06 June 2016

Team projects

It's been an exciting week! Our students have finally finished their team projects and here is the result:







The Art Project









21 January 2016

Wikipedia workshop

Wikipedia is a free, open content online encyclopedia created through the collaborative effort of a community of users known as wikipedians. Anyone registered on the site can create an article for publication; registration is not required to edit articles. The site's name comes from wiki, a server program that enables anyone to edit Web site content through their Web browser.

The five pillars of the Wikipedia:

1. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia
2. Wikipedia is written from a neutral point of view
3. Wikipedia is free content that anyone can use, edit and distribute
4. Editors should treat each other with respect and civility
5. Wikipedia has no firm rules

Wikipedia speaks as many as 280 languages. The English Wikipedia has 5 milion content articles and 38 milion pages in total. There have been 809 milion edits since it started running in 2001 (yes, it turns 15 this year). There are more than 27 milion registered users. The last (and final) printed version of the Encyclopedia Britannica includes “only” 65 thousand articles.



The Spanish Wikipedia has more than 1 milion articles and 219 thousand users. And the Catalan Viquipèdia is not bad at all: almost half a milion articles and more than 200 thousand users.

So, are you ready to become a wikipedian? Begin the Wikipedia adventure and add some bagdes to your user page.

16 November 2015

Students' blogs already running

We are glad to announce that this week our students are finally launching their blogs. If you want to know more about them and their projects, check out our class blogroll!

06 October 2015

1.1 A very brief history of knowledge I: The Ancient World

“Having knowledge but lacking the power to express it 
clearly is no better than never having any ideas at all” 

Pericles
In: Thucydides, The History of the Peloponesian War, Book II.

Knowledge is the understanding of a subject (someone or something) that you get either by experience or by study. It is also the main subject of change as since the appearance of the homo sapiens the most important transformations in human societies involved the application of new and different kinds of knowledge. The learning and discovery of new facts and skills have powered the agricultural revolution, the metalwork revolution, the urban revolution, the writing revolution, the scientific revolution, the industrial revolution or the digital revolution, only to mention some of the most outstanding structural changes that humankind has fostered in the last 12,000 years.

If we go even further, the same subject -knowledge- has made possible the use of the first tools, the control of fire, the construction of buildings, the first works of art, farming and animal domestication, the wheel... some of the greatest inventions which date back to the prehistoric period. The development of writing systems is for us a real game-changer as it establishes the end of prehistory and the beginning of history, a much proper era -but mostly a category- to explore what humankind knew.

Knowledge in the Ancient world

The first written tablets were found in Mesopotamia and written in cuneiform. It is no coincidence as most experts locate the cradle of the civilisation in the Fertile Crescent region. The first major civilisations -Mesopotamia, Egypt but also India and China- were born in river valleys and thereby restricted by the natural environment. Such restriction also influenced the way that knowledge focused on extra-human factors such as floods, the sun or soil fertility. Large scale irrigation systems required not only much technical knowledge, but also mass labour which was organized by hierarchical political structures and centralized planning. Mesopotamian city-states, the long-lasting Kingdom of Egypt, the Persian Empire or the Athenian democracy are some examples of different political forms and sophistication.

Early writing tablet recording the allocation of beer, The British Museum

Once the foundations were established, knowledge increased in all fronts: the mass labour was also used together with new techniques for architectural purposes in order to construct monumental buildings -temples, pyramids, ziggurats-, roads and communication routes that boosted the economy, allowing the Phoenicians, amongst others, to become trade-based societies. The economy, in its broadest sense, might be the main reason of the appearance of writing as the accounting had to be done.

In religion, different beliefs range from the Mesopotamian anthropomorphic deities to the Greek pantheon; from the Egyptian fixation about death to Christian belief in resurrection. Such compendium of knowledge about death, life, existence, turned into particular art expressions: from Greek canonical sculpture to Egyptian funerary paintings. Religion and art used knowledge to reach different conclusions about several themes, and depending on traditions it evolved to new ways of knowledge production.

The advent of Greek philosophy definitely opened the western mind. The absence of theocracies enabled the speculation on the nature of the universe or the human life. Thales of Miletus, commonly known as the first philosopher and scientist (back in the 6th century BCE both meant looking at the world in a logical way), assumed that the world was an intelligible entity, that it could be understood through the human mind therefore the gods wouldn't be the explanation for everything anymore. Such paradigm shift led to an unprecedented boost in science.

Thales, from "Illustrerad verldshistoria utgifven av E. Wallis. volume I"

Pythagoras tried to understand the world in mathematical terms but also speculated about the immortality of the soul. Archimedes ran naked on the streets shouting “eureka!” after discovering how to determine the volume of irregular shaped objects by submerging them under the water. Euclid's Elements of geometry was used as a main textbook for teaching mathematics from the time of its publication until the 20th century. Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the Earth with remarkable accuracy.

In the 5th century BCE Pericles, one of the most important Greek statesman, fostered the first known democracy in the world, the Athenian. Plato, the founder of the Academy in Athens, attributed the quote “I know that I know nothing” to his teacher Socrates, who was clearly more concerned for ethics and politics than science. Aristotle, another distinguished philosopher, joined Plato's Academy and when his teacher passed away he tutored Alexander the Great, who widely expanded the world known by the Greeks -and their ideas-.

The School of Athens, by Raphael (1511).

By the time that the Roman Empire surpassed the limits of the Greek world, it had put Greek theory in practice. Rome stood out for bringing engineering to the next level: they invented the concrete, built roads, aqueducts, public baths, designed grid based cities, invented the Roman numerals, the Julian calendar... mostly focusing on the practical application of science to daily life. Seneca, Cicero, Tacitus and many others contributed to Roman history and politics and as a result, Roman law continues to this day to be an influence upon almost all legal systems in the Western world.

If Greek philosophy opened the western mind, the Romans closed it by assimilating Christianity and turning the world vision into a dogma. Rationality was replaced by superstition and as the Empire started its decline, the Greek legacy would remain in a long silence. The so-called Dark Ages came with substantial changes in terms of knowledge production.

Bibliography

Scaruffi, Piero, A Brief History of Knowledge, CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2014.

Van Doren, Charles, A History of Knowledge. Past, Present and Future, New York, Ballantine Books, 1991.