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[Detail] Filipino Varsity Four.

6) Science and Technology

The years in which circuit Chautauqua was most active (roughly 1904-1924) were also ones of unprecedented technological and scientific breakthroughs. Not surprisingly, many Chautauqua speakers were knowledgeable individuals from various disciplines of science and industry. The materials in the collection offer researchers the opportunity to examine the manner in which popular culture embraced new technologies and knowledge in the first half of the twentieth century.

Using subject specific searches, researchers can explore the collection for pertinent materials. For example, the Subject Index heading, Aviation, yields twenty-four documents. Among these documents are promotional materials for C.B.F. Macauley, author of "The Helicopters Are Coming", and "A Tribute to Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh," celebrating the aviator's homecoming. The speaker, Louis Ludlow, says the following of Captain Lindbergh's flight:

As if roiled by the very boldness of this Columbus of the air-this winged mercury, speeding like a thunderbolt of Jove-nature sent her tempestuous elements athwart his path, and while he battled with the storm and sleet millions upon millions of his fellow-beings sent up prayers for his safety to the throne of God.

  • How does Mr. Ludlow characterize Lindbergh? With whom or what is the aviator associated? What does this portrayal suggest about Americans' attitudes towards pioneers in science and technology?
  • What role does nature play in this passage?
  • What part does Mr. Ludlow assign the general public of the United States in Lindbergh's success?
  • How might such rhetoric contribute to confidence in the growing aviation industry?

In the case of the theremin, an early electronic instrument that produced tones based on the motions of the player, art, science, and technology blended in a novel way that made for a dramatic, entertaining performance. Accessible under the Subject Index heading, Theremin, promotional materials for "Charles Stein: America's Foremost Exponent of the Theremin" observe:

Perhaps the first thing that impresses the person who sees and hears the Theremin, is the apparently miraculous effect produced by moving the hands easily in the thin air about a polished mahogany cabinet a little more than waist high. It is as if the hands were running over strange and invisible strings. The weirdness of this first impression, however, soon gives way to interest in the compelling beauty of the tone produced.

  • To what senses does the theremin performance appeal? How might this have made the theremin have particularly suitable for Chautauqua presentations? What might make the instrument an effective topic for a scientific presentation?
  • How does this piece characterize the manipulation of the theremin?
  • Does the statement place more emphasis on the strangeness or the beauty of the theremin?
  • What reaction might an early twentieth-century classical musician have upon first hearing the theremin? What reaction might a scientist have had?
  • In what ways are new technologies introduced to the public today?

Also popular on Chautauqua programs were presentations that dealt with emerging scientific knowledge. A search on keyword science results in 100 pertinent documents including "Captain Jack Harrison: Science Fights Crime," Frederic Campbell's "Popular Lectures on the Stars," and, proving that the domestic sphere was not beyond contemplation, "Good Cookery" by Miss Florence Norton.

Early scientific Chautauqua programs strove to assure the buying public that science and public demonstration were not only mutually compatible but also desirable. The materials relating to Professor J. Ernest Woodland's 1906 program "Demonstrations in Twentieth Century Science" note that:

Every community should have at least one popular scientific lecture a year. If presented by a student who knows how to give to laymen the results of his scientific research, such lectures are eminently instructive and delightfully entertaining. The community has a right to demand, however, something more than can be learned by books and magazine articles. The lecturer must speak with authority; he must come fresh from his laboratory; he must give the audiences the results of the latest scientific research.

  • According to the passage, what are the benefits of a scientific presentation? How is such a presentation different from scientific books and periodicals?
  • What assumptions does the statement make about the public's interests and expectations?
  • What does the statement suggest is the proper relationship between scientists and the general public?
  • What do the promotional materials as a whole suggest about the relationship between scientists and the general public in this era?
  • How is the contemporary relationship between scientists and the general public different from that suggested by the article? How is it similar?