History, like evolution, or flying an airplane, seems to consist not of gradual changes but of long periods where nothing much happens, punctuated by brief, terrifying moments where the shape of things to come is largely determined. The years 1860 to 1880 appear in retrospect to have been one of those moments. Not only did those two decades give us the showy inventions, the phonograph, the telephone and the electric light, dynamite and the typewriter, barbed wire and reinforced concrete, blue jeans, the automobile, lawn tennis and the square-bottomed paper bag; they also witnessed a host of less tangible developments that would change the way people thought about the world, and the directions they took in trying to understand it. In 1860, the neurologist Broca localized a part of the brain responsible for speech, opening the door to modern neurology and more generally to the understanding of the brain as a mechanism; in the late 1860s, the editor William Dean Howells undertook to bring realism to American fiction, where it has been plaguing writers ever since. And in 1877, a man named Edward Muybridge photographed a racehorse named Occident trotting in Palo... More >>>
By photo: courtesy of Viking Press
Twelve-step program: Muybridge's motion studies settle the equine foot-lifting question once and for all.