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Past Lectures 2007-2008


The Astronomical Worlds of Thomas Harriot

Dr. Owen Gingerich
March 27, 2007

In the past three decades Professor Gingerich has become a leading authority on the 17th-century German astronomer Johannes Kepler and on Nicholas Copernicus, the 16th- century cosmologist who proposed the heliocentric system. The Harvard-Smithsonian astronomer undertook a three-decade-long personal survey of Copernicus' great book, De revolutionibus , examining over 580 sixteenth-century copies in libraries scattered throughout Europe and North America, as well as those in China, Japan, and Australia. His annotated census of these books was published in 2002 as a 434-page monograph. In recognition of these studies, he was awarded the Polish government's Order of Merit in 1981, and more recently an asteroid has been named in his honor. An account of his Copernican adventures, The Book Nobody Read, published in 2004 by Walker & Co., has now been issued as a Penguin paperback.

Besides nearly 600 technical or educational articles and reviews, Professor Gingerich has written more popularly on astronomy in several encyclopedias and journals. Two anthologies of his essays have appeared, The Great Copernicus Chase and Other Adventures in Astronomical History from Cambridge University Press and The Eye of Heaven: Ptolemy, Copernicus, Kepler.

Dr. Gingrich will also make a presentation at Manteo, NC, on "Thomas Harriot and the Early Frontiers of Astronomical Observation" on March 2.


Inaugural Lecture

Peter White, Ph.D.
From the Appalachians to the Coastal Plain: North Carolina's Wildflowers and Ecology

September 27, 2007

"Darwin called the Venus Fly Trap, native to only eleven counties in North and South Carolina and found nowhere else on earth, the 'most wonderful plant in the world.' In fact, the sandy, nutrient-poor soils of the Southeastern coastal plain support the world's richest center of unique carnivorous plants."

Peter White is a plant ecologist with interests in communities, floristics, biogeography, species richness, conservation biology and disturbance and patch dynamics. In vegetation science he is interested in the composition and dynamics of plant communities, the relationship between vegetation and landscape, and role of disturbance, and the ecology of individual species in a dynamic setting. In conservation biology he is interested in the distribution and biology of rare species, the design and management of nature reserves and alien species invasions.

Professor White directs the University's North Carolina Botanical Garden, a garden which is helping to define the Conservation Garden. The Garden became one of the first gardens to enact policies aimed at diminishing the risk of release of exotic pest organisms in 1998 and was presented with a Program Excellence Award in 2004 by the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta.


The Premier Lecture

Dr. Richard Leakey
Why Our Origins Matter

October 10, 2007

Dr. Richard Leakey has made international headlines for more than 30 years for his work in Kenya. One of the most controversial, influential, and inspirational figures in African politics and world conservation today, he has authored or co-authored over 100 scientific articles and books, including The Origins of Humankind, Origins Reconsidered, and The Sixth Extinction.

In the 30 years following Dr. Leakey's first expedition, he and his team of palaeoanthropologists unearthed more than two-hundred fossils, including "Turkana Boy," a Homo Erectus roughly 1.6 million years old, one of the most complete skeletons ever found.

Renowned for his work in early human origins, Leakey became head of Kenya's Wildlife Department and later an outspoken political outsider, to save Kenya's natural resources, and specifically the African elephant – a crusade that set him against internal corruption, poverty, and dangerous criminals. The personal cost was high (the 1993 airplane crash that took his legs and nearly his life was likely no accident), but his love of Kenya, and his convictions about the direction of his country – and all of sub-Saharan Africa – must take to survive, have been unshakeable.


Sallie Southall Cotten Lecture

Lisa Norling, Ph.D.
Captain Ahab Had a Wife

February 21, 2008

Professor Norling's scholarship is located at the intersection between maritime history and women's history. As U.S. history appropriately incorporates international and comparative perspectives, Professor Norling emphasizes recognizing the significance of the sailors and ships that linked America and the rest of the world for centuries. Norling's prize-winning book, Captain Ahab Had a Wife, examines gender dynamics in the American whaling industry from the eighteenth through the nineteenth centuries.

The book describes the functional interdependence of maritime men's and women's work and situates this within the ideological interdependence of masculine and feminine gender roles. Professor Norling's findings show how the dramatic growth of the industry and the restructuring of life at sea and onshore both reflected and reinforced evolving concepts about sexual difference, love, and marriage.


Thomas Harriot Lecture

Professor Mark Nicholls
Sir Walter Raleigh & the Elizabethan World of Thomas Harriot

April 10, 2008

Dr. Mark Nicholls, Librarian of St. John's College, Cambridge University, is a noted scholar of the life and times of Sir Walter Raleigh and his scholar-associate, Thomas Harriot. Nicholls is the author of several important books on the era of Raleigh and the Roanoke Voyages to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Investigating Gunpowder Plot (1991) is a definitive history of the famous political conspiracy that landed Raleigh and a number of his associates in the Tower of London. Nicholls has also published in 2005 a new and definitive edition of George Percy's "Trewe Relacyon," a journal of events in Jamestown during its formative years . Nicholls is also the author of A History of the Modern British Isles, 1529-1603: The Two Kingdoms (1999), and a forthcoming biography of Sir Walter Raleigh.

Listen to Interview

Wright Auditorium


Jeffrey S. Johnson,
Ph.D., Director
Harriot Voyages of
Discovery Lecture Series
2147 Bate Building
East Carolina University