George R. Stewart’s Prophetic Whole Earth Vision, and a Canadian Coin

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In a recent issue of the excellent CBC New website,  journalist Bob MacDonald describes a new Canadian coin that honors the 25th anniversary of the first spaceflight by a female Canadian Scientist-Astronaut, Dr. Roberta Bondar.  The coin, beautifully-designed, has two remarkable features. Concave on one side and convex on the other, it carries a sense of the roundness of Earth.  And its colorful rendering of the image-map of Canada from space glows in the dark to reveal patterns of man-made lights in that northern country.  (The Canadians were also kind enough to include a good part of their neighboring nation to the south on the coin.)

Since this is a silver coin, durably made, it will be a long-lasting — “a deep time” — reminder of North American geography as it appeared the early 21st century.

In his article, MacDonald emphasizes what he seems to consider a new idea – that space and conservation are two sides of the same coin.  The article is well-written, and will open up that idea for the first time to many readers.  But the idea is NOT new – NASA is tasked, to do ecological research.  And that, in part, is certainly because George R.Stewart, nearly a quarter of a century before the NASA organic act was written, and 33 years before the first Earth Day,  in Ordeal By Hunger and his ecological novels, presented the concept to a massive audience of literate, general readers.

Ordeal By Hunger, written in 1936,  opens with a view of Nevada from orbit so accurately described that when  International Space Station Astronaut Dr. Ed Lu  photographed Nevada from space his images matched Stewart’s words almost exactly.  Stewart’s history of the Donner Party then comes down to Earth, to focus on the role of the ecosystem in the fate of the emigrants.  Thus, he completes what has become known as The Whole Earth vision – understanding Earth from within its ecosystem, and  from without,  as one small, beautiful, place in the universe.

Stewart follows that same approach in his first ecological novel, Storm.  The novel begins with a view of Earth from Earth orbit; moves into the ecosystem to tell its story; then ends by  taking the reader to an imaginary platform on Venus, describing the tiny bright light called Earth from millions of miles away.

Once again George R. Stewart proved to be a prophet, and trailblazer for our time.  His books helped lay the foundation for the view of Earth found on the new Canadian coin, and for our sense of the Whole Earth.

Another Honor For GRS: George R. Stewart in “Stewart Heritage”

Two distinguished British authors, Henry Fothringham, OBE, and Charles Kinder Bradbury,  have just released their beautiful coffee table book, Stewart Heritage.  The book devotes a page to each of several dozen famous and influential Stewarts.  One of the Stewarts they profile is our focus in these pages:  George R. Stewart.

This is the third recent work honoring Stewart and his work.  There was an essay in the literary magazine of the Chicago Tribune, “George R. Stewart: Unrestrained by literary borders,” the several pages devoted to Stewart’s Storm in  Snowbound,  Mark McLaughlin’s just-released book about the largest storms recorded in the Sierra Nevada, the fine interpretive sign at Donner Summit so ably designed and place by Bill Oudegeest of the Donner Summit Historical Society (followed by several articles in the Society’s magazine), the Berkeley ePlaque edited and published by Robert Kehlmann and his stalwart colleagues; and now this fine one-page essay which succinctly summarizes Stewart’s life and work.

Although I can’t reproduce the entire GRS page from Stewart Heritage for reasons of copyright, I can post a portion here to give readers the chance to see the quality of the book and the George R. Stewart entry.

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There is clearly a continuing interest in George R. Stewart and his work.   The new, reduced price on the GRS biography and the planned mini-series of Earth Abides will increase that interest.

This weblog is not designed as a marketing tool.  But when something  exceptional  related to George R. Stewart comes along, I’ll always share it with you.  If you are a Stewart, or know a Stewart, or a passionate fan of George R. Stewart and his work, you might consider Stewart Heritage (which I understand was printed in a limited edition).

Post Script.  Having had the chance to review the book in more depth, I find it rich in history across disciplines, across borders, even across racial lines.  There are entries which sweep the Earth from Panamint City near Trona, California – founded by stage robbers who discovered silver there – to Brittany (“Little Britain”) and a tussle there between Satan and Saint George over Mont St. Michel – to Hollywood and James Stewart – and on and on.  Disciplines include science and engineering – the authors have expertise in chemistry and metallurgy – painting, music, film, sport, military accomplishments, academia, politics, law – think Justice Potter Stewart – and, of course, writing.  It is a fascinating read.

Amazon Drops the Price

A quick note to let you know that Amazon has dropped the price of the GRS biography – The Life and Truth of George R. Stewart  – so it’s now in line with McFarland’s price.

The biography may also be at the reduced price at other bookstores.

McFarland is a pleasure to do business with, and I believe offers free shipping; so you might consider ordering directly from them.

This is just in time for Christmas or Hanukkah – what a great gift for the Stewart fans out there!

And stay tuned for some big news about another book, a beautiful coffee table book, that honors GRS.

Stewart’s Last Book – on Names

In the late 1970s, ill with Parkinson’s Disease, George R. Stewart worked valiantly to complete his last book.  The book was a dictionary of the names given to Americans, and, like Names on the Land, it considered those name-givings in an historical context.  The book was entitled American Given Names.

In the book’s “Introduction” Stewart describes several principles of American name-giving:  Names are given soon after birth; those names are considered permanent; names usually are gender-specific; the names chosen by the namers are considered “good” names; there is a huge pool of names from which to choose; names may leave the pool by misuse, and new names may be added by use; although the names may have originally come from many different languages, they are Americanized in spelling and pronunciation.   He follows that with a detailed “Historical Sketch,” nearly 40 pages long, which gives a good context for the types of names bestowed at different American eras, and some reasons for those choices.

The main section of the book is of course the dictionary of names.  Note that these are American given names – not English or any other nations, although many nations and tongues provided the names originally – so these names would be given to children born here.  Each name is defined; its origin and meaning given; and a brief history of its use included. Many of the names will seem dated now – the book is nearly 40 years old, and television and movies have had a profound impact on naming since then. But others are still common:  Robert, Catherine, Donald, Mary, John, and so on.  Since this is a work with an historical viewpoint, many of the names were not in common use even before publication, but Stewart included them as of historic interest.  Of just because he found them interesting.  How many people today are named Mahershalalhashbaz?

Stewart, good scholar that he was, leaves his readers with a quest – to track name changes of the late twentieth century, which seem like so much of that time to break with the past, to see if those new names endure, or if they’re replaced with other names.

The book is a good read, and a resource for scholars, writers, or anyone interested in American names.

 

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The book was published by Oxford in 1978.  Ted (Theodosia) Stewart told us that Stewart was  working while he lay in bed, in pain.  When someone commented that it must  be  hard to watch him do the work, Ted exclaimed, “No!  No one can live with George unless he’s writing!  Thank God he has this book to write!”

Stewart tried to write one more book, a biography of his father-in-law, University of Michigan President Marion LeRoy Burton.  But to read his manuscript is to feel deep sorrow.  He kept starting the book, over and over, but he could not get it beyond an early section.  He died without having made much progress on it.  On the other hand, he had written 28 published books, and a few never published; and even in the pain of his last illness, he wrote this fine book.

CONTACT: a STEAM event

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Once again, the biennial CONTACT Conference is on the horizon.  Scheduled for next April 1 -3, it will be, as always, a small gathering of renown scientists, artists, authors, educators and just plain interested folks, who want to consider those meeting places of science and the arts which define and drive change.  It will be powered by the energy of STEAM, since it has presenters from and talks about  science, engineering, technology, art, and math.  There will be filmmakers, authors, NASA and SETI scientists, educators, and others.

One of the highlights will be a panel on the art and science of Star Trek; another will be a keynote speech by Rick Sternbach, legendary Star Trek artist, who designed, among other things large and small, the DS 9 Space Station.

The conference has a George R. Stewart connection.  Stewart was the writer of STEAM works, using the art of literature to interpret science and the other disciplines in the acronym.  CONTACT also offered a George R. Stewart Symposium in past years, with participation by composer Phillip Aaberg, geologist Dr. John Stewart, JPL’s Dr. James D. Burke, Stewart Scholar Robert Lyon, and others.  Perhaps most important, Earth Abides opened an intellectual door, for me, into the world of real science, and STEAM.

The conference is affordable, and the hotel rate low.  So if you want a chance to be uplifted and inspired, in a laid-back and collegial atmosphere in which all are welcome, come join us at CONTACT.

CONTACT 2016 (our 29th year!) is meeting on April 1-3 at the Domain Hotel in Sunnyvale, CA. The Keynote speaker: Artist Rick Sternbach, well known for his designs and tech manuals for Star Trek, whose presence celebrates the 50th anniversary of the famed science fiction series. There will be a special symposium dealing with Star Trek’s legacy in the sciences and the arts.

CONTACT has evolved into a premier forum on the future. After a quarter century of our multi-disciplinary conferences, CONTACT includes some of the brightest of the new generation at NASA and SETI, scientists hard and soft, and as well as such exotics as anthropologists, philosophers, poets, filmmakers, historians, mathematicians and space lawyers. And the science fiction community (Larry Niven and Kim Stanley Robinson, this year) always adds a brand of innovative and responsible speculation that has made our conference and organization unique. And more fun for all.  Everyone’s a participant!

We will be offering our traditional blatantly diverse program, with a SETI panel and a session highlighting the connections between science and science fiction. The program will be continuously updated on our website. Join Penny Boston, William Clancey, Bruce Damer, Gus Frederick, Jim Funaro, Joel Hagen, Jeroen Lapré, David Morrison, Larry Niven, Gerald Nordley, Jim Pass, Doug Raybeck, Kim Stanley Robinson, Seth Shostak, Michael Sims, Rich Sternbach, Melanie Swan, Kathleen Toerpe, Zac Zimmer and others at CONTACT 2016.  Looking forward to working and playing together…

 You can register now at:  http://contact-conference.org/

The Year Of The Oath is Not Over

In 2014, this weblog reviewed George R. Stewart’s classic work, The Year Of The Oath, a book about the loyalty oath controversy at the University of California, Berkeley.  The faculty won their battle to have the oath removed.  But oaths, pernicious and unconstitutional, still abound in public employment – even for teaching and research positions.

This past week, in one of the less-pleasant small world stories connected with Stewart and his work, another author in another college resigned when he was ordered to sign such an oath – years after he began teaching there.  James Sallis is by coincidence a George R. Stewart scholar who wrote  likely the best essay about Earth Abides for The Boston Globe. Sallis, who also wrote Drive, made into an award-winning movie starring Ryan Gosling; and he’s now written Driven, a sequel.  Sallis is a poet, a novelist, and – until recently – a teacher at Phoenix College in the city of that name.

His work in the classroom drew students from a wide geographic area.  He was an excellent teacher, who knows how to write well, and to sell his writing.  The chance to have this man as a mentor was a great boon to the apprentice wordsmiths.  But the administrators of the College – who Sallis says were professional, and asked him to stay  – said he couldn’t teach without signing.  He chose to follow his conscience, and resigned.  The administrators, when contacted by news organizations passed the buck, in this case to the Arizona legislature who authored the oath long ago.  Even local Arizona media found the entire story incredible.

Fortunately, his act of courage is having a far reach, and may eventually help result in the tossing of the oaths.

Sadly, the Year of the Oath is not yet ended.  Citizens would be well-advised to put their energies into correcting that rather than various red herring issues they seem to focus on.

(Disclaimer:  I refused to sign both the US Army oath – which had already been declared illegal by the Supreme Court – and the California Standard Secondary Credential application oath without qualifying statements discussing the oaths’ illegality and unethical qualities.  That meant deferring teaching for a while, until the state oath was tossed out by the State Supreme Court.  As for the army oath – I have the rare distinction, during a time when protesters were trying to shut down the Oakland Army Induction Center, of keeping it open and keeping employees there long after they wanted to leave.)

THE DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA ON THE BERKELEY CAMPUS -or, George R. Stewart gets the last word

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, George R. Stewart found himself at the mercy of a new Head of the English Department.  Department Head Montague and Stewart did not get along; and Montague refused to give Stewart a promotion he’d earned.  In hindsight, it was a gift – Stewart turned to writing outside the traditional field of English because he needed the extra income.  (It took an underground effort by several of Stewart’s colleagues to get him his promotion; GRS did not know of their efforts until Oral Historian Suzanne Riess told him about it decades later.)

Stewart  went on to become the star of the Department, writing bestseller after bestseller, inventing new kinds of literature, teaching well, and helping with Department and Library work.  He had an independent, somewhat crotchety view of Department and University affairs; so he was surprised when the Department of English asked him to write its history,for the University’s Centennial in 1968.

The Department of English of the University of California on the Berkeley Campus is a remarkable consideration of what makes an English Department good, or not good, based in large part on a discussion of the personalities of the Berkeley Department.   It is thus part history, part biography, part educational philosophy, part poetry.  As expected, the history is beautifully written, in Stewart’s usual fine style – which itself, with its restrained tone, reflects the methods of earlier days in the Department.

He writes at some length about the curriculum which an English Department should follow.  This may have been partly inspired by ongoing attempts by the University’s upper management to insist that the job of the English Department was to teach composition, not literature.  Stewart insists that the teaching of literature is key, and core to the mission.  The deep meanings of words, for him, carry the history of the values and the experiences of Mankind; literature, also, preserves the values of its time.  So to teach literature is to teach the history of human values over the millennia.  Thus, literature is as important as composition in an English Department.

The ideal English professor, Stewart once wrote, is a political liberal and an educational conservative.  The professor must have a ‘generous and tolerant’ – that is, “liberal” –  attitude toward books, and work  to conserve the literature of the past as a repository of the values of history.  He viewed the curriculum as a hearth – lovely image – around which faculty members gather.

One wonders how he’d feel about the current Berkeley English curriculum, which seems to downplay the work of 20th century American authors, like himself – there is no course at Berkeley which considers his work or that of his Berkeley colleagues.  But as he points out in his book, the Department goes through periods of greatness and mediocrity, times when composition for employment takes precedence and times when the idea of literature as the conservator of values comes to the forefront.  And as his own life shows the Department sometimes enters a Golden Age when someone like Stewart breaks out of the mold, changes human thought, invents new types of books, and otherwise shows the kind of work a Department of English OUGHT to be doing.

Golden Ages are rare, and hard to sustain, and Stewart realized that.  So he finished the work by calling The Department of English a testament to The Department in its first century. He wrote, “Few people, I think, will read this small book, and even who those will be, I  scarcely know.”

Yet this is a book which every member of an English Department and every English major should read, for its careful consideration of the purposes of an English Department, as illustrated by the history and personalities of the first century of the Department of English of the University of California on the Berkeley Campus.

Writing the history, Stewart  got the last word about the Head of the Department who had kept him from his deserved promotion (and thus propelled him into his writing career).  He described  the years under Montague as the “11 bad years.”   And his description of those years presented a place of fear and suspicion, under the “leadership” of someone almost dictatorial in how he ran the Department.  It’s Stewart’s take on things, of course; but since it was in a Department-approved publication it’s safe to assume that it has truth to it.

The book was elegantly printed by Lawton and Alfred Kennedy, fine printers in San Francisco.  Relatively few copies were printed, so it’s hard to find now.  But for those interested in Berkeley, its Department of English, or the study of English, it’s worth seeking.  For anyone else, it’s a good read, and provocative.

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