About Steven

Steven never dreamed his first job out of college would be in public relations, and on top of that working for one of the top museums in the country. After all, he majored in History at Vassar College. Within three months of graduation, he landed a spot in the PR department and has not looked back since. He is fast becoming a communications fanatic, spending a tremendous amount of his time promoting the museum and all it has to offer.

Elixir – A History of Water and Humankind

Guest Blogger Brian Fagan, Ph.D., New York Times best-selling author of The Great Warming and Cro-Magnon comments on his career in archaeology and his interest in tracing ancient climate change, at his August 8 lecture at HMNS. Fagan also talks about his new book, Elixir.

I became an archaeologist almost by accident while at Cambridge University in England. By chance, I got a job working in a museum in Zambia, then Northern Rhodesia, and ended up spending seven years doing archaeological research in East and Central Africa. I was excavating ancient farming villages and helping write African history, which gave me a passion for sharing the past with the public.

Since coming to the United States in 1966, I’ve specialized in writing about archaeology for general audiences. This morphed into a long-term interest in ancient climate change and how it affected humanity. This has culminated in three books: The Great Warming, which describes climate changes 1,000 years ago, Cro-Magnon, about hunters in the Late Ice over 20,000 years ago, and my latest book, Elixir, a history of humans and water.

Elixir took me on a fascinating journey through 10,000 years of history—to Egypt, India, and Mesopotamia, to Greece, Rome, and Medieval Europe, the world of the ancient Maya and the Arizona desert. I learned all about gravity, about brilliant Islamic water engineers, and the Inca of the Andes, who invested in water for eternity. Are these long forgotten efforts at water management relevant to our world. Most certainly they are and our journey ends in today’s world, where we face a quiet crisis of ever-scarcer water supplies.

Dr. Fagan will give a lecture entitled “Elixir: A History of Water and Humankind” on Monday, August 8 at 7 p.m. at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Following the lecture he will be signing copies of his new book Elixir: A History of Water and Humankind and Cro-Magnon. Book signing by Brazos Book Store at HMNS.

Click here to purchase tickets.
Click here to read an author interview about Elixir.
More on Dr. Fagan
Check out Dr. Fagan’s appearence on the Daily Show, where he discusses  The Great Warming.

About Dr. Fagan
Brian Fagan was born in England and studied archaeology at Pembroke College, Cambridge. He was Keeper of Prehistory at the Livingstone Museum, Zambia, from 1959-1965. During six years in Zambia and one in East Africa, he was deeply involved in fieldwork on multidisciplinary African history and in monuments conservation. He came to the United States in 1966 and was Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, from 1967 to 2004, when he became Emeritus.

Since coming to Santa Barbara, Brian has specialized in communicating archaeology to general audiences through lecturing, writing, and other media. He is regarded as one of the world’s leading archaeological and historical writers and is a widely respected popular lecturer about the past. His many books include three volumes for the National Geographic Society, including the bestselling Adventure of Archaeology. Other works include The Rape of the Nile, a classic history of archaeologists and tourists along the Nile, and four books on ancient climate change and human societies, Floods, Famines, and Emperors (on El Niños), The Little Ice Age, and The Long Summer, an account of warming and humanity since the Great Ice Age. His most recent climatic work describes the Medieval Warm Period: The Great Warming: Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations. His other books include Chaco Canyon: Archaeologists Explore the Lives of an Ancient Society and Fish on Friday: Feasting, Fasting, and the Discovery of the New World and Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age gave birth to the First Modern Humans. His recently published Elixir: A History of Water and Humankind extends his climatic research to the most vital of all resources for humanity.

Brian has been sailing since he was eight years old and learned how to cruise in the English Channel and North Sea. He has sailed thousands of miles in European waters, across the Atlantic, and in the Pacific. He is author of the Cruising Guide to Central and Southern California, which has been a widely used set of sailing directions since 1979. An ardent bicyclist, he lives in Santa Barbara with his wife Lesley and daughter Ana.

Iconic Phrases and the Texas Revolution

Today’s post was written by our volunteer Pat Hazlett

“Come and Take It!” “Remember the Alamo!” “Remember Goliad!” What Texan is not familiar with these phrases?  Phrases to stir the soul, inspire courage, and incite rebellion. Each phrase is associated with a pivotal point on Texas’ road from revolution to independence.

 “Come and Take it Cannon”
On display in Texas!

On October 2, 1835 the Mexican commander at San Antonio ordered the people of Gonzales to surrender their small brass cannon. Local officials refused and sent runners into the surrounding areas to gather armed men. The Mexican colonel ordered about 100 soldiers to take the cannon by force.  Buried until reinforcements arrived, the cannon was then mounted on a wagon and decorated with a white flag proclaiming, “Come and Take It.” The Mexican soldiers arrived to confront 160 armed Texans and a brief battle ensued. One Mexican soldier was killed, but no Texans. The Mexicans withdrew to San Antonio.  News of the “battle” spread and ignited fervor among Texans.

By early 1836 the Texans in San Antonio occupied the abandoned mission, San Antonio de Valero. The old mission had once housed a Spanish company from Alamo de Parras in Mexico. So, most people referred to it as the Alamo. Colonel James Bowie and his men joined Colonel James C. Neill, commander, in January 1836. In February, William B. Travis and his men joined them. Bowie was chosen commander of the volunteers, Travis of the regular army.  However, Bowie became ill and passed the entire command to Travis. Although the Alamo was a fairly good defensive position, Travis knew they had too few men (less than 200). There were also gaps in the Alamo walls, closed only with sticks and dirt. Regardless, Travis was determined to hold the Alamo, which had come to symbolize much for its defenders. This would also tie up Santa Anna’s army and give Sam Houston more time to raise a Texas army. Despite written appeals for help, help did not arrive in time. As Mexican troops encircled the Alamo, Travis explained that remaining would mean certain death. According to legend, he drew a line in the sand with his saber, asking those who wished to stay to cross over the line.  All but one stepped across.  At about 5:00 a.m. on March 6, 1836, the battle began. Mexican buglers played the notes of “El Deguello,” an ancient chant indicating that no mercy would be shown. The Texans put up a stubborn fight, but the third assault by the Mexican troops successfully breached the walls. By 8:00 a.m. the battle for the Alamo was over. Bowie, Travis, and volunteer Davy Crockett were all killed. “Remember the Alamo!” became a battle cry for Sam Houston’s army.

Creative Commons License photo credit: travelswiss

Also by 1836, the Spanish presidio, La Bahia, near the town of Goliad was under Texas control, commanded by Colonel James W. Fannin. General Sam Houston had ordered Fannin to retreat to Victoria, but Fannin delayed and found himself surrounded by Mexican forces at the Battle of Coleto. He and his men surrendered and were imprisoned inside the presidio at Goliad. Many Texans believed they were prisoners of war and would be treated fairly by their Mexican captors. Though the surrender document, in Mexican archives, shows no such promise, eyewitnesses testified that Mexican general Urrea assured Fannin that he and his men would be treated fairly. General Urrea even wrote to Santa Anna, requesting that the lives of the prisoners be spared. Santa Anna replied with immediate execution orders. On March 27, 1836, Palm Sunday, Fannin, his men and other Texan captives were divided into columns and marched out onto the prairie. They believed they were going on work detail; some even assumed they were going home. Upon a signal, Mexican soldiers opened fire on them, killing them all. Colonel Fannin was the last to be shot, forced to watch the execution of his own men. “Remember Goliad” joined “Remember the Alamo” as the battle cry of Sam Houston’s army, soon to be victorious at San Jacinto. 

Don’t miss your chance to see Texas! The Exhibition, on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science through September 7.


Anderson, Adrian N., et al. Texas and Texans. Columbus, Ohio: Glencoe/McGraw Hill. 2003.

Barkley, Roy R. and Mark F. Odintz. The Portable Handbook of Texas.  Austin: Texas State Historical Association. 2000.

Magic and Museums

Today’s guest blogger is Richard Hatch. He holds Masters of Science and Master of Philosophy degrees in Physics from Yale University. However, deciding he would rather violate the laws of nature than discover them, Hatch has been a professional magician full time since 1983.  He is co-founder of the Hatch Academy of Magic and Music in Logan, Utah.

Richard Hatch is returning to HMNS July 31 – August 2 as an encore to his popular sold-out classes offered last summer. This time we are offering Magic 301, in addition to Magic 101 and 201. If you want to be armed with tricks up your sleeve, don’t miss these classes by magician Richard Hatch.

July 31 – Magic 101: Introduction to Sleight-of-Hand Magic
August 1 – Magic 201: Fundamentals of Mentalism
August 2 – Magic 301: More Sleight-of-Hand Magic

All students are expected to adhere to the magicians’ code of secrecy regarding the techniques taught. Click here for more information on the Magic Classes and to register.

The fantastic Magic! exhibit that ran at HMNS from February 26 through September 26 last year was my first experience working with a museum.

Guest curator Scott Cervine, himself an award-winning magician and a filmmaker, did a great job rounding up and organizing artifacts and performers and working with the museum staff to present them in a truly wonderful way. It was a singular honor to be associated with this exhibit, both as a lender of artifacts, consultant, lecturer on magic history at the associated extension course at Rice University’s Glasscock School of Continuing Studies, performer (both close up and on the special stage built for this event) and designer and teacher of the adult magic classes (Magic 101 and Magic 201).

In the latter role, I particularly enjoyed the feedback from students and used it to tweak the classes over the course of the exhibit, leaving out things that took too much class time to explain properly, adding others based on student feedback about what they enjoyed. These monthly classes were a highlight of my participation in the exhibit and inspired me to open a school of magic (and music) in my hometown Logan, Utah, where I moved just a few weeks after the exhibit ended with my wife, violinist Rosemary Kimura Hatch.

Our concern with leaving Houston was how we would keep busy professionally in a new community where we were totally unknown. Rosemary gave up a large studio of violin students in Houston in order to make the move, so it was logical for us to think that she could, over time, find students in our new home, a small college town in northern Utah. I thought that by offering magic classes in addition to Rosemary’s music classes, it would help draw media attention to our new venture. My press releases characterized our venture, the Hatch Academy of Magic and Music, as a “combination of Hogwarts and Julliard” and the local media was intrigued enough to feature us in numerous articles and in radio interviews leading up to the official opening of our school last January.

As a direct result of my participation in the HMNS exhibit, I was hired to perform and teach magic classes at the Discovery Science Place in Tyler, Texas at the end of January. Earlier that month I traveled to Los Angeles to lecture docents of the Skirball Cultural Center in preparation for their exhibit, “Masters of Illusion: Jewish Magicians of the Golden Age” which opened in late April. Just prior to the official opening of the exhibit, I returned to the Skirball Museum to lead media tours. This wonderful exhibit runs through September 4th and focuses on the remarkable contributions of Jewish magicians to the art.

At the Hatch Academy of Magic and Music I offer both group lessons and private lessons. This summer I have added a class called “How to be an Amazing Grandparent” to introduce magic to a more mature demographic. Rosemary and I also started offering monthly performances of magic and music, along with our son, pianist Jonathan Hatch. We are calling these performances “Matinées Enchantées” as a small homage to the great Robert-Houdin (1805 – 1871) whose performances in Paris in the 1840s revolutionized the art of magic and were called “Soirées Fantastiques” (we give our performances in the afternoon, rather than the evening). The venue only seats 56 and the April, May and June performances have all sold out in advance. Rosemary is teaching at Interlochen, Michigan the entire month of July, so we won’t start these up again until August. In the meantime, we are exploring venues for touring with this performance, which is suitable for small theaters with good acoustics and a tuned piano. We particularly enjoy performing in historic opera houses (such as the Columbus Opera House, in Columbus, Texas, where we performed many years ago).

I’m looking forward to returning to the Houston Museum of Natural Science for the upcoming Magic 101, Magic 102, and Magic 103 classes starting July 31. Each class is independent and there are no prerequisites. All students are required to sign a non-disclosure agreement regarding the secrets of magic (the traditional “magicians’ oath”) and we spend the first few minutes of the class explaining why this is important.

Contrary to popular opinion, the secrecy oath is not to protect the secrets of magic, but to protect audiences from those secrets! In addition to the magic learned in class, resources are shared for continuing to learn magic outside the classroom environment.

Late-Breaking Texas History

This is a guest post by Amy Potts, Director of Adult Education at the Houston Museum of Natural Science and organizer of the museum’s lecture series.

Until pediatrician Dr. Gregg Dimmick began investigating, little was known about the Mexican Army following their defeat at the Battle of San Jacinto.

Ten years of archaeology and archival research have brought Dr. Dimmick a new understanding of this forgotten story of the Texas Revolution – findings that now render most Texas history books’ accounts of the events invalid.

Dimmick and his “digging buddies” have located artifacts dropped or discarded in the mud by Mexican soldados more than 165 years ago. Thousands of hours excavating in the “Sea of Mud” (El Mar de Lodo) have produced hundreds of items along with the army’s trail—munitions, arms, uniform fragments and personal items, all serving to paint a more accurate picture than we have heretofore had of Santa Anna’s army and its response to his order to retreat.

Don’t miss Dr. Dimmick’s lecture at the Houston Museum of Natural Science on July 11 in which he will tell the fascinating story that has been uncovered in the “Sea of Mud.”  Included will be latest findings of the research on the Juan Alomonte surrender site and the skulls discovered by James Audubon.

In 1837, the famous ornithologist, James Audubon, was in Texas drawing birds.  He came to the San Jacinto Battleground and collected some skulls of the Mexican dead for his friend, Dr. Morton.  Morton was a craniologist in Pennsylvania.

Jeff Dunn of the Friends of the San Jacinto Battleground discovered that these skulls were still in a collection at the University of Pennsylvania.  The Friends of San Jacinto hired Dr. Doug Ousley of the Smithsonian to do a forensic study on these skulls.

Dr. Gregg Dimmick is the leading authority of the Mexican Army’s retreat and will tell the tales he uncovered in his archaeological investigations at HMNS on Monday, July 11, 7 p.m. Brazos Bookstore will host a book signing following the lecture at the museum.