Kate Dudding: Voices From the Past: May, 2009

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This is the tenth issue of Voices From the Past. My goal for each issue is to publish some highlights of one of my historical stories as well as an update on my activities. Please feel free to forward this e-newsletter to anyone you think might be interested.

Finding Our Way Home

Here’s the beginning of my story “Finding Our Way Home” about the inventor Augustin Fresnel whose work is still be taught and used today.

image of Augustin Fresnel I imagine we’ve all been lost while driving at night, looking for a sign or landmark to help us find our way. For centuries, before recent technology existed, if you were lost at sea, the only things which would help you were the stars (on a clear night) or the beam from a lighthouse.

Lighthouses have existed for centuries. The first were open fires on hill tops near the shore. Later towers were constructed with fires on top of them. By the 1800s, tower lighthouses existed with multiple lamps, each with a mirrored reflector behind it, but their lights were only visible 3 miles away – not far enough to warn of many off shore dangers.

A French civil engineer, named Augustin Fresnel, decided to tackle this problem.

Augustin Fresnel was born in 1788, the year before the storming of the Bastille, the son of an architect. Even though he was sickly as a child, as he was throughout his entire life, he still entered a technical college in Paris at age 16. By age 21, he was a fully licensed civil engineer, a government employee building roads across France.

Haunted by thoughts of an early grave, due to his frequent illnesses, he worked building roads as his day job, but devoted his nights to science experiments. By 1815, age 27, he began experimenting with light.

Luckily for the advancement of science, Napoleon escaped from Elba in 1815. You see, when Napoleon escaped, he returned to France and led his armies against the King’s armies. Augustin Fresnel sided with the King’s armies. So when Napoleon won, Augustin Fresnel lost his government job. This meant he could spend his entire time, both day and night, experimenting with light.

At that time, the big scientific debate about light was whether it was made up of particles or waves. Augustin Fresnel sided with the wave proponents, but he was the first to create mathematical equations which described light’s movement as waves. He published his first scientific paper on light, with those equations, in 1815.

Unfortunately, Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo after only 4 months in power, and Augustin Fresnel got his day job back. But he continued to experiment with light. The next year, Augustin Fresnel conducted experiments which confirmed what his equations had predicted. A few years later, when the Academy of Sciences offered a prize for the best scientific paper on light, Augustin Fresnel won that award.

Augustin Fresnel wrote: "All the compliments that I have received from my scientific colleagues do not give me as much pleasure as the discovery of a theoretic truth, or the confirmation by experiment of a calculation."

In 1821, age 33, Augustin Fresnel decided to tackle the lighthouse problem.

This story is on my first CD Lighting the Way Home: Stories of Lighthouses and Their Keepers , released in 2006.

Here is some more information about Augustin Fresnel.

News about me

I've started researching stories about Oscar Hammerstein II. My first story will be about the creation of the landmark musical Show Boat, the first musical with three-dimensional characters, a real plot and songs that were integrated into the plot. (If you remove the songs from Show Boat, the remaining plot is incomplete.) But equally important are all the extraordinary songs that have become part of American life:

  • Make Believe
  • Why Do I Love You?
  • Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man of Mine
  • Bill
  • You Are Love
  • Ol' Man River

In the next few weeks, I'm pleased to be telling several different programs open to the public:

  • Sat. May 9, 7:30 pm Word Plays: Satisfaction. Hear Siri Allison and Kate Dudding share stories of people who DID get some satisfaction, despite the twists and turns and surprises they encountered along the way. One of the stories Kate will be telling is "Finding Our Way Home."
    $16 per person. Click here for a coupon worth $5 per ticket, redeemable at Proctors Box Office.
    The Fenimore Gallery, Proctors, 432 State Street, Schenectady, NY

  • Fri. June 12, 4:00 p.m. People Who Made a Difference As part of Saratoga Arts Fest 2009, storyteller Kate Dudding will share little known stories of people who made a difference. Some made a difference in the world, others made a difference in their part of the world.
    Dee Sarno Theatre, The Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, NY

Thanks for reading this issue. I’ll be sending you some more story highlights in a few months.


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Copyright 2009 by Kathryn Eike Dudding. All Rights Reserved.


Kate Dudding (518) 383-4620
8 Sandalwood Drive kate@katedudding.com
Clifton Park, NY 12065-2700 USA
Home | Watch Kate Tell | What's New | Calendar | Stories | Bio
People From the Past Who Made a Difference
Adult Programs | Family Programs | School Programs | CDs | Free Newsletter
Articles | Reviews | Venues | Publications | Press Kit | Contact