Skip to content

OpenLearn Live: 1st September 2016

Updated Wednesday, 31st August 2016

The American diplomat whose love was frustrated and his career no less so and eyewitnesses to the Great Fire of London. Free learning from across the day.

This page was published over five years ago. Please be aware that due to the passage of time, the information provided on this page may be out of date or otherwise inaccurate, and any views or opinions expressed may no longer be relevant. Some technical elements such as audio-visual and interactive media may no longer work. For more detail, see our Archive and Deletion Policy

OpenLearn Live links the worlds of learning and research to the world you live in. This page will be updated across the day.

Yesterday we marked transfer deadline day, slipped onto the surface of Mars and explored the impact of comedy

On this day last year, we marked the death of Oliver Sacks

See the complete collection of OpenLearn Live

Today's posts

SpaceX rocket explodes

Not been a brilliant week for Facebook - they started with the trouble over the trending box; now they've had a rocket carrying their satelitte explode:

A rocket due to be launched by SpaceX on Saturday appears to have blown up on the launch pad during a routine test. Eyewitnesses at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida report multiple explosions, dark smoke in the sky and shakes felt in nearby buildings.

The firm was planning to launch a Falcon 9 rocket this weekend, placing the Israeli Amos-6 communications satellite into orbit. Facebook has leased bandwidth from this satellite for it’s project, which plans to bring online connectivity to developing nations. The satellite was destroyed in the explosion.

Nobody has been hurt in what is, nevertheless, an expensive explosion.

Read more at New Scientist: SpaceX rocket appears to have blown up during routine test

You should study geology

That's not our opinion - the suggestion that you should study geology comes from Erik Klemetti, who is both a professor of geosciences and a contributor to Wired. He has reasons, too:

Best thing about thinking globally and wanting to observe the world? It gets you outside. Most geologists covet their time doing “field work” and if you are a geology major, you’re likely going to head off at some point to do “field camp” (where you learn the secrets of mapping the Earth) or “field research,” where you can make observations, collect samples, and think about geologic processes all while hiking some of the most spectacular landscapes. Places I’ve gone as a geologist include the high Andes of Chile, New Zealand, the Cascades in western North America, Hawaii, the coast of Maine, the deserts of California and much, much more.

He has a lot more reasons, too.

Read the full article at Wired: Dear College Students: You Should Take Geology

Convinced? Explore geology with OpenLearn

Eyewitness to destruction

The University of Leicester has marked the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire Of London by releasing eyewitness accounts of the destruction, and reconstruction of St Pauls Cathedral. This is from the diarist John Evelyn:

“With extraordinary difficulty, clambering over heaps of yet smoking rubbish, and frequently mistaking where I was. 

The ground under my feete so hot, that it even burnt the soles of my shoes. 

That goodly Church St. Paules now a sad ruine, and that beautiful portico … now rent in pieces, flakes of vast stone split asunder …

It was astonishing to see what immense stones the heate had in a manner calcin’d, so that all the ornaments, columns, freezes, capitals, and projectures of massie Portland-stone flew off, even to the very roofe, where a sheet of lead covering a great space … was total mealted …

Thus lay in ashes that most venerable Church, one of the most antient pieces of early piety in the Christian world.”

Read at The University of Leicester: Destruction of Old St Paul’s Cathedral highlights devastating impact of Great Fire of London

From OpenLearn: Life during the plague & Great Fire

Short people: William Short

This week, we're filling a short week with people called Short. Yesterday, we met the Short Brothers, aviation pioneers. Today, it's back to Revolutionary America to discover William Short.

William Short Copyright free  image Icon Copyright free: Rembrandt Peale

William Short was actually the sixth William Short, born to his father William Short VI in 1759.

He made his name as personal secretary to Thomas Jefferson during Jefferson's time in Paris. Jefferson had met Short when the former was an examiner for the latter's bar exams. Much taken with the young man, Jefferson encouraged him to relocate to live closer to him in Ablemarle County, Virginia and was disappointed when, after their time together in Paris, his "adopted son" elected to remain in France as the US charge d'affaires to the court of Louis XVI.

Representing America during the French Revolution, at first Short was a strong supporter of the new Republic, but as liberty, equality and fraternity gave way to violence and terror, he lost faith in the new state. Short disagreed strongly with his mentor, Jefferson, over the likely course of the Revolution. Believing that a tyranny of the people would end up with a despot taking power, Short thought Jefferson took too positive a view:

[Jefferson's] greatest illusions in politics have proceeded from a most amiable error on his part; having too favorable [an] opinion of the animal called Man

Short's time in France wasn't only concerned with politics; the charge d'affaires also had an affair of the heart. From 1785, he developed an attachment with the Duchesse Rosalie de la Rochefoucauld; newly widowed - her husband a victim of the Terror - the pair got closer and closer. But a declaration of love from Short was rebuffed by the Duchess, who felt that a formal romantic relationship would be too complicated. She wrote:

Thus you can see that almost my whole day has been devoted to you. Your remembrance makes me happy, you know that I like to have evidence of it, but what shall I answer to all the amiable and flattering things you have said.

A thousand reasons come to me to prevent my heart from responding to yours and you must not blame me for trying to stifle feelings that would be dangerous for both of us. Consult your reason, which was intended to have some influence over us; how much you would risk in making yourself unhappy, if your attachment is truly deep, in giving yourself up to it so whole-heartedly.

Think what must be your future and how little the natural order of things would permit you to form an attachment in this country without wholly risking your happiness. I myself am too vitally concerned over your happiness to ignore the means of assuring it. If your interest alone does not suffice to give weight to my remarks, think of me a little and see to what we would be exposing each other if I were to permit myself to be swept away by my feelings.

These it might be necessary to shatter and destroy at a time when such a thing would cause us great anguish. You know my way of thinking, you know how far removed from constraint and deception my life has been, thus you must believe that I should never find peace were I to turn aside from the duties which are marked out for me. 

Any hopes of changing her mind were quashed when, in 1793, Short was sent to Madrid to try and strike a deal between his country and Spain. A slow process, just as progress was being made Short became unpopular in Spain, so he was dropped from the American team in favour of Thomas Pinckney. Stung that he had done all the work only for Pinckney to get the glory, Short returned to the Duchess and Paris. She chose not to follow him when he went back to America and went on to marry a cousin.

William Short hoped to be appointed next to an abassadorial role in Russia, but James Madison, with whom he had a difficult relationship, elected to leave the position unfilled. It fell to Short to explain to the Russian authorities that America would rather keep its distance; an awkward conversation. Short never forgave Madison for this, the sharpest slight in a history of slights.

William returned to America, where he swapped finance for politics. Here, he was a success, accumulating wealth - but again, at a personal cost. Loans to Jefferson went unredeemed; as the interest swelled, the friendship - though never broken - certainly cooled.

Short died in 1849; his last political acts were focused on fighting the evils of slavery. Although not entirely convinced of the principle, he became a Vice President of the American Colonization Society, an organisation which campaigned to encourage former slaves to settle in African countries. Short believed that such an offer would persuade slave owners to grant freedom. It's worth noting that Short, upon inheriting slaves, chose to sell rather than free the men on his property; other members of the ACS supported the movement not out of a sense of justice, but because they believed that it would be a way of ridding America of its newly free black citizens.

Read: the rise and fall of the slave trade

Try our free course on the French Revolution





Related content (tags)

Copyright information

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?