Adjunct history professor details book on science in ancient world

·2 min read

Jan. 28—Northeastern State University's John Vaughan Library this week welcomed Dr. Russell Lawson, adjunct professor of history, to present his new book, "Science in the Ancient World: From Antiquity Through the Middle Ages," published by ABC-CLIO, LLC.

In his talk, which was co-sponsored by the NSU History Department and the Library, Lawson addressed science as it was perceived in ancient times, covering Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Topics ranged from alchemy to astrology, as well as psychology and physics.

In 2004, Lawson published "Science in the Ancient World: An Encyclopedia," which covered the Mediterranean region. A few years back, he was inspired to update the work by turning it into a more readable narrative format, while also expanding the breadth of knowledge to include other areas of the world.

"It is no longer an encyclopedia. Now it is just a straight narrative history. It was a book that covered the ancient Mediterranean, like the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians, and ancient Mesopotamia. Now it is examining world history," said Lawson.

He also extended the book to include history up until 1500 A.D.

He said the Romans had a scientific way of looking at the world, and that many Greek and Roman thinkers were generalists, which differs from science today that rewards specialization.

One of his favorite ancient thinkers was Plutarch, who was born in 46 A.D. Lawson became acquainted with him after reading his work, "Parallel Lives,"' which offers biographies of Greek conquerors.

"Plutarch was a priest and an educator. He wasn't a scientist like we know today. He was a generalist who studied everything. Those who studied everything studied the universe, the makeup of humans, geography, and they'd study the mind," he said.

Lawson believes that because the ancient world privileged generalism, the teachings within his book are readable to a contemporary audience.

"This book is not esoteric, all about theories of chemistry, physics, and math. It's mostly talking about who the scientists were, what they were like, and what they were interested in," he said.

Lawson studied the ancient world as a master's student at Oklahoma State University. He graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a doctorate in early American history because he believed the field would most likely offer him a teaching position.

"I started studying early American history, but I could never get ancient history out of my system," he said. "I loved Greek and Roman mythology. It was stuff the I would read. I memorized the stories so I could tell them to other people. I read Homer when I was in high school, and I started to read other authors."

To date, Lawson has published 21 books. "Science in the Ancient World: From Antiquity Through the Middle Ages" is available for purchase at the NSU Bookstore or online bookstores.