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spires from Carfax

9 Thermidor and the Origins of Life

I went to two talks today, one a small Earth Sciences seminar and the other a big "annual special lecture" of the Faculty of History.

The first was a seminar by Martin Brasier on "Pumice as a remarkable substrate for the origin of life". There was a small audience, almost entirely local, though it did include the eminent Lynn Margulis.

Pumice is fascinating - it's the only rock that floats, it has many vesicles and a large surface area, and so forth. So yes, it's a possible location for compartmentalisation and concentration of organic compounds leading to the origin of life. But there's no more to this than plausibility, and it's hard to see how it could be tested. The background on Brasier's more general work on early life fossils - such as those from the Gunflint formation - was in many ways more interesting. He has a Nature paper coming out presenting what he considers solid evidence for bacterial fossils from 3.4 Ga.

The second event was a much higher profile lecture, delivered to several hundred people in one of the extremely spacious rooms in the Examination Schools (which I got to see for the first time). Colin Jones talked on "9 Thermidor: the overthrow of Maximilien Robespierre and the indifference of the people". This was a really nice presentation, with an overview of the events of 9 Thermidor (27 July 1794), some historiographical perspective, and some preliminary conclusions from an archival source he thinks hasn't been mined much, if at all.

His basic thesis is that, instead of being indifferent to the political events of the day, or unmotivated to intervene, the people of Paris actually were motivated — but on the Convention's side rather than that of the Commune, supporting the Thermidor coup against Robespierre. The problem with his argument is that he's using the reports demanded from e.g. section heads by Barras several days after Robespierre's execution, which are hardly going to be impartial. The evidence he did present seems consistent to me with a population that was politically involved, but was unsure what was going on and who they should support - and which ended up supporting the Convention because it provided more decisive leadership and propaganda.

1 Comment »

  1. No comments? Ummm...rock that floats, what is its density?

    Never studied or read up on French or European history. Oh yes, heard of Joan of Arc, Napoleon, Bastille,the gillotine, Karl Marx teamed up with his mate in Paris ( what a disaster for the world's most populous country !!), landing in Dunkirk (from movies and docos), colonies in North Africa and Indo-China.

    Comment by DL — May 2011

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