to reduce severity of PTSD symptoms in veterans and active duty combatants. A new VR headset called IrisVision has recently proven to restore vision acuity in people suffering from a multitude of vision disorders from 20/400 (legally blind) to as high as 20/30 (LA Times). Originally, I was wary of VR’s premise as a simulation of reality, offended and disheartened by the thought that the “real world” isn’t good enough, but after learning about its uses to improve people’s quality of life, I am now more open-minded and less threatened by the prospects of virtual reality.
Skepticism of new concepts and devices is not a bad thing, and it is to be expected especially for people who are old enough to remember life before the innovation in question. John Donne’s attitude was not wrong, and in fact he was likely representative of many people at the time if not on the more accepting end of the spectrum. What is important today as it was then is that we put forth the effort to learn about new technologies even if they scare us, and we include diverse perspectives in the exchange of knowledge. Whether it is virtual reality, self-driving cars or space travel, the furtherance of the most feasible ideas that could be most widely applicable and long-lasting comes about not by dismissing ideas as irrelevant or myopically thinking about their immediate impacts on oneself, but by considering all possible uses and outcomes, both good and bad, and broadening the scope of the conversation to include members of other generations and backgrounds.

The Bacon Conundrum in Beverage Advertisements

by Katherine Tallent, UNC Charlotte

I thought that because I don’t watch cable TV anymore that preposterous commercials wouldn’t bombard me… but boy was I wrong! Like any graduate student, I spend my weekend nights catching up on shows or movies on different streaming services, and it all started with a generic commercial for orange juice. Eventually, I got commercials for different types of water, and even the occasional commercial for vodka, and that’s when it hit me. All of these commercials for beverages shared a theme in that they exploit “traditional” and stereotypical ideas of nature and the natural world to earn a profit.
How Does Bacon fit with Beverage Commercials?

When I realized that these commercials exploit nature and the natural world for profit, I instantly connected them to Sir Francis Bacon. Bacon is not a man you hear about in everyday conversation (unless of course, you study the humanities, like me!) but to give a brief run down on Bacon and his beliefs, he was a prominent philosopher, writer, scientist, etc., in the 16th and 17th century, and he was kind of a big deal in what many call the “Scientific Revolution.” Carolyn Merchant puts it best when she writes, “It was Bacon’s singular achievement to demonstrate through rhetoric, metaphor, and vivid example how the ‘secrets of nature’ could be extracted and put into use in the service of humankind” (150). One of Bacon’s really important works, Novum Organum, is all about a new form of science and how humans must study nature and learn all of it’s so-called “secrets.” So basically, Bacon’s ideas were all “part of an emerging framework of science, technology, capitalist development, and Christian religion that provided hope for the recovery of humanity’s dominion over nature lost in the Fall from Eden” (Merchant 162).

In Novum Organum, Bacon delves into his beliefs about the relationship between man and nature, writing, ‘‘Let the human race recover that right over nature which belongs to it by divine bequest” (Merchant 150). In fact, Bacon sees man as “the minister and interpreter of nature” and he declares, “The present discoveries in science are such as lie immediately beneath the surface of common notions. It is necessary, however, to penetrate the more secret and remote parts of nature, in order to abstract both notions and axioms from things by a more certain and guarded method.” It’s a little creepy how Bacon describes learning about nature, especially because he does so in overtly sexual terms, stating that we must “penetrate” nature’s “more secret and remote parts.” Yikes. Merchant explains that Bacon goes even further, stating, that “by art and the hand of man ‘nature can be forced out of her natural state and squeezed and molded’ into revealing her hidden secrets’” (162).

The Exploitation of Nature in Beverage Commercials

You may be wondering, okay so that’s what Bacon thinks, but what does this have to do with drink commercials? Well, consider your ideas about the natural world and what it means for something to be “natural” and how these ideas fit in with these various commercials:
• Simply Orange:
o This is a 30 second commercial that has the voice of a kindly man (Donald Sutherland) over various shots of nature. Sutherland states, “Welcome to the Simply Orange tour. This is our plant [image of an orange tree.] These are our workers [image of oranges on the tree branches.] And this is upper management [image of the sun.] But what you won’t find around here is any freezing, flavoring, or concentrating, which brings us to our end product. Simply Orange. Honestly Simple. [Image of an owl, hooting.] That’s just the night watchman.”
How strange is this commercial? Simply Orange seems to be saying that nature itself works for their company, when in actuality that is a. impossible, and b. dismissive of the actual human employees who work for the company. However, it is smart for Simply Orange to claim that nature is on their side, as it seems to imply that their company possesses Bacon’s coveted secrets of nature. If Simply Orange knows the secrets of nature and even has nature working for them, that must mean they have authentic, all-natural orange juice, right? Maybe not. Coca Cola, who owns Simply Orange, actually uses a computer-based algorithm to create the orange juice, which seems contrary to everything the commercial argues (see this Bloomberg article for more info about the algorithm).
If you’re interested in viewing other orange juice commercials that have a weird vibe about nature, try viewing this commercial for Florida’s Natural.
• Fiji water:
o This 30 second commercial has a beautiful song which is performed by the Nawaka Village Methodist Choir playing in the background, over the outline of a water bottle that has various flashing images of nature inside of it. The narrator, with a childlike voice, states, “Fiji water is a gift from nature to us to repay our gift of leaving it completely alone. Bottled at the source, untouched by man, it’s Earth’s finest water.”
If you haven’t noticed, these commercials seem to always suggest the impossible. Simply Orange can’t employ nature itself to be an employee, just like Fiji Water cannot claim to get water straight from the source yet also claim it is untouched by man. Contrary to what Fiji Water claims, it is impossible to get the water out of Fiji without some sort of human interference. On their website, Fiji Water claims to use a “natural artesian aquifer” to retrieve the water. However, the artesian aquifer itself shows how involved “man” is in Fiji Water’s process:

An artesian aquifer must be drilled into the ground, which penetrates the Earth in a very Baconian way, and thus Fiji Water seeks to show viewers how they possess the secrets of nature. Because they have this knowledge, their water must ultimately be superior, right?
If you’re interested in viewing other water commercials that have a weird vibe about nature, try viewing this commercial for Smart Water.
• Belvedere Vodka:
o In case you thought that this Baconian predicament was reserved for only water and juice commercials, think again! In this one-minute commercial, Belvedere Vodka puts text over various images of nature as they tell their story. The text states, “Poland 600 years ago / Vodka is created. / It is natural / It is raw / It is beautiful. / Glacier stream / Plush forest / Cool air. / This is where Belvedere / Comes from. / This is where we wanted to go / Back to pure water and Polish Dankowskie rye, / Back to natural taste, / Back to where it began. / The story of Belvedere / is the story of vodka. / Straight up, / On rocks, / With a splash. / Dirty. But beautiful. / Your celebrations, / Your unforgettable nights / Belvedere means beautiful to see.”
Like Fiji Water, Belvedere Vodka is trying to make viewers believe that they have cracked the code, so to speak, to nature’s secrets. Like Simply Orange, they are also trying to make viewers believe that nature and the natural world are a vital part to their story. In using terms like “natural” and “raw,” they imply the purity of nature that all of these previous commercials also invoke: nature is untouched by man! Or in this case, nature was untouched by man, until Belvedere came and made some “tasty” vodka from it. Not quite the same, is it?
So What?
What I’ve noticed applies not only to these beverage commercials, but advertising and media in general. These companies seek to appeal to viewers as Baconian knowers of nature’s “secrets” in the hopes of earning a profit. They all tell the same story: their company has a unique relationship with the natural world and that makes their products the best! However, the relationships that these companies display in their advertisements are not as kosher as the reality behind it all. At the end of the day, these companies actually engage, usually in a harmful way, with the natural world while simultaneously claiming themselves as experts who know more about the means of production than nature itself.

Works Cited
Bacon, Francis. Novum Organum. 1620.
Merchant, Carolyn. “Secrets of Nature: The Bacon Debates Revisited.” Journal of the History of Ideas 69.1 (2008): 147–162.

Power in Trafficking and Extracting

by Lindsey Herndon, UNC Charlotte

Sex trafficking is a complete violation of basic human rights. This social justice issue takes a significant emotional, mental, and social toll on survivors. Many victims have lost their lives while others struggle on a daily basis as they cope with the memories and trauma of this crime. While we like to not think that something this disgusting happens in America, it is one of the most prevalent, world-wide crimes next to drug and firearm trafficking, bringing in billions of dollars every year. While the United States is among the top leading nations to take action against human trafficking, it still affects this county more than what many people realize. Every year, thousands of cases are reported, and thousands more occur under the radar. However, the practices of sexual slavery and exploitation are older than recorded history. Whenever a woman or girl — or man or boy — was without status or protection, she or he could have been subjected to sexual exploitation. The same is true today in the United States.

Due to the fact that data on sex trafficking is not completely accurate, so many victims are silenced in their suffering. Like exploited parts of the environment, victims of sex trafficking do not have a voice to speak out with and expose their horrible conditions. Traffickers also play into this narrative by often telling exploited victims that they themselves are offenders, and that they will be charged with the crime of prostitution if they go to law enforcement.

There is not one simple factor that perpetuates sex trafficking. Instead, multiple factors, such as: political, socioeconomic, governmental, and societal factors all intertwine to keep this problem alive. Rural poverty and inequality are two material causes for sex trafficking. Sex and gender discrimination, natural disasters, personal problems which increase vulnerability, and cultural norms which discriminate certain populations also serve as factors which support the supply side of trafficking. Ultimately, individuals want to reap the profits from exploiting others through based on the demand for inexpensive sexual acts. Their greed and desire for something that will only benefit themselves drives them to put the lives of human being in danger and a living nightmare.

As Francis Bacon proclaimed throughout his intellectual journey, “knowledge is power”. It is crucial for American citizens of all ages to be aware of possible signs of human trafficking. In a society where the exact number of victims is uncertain because so many cases go unreported each year, it can be difficult to determine who is actually a victim and who is not. Bacon supported the practice of extracting products of nature from their natural habitat for the benefit of mankind. To an extent, this is ultimately what supporters of trafficking are doing; they are taking people away from their normal lives and placing them in a situation or area of control where they are exploited by those who are seeking after something specific. One overbearing factor in the practice of trafficking is the belief that the lives of girls and women are expendable. Women are at greater risk for being abused, coerced, and trafficked into sex slavery in areas where the society undervalues them. This brings up the question that if women experienced improved social and economic status, would trafficking number significantly decrease? If we as a society respected our environment more, wouldn’t we experience less problems from global warming?

To Degree or Not To Degree?

by Nicole Dirzanowski, UNC Charlotte

Graduation caps fly into the air and hugs are given to anyone that will take one. Parents, grandparents, siblings, family from all over are gathered to participate in your high school graduation ceremony. All of your hard work has finally paid off. You have received your high school diploma. You are allowed one deep sigh of relief before the questions begin. Where are you going to college? What will you be studying? What do you want to do with your degree? Uncle Joe tells you, “You should go into Engineering, that’s where the real money is.” This is the interrogation that falls to all high school graduates. These are questions that must be addressed immediately before the future has slipped away from your grasp leaving you in a life of poverty.
For many students, this is not even a question. They may have no idea what it is that they want to pursue a degree in, but they know that they are definitely going to college. Pressure from schools, parents, and family, looms overhead and the decision is made. The only real way to sustain a life is to head into higher education in the form of a college degree, or so goes the belief, but is this really the only option? Is there not another way?
Similarly to discussions on the valuation of the importance of knowledge gained through scientific methods versus knowledge gained through natural experiences from the Early Modern Period, a binary has been established on the varying types of education available after high school today. Degrees earned through 4-year university are placed in the active role of the binary, while technical and vocational certification programs are placed in the passive role of the binary. Essentially a sort of stigma has been placed on technical vocational knowledge today. The pursuit of a certificate in something like welding is frowned upon in many circles, placing a higher value on an education achieved through a 4-year university.
This idea is perpetuated throughout current society. On job applications across the United States a drop down box is provided to describe your level of education. Many times the requirements portion of the job application also includes a required 2-4 year degree. Unfortunately this mentality draws away from the importance of certification programs in practical job related fields such as automotive repair and welding. Individuals are dissuaded from pursuing careers in these fields simply because they are not seen to be as valuable as a 4-year degree.
It is very possible that this mentality is a remnant of the switch to a more empirical scientific method. The Early Modern Period experienced a shift from a natural knowledge base, where materials were acquired directly from the home and home remedies were commonplace, to a more empirical form of scientific method, gathering materials and taking them into a library where they were manipulated in the name of science. This switch is accredited to the writings of Sir Francis Bacon, which demanded more regimented structures for scientific methods. This placed a higher value on empirical sciences, similarly to the way that a higher value is placed on a degree from a university over a certification through a technical program.
The reality of the situation is that both types of education are equally important. Similarly to the way that Early Modern systems of knowledge both added value to Early Modern Society, so do both types of education today. Without Engineering programs and degrees, we would not be able to live and work in the buildings that we do or drive on the roadways that we use each day. Without individuals with certifications in automotive repair, we would not be able to use those vehicles that drive on those roadways that we use each day. This can be applied across the spectrum for both forms of education. Both provide a service that is equally important and actually supportive of the other. It is important that we support the endeavors of both types of students, regardless of their pursuit. Allow students to explore many diverse types of programs in order to ensure the most agreeable outcomes for both students and society as a whole. People are needed in all types of industries doing all different sorts of work. Let’s hope that as we move toward the future, the value of both types of education will be elevated to be equal, better serving the needs of us all.

Snow Cream, an 18th Century Delish Dish

To make snow cream

take a quart of the best cream and beat itt whith rose or orange

water sweeten itt and beat 2 whites of eggs with a rod and put them to

the cream beat all together and as the snow peses put itt in a dish

(Folger, MS W.a. 87)

Continuing our blog posting from  Dynamic Traditions in Literature class at the University of Texas, Arlington, we are writing about our transcription and cooking of  a recipe, “To Make Snow Cream” from the early 18th century in an English recipe book called Cookery and Medicine, (Folger MS W.a. 87).

Ice and cold temperature foods were once believed to be choleric for its consumers, according to the Galen. The cold was thought to cause coughing, blindness, madness, and even sudden death.  When the Galenic system stopped being used, regular consumption of ice became more acceptable. Ice desserts were typically reserved for the elite and wealthy until the 1800’s. Ice was kept all year round in insulated ice houses and was cranked out of a machine by hand.  While ice cream or ice-related- food products didn’t originate in Europe, they grew to be a popular treat all around the world. Recipes were inspired to make unique variations of the confection. The following is a snow cream recipe, inspired by older recipes that called for ice.

 

Snow Cream is a relatively easy recipe to follow. The recipe calls for the best cream, orange or rose water, two egg whites, and snow. Our group decided to use whipping cream as our “best cream.” We were able to purchase the whipping cream and eggs at Kroger. The “snow” was purchased at Bahama Bucks which is a snow cone store. Rose water was a little more challenging to find. After searching Kroger and Whole Foods, we decided to check out an international food store. We were able to find the rose water at Int. Food Land which is just down the street from University of Texas, Arlington campus. All together, the ingredients for snow cream cost around eight dollars.

The first step to making the cream was to mix a quart of cream with rose water. Our group decided to make a half serving a of the recipe so we used a pint of whipping cream. The recipe did not specify how much rose water to add so our group added about a teaspoon due to the strong flavor.

Then, we beat two egg white into the mixture. Although we were making a half recipe, we decided to use two egg whites to maintain the creamy consistency. The recipe also says to sweeten it, but it does not specify what agent to use so we omitted this step.

Finally, we poured the creamy mixture onto our snow.

We served the Snow Cream immediately after making it. We had a lot of additional cream mixture left even after pouring a good amount on top of the snow. The recipe does not specify how much snow to use which made it hard to figure out how much of the cream mixture we were supposed to add. We figured that the Snow Cream should not be a soupy consistency so we poured enough to cover and m the snow without making it runny. Snow Cream is probably a good summer treat that can be served at the end of the meal. The rose flavor is refreshing, but a bit overwhelming for those who are not used to that taste.

 

       Not only was Snow Cream  easy to make, it was cheap too! A majority of the ingredients are readily available at local grocery stores or food markets. You might have to go out of your way to get the rosewater, but that will be the only ingredient you have to search for. Snow Cream’s hard texture melts if it is warm for too long. If you are not accustomed to rose flavoring, you might find the flavor to be offensive or even bland. Snow Cream’s flavor could possibly be improved by replacing rose water with orange water. Another alternative suggestion would to pair it with something sweet like chocolate.

Transcribing the recipe- Danielle Wharram; Introduction- Iris Sosa; Recipe Blog- Monica Yamashiro (ingredients and cost, recipe steps, pictures, how it’s served or with what other food); Conclusion- Austin Jones (Review of final product)

University of Texas, Arlington; Students of Amy Tigner

Power in Trafficking and Extracting

By Lindsey Herndon, UNC Charlotte

Sex trafficking is a complete violation of basic human rights. This social justice issue takes a significant emotional, mental, and social toll on survivors. Many victims have lost their lives while others struggle on a daily basis as they cope with the memories and trauma of this crime. While we like to not think that something this disgusting happens in America, it is one of the most prevalent, world-wide crimes next to drug and firearm trafficking, bringing in billions of dollars every year. While the United States is among the top leading nations to take action against human trafficking, it still affects this county more than what many people realize. Every year, thousands of cases are reported, and thousands more occur under the radar. However, the practices of sexual slavery and exploitation are older than recorded history. Whenever a woman or girl — or man or boy — was without status or protection, she or he could have been subjected to sexual exploitation. The same is true today in the United States.

Due to the fact that data on sex trafficking is not completely accurate, so many victims are silenced in their suffering. Like exploited parts of the environment, victims of sex trafficking do not have a voice to speak out with and expose their horrible conditions. Traffickers also play into this narrative by often telling exploited victims that they themselves are offenders, and that they will be charged with the crime of prostitution if they go to law enforcement.

There is not one simple factor that perpetuates sex trafficking. Instead, multiple factors, such as: political, socioeconomic, governmental, and societal factors all intertwine to keep this problem alive. Rural poverty and inequality are two material causes for sex trafficking. Sex and gender discrimination, natural disasters, personal problems which increase vulnerability, and cultural norms which discriminate certain populations also serve as factors which support the supply side of trafficking. Ultimately, individuals want to reap the profits from exploiting others through based on the demand for inexpensive sexual acts. Their greed and desire for something that will only benefit themselves drives them to put the lives of human being in danger and a living nightmare.

As Francis Bacon proclaimed throughout his intellectual journey, “knowledge is power”. It is crucial for American citizens of all ages to be aware of possible signs of human trafficking. In a society where the exact number of victims is uncertain because so many cases go unreported each year, it can be difficult to determine who is actually a victim and who is not. Bacon supported the practice of extracting products of nature from their natural habitat for the benefit of mankind. To an extent, this is ultimately what supporters of trafficking are doing; they are taking people away from their normal lives and placing them in a situation or area of control where they are exploited by those who are seeking after something specific. One overbearing factor in the practice of trafficking is the belief that the lives of girls and women are expendable. Women are at greater risk for being abused, coerced, and trafficked into sex slavery in areas where the society undervalues them. This brings up the question that if women experienced improved social and economic status, would trafficking number significantly decrease? If we as a society respected our environment more, wouldn’t we experience less problems from global warming?

Early Modern “Almond Bisqets”

In the Dynamic Traditions in Food and Literature course at the University of Texas at Arlington, one of the most important (and fun) assignments we have to complete is that of recreating this recipe found on transcribe.folger.edu.

For the historical research, searches for “almond biscuits” and “almond cookies” led group one to Chinese almond cookies. Because a Chinese recipe wasn’t used for this project, the closest relative to almond biscuits is believed to be macaroons.   

Located on  the Folger’s Early Modern Manuscripts Online, Cookbook Wa87, the following recipe is for Almond Bisquets. We first transcribed the recipe, which reads as follows:

     To Make Almond Bisquets

     Take a pound of almonds blanched and beat them in

     a mortar putting a little Rose water that they torn not

     to Oile, put to them half a pound of sugar beaten

     very fine, the whites of 4 eggs well beaten, a little Rose

     water mash and ambergrese, beat them all together

     a quart of em home and & put them on papers of what fashion

     you please, be careful in baking them that they be not

     to much calloured

After the recipe was deciphered, the real work began:

The first step was to boil rose petals and stems in water for 15 minutes, steep them for 3 days and then strain out the petals and stems, leaving only the rose water.

The second step was to use a mortar and pestle to grind down the almonds, one of the main ingredients. We also used a mortar and pestles  to grind down plants and herbs for medicine during the early modern period – hard work!

The third step called for 4 egg whites. We used the eggs shells  to separate out the egg whites from the yolk, and then we whisked into a froth. In the early modern period, Italian Jews adopted the cookie because it has no flour or leavening (bisquets were leavened by egg whites) and can be eaten during the eight-day observation of Passover. It was introduced to other European Jews and became popular as a year-round sweet.

Finally, we mixed all of the ingredients  together. The wet ingredients were first – the frothy egg whites and double refined sugar. Because the group did not possess ambergris, and because exact quantities in the recipe weren’t specified, we used vanilla for flavor. Then, the ground almonds were added to the mix, and finally, rose water. We then stirred for ¼ of an hour, or 15 minutes.

The next step was to line a pan with parchment paper, and place globs of the dough on the paper “as you please”. The dough was cooked at 300 degrees, but because an exact cooking time wasn’t specified, the almond cookies had to be watched closely to ensure they didn’t burn. Once the cookies browned evenly, we took them out of the oven.

Finally, the almond cookies were done. Now, the last step is the least difficult – eat the cookies and enjoy!

 

This presentation was brought to you by:

Mark Butler– Writing and preparing the blog post

Kaitlyn Mae– Transcribing the recipe and editing the blog post

Joan Robinson– Cooking the almond cookies

Breona Gardner– Filming the cookie’s preparation and assisting Joan with the ingredients.

Joshua Luebke– Historical research.