Caltech has long had a reputation for wide-ranging exploration, and now its Division of Humanities and Social Sciences is celebrating this theme in a lecture series titled Exploration: The Globe and Beyond. The series is intended to bring together a diverse community to discuss the broad theme of exploration, from antiquity to the present day, from new lands on Earth to other planets in our solar system.
"Exploration," says Professor of History Nicolas Wey-Gomez, "is an indeterminate process. It is about abandoning oneself to a search that may or may not lead somewhere other than where one began. However uncertain it may be at times, it is the prerequisite for any real discovery."
The first lecture in the series—"Junípero Serra and the Spanish 'Craze'"—was given on January 6 by historian Richard L. Kagan of Johns Hopkins University. Kagan described how Serra came to stand in as the "founding father of California, the Columbus of the West." The wave that Serra rode to this new status—well after his death—was part of what Kagan described as a "craze" for all things Spanish that arose, ironically, in the midst of the Spanish-American War in 1898. It was not only Californians who flirted with the tropes of brave conquistadors and pious bringers of civilization to indigenous peoples. Spanish culture flourished in popular songs, stage shows, architecture, and numerous public exhibitions across a young nation that was flexing its own muscles as a new world power.
Chet Van Duzer of the Library of Congress will be the next lecturer in the series, with a talk titled "Watching a Renaissance Cartographer at Work: The Construction of Waldseemüller's Carta Marina of 1516" on March 24. In 1516, mapping was accomplished by marshaling data from texts and travelers' reports and converting it into two-dimensional representations of lands and seas; today satellites make this task much easier.
Future lecturers in the series will include Fletcher Jones Professor of Geology John Grotzinger, who will speak about the Mars Exploration Rover Mission, and Professor Deborah Coen of Barnard College, who will talk about her recent book The Earthquake Observers: Disaster Science from Lisbon to Richter. All lectures are open to the public.