• Geometry, Radar and Empire: A History of Grids

    Judd Case, Tom Durwood (see profile)
    Mathematics, Technology
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    My students always get a kick out of writing like this – provocative, smart, funny, and taking with a big idea. In this case, the idea is really big: that radar was a precursor to GPS in giving us a way to conceive of our universe, and to map ourselves within that universe (and that is only part of the thesis). Here are two typical sentences: In the 19th century, Geronimo could cut a telegraph line and affect an empire’s grid. He could disrupt communication between forts, throw off the train schedule, stop the settlers from ordering seed, and make it difficult for the cavalry to arrive. To me, this is writing so vivid and original that it stays the reader’s mind a long time. When we read texts like this out loud in class, the ideas are so challenging and out-of-the-ordinary that, at first, the cadets are startled. Then we stop reading and one of the students makes a connection — then a light bulb seems to go on over the entire classroom. In his dissertation, Professor Judd Case looks at the history of grids from the Nile, which pulled all of us into a grid of its cycles and rhythms, for our own protection; to geometry; to the British military’s invention of radar in World War II to keep the Luftwaffe at bay; to Sputnick; to television and finally to the contemporary grids of the IPod, internet, and blogoshpere. This interview and excerpt is only a fraction of the whole, a sort of sampler of the many narratives in the full dissertation. I think it is a wonderful introduction to Walter Benjamin, semiotics, and big thinking in general. Here, Judd Case offers writing that is so rich with ideas that I can only read two or three pages before I have to stop and process it. This is not easy going, but it is certainly rewarding. I hope that after you read the interview with Professor Case and the excerpt, you will read the entire dissertation.
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