DASH: Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard

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A central, open-access repository of research by members of the Harvard community.

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Featured Works

E-Readers Are More Effective than Paper for Some with Dyslexia

Dr. Schneps

While many people have embraced e-readers for their convenience, researchers at the Science Education Department of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics are demonstrating the benefits e-readers can provide to people with dyslexia. In their paper, "E-Readers Are More Effective than Paper for Some with Dyslexia," principal investigator Matthew H. Schneps, along with Jenny M. Thomson, Chen Chen, Gerhard Sonnert, and Marc Pomplun, report the results of their study of dyslexic high schoolers using e-readers. They found that small-screen hand-held devices facilitated an improvement in reading speed and comprehension in many of the students. Combining these results with an earlier study of theirs, the authors speculate that the shorter lines and less crowded text of small e-readers helps reduce word fixation and reading regression. While the authors emphasize that not all dyslexic subjects showed improvement with e-readers, they conclude that the rapid evolution of digital technologies holds promise for making reading more accessible to those with dyslexia.

Dr. Schneps is the founder and director of the Laboratory for Visual Learning at the Center for Astrophysics. His research on science education has recently focused on how neurological differences, especially dyslexia, affect learning. He has recently written on the cognitive advantages associated with dyslexia, and has shared his own experiences as a scientist with dyslexia.

Feature by Mitu Choksi, OSC Open Access Fellow and graduate student at the Harvard Divinity School.

Recapturing the Sublime

Ellison Featured Work

Dr. Aaron M. Ellison, Senior Research Fellow in Ecology at the Harvard Forest, writes about the confluence of culture and the natural world in his recent article "The Suffocating Embrace of Landscape and the Picturesque Conditioning of Ecology." In this paper, Ellison argues that changes in landscape representation mirror a shift in the way humanity interacts with the environment. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, visual interpretations of the landscape have moved away from the wonder of the Romantic era. However, this shift is not altogether unwelcome. While numerous scientific studies have debunked the conception that there is an inherent balance in nature, the myth of the harmonious natural landscape, perpetuated by painters such as Albert Bierstadt and Fernand Léger, persists in both the art world and scientific circles. While Modernist and Postmodernist worldviews may offer a more realistic vision of nature, Ellison implores artists and ecologists to recapture some of the sublimity apparent in historical landscape painting. Ellison contends that the time has come to fully rediscover the interconnectedness of life on Earth.

Dr. Ellison researches the evolutionary ecology of carnivorous plants, the response of ants and plants to global climate change, and food web dynamics and community ecology of wetlands and forests. He also studies the application of Bayesian statistical inference to ecological research and environmental decision-making. You can find "The Suffocating Embrace of Landscape and the Picturesque Conditioning of Ecology" and 63 additional works authored by Dr. Ellison in DASH.

Feature by Vero Smith, OSC Open Access Fellow and graduate student at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Photo of Ellison by David Foster, Director of Harvard Forest.

Storing Renewable Energy

SEAS Storing Renewable Energy Team

Widespread adoption of renewable energy sources, such as solar energy and wind power, is challenging because they provide intermittent generating capacity. One solution to this challenge is to store electrical energy for later use. Currently, electricity is generated on demand and consumed almost instantly. The only adopted technology used to store excess energy at the scale of the electrical grid consists of pumping water uphill, which requires a special geography—an elevated reservoir—and it may disrupt the surrounding natural environment. In "A metal-free organic-inorganic aqueous flow battery," a team of Harvard researchers led by Michael Aziz, Gene and Tracy Sykes Professor of Materials and Energy Technologies at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, combined computational methods and organic chemistry to create a battery particularly well suited for cost-effective storage of wind and solar electricity for use over extended periods when the wind isn't blowing and the sun isn't shining. You can read more about the team's innovation in DASH here.

Feature by Theodore Feldman, OSC Open Access Fellow and graduate student at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Development of Urban Structure in Ancient Mesopotamia

Jason Ur

Though Iraq and Syria are frequently in the news today for sectarian strife and internal divisions, in the fourth millennium BCE the region birthed the first urban centers as settlements overcame the social strife that led to fissions and prevented population growth. This dramatic development has led to much scholarly debate and is the subject of Prof. Jason Ur's paper, "Households and the Emergence of Cities in Ancient Mesopotamia."

Ur challenges the model of urbanism arising from the development of bureaucratic structures such as the temple and the state, representing the elite or society as a whole. As cities were still understood in the pre-urban terms of kinship in texts from centuries later, Ur finds such a revolutionary change in social development to be implausible. He presents an alternative model of urban development that maintains the place of the household as the center of society, even as settlements grew into cities. By expanding their concept of the household beyond the domestic residence, early urbanites were able to create a "dynamic network of nested households" that included the temples, royal households, and the city itself. Ur argues that this household model of the city made all members of the community actors in the development of the urban structure, not passive subjects of an independent elite. With a kinship understanding of society, the growing inequality would not be structured along class divisions, which would tend to lead to conflict and fission, but within patrimonial relationships. Consequently, the household model elucidates the rational interest of all levels of society to participate in the urban system.

Jason Ur, a Professor of Anthropology at Harvard, has directed archaeological projects in Iraq and Syria. He has also made extensive use of declassified photographs from American spy satellites to locate the settlements, irrigation systems, and pastoral landscapes of ancient Mesopotamia. You can find "Households and the Emergence of Cities in Ancient Mesopotamia" and 17 additional works authored by Professor Ur in DASH.

Feature by Mitu Choksi, OSC Open Access Fellow and graduate student at the Harvard Divinity School.

Leadership in the Information Revolution

Dr Nye

The information revolution has fundamentally changed how we understand effective leadership styles in America. In the past, leadership was thought as effective when of commands and controls - a relic of the twentieth century's hierarchical organizations. However, newly available work from Joseph S. Nye Jr., University Distinguished Service Professor, former Dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and recent recipient of Japan's Order of the Rising Sun, shows how traditional leadership styles are less effective in the twenty-first century. Instead, as the hierarchical structure of organizations disappears and collaboration dominates corporate culture today, new models of leadership are needed. His work, entitled "Leadership" and part of the forthcoming book, American Governance, edited by Stephen L. Schechter, outlines the changing focus of leadership as technology and lifestyle disrupt our traditional views. In one example, Nye highlights research affirming a model for multiple leaders in the context of thriving but complex dotcom startups. The findings, he concludes, demonstrate how effective leadership across our institutions now depends on the participation of multiple leaders to make decisions and achieve goals.

You can find "Leadership" and six additional works authored by Dr. Nye in DASH.

Feature by Bryce Mullins, OSC Open Access Fellow and student at Harvard Extension School.