James Burke (science historian)

James Burke (science historian)

Overview
James Burke is a British
British people
The British are citizens of the United Kingdom, of the Isle of Man, any of the Channel Islands, or of any of the British overseas territories, and their descendants...

 broadcaster, science
Science
Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe...

 historian
Historian
A historian is a person who studies and writes about the past and is regarded as an authority on it. Historians are concerned with the continuous, methodical narrative and research of past events as relating to the human race; as well as the study of all history in time. If the individual is...

, author
Author
An author is broadly defined as "the person who originates or gives existence to anything" and that authorship determines responsibility for what is created. Narrowly defined, an author is the originator of any written work.-Legal significance:...

 and television producer
Television producer
The primary role of a television Producer is to allow all aspects of video production, ranging from show idea development and cast hiring to shoot supervision and fact-checking...

 known amongst other things for his documentary
Documentary film
Documentary films constitute a broad category of nonfictional motion pictures intended to document some aspect of reality, primarily for the purposes of instruction or maintaining a historical record...

 television series Connections
Connections (TV series)
Connections is a ten-episode documentary television series created, written and presented by science historian James Burke. The series was produced and directed by Mick Jackson of the BBC Science & Features Department and first aired in 1978 and 1979...

(1978) and its more philosophical
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 oriented companion production, The Day the Universe Changed
The Day the Universe Changed
The Day the Universe Changed is a British documentary television series written and presented by science historian James Burke, originally broadcast in 1985 by the BBC...

(1985), focusing on the history of science and technology
History of science and technology
The history of science and technology is a field of history which examines how humanity's understanding of the natural world and ability to manipulate it have changed over the centuries...

 leavened with a sense of humour. The Washington Post has called him "one of the most intriguing minds in the Western world".


Burke was born in Derry
Derry
Derry or Londonderry is the second-biggest city in Northern Ireland and the fourth-biggest city on the island of Ireland. The name Derry is an anglicisation of the Irish name Doire or Doire Cholmcille meaning "oak-wood of Colmcille"...

, Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland is one of the four countries of the United Kingdom. Situated in the north-east of the island of Ireland, it shares a border with the Republic of Ireland to the south and west...

.
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Quotations

Following the trail of events from some point in the past to a piece of modern technology is rather like a detective story, with you as the detective, knowing only as much as the people in the past do, and like them having to guess at what was likely to happen next.

Television tells us everyday that we live in a world we don't understand. And yet in the main it does little to explain that world. It tells us of new products that make the products we have either old-fashioned or obsolete. Above all, if today we are aware of how fast the world around us is changing, it's because television acts as a relentless reminder of that fact.

Does the cycle that goes, interest in something, involvement in it, tiring of it, and rejection of it, looking into something else, get shorter every decade?

Edison invented inventing.

Encyclopedia
James Burke is a British
British people
The British are citizens of the United Kingdom, of the Isle of Man, any of the Channel Islands, or of any of the British overseas territories, and their descendants...

 broadcaster, science
Science
Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe...

 historian
Historian
A historian is a person who studies and writes about the past and is regarded as an authority on it. Historians are concerned with the continuous, methodical narrative and research of past events as relating to the human race; as well as the study of all history in time. If the individual is...

, author
Author
An author is broadly defined as "the person who originates or gives existence to anything" and that authorship determines responsibility for what is created. Narrowly defined, an author is the originator of any written work.-Legal significance:...

 and television producer
Television producer
The primary role of a television Producer is to allow all aspects of video production, ranging from show idea development and cast hiring to shoot supervision and fact-checking...

 known amongst other things for his documentary
Documentary film
Documentary films constitute a broad category of nonfictional motion pictures intended to document some aspect of reality, primarily for the purposes of instruction or maintaining a historical record...

 television series Connections
Connections (TV series)
Connections is a ten-episode documentary television series created, written and presented by science historian James Burke. The series was produced and directed by Mick Jackson of the BBC Science & Features Department and first aired in 1978 and 1979...

(1978) and its more philosophical
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 oriented companion production, The Day the Universe Changed
The Day the Universe Changed
The Day the Universe Changed is a British documentary television series written and presented by science historian James Burke, originally broadcast in 1985 by the BBC...

(1985), focusing on the history of science and technology
History of science and technology
The history of science and technology is a field of history which examines how humanity's understanding of the natural world and ability to manipulate it have changed over the centuries...

 leavened with a sense of humour. The Washington Post has called him "one of the most intriguing minds in the Western world".

Biography



Burke was born in Derry
Derry
Derry or Londonderry is the second-biggest city in Northern Ireland and the fourth-biggest city on the island of Ireland. The name Derry is an anglicisation of the Irish name Doire or Doire Cholmcille meaning "oak-wood of Colmcille"...

, Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland is one of the four countries of the United Kingdom. Situated in the north-east of the island of Ireland, it shares a border with the Republic of Ireland to the south and west...

. He was educated at Maidstone Grammar School
Maidstone Grammar School
Maidstone Grammar School is a grammar school located in Maidstone, United Kingdom. It was founded in 1549.-Admissions:The school takes boys at the age of 11 and over by examination and boys and girls at 16+ on their GCSE results. The school currently has almost 1200 students and approximately 120...

 and at Jesus College, Oxford
Jesus College, Oxford
Jesus College is one of the colleges of the University of Oxford in England. It is in the centre of the city, on a site between Turl Street, Ship Street, Cornmarket Street and Market Street...

, where he gained an M.A. in Middle English
Middle English
Middle English is the stage in the history of the English language during the High and Late Middle Ages, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century....

.

Later, Burke moved to Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

, where he lectured at universities in Bologna
Bologna
Bologna is the capital city of Emilia-Romagna, in the Po Valley of Northern Italy. The city lies between the Po River and the Apennine Mountains, more specifically, between the Reno River and the Savena River. Bologna is a lively and cosmopolitan Italian college city, with spectacular history,...

 and Urbino
Urbino
Urbino is a walled city in the Marche region of Italy, south-west of Pesaro, a World Heritage Site notable for a remarkable historical legacy of independent Renaissance culture, especially under the patronage of Federico da Montefeltro, duke of Urbino from 1444 to 1482...

 as well as at English schools in that country. While in Italy, he was engaged in the creation of an English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

Italian
Italian language
Italian is a Romance language spoken mainly in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, by minorities in Malta, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia, and by immigrant communities in the Americas and Australia...

 dictionary and the publication of an art encyclopedia. In 1966, after a period of broadcasting work, Burke moved to London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 to join the BBC
BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

's Science and Features Department, where he hosted and co-hosted a number of programmes. He also worked for a while as a teacher of English as a Foreign Language at the Regency Language School in Ramsgate
Ramsgate
Ramsgate is a seaside town in the district of Thanet in east Kent, England. It was one of the great English seaside towns of the 19th century and is a member of the ancient confederation of Cinque Ports. It has a population of around 40,000. Ramsgate's main attraction is its coastline and its main...

.

Burke first made his name as a reporter on the BBC science series Tomorrow's World
Tomorrow's World
Tomorrow's World was a long-running BBC television series, showcasing new developments in the world of science and technology. First aired on 7 July 1965 on BBC1, it ran for 38 years until it was cancelled at the beginning of 2003.- Content :...

. He was BBC television's science anchor and chief reporter on the Project Apollo
Project Apollo
The Apollo program was the spaceflight effort carried out by the United States' National Aeronautics and Space Administration , that landed the first humans on Earth's Moon. Conceived during the Presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Apollo began in earnest after President John F...

 missions, being the main presenter on the BBC's coverage of the first moon landings
British television Apollo 11 coverage
British television coverage of Apollo 11, man's first mission to land on the moon, lasted from 16 to 24 July 1969 . All the then three UK channels BBC1, BBC2 and ITV provided extensive coverage...

 in 1969.

Burke co-produced (with Mick Jackson) an acclaimed 10-part documentary series Connections
Connections (TV series)
Connections is a ten-episode documentary television series created, written and presented by science historian James Burke. The series was produced and directed by Mick Jackson of the BBC Science & Features Department and first aired in 1978 and 1979...

(1978) that was first aired on the BBC and subsequently on PBS channels in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

. The series traced paths of invention and discovery through their interrelationships in history, with each episode chronicling a particular path, usually in chronological order, and was a great success for Burke, being the most watched PBS series up to that time. It was followed by the 20-part Connections2 (1994, Exec. Prod. Tim Cowling) and then the 10-part Connections3 (1997, Exec. Prod. Michael Latham) series. Later, it was shown in more than 50 countries and appeared in about 350 university and college curricula. Additionally, the book that followed the series was also a best seller on both sides of the Atlantic
Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...

.

In 1985, Burke co-produced (with Richard Reisz and John Lynch) a 10-part series The Day The Universe Changed
The Day the Universe Changed
The Day the Universe Changed is a British documentary television series written and presented by science historian James Burke, originally broadcast in 1985 by the BBC...

(revised in 1995). This series focuses more on the philosophical aspects of scientific change on Western culture
Western culture
Western culture, sometimes equated with Western civilization or European civilization, refers to cultures of European origin and is used very broadly to refer to a heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, religious beliefs, political systems, and specific artifacts and...

. Burke has also been a regular contributor for Scientific American
Scientific American
Scientific American is a popular science magazine. It is notable for its long history of presenting science monthly to an educated but not necessarily scientific public, through its careful attention to the clarity of its text as well as the quality of its specially commissioned color graphics...

and Time magazines and served as a consultant to the SETI
SETI
The search for extraterrestrial intelligence is the collective name for a number of activities people undertake to search for intelligent extraterrestrial life. Some of the most well known projects are run by the SETI Institute. SETI projects use scientific methods to search for intelligent life...

 project. He has received the Royal Television Society
Royal Television Society
The Royal Television Society is a British-based educational charity for the discussion, and analysis of television in all its forms, past, present and future. It is the oldest television society in the world...

's silver and gold medals. In 1998 he was made an honorary fellow of the Society for Technical Communication
Society for Technical Communication
The Society for Technical Communication is a professional society for the advancement of the theory and practice of technical communication.-Overview:...

.

In contrast with the end of Connections, in which Burke worried that computing and communications would increasingly be in the hands of an expert elite, in the closing scenes of The Day the Universe Changed
The Day the Universe Changed
The Day the Universe Changed is a British documentary television series written and presented by science historian James Burke, originally broadcast in 1985 by the BBC...

he instead suggested that a forthcoming revolution in communication and computer technology would allow people all over the world to exchange ideas and opinions instantaneously. Popular access to the internet
Internet
The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet protocol suite to serve billions of users worldwide...

 suggests he was correct.

KnowledgeWeb


James Burke is the leading figure of the KnowledgeWeb Project
KnowledgeWeb Project
The KnowledgeWeb Project is a learning web site about knowledge envisioned and supervised by James Burke and the James Burke Institute for Innovation in Education. It is a non-profit, all volunteer project, currently in development phase....

. This is the digital incarnation of his books and television programmes, which allows the user to fly through history and create their own connective paths. According to the site, it will eventually have immersive, inhabited virtual reality recreations of historical people and places.

Major television credits


Television series and major single documentaries made by James Burke:
  • The Burke Special
    The Burke Special
    The Burke Specials were a TV series broadcast on BBC1 from 1972 to 1976.They starred James Burke and were broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC1.-Series Two:8 March 1973 to 19 April 1973 at 8.30 pm to 9 pm on BBC1...

    (1972–1976)
  • The End of the Beginning (1972), marking the end of Project Apollo
  • Scenario: The Oil Game (1976), crisis game examining OPEC
  • Scenario: The Peace Game (1977), crisis game examining NATO
  • Connections
    Connections (TV series)
    Connections is a ten-episode documentary television series created, written and presented by science historian James Burke. The series was produced and directed by Mick Jackson of the BBC Science & Features Department and first aired in 1978 and 1979...

    (1978)
  • The Men who Walked on the Moon (1979), 10th anniversary of Apollo 11
    Apollo 11
    In early 1969, Bill Anders accepted a job with the National Space Council effective in August 1969 and announced his retirement as an astronaut. At that point Ken Mattingly was moved from the support crew into parallel training with Anders as backup Command Module Pilot in case Apollo 11 was...

  • The Other Side of the Moon (1979), a more critical look at Apollo
  • The Real Thing, on various aspects of perception (1980)
  • The Neuron Suite on the human brain
    Human brain
    The human brain has the same general structure as the brains of other mammals, but is over three times larger than the brain of a typical mammal with an equivalent body size. Estimates for the number of neurons in the human brain range from 80 to 120 billion...

     (1982)
  • MacGillivray Freeman's Speed (IMAX) (1984), Narrator
  • The Day the Universe Changed
    The Day the Universe Changed
    The Day the Universe Changed is a British documentary television series written and presented by science historian James Burke, originally broadcast in 1985 by the BBC...

    (1985, revised in 1995)
  • After the Warming (1989), on the greenhouse effect
    Greenhouse effect
    The greenhouse effect is a process by which thermal radiation from a planetary surface is absorbed by atmospheric greenhouse gases, and is re-radiated in all directions. Since part of this re-radiation is back towards the surface, energy is transferred to the surface and the lower atmosphere...

  • Masters of Illusion (1993), on Renaissance
    Renaissance
    The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

     painting
  • Connections 2
    Connections (TV series)
    Connections is a ten-episode documentary television series created, written and presented by science historian James Burke. The series was produced and directed by Mick Jackson of the BBC Science & Features Department and first aired in 1978 and 1979...

    (1994) (sometimes written Connections²)
  • Connections 3
    Connections (TV series)
    Connections is a ten-episode documentary television series created, written and presented by science historian James Burke. The series was produced and directed by Mick Jackson of the BBC Science & Features Department and first aired in 1978 and 1979...

    (1997) (or Connections³)
  • Stump the Scientist, in which an audience of children were invited to put questions to a resident panel of scientists in the hope of "stumping" them
  • ReConnections (2004) ReConnections from KCSM on archive.org

Books

  • Tomorrow's World I, (with Raymond Baxter
    Raymond Baxter
    Raymond Frederic Baxter, OBE was a British television presenter and writer. He is best known for being the first presenter of Tomorrow's World, continuing for 12 years, from 1965 to 1977...

    ) (BBC
    BBC
    The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

     1970) ISBN 978-0-563-10162-8
  • Tomorrow's World II, (with Raymond Baxter) (BBC 1973) ISBN 978-0-563-12362-0
  • Connections: Alternative History of Technology (Time Warner International/Macmillan
    Macmillan Publishers
    Macmillan Publishers Ltd, also known as The Macmillan Group, is a privately held international publishing company owned by Georg von Holtzbrinck Publishing Group. It has offices in 41 countries worldwide and operates in more than thirty others.-History:...

     1978) ISBN 978-0-333-24827-0
  • The Day the Universe Changed (BBC 1985) ISBN 0-563-20192-4
  • Chances (Virgin Books
    Virgin Books
    Virgin Books is a United Kingdom book publisher 90% owned by the publishing group Random House, and 10% owned by Virgin Enterprises, the company originally set up by Richard Branson as a record company.-History:...

     1991) ISBN 978-1-85227-393-4
  • The Axemaker's Gift, (with Robert Ornstein
    Robert Ornstein
    Dr. Robert Evan Ornstein is a psychologist, researcher and writer.He has taught at the Langley Porter Neuropsychiatric Institute, based at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco, and been professor at Stanford University and chairman of the Institute for the Study of Human...

    ), illustrated by Ted Dewan
    Ted Dewan
    Ted Dewan is an England-based American author/illustrator, born in 1961 in Boston, Massachusetts. He is married to fellow-illustrator Helen Cooper and has a daughter Pandora Dewan, and is the brother of musician/artist Brian Dewan.-Life:...

     (Jeremy P Tarcher 1995) ISBN 978-0-87477-856-4
  • The Pinball Effect — How Renaissance Water Gardens Made the Carburettor Possible and Other Journeys Through Knowledge (Little, Brown & Company 1996) ISBN 978-0-316-11610-7
  • Circles — Fifty Round Trips Through History Technology Science Culture (Simon & Schuster 2000) ISBN 978-0-7432-4976-8
  • The Knowledge Web (Simon & Schuster
    Simon & Schuster
    Simon & Schuster, Inc., a division of CBS Corporation, is a publisher founded in New York City in 1924 by Richard L. Simon and M. Lincoln Schuster. It is one of the four largest English-language publishers, alongside Random House, Penguin and HarperCollins...

     2001) ISBN 978-0-684-85935-4
  • Twin Tracks (Simon & Schuster 2003) ISBN 978-0-7432-2619-6
  • American Connections: The Founding Fathers. Networked (Simon & Shuster 2007) ISBN 978-0-7432-8226-0

Popular culture


The BBC
BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

 topical comedy series Not The Nine O'Clock News
Not the Nine O'Clock News
Not the Nine O'Clock News is a television comedy sketch show which was broadcast on BBC 2 from 1979 to 1982.Originally shown as a comedy "alternative" to the BBC Nine O'Clock News on BBC 1, it featured satirical sketches on current news stories and popular culture, as well as parody songs, comedy...

included a sketch in which Griff Rhys-Jones, imitating Burke, delivered a passage of elaborately mischievous prose somewhat in his manner, ending with the following: "So there we have it. It's all really very simple. And if it isn't, I make it up. So until then, goodbye.(Leaves the scene but suddenly appears again) Hello again. Ha! That fooled you, didn't it. Or, did it?"

In the electronic pop track "The Black Hit Of Space", by The Human League
The Human League
The Human League are an English electronic New Wave band formed in Sheffield in 1977. They achieved popularity after a key change in line-up in the early 1980s and have continued recording and performing with moderate commercial success throughout the 1980s up to the present day.The only constant...

, Burke is mentioned in the final verse in the line "Get James Burke on the case". "The Black Hit Of Space" describes a record
Gramophone record
A gramophone record, commonly known as a phonograph record , vinyl record , or colloquially, a record, is an analog sound storage medium consisting of a flat disc with an inscribed, modulated spiral groove...

 that, rather appropriately, distorts space and time when it is played and begins to affect the entire world. It is from the album Travelogue, released May 1980, which is the same year Burke's acclaimed series about perception, The Real Thing, was aired.

External links