Justin, Maura, and Allison reflect on the creation of Initial Conditions and speak to some of the other staff at the Niels Bohr Library & Archives and the Center for History of Physics. They share their favorite episodes, the episodes they wish they had made, and the difficulties of making a podcast from scratch. With guests Joanna, Corinne, Audrey, and Jae, they emphasize the collaborative nature of the project, reminisce, and chat about science history, archival work, and lots of icebergs.
In addition to our usual hosts we also spoke to the staff of the Niels Bohr Library & Archives and Center for History of Physics:
- Joanna Behrman
- Samantha Holland
- K. Jae
- Audrey Lengel
- Corinne Mona
You can read their bios and find their blog posts here
Speakers: Maura Shapiro and Justin Shapiro
Initial Conditions Bonus Episode 2: Behind the Scenes Date: 2022
ALLISON: Hello, welcome to...Niels Bohr Library (laughs) & Archives. I forgot the name of our library for a second. (laughs) So we're approaching the library's beautiful glass doors. We used to have some blood red doors, but that was not the right vibe of welcome that we wanted for the library, so now they are clear glass doors leading into the library, and we are lucky enough to have beautiful, double-height, a full wall of windows, so we can see our beautiful woods over College Park. And there's no books that are really long-term stored in this area, so the humans get to have all the natural light, but let's go in the door.
JUSTIN: Right, I'll card us in. (beep)
ALLISON: So we have a researcher here today, and we are wearing masks because that is our policy. So excuse us if we sound a little odd. But when you first walk in, you're greeted by the reference desk, and we have two beautiful display bookshelves of new books or thematic books, and actually if we come over here to this bookcase, Corinne, I believe, selected a bunch of books based around the, "Was Einstein Wrong?" episode of Initial Conditions.
MAURA: We're lucky enough that Corinne is right here.
ALLISON: Corinne, hi.
CORINNE: (laughs) Hi. I put up this display after listening to the episode, just because I loved the episode and I've cataloged a lot of the books on the shelf, including some of the more colorful or interesting ones, such as Why Einstein Was An Ignorant Fool, which the author sent us himself and is one of only ten copies that we know of, and the only one in a library that we know of. And the rest are, some of them might have been used in the episode, but most of them were just things related to the theme of the episode.
ALLISON: So Corinne is our librarian on reference duty this morning. We have a researcher. So we have books when you first walk in, and we also have books off to the side are just sort of display all of the various topics that have been researched using NBLA collections. Lots of biographies. But it's fun to come over here and see what people have done with our collections and what they've published and we'll always take more free books. And when you walk further into the library, you see all sorts of cool technology, like scanners, microfilm machines, cassette players, (laughs) VHS players. We're really high-tech here. And this is our space where researchers can work. They are welcome to browse any of the books. The rare books are locked up, but they can request them, and our archival collections are right now below our feet. And they can put in an item request and request anything they want when they're here.
MAURA: And who can research here?
ALLISON: Anyone can research here. You just need to make an appointment.
JUSTIN: What's your favorite part of the reading room?
ALLISON: Oh, of the reading room? Oh... Well, I kind of like going behind the reference desk. It's kind of hidden. You don't know about it unless you're sitting at reference, it's good, but we have remnants from various staff people or researchers. Sometimes we get thank you cards. We love them and we'll put them up on our little bulletin board. We also have some photographs of infamous users of the past. (laughs) Some jokes that we post, as well as a fabulous photograph Justin took for us of a Canada goose sitting on the ledge staring him down. Very threatening. And a drawing Maura made of a raccoon. (laughs) So this is the part where you really can tell that there's people behind the library, and it's really personal and fun.
MAURA: All right, well now that we're comfy cozy in the reading room, let's get into our episode. Our listeners are so lucky.
ALLISON: Initial Conditions is just the gift that keeps on giving.
JUSTIN: And that's why I thought it would be nice to talk about some of Initial Conditions's initial conditions.
MAURA: Like a behind the scenes?
JUSTIN: That's right. I think it would be nice for us to discuss the origins of Initial Conditions. Things like how the podcast came to be, and what we learned from the process.
MAURA: Admit it, you just like being recorded and don't want the season to end.
JUSTIN: I don't think that's quite it.
ALLISON: (laughs) Okay, sure, Justin. But we really did want to talk about all the people that made Initial Conditions happen. Not just the people that you hear right now, but the staff of the Niels Bohr Library & Archives and Center for History of Physics, and all the support that they provided behind the scenes to make this podcast possible.
MAURA: So we'll talk to some of our colleagues and get the inside scoop in how they took part in making the podcast and how they feel about it.
JUSTIN: It's going to be an emotional episode, but largely good emotions.
MAURA: That's exactly how I like my podcasts.
ALLISON: We know, Maura. (laughs)
MAURA: I'm Maura Shapiro.
JUSTIN: I'm Justin Shapiro.
ALLISON: And I'm Allison Rein. (grinning) No relation.
MAURA: Every physics problem behinds with a set of initial conditions that provide the context for physics to happen.
JUSTIN: Likewise, in Initial Conditions the podcast, we'll provide the context in which physics discoveries happen. We'll dive into the history behind the science of people, places, and events that have been overlooked and largely forgotten.
MAURA: Like us.
ALLISON: Yes, just like us. (laughs)
JUSTIN: In this episode, Initial Conditions's initial conditions, we'll go behind the curtain, or whatever the podcast equivalent of that cliche might be.
ALLISON: Underneath the mic? Ooh, off the mic!
JUSTIN: We would like to give this opportunity for the audience to get to know us a little better and hear from us and our colleagues about what it took to make Initial Conditions possible.
MAURA: And Allison, I guess you would be the best person to tell us: what are our initial conditions for today's episode?
ALLISON: I am so excited to get to do this at last. Okay, our first initial condition is the (Wenner 06:14) collection. A 3,000 item collection of rare books and publications that the library acquired in 2018. Our second initial condition is a little less glamorous: the COVID-19 pandemic. We all remember that one, right? (laughs) And the last initial condition is the moment when inspiration struck.
MAURA: Thank you, Allison, for those initial conditions. Now that we know them, let's take a moment to reflect and talk to each other about how we feel the season went.
JUSTIN: Let's dive in.
ALLISON: What was the most surprising thing you learned from this season of Initial Conditions, or just doing a podcast?
JUSTIN: I guess I'll talk a little bit about behind the scenes to start with, because we have questions that are like more tailored to the stories that we told this season, and I think one of the things that I learned was how expansive and varied the Niels Bohr Library & Archives outreach activities are. Right? The podcast was just one element of the much larger universe of outreach efforts, and that included the blog that we wrote a few articles for. It's a whole range of different ways that the Niels Bohr Library & Archives strives to connect audiences of really different types to the collection. To get them thinking about the history of their field of physics, or the history of physics more generally, which was what we tried to do in Initial Conditions.
MAURA: Yeah, I think that's a good point, and the stereotype about librarians shushing people, not true at all. They're really excited about sharing their collections. So very grateful for all the help we received from the librarians and archivists at NBLA. Something that really struck me is how often certain names come up in physics, and when you get an undergrad degree in physics, you get like a history lesson that doesn't really reflect what the reality of physics was. So every single equation, every single concept in physics is tied to a person, which is tied to a story. So when I was reading texts, especially in modern physics, I was shocked at the names that I recognized, but more so the names that were never mentioned in my physics classes.
ALLISON: Again, on behalf of all librarians everywhere, I thank you. To answer the question I (laughs) posed myself of what the most surprising thing was this season. I have two answers. One is more of a jokey answer and one is more serious. The jokey answer is that Betelgeuse is spelled in a completely wild way. (MAURA: (laughs)) And that it is from Arabic. That is just such a cool fun fact, I will definitely--
MAURA: The star Betelgeuse.
ALLISON: Yes, the star Betelgeuse, not the movie. We've only said that word twice. We shant say it a third time.
MAURA: We're spelling it differently, though, so it doesn't count.
ALLISON: Does it not count? Okay. (laughs) The more serious answer is, I came to this library job almost six years ago, and had almost no knowledge of physics or physics history. It wasn't required. And I hated physics in my education. I only took it the very minimum amount of times I had to take it. And it was one of my least-favorite classes ever. And it's always been a struggle to connect to the field when you have that innate sort of, "Oh, it's not my preference." But this podcast has been really a great jumping-off point for learning to love the history of physics, hearing all the different things that excite Maura, that excite Justin, that excite our listeners or other people that are involved in the podcast. It just makes me really excited to keep exploring, and to spread that, because it doesn't seem like even physicists are aware of how cool their field is. And I can always be passionate about history, even if I'm not going to get into the math. (laughs) I'll never get into the math of physics, but the history, for sure. So that was surprising, is like, I feel like I'm starting to actually get a foundation in the history of physics.
MAURA: Well it warms my heart to hear you say that you might be changing your tune on physics, so...
ALLISON: History of physics.
MAURA: Physics. (laughs) I'm only hearing physics.
ALLISON: So what were the most challenging experiences you faced this season?
JUSTIN: I think probably one of the most difficult parts initially, and again this comes from a place of us having never done a podcast before, was finding a good producer. We talked to a lot of candidates, and when we found a good producer in Kerry, things really did just click. And working with you, Kerry, has been a real privilege. You have an ear that is clearly refined through a lot of years of work. But also your editorial suggestions and the interstitials that you provided us with — those are the sort of opening kind of enclosing segments that sandwich the content of the episode — were really well-done, and so I do want to take a moment to thank you for that work. But it was a real challenge to get to the point where we found such a qualified and talented producer.
MAURA: I have sort of a joking answer and then a serious answer. The joking answer, which is serious also, it's so painful for me to listen to my own voice. So a lot of the jo-- not a lot, but some of the job is listening and that kind of sucks. But more seriously, it's so hard to edit the scripts down, because I just get immersed in whatever story I'm learning about and want to share everything and... First of all, that's not really interesting to everyone else, but also it's just really long, so I think paring down each episode took a lot of work. Very grateful for Justin for helping me refine the narrative that I want to share and Kerry for actually doing the editing.
ALLISON: I don't understand that. I love (laughs) listening to the sound of my own voice. But yeah, so I definitely understand how it could-- like I get to come in and say my name and the name of the library and make jokes, and I get the privilege of, you know, making suggestions that sound really smart after Maura and Justin and Kerry have already put in hours and hours of work into it. So I do feel like I have the easiest job in terms of the actual production of the podcast. And hearing my voice at the end is like, "Ah, yeah, that wasn't blood, sweat, and tears, that was just, (MAURA: (laughs)) you know, an hour of my time." So I totally understand how it would be very different. And in that same way, my most challenging experience: this all happened before Maura and Justin were even hired, this podcast had a long road to its creation, and it was really born out of the pandemic and trying to figure out the best way of reaching our audience and connecting them with these books that are not stuff-- and I think we say this in the tone of the episode, that it's not something someone's going to open up and read. You're not going to open up and read Galileo's dialogue anymore. It's an artifact, but is it relevant to our day-to-day life? And how do we make it relevant, and how do we tell those stories? And so I was home with my family, you know, surviving the pandemic, and I was trying to think, "How do I do this?" I can't think of anything. And I was listening to a lot of podcasts in my spare time. And I was like, "What about a podcast? No, that's a crazy idea." You know, and so I think maybe the most challenging experience was trusting my own idea and, like, I mentioned it to my boss, and she was like, "No, actually, that's a great idea." And then it sort of blossomed from there. And it took a lot of, yeah, trust and advocacy and research and planning, and I think two years (laughs) to actually have a podcast, but it's been well worth all of the effort. And it's so exciting that this idea actually exists out in the world.
MAURA: Well, if I do say so myself, being unbiased, of course, in this situation, it was a great idea.
ALLISON: Thanks. (both laugh) Okay, what were some of the most interesting things you encountered in the collection?
MAURA: I love the old books that are 500 years old and you can hold them. Also, the library collections, the books that we have are so thoughtfully collected and I'm really grateful that there's an effort to showcase the breadth of physics and the breadth of the people who have contributed to physics. I love walking in the stacks and just every single book jumps out as interesting. So... everything.
JUSTIN: Well, I liked all the collections we worked with. And it was really fun to have the opportunity to work on a number of different projects, and tell stories based on a number of different collections. From the Mickens collection to the William P. Elliot papers, but the one that really jumped out at me that I found the most fun to-- well, that I found among the most fun to work with, was probably the collection of pseudoscience, right? I mean, it contains both published and unpublished material, which is pretty rare for an archival collection. I think it's just interesting that Alex Harvey decided to hold onto all of these pseudoscientific tracks. And I wonder what was on his mind as he was collecting these. Because even some of the books have post-it notes that say "crack theory, disregard or throw away." But I also really liked bringing in conversation with maybe a less off-the-wall collection, the Hartley papers. So you know NBLA holds institutional records, but also the papers of some prominent physicists, including Ralph Hartley. And I was pretty interested to find that a lot of his work was actually in the realm of pseudoscience. It's not something you would learn if you looked at his Wikipedia page. And so it was cool to be able to bring this original story, I think, to the audience. But yeah, you know, I think it's odd for an archive that holds papers related to the history of physics to hold something that's like a funhouse version of physics, right? I mean, all of these pseudoscientific tracks. I love the idea of building a time machine just to have Mohammad Ali meet Thomas Edison for some reason.
ALLISON: (laughs) I think that was the funniest collection in the series. But to answer the actual question, I've touched almost everything in Wenner collection, or at least familiarized myself with it, because I've spent the last few years inventorying, processing, and facilitating cataloging. And so there weren't a lot of surprises for me in the collection. In fact, I ended up showing you, Justin and Maura, the materials in the collections. As we said many, many times, I'm the tour guide, but what was interesting was seeing them get used. And that is just (laughs) the joy of every librarian and archivist's heart, is like the work you did to purchase and catalog and, you know, keeping the material on the shelves, that has a purpose. And so that is always the best.
JUSTIN: And maybe also to see them used after a long COVID period, when they weren't accessible. Because I mean we started researching in the archives before researchers were allowed back in, right?
ALLISON: Correct, yeah, and honestly, you know, we've had very few people want to come and look at these things, because they are digitized, and to get to what Maura said, they're digitized, the information is available online, but there's nothing like touching a book that is older than, you know, the colony of Virginia. That, you know, it's like how did it even come to this country? This country did not exist when this book was created. And that's just wild. Okay, Maura and Justin, this is the big one: what stories have been left untold, and what parts of NBLA would you like to explore in the future?
MAURA: I have like nine or ten answers to this. I'm really fascinated by the history of alcohol and there's a lot of science that goes into that. There's a woman named Maria the Jewess. She might not have been named Maria, and she also probably wasn't Jewish, but she did invent a distilling process and is sometimes considered the world's first alchemist. But she made a lot of inventions that actually are still used today. A triple distilling machine, the Bon Marie, is actually something she invented. So if you like creamy desserts, you have Mary the Jewess to thank.
ALLISON: Wow, crème brûlée would not be the same.
MAURA: Yeah, and she lived thousands of years ago. So very cool, would love to talk about her while drinking some wine. (laughs) It's my ulterior motive.
ALLISON: Well, we were told to take a shot of whiskey before recording every podcast, and we have so far not done that. So shame on us.
MAURA: That also, yeah, might have to do with the fact that we record this podcast at 8:30 a.m. (both laugh) Maybe some Irish coffee is in the future, but...
ALLISON: Next season.
JUSTIN: I mean necessarily every story is partially left untold, right? I mean, I think we learned that when we were writing these episodes, but the editing process leaves a lot of stuff on the cutting room floor. So there's plenty more we could say about the things we've already discussed this season. I think I have a couple of answers as well. My first one, I think it's pretty amazing for a history of physics podcast that we went an entire season, 12 episodes, without talking about like really nuclear physics (laughs) or nuclear warfare or weaponry and the close relationship between the military and the physics community. There is a lot to be said there, and there are a lot of collections in the archives that are about both the cozy relationship between physicists and the military, and also anti-nuclear weapon advocacy in the community of physics. And I think that would be a cool story to tell. So that's one story I'd like to tell, and I'll hold off on some of the other ones that are a little bit lighter.
ALLISON: To go off of what you were saying, Justin, I think we have Samuel Goudsmit's papers in the archives. That's one of our preeminent collections and it's digitized, and it focuses on his work on the Alsos Mission, which I think is relatively under the radar. I'm not really sure. I feel like my knowledge now is so skewed because I take for granted that everyone knows these history of physics facts. I mean, I take for granted a lot of historical knowledge that is maybe more unique to me and my (laughs) cohort than to the general public. Surely everyone has memorized the date of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. (laughs) No, incorrect. But my real answer is obviously, I think, both Maura and Justin know what I'm going to say. I've been talking about it all season. I want to do an episode on the Radium Girls. I don't think we actually have a lot of material on this in our archival collections. It's sort of outside of our scope and most of the, you know, story went down before our organization was even in existence. But I know we have a lot of books, and it's endlessly fascinating to me how the science, you know, what was taken as this great discovery, radiation, radium, radioactivity, and put into all of these inventions, whether... sort of hoax inventions where there wasn't actually radium in them, or actual, you know, glow-in-the-dark radium watches, and then what that did to people and I think as a person who is not a scientist and doesn't have a background in science, I think often there's this emphasis on like, you know, science can't be good or evil, because it just is, but I do think, you know, when we talk about the atom, there's clearly-- people can't be totally neutral. Is it science or is it just people? They're like, "We can monetize this." Or "We can make this make us more powerful."
MAURA: I hate when science hurts people or facilitates people being hurt. In episode 12, we talked about how, like, in the name of astronomy, we're overlooking the lives and values of people. And I never think that should be the case.
JUSTIN: It's, you know, the science is one thing, but its social application is another. And the political decisions that go into how scientific discoveries are used. And that's what we get into in this podcast. The stories behind the science, right?
MAURA: As far as episodes I still want to make (ALLISON: (laughs) Oh yeah.) (laughs) As far as names go, Chandrasekhar, Mae Jemison, and also like listeners have written in with really good ideas for episodes that we would love to do.
ALLISON: What did you learn about podcasting that you didn't know before?
JUSTIN: Being nimble and receptive to constructive criticism, and tailor it along the way to make sure that it works. To ground that in an actual example, the first three episodes were really heavily scripted out, and when we did a trial run, it didn't seem to work. And so we retooled them and approached the writing process a bit differently for later episodes. But I think it's really key to involve people who are interested in the project and who can offer external ears. Because when it's just the two of you, sometimes you get stuck in your ways, and it becomes a little bit easier to see how to adjust to make a more compelling podcast, if you have other people listening.
MAURA: Yeah, I definitely am grateful for all the feedback we've received that is constructive. If your feedback was, "Maura sounds like a Kardashian," thank you. (ALLISON: (laughs)) They are very rich, so... (laughs) I think it's just not as easy as it seems to sit in front of a mic and pretend to be an expert in something, even though you feel like there are 18 more books you could have read. 18 more people you could have interviewed. So I think it was really hard for me to be as candid and have as much fun in front of the microphone, just because once you put the mic there, it feels so permanent. It's not like a discussion you're having with your friends, where you could say things and then backtrack yourself later and be like, "Ah! I misspoke." It's like, I'm delivering some definitive history, which as we've learned, no history is definitive.
ALLISON: That's really beautiful, Maura. Possibly listeners can tell that we have fun together, and we have fun (MAURA: (laughs)) with the topic, but sometimes the topics are very serious. This is how as, you know, a librarian, people expect me to be an expert on everything in the library, and I'm like, I know a little bit about a lot of different things. Please don't call me an expert on anything. And, you know, being seen as a source of knowledge, there's a lot of pressure. But I think just in general, it's nice when people admit that they are fallible. That doesn't answer (laughs) the actual question, but as a response to Maura. I learned everything about podcasting that I didn't know before. I think not having made a podcast for real, it is very like, who hasn't said to their friends, "I'm going to start a podcast?" But maybe this is just me and my friends. You feel like you know a lot about a topic, or you love a topic, and so you could talk about it. But it's very different if you put out 12 episodes or more of a podcast that are actually thoughtful, produced things that you want to be out in the world and are not an embarrassment. (laughs) Like with a lot of things, it's an iceberg, where what you see is actually the least amount of the work, and all of the work is actually this invisible kind of stuff that's even hard to describe. A lot of the work is actually just really boring paper pushing and telling Kerry what we had for breakfast, make sure we sound okay.
MAURA: And making a million passwords for a million different platforms. (laughs)
ALLISON: Yeah. Password managers are the way to go. So yeah, podcasts are an iceberg. Okay. What was your favorite episode to listen to, make, or research? My favorite episode is episode six, Historical Romance and LGBTQ+ Representation. And I think I'm just biased because I felt like a little rebel when I bought this romance novel for the collection. And I was like, "This is where I get to put my personal preferences and philosophies into the collection." And it does feel a little rebellious. Why are you buying a romance novel for this profound history of physics collection? And I asked historians and they were enthusiastic about adding it to the collection. So it wasn't just a total, rogue decision. But it was very validating to have Maura immediately glom onto the book as a book, because I like books. But also as a topic for the podcast and a way to investigate history. So that episode's very close to my heart because it's connected to something I bought for the library that complemented something in the Wenner collection, and I think the interview that Maura and Justin did with Olivia Waite was just fabulous, and the episode made me cry, so hands-down my favorite, but they're all great.
MAURA: I totally agree, I loved making that episode and talking to Olivia Waite. She is so cool, so interesting, and it made me want to be a writer, just hearing her explain her process and yeah, I think it was a good decision to collect that book.
ALLISON: If we could do like a fictional or poetry or something book every season, that would be so cool.
ALLISON: Like science fiction or like juvenile fiction. A play.
MAURA: This is so far out there, but a fellowship for fiction writers to research here or something would be so freaking cool.
ALLISON: I'm putting it on the wishlist, Maura.
MAURA: I feel very invested in all of the episodes I wrote and researched. It was the John Brashear episode, The Unexpected Hero of Physics, sort of similar to what Allison said, John Brashear very much feels like part of my story as well, because I researched in the institution that he helped build and that he's buried in. I lived in the city that he helped create, and I researched in a field that he very much changed and his ethos in astronomy is very much the ethos that I have for astronomy. It was really fun to go to the Allegheny Observatory and talked to Lou Coban. He rocks. So yeah, I think that was my favorite episode to make and listen to.
JUSTIN: We sort of traded off writing episodes this season, which I think allowed us to explore in greater detail some of the things that interested us. So I'll speak first to my favorite episode to listen to, and then to my favorite one to write. My favorite episode to listen to was also The Unexpected Hero of Light. Maura, I think you have a really remarkable ability to not put yourself into the histories in a way that would bias them, but to connect to these historical figures, and indeed, I think that's how some of the best history is written. Is when you feel like you are kind of understanding them in a certain way by reading their correspondence and their writings and that sort of thing. And as former director of graduate studies at UMD once put it, you know, one of the cool things about history is you get to read other people's mail. (MAURA: (laughs)) And I think you do that really well with the sources that you have, and, (MAURA: Thank you, Justin.) you know what, in some ways, I'm really surprised we actually got through the Brashear episode. (ALLISON & MAURA: (laughs))
ALLISON: Without Maura having a mental breakdown?
JUSTIN: No, emotional breakdown, yeah.
MAURA: I was crying. (laughs)
JUSTIN: Yeah but--
MAURA: No and I did. (laughs)
JUSTIN: But apart from that connection, I think that allowed you to write a really compelling story. Brashear was a very interesting figure. The way that he was able to build these extremely precise lenses. You know, lacking many of the modern technologies that assist in creating lenses, is, well, I think I said remarkable and I'll say it again, it was really remarkable. And I think that you gave listeners a really good context into what technologies were available to make this stuff, and how these lenses were made. And, of course, the tragic breaking of his first couple of lenses. It was really well-told. But that was certainly my favorite episode to listen to. What else helped was I think I spoke relatively little on that episode, because I didn't write it.
MAURA: Thank you so much Justin. That's very high praise coming from you.
JUSTIN: But my favorite episode to research was, once again, the pseudoscience episode. You know, I think we used the collections really well as a sort of fun house mirror to understand how scientific knowledge is produced and legitimized and what maybe constitutes the difference between pseudoscience and science. And you know these schemes that these pseudoscientists had were quite hare-brained sometimes and really fun to read for that reason. And the names involved too. I mean, you can't beat Joseph Bonkowski. And his theory of relativity, too, or how to build a time machine.
MAURA: A must-read. Canon. (ALLISON: (laughs))
JUSTIN: Yeah, no, I mean they're really worth visiting, these collections.
MAURA: And I guess I didn't answer which one was my favorite to listen to, and it was absolutely Was Einstein Wrong?. I remember listening to it on a walk, laughing maniacally. People were looking at me because I was laughing so loud. This is so embarrassing. It's my own podcast. (laughs) If someone were like, "Oh my god, what are you listening to?" I'd be like, "...myself. Mainly Justin, but..."
ALLISON: I also want to, if we're talking "listen to," I mean I also love episode 12, Hawai'i and the Thirty Meter Telescope, because the way I thought about the podcast before you and Justin were even hired, was not as an interview podcast but a storytelling podcast. And yet, I loved the interviews with Kalewa and Samantha so much, and I thought, "If we had tried to tell those stories, we wouldn't have given them as full a picture as just talking to the people who are on the ground, either living or experiencing or researching or recording oral histories with people. So I love that episode.
MAURA: And really such a privilege to make and to talk to Samantha and Kalewa. I mean I think that has been one of my favorite parts of working on this podcast, is just our access to experts.
ALLISON: Yeah just thank you to all of our guests this season, who were all just so wonderful and had such a wealth of information to share and were so generous with it. And everyone was just so lovely. Okay, last question: do you think there was an overall theme to season one?
MAURA: Yes, that Justin and I do not share a single cultural reference. (ALLISON: (laughs)) And we aren't related. (laughs) A lot of our episodes were more focused on how society influenced physics than how physics influenced society. I think maybe a caveat to that would be the first three episodes, which did very intentionally have the theme of history of our understanding of climate change. And very grateful for Justin's background in the history of the environment.
JUSTIN: I think... like who doesn't speak, who don't we hear from in the history of physics? And how can we figure out how to give them a voice? I mean I think that was a really central theme from the very beginning. The first episode about Eunice Foote. To date, we haven't found any photographs of her. We don't really have the same historical record of her as a scientist as we do for other scientists at the time. And so the question is, how do we give a voice to someone who, I mean, quite literally did not have a voice when her paper was read at the meeting of the AAAS? I think we did our best to present the experiences and the history of physics of marginalized communities. And folks who had long not been written into the historical record.
ALLISON: Yeah, we'd never done a biography of Einstein. We didn't add that-- even our Newton episode is The Newton You Didn't Know. I want, you know, students of physics to feel like they recognize themselves in the other physicists that came before them, no matter how far they go back. And I think that we made a season where people would be able to recognize parts of themselves.
JUSTIN: I think another aspect would be the collaborative nature of research in the sciences. And the collaborative endeavor that comprises how scientific knowledge is created and legitimized. And likewise, I've emphasized it a lot off-mic, but this podcast was a collaborative endeavor. Maura and I were the faces of it, and Allison you were the tour guide-- Well, I guess you can't really have a face to a podcast, but you know what I mean. (MAURA: (laughs)) We're the voices of it, along with you Allison.
MAURA: We're the voices.
JUSTIN: But I mean there's so much that went on behind the scenes, and we'll be hearing from in a moment the determined and driven archivists, librarians, and historians, in the Center for History of Physics and the Niels Bohr Library & Archives. Without them, we wouldn't have a show, and without their detailed knowledge of the archives and the history of physics, we wouldn't have a quality show. So we'll be hearing from them in a moment as well.
ALLISON: Gonna make me cry.
MAURA: Aww. It was nice chatting with you.
JUSTIN: Well as they say where you went to school, it was nice chatting with yinz. And now we'll hear from the staff of CHS and NBLA. For their perspectives on the podcast.
ALLISON: Okay, so we're recording and I think before we jump into the questions, we want to ask our guests to introduce themself.
JOANNA: I'm Joanna Behrman. I'm the assistant public historian at the Center for History of Physics.
CORINNE: Hi, I'm Corinne Mona. I'm the assistant librarian at the Niels Bohr Library & Archives.
ALLISON: We asked Joanna and Corinne to join us today, because they both helped with the podcast's creation in some way, shape, or form. And we wanted to get their point of view of what the podcast looked like from a different perspective but that was sort of inside the process.
MAURA: Yeah and Justin and I are also here. (laughs)
ALLISON: And I am here too.
JUSTIN: Yeah we're here.
ALLISON: Okay, so, from your point of view, can you describe how the podcast came into being and when did the project begin?
CORINNE: Well, so I mean I think this started when we started thinking about the, well, when we got the Sloan grant, really, is when it really started. But like that's the initial kernel of it. And the Sloan grant was to process the Wenner collection originally. Or to help with the acquisition processing of the Wenner collection. And there's this outreach component that Allison came up with or wanted to have, and when we spent all this time basically figuring out how to deal with the Wenner collection, in terms of processing, inventorying, housing, rehousing, all of that stuff, and later on in the process is when we started the outreach component, and by that time, it was around COVID-19. So I think Allison had come up with some ideas. I don't remember what they were before COVID happened, but--
ALLISON: Best not, too.
CORINNE: (laughs) But when like when Allison came up with the idea for a podcast, I was like, "Yes, that sounds awesome. Let's do this, please, please. Let's do this, it sounds so cool."
JOANNA: That's very similar to my recollection. I came on to AIP after the Sloan grant was sort of happening, and I hate to do this, but because I'm a fan of the podcast, so Corinne what you're saying is, there are three initial conditions: the Wenner collection, the Sloan grant, and outreach. And they all came together.
ALLISON: And COVID-19.
JOANNA: And the-- ah, that's four initial conditions. There are only ever three. We'd have to drop one. I guess the Sloan grant was for the Wenner collection, so technically we could just say Sloan grant, outreach, COVID...
MAURA: That sounds right.
JOANNA: Yes. Anyway, I do remember being called into a Sloan meeting and Allison basically saying, "What are we going to do with this money?" (laughs) "Do people listen to podcasts?" And I was like, "Sure, people listen to podcasts, that sounds like a great idea." (laughs)
MAURA: I appreciate you sticking to Initial Conditions cannon with your response.
JOANNA: I do like a theme.
ALLISON: What was your involvement and what was it like to plan this project, from your perspective?
JOANNA: I was mostly involved in kind of the set-up stages of the podcast. When we were thinking about who we wanted to hire for the podcast. That also involved a lot of thinking about what do we want the podcast to look like. And I am not a podcast listener myself, so there was a lot of confident speculating on my part. And good humor on everyone else's part who actually does listen to podcasts and knows what they like when they do. And then once we found Maura and Justin, we were-- or I was and one of the other staff from the Center for the History of Physics, just helped giving some feedback on some early episode drafts. But other than that, you know, after the start, things were really off to the races.
ALLISON: Yeah I do just want to add that Joanna was a big help in creating the job descriptions and what was an appropriate thing to attract historians to a job. (laughs)
JOANNA: Yeah, I think it was very important... I forget who said this, but someone who in the early conception was just like, "I really like dialogue in podcasts." And so we were thinking early on, like, oh wouldn't it be great if we could hire two people? So what combination of skills and/or enthusiasms do we want to be embodied in our podcast hosts? And one of those should be an enthusiasm and skill for history, and enthusiasm and skill for physics, and a general enthusiasm and skill for communication of concepts from one or both of those fields.
JUSTIN: I think you also did a really good job of making sure that in addition to our complementary skills, that we had literally no overlap in terms of cultural products that we consumed. (all laugh)
ALLISON: We did not have a Mean Girls/Mad Men test in the application process. That was not intentional.
JUSTIN: True. It was just, it became a very funny theme, I think, during the season, where literally every cultural reference that we made just fell absolutely flat (laughs) with the other host.
MAURA: I also did ask Joanna for a job at the end of my internship, and she was like, "Have you considered the podcast?" (laughs)
ALLISON: We don't always just have a podcast to make (laughs) at the end of it.
JOANNA: It so happened that there was going to be a job posted that may have fit your particular skills. And so I said, "You should consider applying."
MAURA: And I was like, "Who, me? Hosting a podcast?"
ALLISON: No, no one named Shapiro could host a podcast.
JOANNA: I will say that that did emerge partway through the actual application process. I was like, "Do you guys realize, if we do this, they're both going to be named Shapiro? Are we going to acknowledge this in the podcast, or is it just going to be like an unstated thing that everyone assumes they're related or married or something over the course of the season?"
MAURA: Well now it was very much stated. Yeah, we were...
JUSTIN: I think we gave proper respect to the name, though, I think without initial conditions. You know, Josh Shapiro would be trailing in the polls in his race for Pennsylvania governor. (a couple people laugh)
MAURA: Yeah, that's true.
ALLISON: My favorite is when people assume you're married and that we hired a husband and wife team to host (laughs) the podcast. Because that would not throw up any ethical flags whatsoever.
CORINNE: I guess going back to Maura's internship, I was also a mentor for Maura, and it was just such a blast to be a mentor for Maura, and with that, I and Joanna and another staff member, Audrey, were kind of heavily involved with maybe like editing some of the first drafts of the Eunice Foote article that I think spawned the first episode of Initial Conditions. So I'd say that's been kind of my role in a lot of this project, is encourager, editor, occasionally critiques. I was also in on one of those early, "Let's try out how this podcast is going to be" sessions. And I guess besides that too, when Allison was first thinking about this, I did spend some time listening to a whole bunch of science history podcasts as well. Just thinking about what it could be and what podcasts that I listened to, what I enjoy about them. So I don't know that I was directly involved with that, but I was thinking about it.
ALLISON: Yeah, I think this whole process I think what this episode is trying to stress is how collaborative it was from start to finish, and that what you hear or see is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of all of the cooperation and information sharing and encouragement and other sorts of interpersonal or mentoring relationships that happened.
MAURA: And I would also like to jump in and just say that, sure, most of this project has been the podcast, but also we've been producing blog posts for every single episode, and Corinne is editor of the blog, and provides amazing feedback. Joanna also provides feedback on blog posts. So it's more than just the sound. It's the whole scope of the project.
ALLISON: So this question may or may not resonate with you. I'm intrigued if it does. But what were some of the obstacles you encountered, and how did you overcome them?
CORINNE: Well, I have an answer for this. (laughs) And it's not really related to the podcast itself, but rather to the Sloan grant, which I think is fair, because the Sloan grant is the reason we have the podcast. So in my background, prior to working at the Niels Bohr Library & Archives, I had a job at the public library for many years, and I also worked a little bit at my college library. So university library experience. But nothing in special collections. And I had been working at Niels Bohr Library & Archives for I want to say maybe a year, and then the Wenner collection arrived. And it's just unlike anything that I have ever dealt with. And I know that is true for (laughs) most of us who were involved with the physical processing and inventorying of the Wenner collection. It is just-- it was an obstacle, because it is a massive collection. It's almost 4,000 materials, items, right? Something like--
ALLISON: I think 3,000. yeah, but like they were very individualized, rather than massed together in groups.
CORINNE: Yeah. And it is definitely a special collection. So most of the materials that I've dealt with as a library sort of person have been more modern, published materials that, I mean, the Wenner collection is published too, but more modern materials that are kind of easily.... it fits in the mold of copy cataloging and... It's just very different for someone who had mostly had public library experience up to this point. To deal with such a massive collection that is so highly individualized, and I spent, with a former staff member, Sarah Weirich, I think we spent about a year inventorying it. And I think it was just like, I think we got through that through just determination and excellent communication and teamwork. (laughs) Not to be terribly cliched. But that's my memory of that, of it just being like, okay, we're setting aside everything else, almost everything else, that we're doing, in terms of other collections, and we're just focusing on inventorying this incredibly massive and complicated collection.
ALLISON: Yeah and that inventory was very much like the backbone of everything that could build on that framework. Joanna, same question?
JOANNA: I don't think I personally face many challenges. I certainly observed challenges being conquered by other people. And full of admiration for that. Definitely I think the kind of creative impulse at the beginning of the podcast when Justin and Maura, you were still thinking about, you know, what do we want this to look like? That was a big challenge, because I remember listening to a very early episode, which was essentially the entire history of global warming science, but in like one episode. They were like, "This is very ambitious, but maybe, maybe it should be more than one episode." And you were like, "Huh, yes." And then a few weeks later, you were like, "Here are these beautiful new episodes that are like separate and well-encapsulated." And I was like, "Yes, they did it." But that wasn't my challenge (laughs) to do. That was your guys's challenge, and yeah, so I think that and, you know, figuring out all of the difficulties that come with putting a podcast together and building the infrastructure for it, which we didn't have when this started. We didn't have the audio equipment or the building set up, or... You know, we had some expertise on staff, but you know much of that had to come together to make this possible. But again, that wasn't a challenge for me. That was, I was watching that happen in real time.
JUSTIN: I lucked out. Now I have, next semester, I have 15 weeks to talk about the history of climate change. So any UMD students listening, check out History, I think it's 329W.
MAURA: Are you going to use Initial Conditions for your teaching materials?
JUSTIN: Yeah, I'm going to use that and the digital collection. I don't want to make it mandatory. I think I'll make it optional while those weeks come up.
ALLISON: (laughing) Mandatory.
MAURA: Mandatory to leave us a review (crosstalk 49:40)
CORINNE: (laughs) Extra credit if you leave a five-star review on iTunes.
JUSTIN: I don't think I can say that, but there will be students who will like...
ALLISON: It's implied.
JUSTIN: Yeah just listen to it, I think. But I'll make them aware of it, certainly.
ALLISON: I just think it was the podcast version of like, god bless these people, the people who want to listen to four hours of unedited dungeons and dragons play.
MAURA: I did not think that's where you were going.
JOANNA: Okay, but it can be really fun sometimes. (laughs)
CORINNE: I loved hearing the early stuff and I guess I enjoy the creative process. It's so fun to see where you start and how many things you have to throw against a wall. What parts of it come together in finessing and that's just so exciting and fun. I love it.
ALLISON: Aw. Okay so now to some fun questions. What did you learn this season? More fun-- Fun facts! What fun facts did you learn this season?
JOANNA: I certainly learned a lot. In terms of content knowledge, I probably learned the most from episodes that were set post-WWII. Because my historical specialty is sort of everything in-between like 1860 or 1870 and 1940. So I don't usually dip much into post-WWII history. So I think I learned the most from those episodes, but I won't deny, I enjoyed the ones that fell in my time period quite a bit, and I always love a good biography, so John Brashear's story was, while I had heard of him before, a lot of his story was new to me, and I certainly really enjoyed learning all the minute details of his life.
CORINNE: Yeah I... that episode in particular, I guess, there's just like... interesting that the observatories used to be so much closer or integrated with cities. Well they still are, but now we have observatories farther away from cities for light pollution and stuff. That was just something that came to mind. But another thing I learned in that episode is that Maura will get emotional about long-dead astronomers.
ALLISON: Well, it was...Yeah, I definitely felt moist eyeballs happening as well. So Corinne and Joanna, we all picked a favorite episode and it was hard to pick a favorite, but if you have to pick a favorite, what was it?
JOANNA: Well, I already mentioned John Brashear. But I, because I'm talking and no one else wants to talk over me, I'm going to say that I have two favorites and no one can stop me. So one of them was John Brashear, and the other one was the episode on Newton. And I thought they're both really well-done, really well-researched, very interesting. And the Newton one also drew me because, well as Justin said, he's teaching a class and some of these podcast episodes can be very useful for that, and when I was listening to the Newton episode, I was thinking back to when I was assistant teaching a class on the scientific revolution, and I was thinking, "My gosh, this would have been so helpful for the students to have, because students consume information in very different ways, but also when you're in a classroom setting, it's a very traditional, like, "Read this article, read this chapter." And if the student can't or isn't very good at doing that, they're kind of out of luck. But having the Newton episode that I could say, you know, as the alternative to reading this chapter on the scientific revolution. That would be great. I think that would really help some students be able to learn that material in a different format.
ALLISON: That makes me so happy to hear.
CORINNE: Well, I guess I'll jump in and also say that I have two favorites. My two favorites are episode five, Was Einstein Wrong, and episode six, Historical Romance and LGBTQ+ Representation. Yeah I got really inspired by the Was Einstein Wrong episode. Just because some of the sources for it were books that I had dealt with in some way, I had cataloged or just seen a lot of, and well, at least one or two of the books that come to mind, and I just thought that it was so fun to delve into both just the weirdness of crank theories and also think about the bigger question posed by that episode, I think, which is how do we say what is... how do we verify science? How do we say what's actually proper science? So I love that. I thought it was really entertaining to listen to. And then the next episode, which is about the romance novel, I just loved that. For one thing, it was about a romance novel, because you know this is a history of physics library, and people are like, what, do you have a romance novel? But why? And I think that episode does an amazing job of saying, "Yes, it belongs here, and this is why." And then it also had some great information about female astronomers, physicists, for that episode. Historical figures. I love the Olivia Waite interview. I think everyone should listen to that. And also I want to say that I really love all of the episodes. In general. But those are my two favorites.
JOANNA: Yeah, I really love the guest episodes.
MAURA: It was always such a privilege to talk to those people. How often do you get to just call one of your favorite romance authors and be like, "Talk to me for an hour"? All right, well, thank you Joanna and Corinne for coming and sharing your thoughts and dreams about the podcast.
CORINNE: Thanks for having us.
JOANNA: You're very welcome.
JUSTIN: And thank you both for your invaluable help and suggestions and everything else you've done behind the scenes for Initial Conditions.
ALLISON: Yes, thank you. So I have been moderating these discussions and a trick question that we've been adding to the beginning is, can you please introduce yourselves? Audrey, I'm going to start with you.
AUDREY: (inaudible 56:38) I'm Audrey Lengel, the digital collections manager at the Niels Bohr Library & Archives.
JAY: And I'm Jay. I'm the manuscript archivist at the Niels Bohr Library & Archives.
ALLISON: Audrey and Jay.
ALLISON: Do either of you have a favorite episode of the podcast, and if so what was it and why?
AUDREY: Ahh, it's really hard to pick one, so I have a couple, I guess, that come to mind. So I really, really liked the first three episodes of this season, on the history of climate change. I liked sort of discoverying through-lines between all of those episodes and sort of eras of climate change research. And I thought that was a really great way to start the season. And then similarly, I liked the historical romance episode and the crank theories episodes, and they sort of challenged my expectations, both in different ways, but they definitely challenged my expectations about what types of resources can sort of teach us about physics history, and sort of these absurd theories that have been debunked by science and a queer historical romance novel you wouldn't typically think, oh, I'll pick this up and learn about the history of science. But I think those episodes did a really good job of showing how powerful those types of resources that are what we traditionally consider like scholarly materials. They like have a lot of value.
JAY: While I feel like Audrey really talked about the climate change episodes, which I also really liked, also because I, to be frank, didn't realize how far back people were theorizing how our climate could change. That was incredibly new information for me. I don't know why I just assumed all of this started happening in the 80s, maybe? And it was really interesting to learn more. Especially about Eunice Foote and sort of the way that like women are historically erased from science, even when it's Eunice Foote, who had a lot of social oomph behind them in the times that they lived. And so episode one really has a special place in my heart, and I enjoyed learning more about the history of how we discovered climate change. I also... So, I really enjoy the discussing of pseudoscience too. The Was Einstein Wrong episode was really fun. As someone who's not a physicist in any way, I feel like the general consensus is like, "Einstein was right about everything!" (laughs) And it's really fun to hear that people have been turning over and experimenting with it and trying to come up with alternative ideas. (laughs) And also how those things work or really don't work. (laughs) And so I just thought it was really fun.
ALLISON: What would you like to learn about in season two?
AUDREY: I really liked the concept that you rolled with in season one. Each episode was a deep dive onto or about a specific collection or an item. And I like sort of turning that on its head a little bit and taking an item that is from one of our collections that there's active historic research being done on, and sort of talking to researchers who are working with that collection or that item to sort of further the historical narrative or story about that item and get into the process of how the history of science is made in almost a really like meta way. And maybe that's a selfish request because I work with archives and researchers on the daily, but I think that that could be a really neat perspective to take.
ALLISON: We could just have a mic at the desk and every time a researcher approaches us, we're just like, "Hold on, let me press this on button so we can record you." (laughs)
AUDREY: Yes! I've learned so much about our collections by being on the reference desk and talking to our grants in aid researchers who are working with us for weeks on end. Yeah, it gives you a really different perspective than you can get from the catalogue.
JAY: Oh my gosh, also just to echo that back, Audrey, I also feel like I learn so much from researchers, but also this podcast actually. (laughs) About our materials.
AUDREY: Yes. (laughs)
JAY: Which sometimes feels very embarrassing because I'm like, "Oh, I saw the crank theories finding aid." I don't really have a lot of context for that material. And, you know, sometimes you just see a finding aid and you're busy with other things so you don't eventually look through the collection, but now there are so many things that I want to look through. (laughs) And it's very cool and it makes me really appreciate our holdings. Okay I have a confession. I have not actually listened to the latest episode that came out on October 6th yet. And--
ALLISON: You're going to like that one, Jay.
JAY: Okay, well that's something that I want to talk about, because I feel like a lot of times when I hear about kerfuffles among the scientific community, and marginalized people that have suffered under colonialism and stuff... I don't really understand how people don't care about a colonial context. And don't interrogate their own white supremacy in, you know, these sorts of debates. Because that just seems obvious to me. Anyway, I worry that that's not a super satisfying or well-stated answer to your question, but I want to hear more about things like this so I can yell at people.
MAURA: Yeah, I'm glad we made that episode. It didn't even scratch the surface, so I think there's just so much more to talk about with the history of colonization and astronomy and so anyway, all that is to say that Jay, I think you'll like the last episode. And I think that you will still crave more information and more-- Yeah, I think you'll be unsatisfied with the answer.
JAY: Okay. (laughs)
ALLISON: You'll be both satisfied and unsatisfied. (laughs) That, now I want to do a series of all the explorers you learned about in grade school and all of the "western" scientific inventions they depended on to survive and then how they would have died if not for native knowledge of the people (JAY: Yes.) that they enslaved and murdered and exploited. That would fill a whole podcast, though.
JUSTIN: What does the public need to know about the work that you do and how would you describe the value of our libraries and archives?
ALLISON: Jay and Audrey, why is your job not just Googling?
JAY: Oh god...
ALLISON: (laughs) Okay.
AUDREY: Well, okay, here's the honest truth: some of it is. Right? Because there's a reason it's a tool that everyone uses. It can get you information very quickly. Can it get you the deepest information that you need and with the most context that you need? Absolutely not.
ALLISON: Sometimes you have to use WorldCat! (people laugh)
JAY: I think I guess a snappier answer was like, how does Google get that information? It's not like something that is populated out of the aether. It's not exclusively something like, you know, oral tradition and knowing. It's (laughs)
ALLISON: You mean Google isn't just connected to our brains? Yeah.
JAY: Yeah, and so...
AUDREY: That's the metaverse.
ALLISON: Oh, let's not. (crosstalk 1:04:41)
AUDREY: Sorry, Jay. Just ignore me.
JAY: (laughs) Yeah so even while I, you know, explain that a lot of information that is available on Google comes from primary source material that is frequently kept in archives and libraries... Archive still has a history of gatekeeping. We have our own history of being influenced by colonization, and in our society we really tend to prioritize written records over other equally important ways of keeping historical knowledge, such as songs, spiritual religious traditions, things like festivals, dances, textiles. There are lots of ways that human tradition is kept and maintained, and also changed over time, and so... and archives really tend to prioritize this very static-- I think they hope that it's unchangeable record of how things were. And that's, you know, I also want to say that that is not the best way (laughs) of maintaining historical records. It's not the only one. It's far from being the only legitimate way to do things. And so...
AUDREY: We're not objective truth-tellers. (JAY: Yes.) We're truth-keepers. (JAY: Exactly.) We are just as biased as the societies that we live in, when we exist within our societies, and we're making choices as individual, flawed human beings that will then influence the future history that is being told.
JAY: Yeah. Like Allison, you mentioned earlier that as a special library, we decide as the people who acquire things what counts as physics, what counts as being in our...
ALLISON: Mmhmm. Who's a scientist.
JAY: Exactly. Who's a scientist. And even when we take in collections of materials of people that work in the field, there is a process of trying to decide what should stay in a collection and what should go. Part of our work is also rearranging or trying to put things in context, and sometimes things get buried in collections that researchers discover later on that we didn't know was important. And so we're not perfect truth tellers. Even while we, I think, serve an important role in a lot of ways.
ALLISON: Yeah and I think, to get back to the theme that we've been hearing a lot, is that's why, you know, archivists want to and need to collaborate with researchers and historians, and even genealogists. Other people that use research centers because we don't know everything. We can't know everything. No one can. And though I don't know the math, I don't know the physics, someone has to come and tell me what kind of physics is this math or, you know, other things that I couldn't possibly know, and they might not come until a decision has been made, you know, about where it goes, and then it's like, whoops, we were wrong.
AUDREY: And if we're having those conversations as archivists and the historians who are working day-to-day with these materials, it's even more of sort of, it demonstrates how important it is to get these stories out to the public too.
AUDREY: Because there's so much... the finished, tidied-up story that you get from an event or a discovery, for instance, in physics, is the tip of the tip of the tip of the iceberg. And sort of the archives are where the rest of that iceberg is, and there's so much more to be gained from investigating the rest of that iceberg, and talking to historians about sort of how the rest of the iceberg sort of lifts up the tip, to take the metaphor to an extreme exaggeration. I think something that we can sort of learn from, or that the public can access through archives is that we see and we celebrate the people who get the Noah prize. Where we're part of a team who led to the discovery of X or the understanding of Y. But there are so many more instances where maybe those people, but also like lots of other people failed and didn't discover X or didn't lead to the better understanding of Y, and looking through the archives sort of can help, I don't know, I'm sort of picturing like, "We've all had stumbles in our careers." Looking through the archives can help you sort of realize, yeah, these people's research journies were not linear. You're making progress. You're going two steps back. Constantly. And I think that that's a really unique perspective that you're not going to get, for instance, when you're reading the highlight reel of somebody's career.
ALLISON: Last question. Given the opportunity, what materials in the collections would you like to hear, and/or write, an episode about?
JAY: One of my answers is something I've been recently learning about is why people do atmospheric and meteorological studies in Antarctica. And so I'm very interested in how and why that happened, and I know for me, it feels like I'm learning a bunch of new stuff all of the time about it. I mean I just think Antarctica is a fascinating continent, and I'm always eager for more content about it. (laughs) But yeah, I guess that's something I would find really fun. (laughs)
AUDREY: As somebody who loves the other side of the polar regions (some laughter), I'll also jump onto that answer and say I think the history of Camp Century, which was I believe in Greenland.
ALLISON: I love that you both went, "the poles." But the opposite ones.
AUDREY: Yeah. Which, the story of Camp Century and sort of its creation and then later abandonment would be rife for exploration on a podcast.
JAY: Yeah. I think it's so interesting also how radically different our understanding of lifeforms on either of the poles has been changed over time. I was recently reading this report from the 80s about setting up Antarctic bases specifically, and in it in the introduction, the continent was described as this sparse wasteland, because it's exclusively... it's part of the Antarctic treaty is that Antarctica is free for scientific study. We now have all of this information actually about the very intricate and delicate biology of even things like ice and things that live in ice. It's such a geologically interesting continent because it, in addition to having a bunch fo glaciers, also has a bunch of things like under-ice lakes and volcanoes. It's just a very interesting place, and it's wild to me that I know that now, in 2022, but even 40 years ago, people were like, "What the... what is this?" Like (laughs) it's just this barren wasteland of lifelessness. It's actually just life that we don't know about.
ALLISON: And penguins.
MAURA: I can't wait for your season of Initial Conditions, Jay. (JAY and AUDREY laugh)
JAY: I guess also I just... for the podcast, I feel like we've already touched on this, but the history of colonization and its impact on different things in physics? (laughs) Yeah, I would love more of that too. Sorry to like go on and on about (laughs) Antarctica. And then actually also colonialism please?
ALLISON: Two very small topics.
JUSTIN: Speaking of, I'll do a shameless plug here. I have an article that's being published in the Journal of Transport History in December. It's available online now, so if you're a UMD affiliate, you should be able to have it. But it's sort of about internal colonization in the US. It's the history of road construction on the Navajo Nation. Especially as it pertained to uranium mining and public health outcomes. So check it out, if you're interested.
JAY: Oh my god, yes, absolutely.
AUDREY: To go in a completely different direction to answer this question, the first thing that came into my mind when I saw the question was, what materials in the collections would you like to hear and/or write an episode about, was we have... I think we have two AV collections, but I can find one in the catalog doing a brief search. We have a collection that's called Cosmic Cabaret, and the catalog record says that it is a, "Multimedia musical show on science, technology, and the universe. Includes 14 songs." And so I would like to formally request that these recordings be an episode of season two, just because the musical theatre nerd in me needs this to be more well-known.
ALLISON: To be fair, "use" though, does that mean we have to sing them ourselves?
AUDREY: Well it would depend on the copyright situation of the songs themselves. If they weren't submitted to the copyright office, perhaps we have fair use of them as a-- I mean also like the podcast would be educational in nature and we wouldn't be making a profit, so I think we could call fair use regardless, and play snippets of the songs themselves. It was produced, I think, in like 2000, so I'm not sure what the multimedia experience portion is. We also have a collection of some vinyl records of musical numbers that were recorded. I couldn't find that doing a cursory search of the catalog, but that's definitely somewhere in our collections, so I think there could be a whole section of episodes on musicals.
ALLISON: Audrey. You did not mention that the full title is Cosmic Cabaret: starring Lynda Williams as the physics chanteuse.
AUDREY: I didn't know how to pronounce that word, so I purposefully left that out. (laughs)
JAY: I love that.
ALLISON: It's French for singer.
AUDREY: All right, okay. I'm glad you said it then, I didn't have to.
JAY: We should do a showing of that in the library at one point.
MAURA: Yeah. We have popcorn, so.
ALLISON: Into it.
ALLISON: Now, I think everyone had awesome answers.
MAURA: And a wonderful time.
ALLISON: Making Maura's job really hard (laughs) with how tightly-- how long is this episode going to be? Four hours?
AUDREY: Sam sent something that I think is really sweet, so I'm going to read what Sam said. So this is from Sam, Samantha Holland, who is our AV archivist at the Niels Bohr Library & Archives, and she couldn't be here, but she said that she loved the two episodes that Initial Conditions made that are connected to Dr. Ronald Mickens. And she said that "some of us at NBLA had the fortune to work first hand with some of his archival materials, and so we really appreciate Dr. Mickens." And she really liked the way that you took your time exploring his collection of biographical research of African-American physicists and scientists and his interview, by making them two whole episodes. So that was one of Sam's notes that was really nice.
JUSTIN: Well thank you so much for joining us. And not just for joining us, but for all of the work that you did behind the scenes to make Initial Conditions possible.
AUDREY: Aw, thank you for making it.
JAY: Working with you both has been so lovely, and I've enjoyed the podcast so much.
MAURA: Thank you, Jay and Audrey for all the work you've done behind the scenes and for being amazing supporting the workers, and audience members.
MAURA: As we heard, and learned, Initial Conditions was a collaborative project that relied on a whole team, not just the voices you hear every week.
JUSTIN: That's true. And I'm glad we had an opportunity to emphasize that this was, indeed, a collaborative project. And a lot of people did a lot of work behind the scenes. And I have to say, our discussion was appropriately cathartic.
ALLISON: I definitely got a little teary.
MAURA: And just to think, it all started with an acquisition, a grant, and a boss who loves podcasts.
JUSTIN: Thanks so much for joining us today, and this season.
MAURA: A special shoutout today to our tour guide and the associate director of library collections and services at the Niels Bohr Library & Archives, Allison Shapiro.
ALLISON: (laughs) I'm one of them!
JUSTIN: This episode was created, researched, and written by Maura Shapiro and Justin Shapiro.
MAURA: Allison Rein is our executive producer.
JUSTIN: With audio production and editing by Maura Shapiro with help from Kerry Thomspon.
MAURA: A very special thanks to the wonderful staff of the NBLA and CHP for supporting us in all our research needs.
JUSTIN: Initial Conditions is generously supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
MAURA: I'm Maura Shapiro.
JUSTIN: And I'm Justin Shapiro, no relation.
MAURA: And you've been listening to Initial Conditions.
ALLISON: From the Niels Bohr Library & Archives at the American Institute of Physics.
MAURA: Yay! (claps)
ALLISON: I got teary again.