Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

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DNA indicates how ancient migrations shaped South Asian languages and farming

Science News reports: A new DNA study of unprecedented size has unveiled ancient human movements that shaped the genetic makeup of present-day South Asians in complex ways. Those long-ago treks across vast grasslands and through mountain valleys may even have determined the types of languages still spoken in a region that includes what’s now India and Pakistan. The investigation addresses two controversial issues. First, who brought farming to South Asia?

Across generations, Americans suffer from, and die of, new levels of loneliness in an age of crumbling institutions

Derek Thompson writes: In 1998, The Wall Street Journal and NBC News asked several hundred young Americans to name their most important values. Work ethic led the way—naturally. After that, large majorities picked patriotism, religion, and having children. Twenty-one years later, the same pollsters asked the same questions of today’s 18-to-38-year-olds—members of the Millennial and Z generations. The results, published last week in The Wall Street Journal, showed a major

Surveying archaeologists across the globe reveals deeper and more widespread roots of the human age, the Anthropocene

People have been modifying Earth – as in these rice terraces near Pokhara, Nepal – for millennia. Erle C. Ellis, CC BY-ND By Ben Marwick, University of Washington; Erle C. Ellis, University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Lucas Stephens, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, and Nicole Boivin, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History Examples of how human societies are changing the planet abound –

How cultural anthropologists redefined humanity

Louis Menand writes: Not that long ago, Margaret Mead was one of the most widely known intellectuals in America. Her first book, “Coming of Age in Samoa,” published in 1928, when she was twenty-six, was a best-seller, and for the next fifty years she was a progressive voice in national debates about everything from sex and gender to nuclear policy, the environment, and the legalization of marijuana. (She was in

Ancient farmers irreversibly altered Earth’s face by 3000 years ago

Mohi Kumar writes: When we think of how humans have altered the planet, greenhouse gas warming, industrial pollution, and nuclear fallout usually spring to mind. But now, a new study invites us to think much further back in time. Humans have been altering landscapes planetwide for thousands of years: since at least 1000 B.C.E., by which time people in regions across the globe had abandoned foraging in favor of continually

What does a traffic jam in Atlanta have to do with segregation? Quite a lot

Kevin M. Kruse writes: Atlanta has some of the worst traffic in the United States. Drivers there average two hours each week mired in gridlock, hung up at countless spots, from the constantly clogged Georgia 400 to a complicated cluster of overpasses at Tom Moreland Interchange, better known as “Spaghetti Junction.” The Downtown Connector — a 12-to-14-lane megahighway that in theory connects the city’s north to its south — regularly

Global population distribution from 10,000 BCE to the present

  Population estimates are from the History Database of the Global Environment (HYDE)

How Arab scholars preserved scientific texts serving as the foundations of modern knowledge

In a review of Violet Moller’s new book, The Map of Knowledge: A Thousand-Year History of How Classical Ideas Were Lost and Found, Katie Hafner writes: While religion dictated the cultural winds of the Western world, ideas flowed freely through the Middle East, traversing religions and cultures. Knowledge began flowing into Baghdad from every direction as scholars translated Greek manuscripts into Arabic. Book production soared as texts were read aloud

America, a nation conceived in liberty was also a nation conceived in slavery

Drew Gilpin Faust writes: Virginia has a long history to confront. Our nation’s experience with slavery began there, when some 20 captive Africans arrived on a warship in Jamestown in 1619. Black bondage existed in Virginia for close to a century longer than black freedom has. Slavery made colonial Virginia prosperous, creating a plantation society founded on tobacco production, social and economic stratification, and unfree labor. It also produced a

Moon landing: What Armstrong and Aldrin saw

Arizona State University: As the Apollo 11 Lunar Module approached the moon’s surface for the first manned landing, commander Neil Armstrong switched off the auto-targeting feature of the LM’s computer and flew the spacecraft manually to a landing. A new video, created at Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, shows what Armstrong saw out his window as the lander descended — and you’ll see for yourself why

Britain’s imperial dream catchers

Erik Linstrum writes: Every state needs to know about the people it rules. Censuses, property surveys and tax records are familiar and tangible expressions of the state’s need to maintain power by accumulating knowledge. This is not just a matter of tedious bureaucratic record-keeping: especially when confronted with unfamiliar problems, states often turn to cutting-edge technologies and forms of expertise to make sense of the populations under their authority. In

Trump’s ignorance about history could get us into a war with Iran

Fred Kaplan writes: One difference between the Cuban crisis of 1962 and the Iranian crisis of 2019 is that, in the former, the American president wanted to avoid war, had read some history on how past leaders got locked into war, and thought deeply about how he might avoid the same trap. It also turned out that Khrushchev, his adversary in that crisis, proved to be an eager partner in

How World War II almost broke American politics

Joshua Zeitz writes: The story of how Americans surmounted their fractured political culture to mobilize for D-Day remains a trenchant example, in our own age of discord and division, of how a country desperately wanting for consensus can rally together in a moment of common purpose. “Our bond with Europe is a bond of race, and not of political ideology,” the famed aviator and outspoken isolationist Charles Lindbergh told a

A divisive president landing in Normandy

Rachel Donadio writes: [On the 40th anniversary of the Normandy landings, Ronald Reagan] spoke of how the rangers had scaled the cliff, and also of “a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest.” That line reads differently today, after the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where liberation has proved more vexing. Reagan also spoke out against isolationism. “We in America

The lure of Western Europe

Anne Applebaum writes: By the spring of 1952, the “iron curtain” that Winston Churchill had described as descending on the eastern half of Europe—“from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic”—already felt impenetrable, even permanent. In that year, Czech courts condemned to death Rudolf Slansky, the secretary-general of the Czech Communist Party, for alleged participation in a “Trotskyite-Titoist-Zionist” conspiracy. The East German Communist Party adopted a new economic

Muslims lived in America before Protestantism even existed

Sam Haselby writes: Muslims came to America more than a century before the Puritans founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. Muslims were living in America not only before Protestants, but before Protestantism existed. After Catholicism, Islam was the second monotheistic religion in the Americas. The popular misunderstanding, even among educated people, that Islam and Muslims are recent additions to America tells us important things about how American history has