Understand the legacy of Magna Carta at an HMNS Distinguished Lecture

Nearly 800 years ago, on a summer day on the banks of the river Thames, 25 barons gathered waiting for King John. The document they sealed, under fluttering pendants, would come to underpin our modern conceptions of liberty, freedom and justice. But why — let alone how?

We would come to call this document Magna Carta – the “Great Charter.” But how did it come about?

There were many, many medieval charters. Yet, this is the one that became embedded in the consciousness of England and then the world. What relevance could this document possibly still hold for us as Americans, an ocean away and 800 years later?

Tonight we’ll answer these questions at “A Universal Charter? The Legacy of the Magna Carta” as part of our Distinguished Lecture series. Featuring Sir Robert Rogers, Clerk of the British House of Commons – an office that dates back to 1363 – we will delve into the history and influence of Magna Carta.

Join HMNS in giving our distinguished speaker a big Texas welcome at his lecture tonight in the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre!

 

Robert - full regaliaA Universal Charter? The Legacy of the Magna Carta
Sir Robert Rogers, Clerk of the British House of Commons
Wednesday, February 19, 6:30 p.m.
Click here for tickets.

About the Speaker:
Sir Robert is well accustomed to the ways in which the old lives with the new. One of his tasks is to endorse Parliamentary bills in Norman French — but they are prepared using some of the most advanced text-handling software in the world.

Also an Honorary Bencher of the Middle Temple Inn of Court (the Temple Church plays a part in the story of Magna Carta), Sir Robert Rogers is author of two miscellanies about the British Parliament: “Order! Order!” and “Who Goes Home?” He’s the joint author of “How Parliament Works,” now going into its seventh edition.

UPCOMING MAGNA CARTA LECTURES:
Tickets $18, HMNS members $12
www.hmns.org/lectures

13th Century Sword & Buckler: Origins of the Knightly Fighting Arts
John Clements, Association for Renaissance Martial Arts
Wednesday, February 26, 6:30 p.m.
Click here for tickets.

The liberal arts in medieval times were those subjects studied by a free man — who was free precisely because he was armed and trained in the fighting arts. Much of what is known of 13th century sword and buckler training is documented in the only surviving fencing manual of the period. John Clements, martial arts historian, will describe the science of defense developed in this period, as well as the arms, armor and chivalric work of knights. This lecture will be followed by a live demonstration of medieval martial arts.

Conquest, Wars and Liberties of the Realm: the Long Run-Up to Magna Carta
Bruce O’Brien, Ph.D., International Early English Laws Project.
Wednesday, March 12, 6:30 p.m.
Click here for tickets.

To understand Magna Carta, one has to understand England’s past. Much has to do with the obligations of kings and their subjects, which was a point of negotiation. This process is writ large in pre-conquest Anglo-Saxon laws, in the monuments of the Norman kings such as Domesday Book and the coronation charter of Henry I, and in the legal reforms instituted by Henry II, which formed the basis for what came to be known as the Common Law.

Medieval Genealogy
Lynna Kay Shuffield, Genealogist
Wednesday, April 16, 6 p.m.
Click here for tickets.

Do you have royal lineage? Are you a descendant of a rebellious baron? Genealogy researcher Lynna Kay Shuffield will review tips to help you trace your family to medieval Europe. For those with English roots there is a fair chance you may find a Magna Carta link. Over 3,000 Texans are currently registered as descendants of the Magna Carta Dames and Barons from Runnymede. You do not need to be an avid genealogy researcher to enjoy this program.

ADDITIONAL MAGNA CARTA PROGRAMS

ADULT CLASS: Introduction to the Sword
Thursday, February 27, 6 p.m.
Click here for tickets.

The sword is an important symbol of power — from the gladius of gladiators to the light saber of the Jedi. It has been used to change history. Whether leading a conquest of the Normans or to helping to secure the seed of democracy, the sword is an important symbol of martial skill. Thought of as a “lost art,” swordsmanship is still taught using the writing and illustrations passed down from Renaissance sword masters. Learn the basics of this martial art in this class lead by John Clements, director Association of Renaissance Martial Arts. This program is for participants age 15 and up.

ADULT CLASS: Calligraphy, From Quill to Pen
Thursday, May 15, 9:30 a.m. – 3 p.m
Click here for tickets

Saturday, June 21, 9:30 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Click here for tickets

Calligraphy — from ancient Greek kallos for “beauty” and graphe for “writing” — is a visual art dating back to at least 5,000 BC, although our western letter forms were standardized during in the 8th century. In this beginner-level class, Cindy Haller, Houston Calligraphy Guild instructor, will teach you to use a dip pen (our modern answer to the quill) and ink to create the Italic script, and introduce you to the history of English script writing. All supplies are provided and are yours to keep. Participants must be 15 years of age or older.

Distinguished Lecture Series: Gain new perspective on a local Civil War hero April 24

Many Houstonians are familiar with the story of the Battle of Sabine Pass. On September 8, 1863—against long odds—the Confederate Davis Guards and Lt. Dick Dowling defeated a U.S. Navy fleet that entered Sabine Pass from the Gulf of Mexico, foiling a Union plan to capture Houston and the state of Texas.

dick dowling guest blog

For a century and a half, the Irish Houstonian Richard W. “Dick” Dowling has been remembered as a Confederate hero who saved Texas from invasion by federal troops with his victory at the Battle of Sabine Pass. His statue still stands in Hermann Park near the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Yet the stories Houstonians have told about Dowling have also changed over time, and some stories have not yet been fully told. Legends about the Battle of Sabine Pass have also overshadowed the fact that Dowling’s victory delayed emancipation in Texas and obscured the heroism of several fugitive slaves who fought in the battle for the Union.

Historical researcher Dr. W. Caleb McDaniel has uncovered a fresh view of Dowling’s famous battle from the perspective of another Houston landmark, Emancipation Park, by placing Dowling and Sabine Pass in the context of slavery and emancipation both before and during the Civil War.

In the final lecture of the Discovering the Civil War Distinguished Lecture Series on Tuesday, April 24, Dr. Caleb McDaniel will present “Dick Dowling and the Battle of Sabine Pass: The View from Houston’s Emancipation Park.”

“My lecture will use recent research about the Battle of Sabine Pass to show how the battle impacted enslaved people in Texas and Louisiana and will also discuss the role of African American sailors in the battle on the Union side,” Dr. Caleb McDaniel explains.

Audience members will also be introduced to a new online archive of historical documents and materials related to Dowling, enabling them to study Dowling on their own and trace the changes in his image over time in Houston and beyond.

dick dowling guest blog

What: HMNS Distinguished Lecture, “Dick Dowling and the Battle of Sabine Pass: The View from Houston’s Emancipation Park”

When: Tuesday, April 24, 6:30 p.m.

Where: The Houston Museum of Natural Science, 5555 Hermann Park Dr., 77030

Click here for advanced tickets.

W. Caleb McDaniel

Dr. W. Caleb McDaniel is assistant professor of history at Rice University. Since receiving his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University in 2006, he has published articles on the Civil War era in several scholarly journals and currently teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on the Civil War at Rice. More information about his work is available on his homepage.

Emancipation Park

In 1872, Rev. Jack Yates and his congregation at Houston’s oldest African American Church, Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, along with the help of  the members of Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church and other community leaders, purchased the land the park stands on to celebrate Juneteenth. This community park was later donated to the City of Houston in 1916.  Located near downtown at the intersection of Dowling and Elgin Streets, Houston’s Emancipation Park  is now designated with a State Historical Marker. The Park is cared for by the City of Houston with support from Friends of Emancipation Park.

Oil Spills and their Impact on the Environment

Today’s Guest Blogger is Wes Tunnel, Ph.D. , marine biologist who has studied oil spills and their impact on the environment. For over 40 years he has helped develop the National Spill Control School. Dr. Tunnell, is Associate Curator of Malacology at the Houston Museum of Natural Science and Associate Director of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies and Professor at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. Dr.

Studying oil spills is not something many scientists do as a planned area of study for their advanced degree. Unless they are at a university near a major spill, they likely will not get engaged in studying oil spills unless one happens “in their back yard.”

That is exactly what happened to me early in my career as a marine scientist, and it is what happened to many scientists across the northern Gulf of Mexico last year (2010) with the Deepwater Horizon/Macondo spill.

Gulf Coast Oil Spill

I first had the opportunity to start learning about oil spills and their effect on the environment in the mid-1970s when our university received a grant to develop the first oil spill training program in the United States.

It took about two years of gathering information and interviewing people for the leaders of this program to establish the National Spill Control School at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi (then called Texas A&I University at Corpus Christi). The week-long classes established for the School included specialists lecturing on the biological, chemical, and physical aspects of oil and its impact on the environment, and it also covered aspects of policy, law, social impacts, clean up techniques and strategies, and a whole realm of related topics. Attendees would see newly created movies, as well as vintage ones of previous oil spills, and they would get field experience in working with booms, skimmers, and other clean up techniques.

However, for me, this was all just book learning, and I had always been a proponent of hands-on, field oriented biology for the best understanding of any topic.

Well, on June 3, 1979, when the Ixtoc I oil well blew out in the southern Gulf of Mexico, it looked like I might get that chance. By early August, the predicted 60-day movement of oil proved true as South Texas beaches were coated for over 150 miles between the mouth of the Rio Grande to north of Port Aransas. The oil ranged from 5 to 10 yards in width and 3 to 15 inches in thickness along this entire stretch of coast. It was sickening, and I thought our beloved beaches would be ruined forever.

Working with funding from NOAA, we ran 13 transects along the length of Padre Island from Corpus Christi to the Rio Grande.

These extended from the third sandbar offshore to the upper extent of the intertidal zone. Since we knew the oil was coming, which often is not the case, we were able to do pre-spill samples before the oil arrived and then post-spill samples after it arrived.

In general, we found reductions in numbers of organisms (not numbers of species) by 80% in the intertidal zone (area where the waves wash the shore) and 50% in the subtidal zone (offshore bar and trough zone, where the waves are breaking). Although this news was devastating at first, we were pleased to find out that the beaches had recovered fully in about 2.5-3 years. A combination of fast weathering of oil (biological, chemical, and physical break down of oil) and fast reproductive abilities of most beach organisms allowed for this quick recovery.

John W. Tunnell, Jr. Ph.D.

Although this story of impact and recovery is much more complex than what is related here, we did not have sufficient funds to track the exact timing or impact, since research funds were cut off. This is typical of many large spills, so we don’t have the kind of information to answer many of the question that were flying last summer. The commitment of BP to fund the Gulf Research Initiative at $500 million total, or $50 million per year, over the next 10 years should greatly help our knowledge of dealing with and understanding future spills. Funding from NSF, NOAA, EPA, and other federal and state agencies should add to this knowledge also.

Learn more on oil spills and their impact on the marine environment from Dr. Wes Tunnel at his lecture on Monday, August 29 at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

The gift that keeps on giving: Darwin and the Origin of Species

In conjunction with Darwin2009 Houston, a year-long celebration of Darwin’s 200th birthday and 150th anniversary of the publication of “On the Origin of Species,” HMNS will host a series of events exploring the contributions of this famous scientist.

Today’s guest blogger is Francisco J. Ayala, who shares some his findings here prior to his Feb. 24 lecture at the Museum, on “Darwin’s Gift to Science and Religion,” a part of HMNS’ Distinguished Lecture series.

The Origin of Species #1
Creative Commons License photo credit: gds

Darwin occupies an exalted place in the history of Western thought, deservedly receiving credit for the theory of evolution. In The Origin of Species, he laid out the evidence demonstrating the evolution of organisms.  However, Darwin accomplished something much more important than demonstrating evolution. Indeed, accumulating evidence for common descent with diversification may very well have been a subsidiary objective of Darwin’s masterpiece.  Darwin’s Origin of Species is, first and foremost, a sustained argument to solve the problem of how to account scientifically for the design of organisms. Darwin seeks to explain the design of organisms, their complexity, diversity, and marvelous contrivances as the result of natural processes. Darwin brings about the evidence for evolution because evolution is a necessary consequence of his theory of design.

The advances of physical science brought about by the Copernican Revolution had driven mankind’s conception of the universe to a split-personality state of affairs, which persisted well into the mid-nineteenth century.  Scientific explanations, derived from natural laws, dominated the world of nonliving matter, on the Earth as well as in the heavens.  Supernatural explanations, which depended on the unfathomable deeds of the Creator, were accepted as explanations of the origin and configuration of living creatures. Authors, such as William Paley in his Natural Theology of 1802, had developed the “argument from design,” the notion that the complex design of organisms could not have come about by chance, or by the mechanical laws of physics, chemistry, and astronomy, but was rather accomplished by an Omnipotent Deity, just as the complexity of a watch, designed to tell time, was accomplished by an intelligent watchmaker.

It was Darwin’s genius to resolve this conceptual schizophrenia.  Darwin completed the Copernican Revolution by drawing out for biology the notion of nature as a lawful system of matter in motion that human reason can explain without recourse to supernatural agencies. Darwin’s greatest accomplishment was to show that the complex organization and functionality of living beings can be explained as the result of a natural process—natural selection—without any need to resort to a Creator or other external agent.  The origin and adaptations of organisms in their profusion and wondrous variations were thus brought into the realm of science.

crab on the rocks
Creative Commons License photo credit: angela7dreams

Evolution can be seen as a two-step process. First, hereditary variation arises by mutation; second, selection occurs by which useful variations increase in frequency and those that are less useful or injurious are eliminated over the generations. “Useful” and “injurious” are terms used by Darwin in his definition of natural selection. The significant point is that individuals having useful variations “would have the best chance of surviving and procreating their kind.” As a consequence, useful variations increase in frequency over the generations, at the expense of those that are less useful or injurious.

Natural selection is much more than a “purifying” process, for it is able to generate novelty by increasing the probability of otherwise extremely improbable genetic combinations.  Natural selection in combination with mutation becomes, in this respect, a creative process.  Moreover, it is a process that has been occurring for many millions of years, in many different evolutionary lineages and a multitude of species, each consisting of a large number of individuals. Evolution by mutation and natural selection has produced the enormous diversity of the living world with its wondrous adaptations.

Francisco J. Ayala is a noted biologist and philosopher at the University of California at Irvine’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Don’t miss his lecture on Feb. 24 - or any of the other Darwin2009 events planned at HMNS this year.