“Science and Civilization in Islam” Dr. Peter Barker, University of Oklahoma 1/26/2016

Towards the end of January, I attended a lecture by Peter Barker, a History of Science professor at OU. I went into this particular Presidential Dream course presentation with an open mind, willing to learn new things and remaining steadfast in my curiousness for the origins of modern science. My belief is that I can always gain further insight into topics that interest me, and there is no harm in listening to an expert express their passion for their research. This particular talk seemed, however, unique to me in its cultural and international components. The lecturer gave sound arguments while allowing us to decide for ourselves how earlier science began based on the evidence he presented.

Dr. Barker began with an explicit statement of the significance of his findings relevant to the development of science as we know it. His arguments revolve around the idea that Islamic scientists had a much more profound impact in countless scientific topics than we learn. Although he never stated this directly, the impression was that he believed that Islam was the main source of the scientific revolution, with Western countries borrowing from what those in the Middle East had accomplished before them. He also stated his goals in presenting this topic to the community. His wish is to replace the various Islamic stereotypes that have remained embedded in Oklahoma with more fact-based statements.

The first thesis Dr. Barker refuted is known as the “bookshelf” thesis. This belief essentially claims that Islamic intellectuals translated and preserved earlier science, but did not add anything to ancient science. Many modern subjects that are well developed today can immediately be brought up as counterevidence to this argument. The first subject is Algebra which was conceptualized by Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi. Yet another subject that is foundational to so many other disciplines, namely Chemistry, was heavily influenced by the work of Abu Musa Jabir ibn Hayyan. Furthermore, Abu Ali al-Husayn ibn Abdullah ibn Sina systemized and added considerably to the study of medicine, including his significant identification of the smallpox disease.

Another argument for the insignificance of Islamic science is the Rise and Decline Thesis. The origins of this were supposedly begun by criticism of Greek tradition and religious criticism of science. Although science has remained a complex phenomenon throughout history, it is hard to deny two basic mistakes. The first is that scientific tradition between the West and Islam cannot and should not be considered separately. In fact, Lady Montagu, an English aristocrat, led inoculations all the way from Istanbul to Europe. The second glaring error in this argument is the absence of a verifiable decline in Islamic scientific progress. One could even say that western science is actually a continuation of Islamic science.

It is often hard to deny that figures we have thought to be heroes in history may have borrowed extensively from the work of others. We have the false impression that these figures were able to achieve amazing things during their lifetimes through their own faculties. Dr. Barker gave us a prime example of this problem. We were given a drawing that Copernicus used to develop scientific principles in the realm of astronomy. Then, we were shown a very similar drawing developed by an Islamic astronomer considerably earlier than when Copernicus published his work.

At the end of his talk, Dr. Barker opened up the podium for questions. I must say that I learned a great deal more from the great questions that were asked. The lecture as a whole gave me a fresh insight into the history of a topic I am greatly interested. Although I had my own idea about what the lecture would entail beforehand, I was still fascinated by how much I learned in a short amount of time. My belief is that adding perspectives to my current knowledge is one of the best things that I can do while exploring different opportunities in college. I am really thankful to OU for providing these great lectures that can give me a fun break from long hours of studying!

Reverse Culture Shock

When I got back to school in Norman the first question everyone asked me was how my semester in Italy was. It was fascinating and so much fun! Now that I am further into this semester I am really starting to miss studying abroad. I love the resources here at OU, but I miss the freedom of traveling all around Europe. In a way things have sped up so much, like the time demand of my classes, and all the meetings and various activities I attend. However, in another way everything has slowed waaay down. I’m no longer seeing a new country every weekend or meeting foreigners from Australia to Brunei. While what I do here at OU is cool, there is not the same exhiliration as just packing my bag to go to a new city with new people. Although I’ve gotten pretty used to driving my own car again, I would still rather ride a bike through Tuscany streets to get to school like I did in Italy. I still maintain contact with my host family, which is a constant reminder of the great times I had over there. If people were to ask me if I am glad to be back- the answer would be honestly no. I still have the travel bug in me and won’ t be tired of it for a good long while.

Christmas Reminder

Both David and Vuth have never celebrated Christmas before so they were very excited to learn of our traditions and see what the season is all about. As I was driving them from campus back to my house they were very eager to know what we were going to be doing that night. Even though it was clear that they had never officially celebrated Christmas it never crossed my mind that they didn’t know how to celebrate Christmas! I told them of all the fun traditions that Americans have for Christmas and all the crazy things we do this time of year. I mentioned the obsession with decorating our homes with Christmas lights and Christmas trees, I told them of the tradition of Santa Claus and giving lots of presents to others, and I told them of the overwhelmingly large amount of cookies, cakes, and pies we eat this time of year! They were in awe of all the crazy traditions Americans feel are necessary in order to properly celebrate the season. They gave the impression that the things we did were almost silly and superficial. As I sat there in the driver’s seat thinking about their response I realized how silly it all really was! I began to think about the reasons behind all the decorations, parties, feasts, and presents and I realized that those were just small details in the larger picture of the real reason for the season.

I then realized that they probably didn’t even know the reason people all across the world celebrate Christmas. I asked them if they knew why we had Christmas and they both replied that they had no idea why we even have this holiday. Once again I felt pretty silly as I discovered that my assumption was wrong. As I began to explain the true spirit of Christmas and the importance behind it their faces really lit up! All the commotion, excitement, and ordeals seemed to make at least a little bit more sense as they came to know the reason for the holiday.

The night continued and only got better from there. It was clear David and Vuth were enjoying themselves as they tried new foods, played games, and mingled with my family and friends. The night culminated in a re-enactment of the nativity of Christ’s birth. This year it seemed to be extra special and carry even more meaning as just a few hours before I was reminded of the real reason for the season. The experience taught me how easy it is to get caught up in the glamour and traditions of the Christmas season and completely forget the reason we have Christmas in the first place! I am grateful for David and Vuth for helping remind me what Christmas is really all about!


OUA Ambassador

A requirement for being apart of GEF requires that we be apart of one international club. This semester, I chose to work with the OUA Ambassadors. This required that I table and attend pre departure orientations. The reason that I chose to be apart of this is because of how much I truly believe that study abroad changed my life. I want to be a resource to people who are considering studying abroad.

I mentioned “tabling” earlier. Tabling is when we set up a booth somewhere (I helped with one on the South Oval) and hand out information for studying abroad.

During this semester, I had the opportunity to meet the students who are going to be spending next Fall in Arezzo. Seeing all of their hopeful faces was amazing. There pre-study abroad faces. Studying abroad isn’t a bad thing! It just changes you. You feel older, more accomplished. After going on the adventure of a life time, you feel like there is nothing you cannot do.

While I don’t know if I will be apart of OUA Ambassadors next semester, I was grateful to help out this semester.


Alexis Keeling

P.S. My name changed because Chris and I were married on the 14th!


R&G Week: Perspectives from a Self-Proclaimed “Wet Rag”

R&G (pronounced RAG) week is chaos. Originally conceived as “raise and give” week, during which UCC students contribute to charity, it seems to have descended in a week of pure decadence. It’s a conflict of morality – although 10,000 euro was raised by mid-week, certain observations led me to question the means to a pretty great (and exhausted?) end.

College Road (the street running parallel to the north side of campus) on day one was already a certified mess. People began the week on Sunday night, heading out to the clubs to dive straight in. The evidence was clear, with a *bit* more litter and, err, puddles of questionable origin lining the sidewalk and surrounding front yards.

Throughout the week, this mess intensified, accompanied by music blasted even during my pre-noon stroll to classes. The state of College Road perfectly demonstrated my own inner conflict. On Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, the sun decided to make a vibrant appearance and the street’s residents responded in kind, dragging couches and chairs out of their houses to form makeshift patios. I longed to be strangely spontaneous, perhaps to buy cheap ciders and invite myself, sunglasses at the ready, to lounge amongst these beautifully young and decadent strangers.

Then I heard – via YikYak, not the most reliable source – someone’s sad tale: an tearful elderly woman was seen picking up broken bottles and other filth from her front yard as the week came to a close. See, students showing disregard for their own living spaces doesn’t bother me nearly as much as them utterly disrespecting others’ homes.

Other stories heard – students kicking side mirrors off random people’s cars, swarming the streets in drunken masses, and, my particularly least favorite and sadly most numerously heard story, drunk guys trying to reach up girls’ skirts/pull off their underwear as they walked into or back from town. All of these “anti-social behaviors,” as the university deems them, put quite a bad taste in my mouth.

See, the coinciding of R&G week, sunshine, food stalls on campus and fun events to witness around the place all made these days pretty enjoyable. I got a great laugh out of lounging on a bench in the Quad Monday morning in the sun with my friend Morgan – we watched as the campus-wide “zombie” game began and friends chased each other mercilessly across campus. The Students’ Union auctioned off the (probably) worst and dirtiest car known to man, even made up to look like the pile of scrap from The Inbetweeners series. The whole week did make campus feel more exciting and brighter, and all for charity!

But at what price? Ever the goody-two-shoes, I questioned people who skipped all of their classes, especially with midterms and projects in full swing. I’m not a fan of day-drinking and not a huge fan of clubbing in general, though, so maybe the full experience of R&G week just wasn’t for me.

It was nonetheless an undeniably fascinating experience.

The Trojan Women

**Warning, mild Spoilers**
Last Saturday I went to see Euripides’ play Trojan Women. I had some idea of what to expect, but the play was far more significant than I ever anticipated. Unlike most dramas about war, this one focused on what happens to the survivors on the losing side. In this instance, it focused on the consequences they faced in Ancient Greece, but many aspects of the play still apply today. The play highlighted the fear, despair, and uncertainty that all displaced victims of war face both past and present. It followed a group of noble women from Troy as they struggled to come to terms with the loss of their families, their homes, and their freedom. Viewers watched as soldiers brought news of which ladies would be enslaved to which Greek nobleman, and in a particularly cruel twist, news that an infant boy had been marked for death. This play tore the “curtain of glory” off of war to show what really happens when nations attempt to annihilate each other.
It didn’t focus solely on the loser’s sorrows. The play showed winner’s guilt in the regret of the soldiers who had to carry out the child’s execution, and it briefly reminded the audience that these were related nations with shared customs and history when the soldiers and women worked together to give the infant a proper burial in accordance with their shared beliefs. The play was very deep, and very eye opening in many ways, and I hope I have a chance to see it again someday.


Pasta Making Class

The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Italy (for me, at least) is pasta. Pasta is quite possibly one of the most delicious foods in the world. Macaroni, spaghetti, rigatoni, lasagna, with a ragu sauce, a tomato sauce, a cream sauce, a mushroom sauce, stuffed with ricotta, fried, baked–there are countless ways to eat it.

This week, I had the privilege of attending a class where we taught how to make tagliatelle, ravioli, and gnocci. The first two use the same basic ingredients (flour, salt, and egg) while the third uses just potato and flour. An egg is cracked into a “volcano” of flour, sprinkled with salt, and then mixed until the dough has a cake-batter-like consistency. Then the dough is kneaded by hand until it becomes thick and no longer sticky. It is formed into a ball, covered with plastic wrap, and left to rest for a few minutes. After the rest period, the dough can be rolled out very thin and then cut into the right shape, depending on what kind of pasta is being made. Tagliatelle is cut into long strips, while ravioli is cut into squares. We used a simple filling of ricotta mixed with spinach for our ravioli.

my dough ball (i was super proud of it)
my dough ball (i was super proud of it)

The gnocci is even simpler: potatoes are mashed and the mixed with flour and salt until thick, then rolled into a long “snake” and cut before being boiled. The final product is a mushy kind of pasta that tastes delicious with a tomato sauce.

making the ravioli filling (josie obviously loves me a lot !!!)
making the ravioli filling (josie obviously loves me a lot !!!)

Hopefully when I return home I’ll be able to recreate some of the dishes that I’ve enjoyed here in Italia! Ciao for now!

Financial Aid Based on Your Major?



So, the question is whether or not colleges like Harvard would give students more financial aid IF federal and state governments “capped their financial aid to students at the price for attending an in-state flagship university.” Well, in order to answer this, I had to look up “flagship university” because I had no idea what that meant. If you already knew what that meant, don’t laugh at me. Basically, a flagship university is “the most prominent public university of [a] state. It is usually the first public university that was established in the state and receives the most state support,” so the University of Oklahoma would be Oklahoma’s flagship university (What Is a Flagship University?). Honestly, I have no idea if schools like Harvard would cover the difference. Maybe they would want to maintain their selectivity, so by not helping more students with aid, they would be even more elite and coveted. Personally, I value the educational environment (the diversity and quality of students) over the way a university is perceived to the masses, so I would help out students, but I cannot speak60638250 for Harvard. The issue of financial aid extends pretty far, and it is complex. Should we have more rules for who can receive aid based on more strict criteria? Should a student’s major dictate the amount of monetary help they receive?

The second question prompts the idea of locking students into a major by determining their allotted financial aid based on their choices in majors. So, if someone picked petroleum engineering, his aid would be through the roof, but consequently, he would be “locked in,” and should he discover a predilection for poetry, well… he would be *ahem* S.O.L. So, my opinion on this is pretty obvious. No. Students’ aid should not be determined by their majors, simply because this is breeding grounds for deep dissatisfaction. I mean, at some point, students would realize which majors afforded them the most aid, and they’d dive into those areas of study whether or not they had even the slightest interest in them. With this decision “locked in,” those who truly could not connect to their field of study would probably become stressed and discontent, and then depressed. Are students allowed to still change majors in this system? I’ll assume that they can. Even with this possibility, many students would likely push themselves through something that they hated simply for the financial aid. I know plenty of people who are doing this for the monetary return from their starting job salaries (think most engineering majors). Basically, I’m incredibly bitter about all of this because paying for college is stressful. I know a few people who dropped out of OU because they could no longer afford it or because their grades had declined while they were trying to work full-time and complete school. Why do we have to tap dance, carve an intricate bust from marble, aKristen-Wiig-Help-Me-Im-Poor-In-Bridesmaids-Gifnd work ourselves to exhaustion just to earn a degree that is now being called “the new highschool diploma”? Okay, I’m probably getting off topic and into the rant side of things. I’ll calm down.

So, like I said, I don’t think that Harvard would “cover the difference” if financial aid was capped, but I won’t know for sure until this situation unfolds (if it ever does). Further, I do not think that aid should be based on a student’s choice of major. I can see the hopeful benefit in this, by trying to keep students headed down their chosen paths to ensure graduation and (hopefully) future success and stability, but I see too many problems, namely with student dissatisfaction and feeling trapped in something that they do not enjoy. For now, it seems like financial aid is working relatively cohesively? I don’t know enough to be sure on this either, but I haven’t heard too many complaints.



Works Cited

“What Is a Flagship University?” Do It Yourself College Rankings. N.p., 29 May 2012. Web. 16 Feb. 2016.


Argentina – The start of a new beginning

While my friends rejoice in summer’s assets, basking under the enticing heat, abandoning all eight months of education at the backs of their minds, and sleeping in until the morning has passed-- a period of laziness -- here I am, below the equator, encompassed in the calm winter of Buenos Aires, Argentina. I step into the hospital and am immediatelyswallowedup by the insufferable cries of poverty.
Dressed in our private school uniforms, we walk in silence through a bland and dreary hall--heartbeats racing with adrenaline, footsteps quickening with anticipation-- towards a door that separates sad from tragic. One of the employees holds the door open for us; but how can such a welcoming gesture lack the feeling of “welcome” in this gloomy dwelling? A bitter, impure aroma, bouncing off the corners of the walls, assaults my nose. Beds, about 30 in total, are lined up within the narrow, enclosed space of the room. Infants and adolescents are settled on them, suffering from disease, malnutrition, and lack of company. The deteriorating hospital, Dr. Raul Federico Larcade, is reeking of despair.
As a selected participant in the Mercy Ambassador Exchange program at my school, it was this awakening moment that ignited my desire to extend my hand globally to help those of Spanish blood, not only to help the less fortunate; but also by engaging in multicultural exchanges.
I was and still am influenced by a powerful American woman: Kari Engen. Like me, Engen has travelled abroad to a Spanish country: Guatemala. It was much more than just enjoying a new lifestyle; it was an encounter with an alarming reality: the serious poverty gaps facing Central and South America.  In Guatemala, Engen saw children literally living in a dump, where government did not do anything to help them. Adults and children gravitated toward the habit of sniffing glue to get high in order to escape their setting. Engen reacted by providing a better life for the Children of the Dump with the construction of her school: Mi Refugio (My Refuge), offering free education to the kids. She is a role model to me in that there are more serious issues of which people are unaware, because it has nothing to do with their own country. I kept this in mind as I played with the children with low income in Argentina and cared for the patients at the hospital.
Generalities and ethnocentrism are obstacles in learning about the world. Having friends from different parts of the world has broken down these barriers. Argentines do not eat Mexican food; people from Mexico are called Mexicans, while people from Spain are called Spaniards; and the rest of the populations of other Spanish-speaking countries can be generalized as Latin Americans. South Americans even get annoyed when one connects the term “American” to the United States! All of this has shown me that many of these countries have different views of the world, different values, but the one thing that connects them all is Spanish. Though people in those countries might have their own biases (for example many countries believe Spanish from Spain is arrogant, believing Latin American Spanish is better), I --as a non-native speaker-- have learned to accept their different views without judgement. Because I was fortunate enough to experience another culture, I was able to widen my mind; I have grown as a person. This experience has enlightened me to embrace tolerance in diversity in the world, pushing me to obtain a career in Spanish.