Books: Kingdom of Frost

An award-winning science journalist explains what Earth’s frozen waters tell us about the past, present, and future of humanity.

Bjørn Vassnes is one of Norway’s leading science journalists and has won several national and international prizes. He has a regular science column in the newspaper Klassekampen, and has written several books for a popular science audience. He was also part of a popular Science TV-show “Schrødingers Katt” on NRK. Vassnes has been around the science journalism block. Having grown up in the Norwegian Arctic, one of the coldest places on Earth, he also knows his way around cold weather.

Vassnes frostens rike hd

The cryosphere, what Vassnes calls “The Kingdom of Frost“, is a term for those parts of the earth that contain frozen water; like snow, ice, permafrost, glaciers and even a phenomenon known as invisible glaciers. It’s a part of the world that is close to the hearts of Norwegians like Vassnes or Canadians like us at humanistfreedoms.com. The book benefits from a consciously Norwegian outlook.

Vassness explores how this shrinking frozen zone, from the peaks of mountains to the north and south poles, is still vital to human survival. It supplies us with water and helps cool cities from Bangladesh to Bangkok, Los Angeles to Oslo.

To tell the story of how the cryosphere helped to start life on Earth, Vassnes draws on cultural history and anthropology. He also offers a view on what will happen if it all disappears. Vassnes surveys climate research, biology, cultural history and archaeology. Weather you live in it or not, The Kingdom of Frost affects all life on earth.

Plus there are important summaries of recent climate science such as methane bubbles and explosions in Northern tundra and deep concerns about the potential effects of permafrost thaw. Vassness cites work by Ted Schuur which suggests that the upper 10 feet of permafrost, which contains more carbon than is currently present in the atmosphere, may thaw over the next 100 years.

Kingdom of Frost didn’t take us long to read as it is a slim (less than 200-pages) book and the English-language version was nicely translated by Lucy Moffatt.

Kingdom of Frost

Citations and References

  1. Featured Photo Courtesy of https://www.dagsavisen.no/kultur/nekter-a-svare-om-margbok-1.283400
  2. https://greystonebooks.com/products/kingdom-of-frost
  3. https://norla.no/nb/books/927-the-kingdom-of-frost
  4. https://moffatt-editorial.com/

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Listen: “the laborious, collaborative and sometimes poorly-compensated work of humanist scholarship between the Renaissance and Enlightenment”

From Francis Bacon to Barack Obama, thinkers and political leaders have denounced humanists as obsessively bookish and allergic to labor. In this celebration of bookmaking in all its messy and intricate detail, renowned historian Anthony Grafton invites us to see the scholars of early modern Europe as diligent workers.

That’s how the publishers of Anthony Grafton’s new book, Inky Fingers: The Making of Books in Early Modern Europe (Harvard University Press: June 2020) begin their exposition of the book.

To begin our approach to the labours of book-making, we turned first to a podcast! While that may be seem ironic, the rapid growth of podcasts as a transmission vehicle for information is fascinating to consider in light of the subject. Surely there is plenty of messy, intricate detail involved in producing any one of the thousands upon thousands of podcasts currently available.

In Theory is the podcast of the Journal of the History of Ideas Blog. On September 1, 2020 In Theory’s co-host Simon Brown interviewed Grafton on themes to be found in the book.

Grafton is the Henry Putnam Professor of History and the Humanities at Princeton University and has taught both undergraduate and graduate courses on art, magic, and science in Renaissance Europe and on the history of books and readers as well as the history components of Princeton’ four-course undergraduate introduction to Western civilization offered by the Program in Humanistic Studies.

Grafton’s special interests lie in the cultural history of Renaissance Europe, the history of books and readers, the history of scholarship and education in the West from Antiquity to the 19th century, and the history of science from Antiquity to the Renaissance.

Included in Grafton’s many publishing achievements are several “intellectual biographies” of a variety of original and influential thinkers such as a 15th-century Italian humanist, architect, and town planner, Leon Battista Alberti; a 16th-century Italian astrologer and medical man, Girolamo Cardano; and a 16th-century French classicist and historian, Joseph Scaliger.

Over the course of the In Theory podcast interview, Grafton discussed the various kinds of human labour involved in producing the works of scholarship, taking pains to contrast it with previous views of scholarship which relied on “divination” as the explanation of how scholarship worked. In considering textual divination Grafton suggested, “scholars realized that all that divination means is that you’re simultaneously applying many different kinds of knowledge: lexical, grammatical, stylistic, knowledge of the use of the author, knowledge of historical context, knowledge of the development of the language, knowledge of meter if its verse. All of those things are being focused down on a single passage and that’s what enables you to divine the answer. There’s nothing miraculous about it. It’s a highly interdisciplinary and remarkably erudite process.

At a little over forty-seven minutes in length, the interview is worth the listen. It is a reminder of the often-ignored but still necessary supportive contributions made by people that enable academic or intellectual output – whether that work is by a printing press operator, a scribe or a sound technician.

It also offers a vantage point to consider the subtle ways that systemic faithism has been, and arguably continues to be, deeply engaged in obscuring or appropriating human endeavour.

Finally, a listen to the interview suggests that Grafton’s book will provide valuable and interesting insights into humanistic scholarship. According to the publisher’s website, “Meticulously illuminating the physical and mental labors that fostered the golden age of the book—the compiling of notebooks, copying and correction of texts and proofs, preparation of copy—he shows us how the exertions of scholars shaped influential books, treatises, and forgeries. Inky Fingers ranges widely, tracing the transformation of humanistic approaches to texts in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and examining the simultaneously sustaining and constraining effects of theological polemics on sixteenth-century scholars. Grafton draws new connections between humanistic traditions and intellectual innovations, textual learning and craft knowledge, manuscript and print. Above all, Grafton makes clear that the nitty-gritty of bookmaking has had a profound impact on the history of ideas—that the life of the mind depends on the work of the hands.


The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.


Sources, Citations and References

  1. Featured Photo Courtesy of: https://www.unibas.ch/de/Aktuell/News/Uni-Agenda/Anthony-Grafton-haelt-Basel-History-Lecture-2018.html
  2. https://history.princeton.edu/people/anthony-grafton
  3. https://soundcloud.com/jhi-blog/inky-laborious-humanism-simon-brown-interviews-anthony-grafton
  4. https://jhiblog.org/2020/08/31/in-theory-simon-brown-interviews-anthony-grafton-on-the-labor-of-humanist-scholarship/
  5. https://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674237179

Public Funded Education In a Pandemic

In the weeks leading up to Labour Day and the annual return to school, Canadian media outlets have provided ample coverage of the unprecedented stresses and challenges the COVID-19 pandemic have created for politicians and educators.

On September 1, 2020, CBC reported that Ontario’s school boards will need to ‘collapse’ some classes, trustees group says. It appears that school boards are coping with a dramatic increase in online learning in response to the pandemic. School boards and media covering Ontario’s education system have focused-on class sizes as a key element of funding agreements with the province.

On August 31, 2020 The Globe and Mail published an article stating that Ontario’s education unions file labour board challenge over school pandemic plans. The upshot is that Ontario’s four education unions are challening the provincial government’s approach to the coming school year….with a focus on smaller class sizes.

Back in July, The Toronto Star reported that Opening Ontario schools safely amid COVID could require up to $3.2 billion funding for staff, cleaning supplies, say Liberals, staff union.

What is absent from all of this discourse? Any evidence that educators, politicians or the media have recognized how fundamentally-flawed, ill-prepared and out-dated the design of Ontario’s education system is.

Who does seem to have recognized this issue? Administrators. CBC reported on September 2, 2020 that Ontario school boards lose 20% of education directors as daunting pandemic year looms, even quoting Alana Murray, a retiring Director in the Bluewater District that “I guess my timing was pretty good.”

The timing to recognize that Ontario’s publicly-funded education system is terribly outdated and badly in need of reform isn’t just “pretty good” – it is critical.

Federal and provincial governments are tripping over themselves, and each other, in hurried efforts to distribute supplies, maintain social distancing, fulfill online learning needs, negotiate with educate unions and sort our their funding agreements. How it will all be paid for is anyone’s guess. Or isn’t it everyone’s certainty that the costs of COVID-19, whether within the domain of education spending or across the whole public sector, will be paid via taxes?

Ontario’s government, whether anybody wants to admit it or not, is faced with a critical problem to redesign and modernize Ontario’s publicly-funded education system. No small part of that will be recognizing and addressing one of Ontario’s most expensive anachronisms – the ongoing public funding of separate Catholic schools. After COVID-19, we can’t afford it any longer.


Citations and References

  1. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/covid-classrooms-collapse-trustees-ontario-1.5708005
  2. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/ontario-school-board-director-leaving-1.5708110
  3. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-ontarios-education-unions-file-labour-board-challenge-over-school/
  4. https://www.thestar.com/politics/provincial/2020/07/27/opening-ontario-schools-safely-amid-covid-could-require-up-to-32-billion-funding-for-staff-cleaning-supplies-say-liberals-staff-union.html
  5. https://www.chroniclejournal.com/prairies/bc/alberta-to-dole-out-federal-funds-for-covid-safe-schools-on-per-student-basis/article_54bca2ee-a8b8-54c4-8ceb-bcad9d7e5d76.html

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Featured Photo courtesy of Dr. Richard Thain

British Journal of Photography Issue 7898

The British Journal of Photography’s annual Ones to Watch issue is focused on celebrating the best emerging photography talent from across the globe. In the 2020 issue (#7898), 18 talented photographers have been selected from over 250 nominations by industry experts.

M’hammed Kilito caught our eye via an article written by Cat Lachowskyj titled Re-configuring the many perspectives of Morocco’s youth. In the article, Lachyowskyj quotes Kilito as stating that:

“I don’t want to suggest that everything is perfect in our countries, but it is our role to balance the narratives and show that we can photograph the humanist, courageous sides of our people as opposed to the sensationalist, orientalist views that we are accustomed to seeing.”

According to his website, Kilito is an independent Moroccan photographer based in Rabat, Morocco. He is represented internationally by Native Agency and is a co-founder and a photographer of KOZ collective. He holds a Master of Arts in Political Science from Ottawa University and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Montreal. As a documentary photographer, he addresses issues relating to cultural identity and the human condition in Morocco.

Image Courtesy of M’hammed Kilito

Lachowskyj is careful to provide Kilito’s anti-imperialist concerns in the article “There are so many photographers in the Global South working to transcend preconceived notions of what our countries look like in order to reconstruct that narrative. It is very important for me to enact a counter-discourse to what is usually shared in the media.

Image courtesy of M’hammed Kilito

The very limited number of Kilito images available for study in BJP #7898 and on Kilito’s website display an overt preoccupation with the clothing and fashion of identity. Within the politics of 2020, it is extremely interesting and valuable to have the opportunity to consider the images not only within the narrative that Kilito appears to prefer but also within the context of a global history of humanism and humanist photography.

Regardless of where one’s thoughts may go in considering the political aspects of Kilito’s motivations – it is encouraging to see an emerging talent interested to photograph the humanist, courageous sides of our people.


The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Featured Photo Courtesy of: https://www.bjp-online.com/2020/08/issue-7898-ones-to-watch/