Father-daughter co-authors explore new approach to human origins

October 26, 2012

As a doctoral student in History and Philosophy of Science at Arizona State University, Lydia Pyne ended up sharing an office with her father Steve Pyne, a professor of environmental history in the university’s School of Life Sciences. Steve’s extra storage space – for housing his many books and projects – also offered his daughter a small, private workspace away from the crowded graduate student office.

It also offered the pair the opportunity to turn their frequent, playful intellectual banter into a co-authored book and, for Lydia, a dream come true.   Father-daughter co-authors explore new approach to human origins Download Full Image

Their exchanges inspired “The Last Lost World: Ice Ages, Human Origins and the Invention of the Pleistocene.” This nonfiction book is an intergenerational work representing the authors’ intellectual adventure into the rich scientific and historical underpinnings of an important geological time period.

The Pleistocene, an era that lasted from more than 2.6 million years ago to approximately 10,000 years ago, is defined by the last great ice age and the appearance of modern humanity’s ancestors. 

Yet, as presented in the book’s title, just what is the “invention” of the Pleistocene?

“Even the ideas we developed to explain the epoch have a history – they are themselves cultural inventions,” explained Steve. “This work argues that we need to supplement science of human origins and evolution with other scholarship.”

While her father studied English and American civilization, Lydia studied anthropology before completing a doctorate in History and Philosophy of Science at ASU’s School of Life Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She says there are two Pleistocenes.

“One is the hard, tangible Pleistocene, and concerns geology, ice and fossils,” she says. “But there is also the cultural Pleistocene, which is concerned with ideas.”

Lydia recalls the most memorable experience in working with her father was the ongoing, inspirational dialogue between them.

“The ideas came continuously. There was an incredible amount of brainstorming and overall, we were just so excited about the project,” Lydia said.

“I was willing to be a little more romantic with the subject,” recalled Steve. “So she was the one who was always having to reign me in. We just went back and forth constantly. She was the one to say, ‘No Dad, that’s too much. Take it out.’”

The book became a synthesis of Steve’s expertise in environmental history and Lydia’s interest in narrative and the intellectual history of paleoanthropology. The pair set out to answer the questions: What is the history of the ideas that surround the Pleistocene, and how does how we think about the Pleistocene change over time? What can the humanities offer the sciences in this regard?

“We take the disciplines of geology, geomorphology, archaeology and paleoanthropology, and we refract them through the lenses of the humanities,” said Lydia. “Our approach focuses on broadly humanist themes, which we intend to complement, not compete with, prevailing Pleistocene studies.”

In the book, the authors explore human origins from multiple vantage points.

“Agreeing on origins remains complicated, not only because fossils are few, but because we cannot agree on who we are and why we are that way,” added Lydia.

In a recent critique by Booklist, reviewer Roy Olson writes, “For science mavens of a philosophical bent this may be the book of the year, a font of knowledge and, what’s more and better, intellectual exercise.”

If you have a chance to take a trip to “The Last Lost World,” you may very well experience, as Lydia describes, “a place in the geography of imagination and another of geologic time whose difference helps define our own time and selves.”

Lydia Pyne is a Visiting Fellow at the Pennoni Honors College at Drexel University. Before receiving her doctorate from ASU, she earned a master’s in anthropology from UT Austin. She has performed fieldwork worldwide in both archaeology and paleoanthropology.

Steve Pyne is an environmental historian, a MacArthur Fellow and a Regents’ Professor in ASU’s Center for Biology and Society and the author of more than twenty books including “Year of the Fires,” “The Ice,” “How the Canyon Became Grand,” and most recently, “Voyager: Seeking Newer Worlds in the Third Great Age of Discovery.”  He has also developed a nonfiction writing course for graduate students.

Written by Gabi Malo, gabrielle.delphine.malo.3@asu.edu

Media contact:

Sandra Leander

Assistant Director of Media Relations, ASU Knowledge Enterprise


Sports journalism focus expanding at Cronkite School

October 26, 2012

Arizona State University, responding to an increase in both student and industry interest in sports media, is expanding its sports journalism programs and opportunities at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

The school’s newest initiative is a partnership with cable sports network FOX Sports Arizona. Beginning Nov. 4, the network will produce its pre- and post-game shows for all Phoenix Suns road games during the 2012-2013 NBA season from Cronkite’s Sony Studio on ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus. Download Full Image

Students will be able to apply for internship opportunities with the FOX Sports Arizona show, allowing them to work side by side with seasoned sports producers on both the editorial and production sides in their own building.

The school also announced that it will be offering a new studio production class focused on sports starting in the fall 2013 semester. That class also will be involved with the production of the pre- and post-game shows. In addition, students will have use of the newly designed FOX Sports Arizona anchor desk in the Sony Studio for TV classes.

“This is a great partnership,” said Cronkite assistant dean Mark Lodato, who is leading the school’s sports media efforts. “FOX Sports Arizona will be able to tap into the energy, passion and innovation that our students bring to the building each day, while our students will have an unparalleled opportunity to learn from and work with top-flight professionals right in their own building.”

Brian Hogan, senior vice president and general manager of FOX Sports Arizona, added, “We are very appreciative to have Arizona State University partner with us on this exciting initiative. This adds to our foundation as the home of unmatched local sports television programming and allows us to team with the Cronkite School for another opportunity that supports and educates tomorrow’s television professionals.”

The announcement comes just a few days before award-winning sportscaster Bob Costas comes to Cronkite to receive the 29th annual Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism. And on Friday, members of ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” broadcast team will visit the Cronkite School to participate in a showcase panel at Cronkite Day, the school’s alumni celebration. Mike Tirico, play-by-play commentator for “Monday Night Football,” will broadcast on ESPN Radio from Cronkite’s radio studios that morning.

The new initiatives add to a wide array of sports media opportunities that has been growing in recent semesters. This past summer, a team of Cronkite students traveled to London to cover the Summer Olympics. Last spring, another group of students covered spring training of four Major League Baseball teams – the Arizona Diamondbacks, Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners – for the leading online newspaper outlets in those markets.

Other sports-related coursework at Cronkite includes sports reporting for Cronkite NewsWatch, the school’s 30-minute nightly newscast, courses in sports writing and sports and the media, and FOX Sports Creative University, a class on sports marketing and campaigns.

In addition, a number of extracurricular opportunities are available through Cronkite’s partnerships with professional sports media organizations. Students can become contributors for ESPNU, work in paid production positions with the new Pac-12 Network and participate in SportsWatch 101, a student-created, 30-minute magazine-style TV show that produces in-depth features on athletics and athletes for FOX Sports Arizona.

There also is a robust series of student-led sports initiatives, including play-by-play coverage of ASU athletics on The Blaze, the campus radio station; sports reporting at The State Press, the university’s independent daily newspaper and website; Sun Devil Sports Night, a sports program that airs on ASUtv; and the Walter Cronkite Sports Network, a student-run broadcasting organization that offers play-by-play and production opportunities.

Cronkite students have participated in more than 100 sports-related internships from summer 2011 through this past summer.

“The opportunities in sports media are growing, and the interest in the field among our students is growing just as fast,” Lodato said. “With these new programs, the Cronkite School has become a national leader in sports journalism and communication education.”

Reporter , ASU News