May 8, 2010

Happy Birthday, Henry Baker

On this day in 1698, Henry Baker was born in London, England. He is known for three things:

(1) Baker developed a new way to teach the hearing- and speech-impaired (known then as “the deaf and dumb”). He was able to make a lot of money with his system.
(2) He was the father-in-law of the novelist Daniel Defoe. Defoe wrote the book Robinson Crusoe, which is considered by many to be the first novel written in English. (Why only considered by many, and not all? Because different scholars have different definitions of the word novel.) Robinson Crusoe is a book about a castaway on a remote tropical island who meets Native Americans and mutineers and has all sorts of adventures before finally being rescued—28 years later!

Baker and Defoe started the Universal Spectator and Weekly Journal together.
(3) Baker introduced the microscope to the general public with several publications, including The Microscope Made Easy. Science popularizers are important because they increase interest in and understanding of science in the general population, which often encourages young people to study science. Baker won a medal for his microscopical observations of salt crystals.
Baker's interests were varied. We can celebrate him by trying a variety of activities ourselves.
  • Have you ever wanted to learn sign language? ASL (American Sign Language) and BSL (British Sign Language) are complete languages, each with its own grammar. (By the way, the two languages are quite different.) Here are some resources to try them out: ASL video dictionary and text dictionary ...and ASL lessons here and here.
For BSL: an introductory video, short dictionary and resources.
  • Read about castaways and mutineers: a short version of Robinson Crusoe is available here. (NOTE: It's a two-part story, with the second part's link near the top left.) Here is the complete version, free online or for download.
What would you do if you were shipwrecked? Write a story. Maybe you can get rescued in 28 days, rather than 28 years!
  • Look through a microscope at a human hair, a drop of pond water, a thread, a leaf.
If you don't have access to a microscope, learn how to use a compound microscope, and look at four different items with four powers per item, on this virtual microscope website.

Here's a very fun virtual electron scanning microscope.

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