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History of Science Ancient Mesopotamia

History of Science Online

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LibraryThing: Science in Ancient Mesopotamia Week 2: Science in Ancient Mesopotamia

Interpretation essay

# Due Date Pts Activity Time
4 Friday
11:59 p.m.
20 Interpretation Essay
Unless it explains, history is trivial.
Write a short persuasive essay agreeing or disagreeing with a common interpretation about the topic and expressing your own view
60 min.

Before reading further, make sure you are familiar with the general description of the Interpretation assignments and with the description of the various suggested writing styles. Information on these pages will not be repeated here.

Sic et Non

Write your interpretation in a 1200-1800 word essay.

It’s time to put on our thinking caps and interpret the significance of what we’ve been exploring! Unless it explains, history is trivial. Did you discover anything unexpected this week that needs to be explained? What surprised you this week? Did you make any unexpected discoveries? What was the most meaningful part of your explorations this week?

Note: Consider giving your essay an interesting title at Confluence... More people will reply to an essay on "(#1) News Flash: Babylonian priest gets an A in astronomy but an F in science!" than "Week 2 Interpretation essay." Also be sure to indicate which question you are addressing, so that those who are writing on the same question can choose to reply to your essay.

  1. Was Babylonian astronomy "scientific," or was science invented by the Greeks? To answer this you will need to consider several related questions, including:
  2. You are conversing with a friend about what you have learned this week. Your friend, who is equally knowledgeable as you (knowing no more, no less), says:
    “The duties of Mesopotamian scribes included gathering omens from stars and livers, exorcising demons, and healing diseases. The scribes of ancient Babylonia developed the art of reading omens and portents in, say, sheep entrails. This does not make them biologists! Eventually they also devoted themselves to reading omens and portents in the celestial motions. This does not make them astronomers! They were merely practicing a celestial art; a type of priestcraft (technology or magic) analogous to and no more scientific than reading liver entrails. Such astrology is far removed from scientific astronomy. The latter we owe entirely to the Greeks.”
    How will you respond?

  3. Given what you've learned about Greek and Babylonian astronomy, respond to this statement by a historian of science:
    “When the [modern] astronomer looks back at his predecessors, he finds Babylonian priests and magicians, Greek philosophers, Mohammedan princes, medieval monks, Renaissance nobles and clerics—until in the scholars of the seventeenth century he meets with modern citizens of his own kind. To all these men astronomy was not a limited branch of specialist science but a world system interwoven with the whole of their concept of life. Not the traditional tasks of a professional guild but the deepest problems of humanity inspired their work.” Anton Pannekoek, A History of Astronomy, 13.

    Instructions for Interpretation assignments:

    1. Go to Janux and watch the Interpretations video prompt.
    2. Comment on your initial reaction to the video prompt in the discussion stream at Janux.
    3. Take one of the questions or points of view listed here and consider how it relates to the assigned readings for this week. Consider both Context and Evidence assignments, whenever applicable.
    4. Write a short essay defending your thesis and/or refuting competing interpretations. An Interpretation essay must express a point of view, supporting that argument with specific evidence gathered from the assigned readings.
    5. Your Interpretation essay should be at least 1200 words long, and not more than 1800 words (you can do a word count at Motionnet.com). This word count does NOT include the original question you are responding to, any quotations from assigned readings, or the two notes at the end of the essay.
    6. Spellcheck, word count, and proofread your essay. Since this is a longer writing assignment, you will probably want to use the spellcheck and word-count features in your word processor.
    7. In a one or two sentence note at the end of your essay (not part of the word-count), indicate why you chose to respond to that issue and how you came up with the interpretation.
    8. In a one-sentence note after your essay (not part of the word-count), identify which style or genre you selected (analytical, narrative, dialogue, etc.) and explain why you thought that would be the most effective way to convey your interpretation.
    9. Include reference citations or links to any textbook, website, course page, or Exhibits Online that are closely related to your Interpretation (e.g., "For Redondi's view, go here: insert link"). Additional reading beyond course assignments is not required, but you must include at least two citations or links to assigned readings that provide evidence and relevant historical context. These two sources must be either primary sources that pertain to the topic and come from the period being discussed or secondary sources (e.g., one of our textbooks or assigned web pages) written with demonstrable knowledge of the relevant primary sources (for example, in addition to the assigned background readings, professional historians of science may be assumed to be familiar with the sources they write about; see guidelines for evaluating sources). An argument that is not supported with documented evidence does not meet the minimum requirements for an Interpretation essay. For citations and links, use the forms described in the bibliographical guidelines. (For example, a citation to our text could be "Lindberg, Beginnings, p. #." )
    10. Cut-and-paste your completed essay, with notes and links, and post it in the Interpretation forum for this week at the Confluence discussion board.
    11. After you have posted your Interpretation, complete the Gradebook Declaration in Desire2Learn. (Your Gradebook Declaration is subject to the Honor Code.)

    Here is the text of the Desire2Learn Gradebook Declaration:

    (7 points) I have posted my Interpretation at Confluence. My Interpretation shows that I have thought about BOTH Context and Evidence assignments for this week. I have done a word count, and my Interpretation is at least 600 words min. My word count does NOT include the original question I am responding to, any quotations from assigned readings, or the two notes at the end of the essay.

    (7 points) I have posted an Interpretation at Confluence that is at least 1200 words min. and no more than 1800 words max.

    (1 point) My Interpretation contains an explanation of how I came up with my point of view (not part of the word count)..

    (1 point) My Interpretation contains a sentence explaining the genre or style of writing I adopted (not part of the word count).

    (2 points) My Interpretation contains a citation or link to at least one relevant source (such as the assigned readings) including either a primary source or a secondary source written by an author with demonstrable knowledge of the primary sources.

    (2 points) My Interpretation contains a citation or link to at least two relevant sources (such as the assigned readings) including either a primary source or a secondary source written by an author with demonstrable knowledge of the primary sources.


Do you have a great quote for this page? Let me know! (If used, a new quote is worth 1 point extra credit)

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HSCI 3013. History of Science to 17th centuryCreative Commons license
Kerry Magruder, Instructor, 2004
Brent Purkaple, TA

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Many thanks to the pedagogical model developed in Mythology and Folklore and other online courses by Laura Gibbs, which have been an inspiration for this course.

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This course is currently undergoing major reconstruction to bring it into alignment with the new version of the course at Janux