Category Archives: American History

From gold mine to laboratory

By Danielle Prostrollo

To commemorate the Norwich Science Festival next week, I wanted to very quickly highlight one of America’s lesser-known scientific institutions in my own home state of South Dakota, the Sanford Lab Homestake.

old homestake mine

The Homestake Mine By Detroit Publishing Co. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The South Dakota gold rush may be less famous than the one in California but its effects continue today. The Homestake Mine was, for many years, the largest continuously running gold mine in America. In total, the mine supplied over 50 million ounces of gold and silver. After its closure in 2001, negotiations to allow a permanent research space began and resulted in the Sanford Lab. The lab is home to a number of experiments from several disciplines but some of the most fascinating (in my opinion) focus on neutrino and dark matter research. These experiments are only possible because of the mine’s incredible depth and size.

The Homestake deposit was discovered in 1876 and bought up for $70,000 (roughly equal to $1.5M in today’s money) the following year by a small group of entrepreneurs (that included George Hearst – newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst’s father). They clearly knew the investment would pay off, but did they know the mine would become an important site for scientific advancement?

The following diagram illustrates the initial plans for the Homestake Mine and shows the incredible usefulness of the mine toward scientific discovery in many disciplines.

Dusel_diagram

By Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation (NSF.gov news) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

To learn more about some of the science being studied at the Sanford Lab, South Dakota, or gold mining in America be sure to check out the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library, some suggestions to start out with:

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, by Neil deGrasse Tyson

The Dakotas: A Guide to Unique Places, by Lisa Meyers McClintick

Gold Dust & Gun Smoke: tales of gold rush outlaws, gunfighters, lawmen and vigilantes, by John Boessenecker

 

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Book review: Hope in the Dark

By Danielle Prostrollo

hope in the dark

Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit

Solnit is perhaps most famous for her book Men Explain Things to Me which birthed the phrase “mansplaining” to describe a man that speaks condescendingly to someone (usually a woman) about a topic he does not necessarily know a great deal about (see: Merriam-Webster’s history of mansplaining). And because of this, I have come to know Solnit as an activist, feminist, and essayists.

Hope in the Dark was written in 2003 shortly after the start of the Iraq war, when the 9/11 attacks were still very fresh and tender in the mind of America, but covers several events from the (relatively) recent past: Zapatistas in Mexico, the Central Park protests for nuclear disarmament, the Berlin Wall. The thread that binds all of these events and essays together is an underlying reason to believe in the human spirit which makes this a great read for anyone fatigued by the news each night and finds themselves in a place of unease.

Our copy is a 2016 edition with a new forward written by Solnit and even just within the first few pages there is fuel for a realistic hope dotted throughout:

“It’s important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is, or will be fine. The evidence is all around us of tremendous suffering and tremendous destruction. The hope I’m interested in is about broad perspectives with specific possibilities, ones that invite or demand that we act. It’s also not a sunny everything-is-getting-better narrative, though it may be a counter to the everything-is-getting-worse narrative. You could call it an account of complexities and uncertainties, with openings” (p. xi-xii).

“Hope is a gift you don’t have to surrender, a power you don’t have to throw away. And though hope can be an act of defiance, defiance isn’t enough reason to hope. But there are good reasons” (p. ix).

“Hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency; because hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal…” (p. 4).

To reserve Hope in the Dark and to explore our stock of social action and American history books of an array of topics, visit us in the Memorial Library!

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Who is Lois Lane?

By Danielle Prostrollo

ILL_1

With the success of the recent Wonder Woman film, I found myself drawn to the ‘other’ famous first lady of comic books – Lois Lane. Tim Hanley, comic book historian, has published a couple of great books on both Wonder Woman and Lois Lane, so I picked up Investigating Lois Lane in the Memorial Library. The book is such a great history of Lane as a character, a cultural icon, and measure of societal opinion that I’ve added a few brief bits that I found interesting both from the book and a bit of extra digging that the book inspired.

Lane has had an interesting history that volleys between plot device to a reasonably fleshed out character (at least, reasonably fleshed out for her time). Her complicated history includes the accomplishment of having her own comic book, Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane and a qualifier on that accomplishment, that her greatest ambition was not a front page scoop, but to marry Superman.

As a character, she often took unnecessary risks or acted without thinking. After rifling through a box of space artefacts she was told not to touch, she developed Kryptonite vision which, of course, caused Superman a great deal of pain and he angrily called her a “little idiot” and told her to get lost. What we later find out is, she didn’t actually have Kryptonite vision and Superman faked his injury in order to teach her a lesson.

DC eventually recruited their first female editor, Dorothy Woolfolk, to take over the ‘lady’ titles (Wonder Woman and Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane). She gave Lane a brief time placed squarely in the first-wave feminist movement: Lane broke up with Superman to concentrate on reporting stories she was passionate about. This didn’t last long, after only a hand full of issues Woolfolk was taken off the title and Superman’s Girl Friend was rolled into another.

In the radio universe, Lane had several iterations. In my opinion, Joan Alexander was the most fascinating. She was the 3rd woman to voice Lois. But when she was fired, she showed up to the auditions for her replacement in a wig, won the role back, and continued to voice Lois for several more seasons.

Alexander’s Lane had a tenacious go-get ‘em nature and often went ahead to catch a scoop despite the dangers of the job, which hinted at the independence of Lane and forward-thinking view of a woman’s role for the time. But so often the scenario ended up with Lois trapped and in peril, waiting for Superman to come and save her from an untimely demise.

 

Some other interesting links relating to Lois Lane and women in comics:
http://dcwomenkickingass.tumblr.com/post/32942226462/llfeminist

https://www.bleedingcool.com/2017/03/14/gendercrunching-january-2017-counting-lead-female-characters-at-marvel-and-dc/

http://sequart.org/magazine/63773/the-complicated-legacies-of-wonder-woman-and-lois-lane/

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From Crazy Horse to Wall Drug: Visiting Home

By Danielle Prostrollo

This autumn I am taking a few weeks off from writing, reading, and studying to be with family and introduce my other half, Dan, to the beauty of South Dakota. Having grown up there its easy to go back and entertain myself – its home. But this will be Dan’s first trip to America, so I feel the pressure to make sure he gets to experience everything.

Flag_of_South_Dakota.svg

So I’m going to do what no born-and-bred South Dakotan has ever done (I’m guessing?)… consult a tourist guidebook. The library has an heroic collection of travel guides for all corners of the United States so I was lucky enough to find two different books to use: Mount Rushmore & The Black Hills by Laural A. Bidwell (a Moon guide) and Off the Beaten Path: The Dakotas by Lisa Meyers McClintick.

The obvious ‘Must-See’ attractions are there – Crazy Horse, Mount Rushmore, and the Badlands. Those aren’t in question, we’ll certainly put those on the list. Other options that would normally be a given include Hill City/Keystone salt water taffy but sadly we’ll have missed out on taffy season.

From the guidebooks I realised I had forgotten about the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site and Launch Center Delta-01 – a site we will definitely visit, weather permitting. The old Cold War missile silo and launch center are something a little bit different in a state that is best known for its Wild West history.

While reading I stumbled into the history of Mount Rushmore, something we all learn as kids but hadn’t thought about in a long time and resonated much more now that I have been living abroad for a few years. Specifically, what I found interesting is that Mount Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum was friends with famous French sculptor Auguste Rodin and had exhibited for Queen Victoria before returning to America and taking on large scale projects such as the Stone Mountain project (which his temper eventually saw him relieved from) and Mount Rushmore.

And in a bit of reminiscence, the entry on the Black Hills Institute brightened my day. The Institute was a stalwart of my childhood summers. Sue the T. rex was my favorite. I was of the perfect age to be devastated when she left the Black Hills for good but on this visit I hope to see Stan, the most complete T. rex, to date.

There’s so much to see, hopefully we can tick off as many as possible.

There’s:

Wall Drug – the greatest emporium/roadside attraction around

Alpine Inn in Hill City – ultimate restaurant for the indecisive (you get a steak, either a big one or a smaller one)

A beer in Deadwood – toast one to ol’ Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane (for more info on Wild Bill in South Dakota, we have some great books on the man in the library)

Mount Moriah – a similar but more solemn remembrance of Bill and Jane at their resting place

Nick’s Hamburgers – on the other side of the state these famous burgers are tiny but delicious

Corn Palace – who wouldn’t love a building covered in corn murals?

Falls Park – the namesake of Sioux Falls, the Falls are a great attraction for anyone who enjoys a walk in the park

Al’s Oasis – to get between East and West River you have to stop at Al’s Oasis to recover and recuperate in their cafeteria.

And the list goes on. Undoubtedly, this trip will spark a ton of lists for future visits as the Black Hills and the Great Plains offer such beautiful landscapes and rich culture.

 

 

 

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