kottke.org posts about history

Unlikely simultaneous historical eventsFeb 20 2014

A poster on Reddit asks: What are two events that took place in the same time in history but don't seem like they would have? A few of my favorite answers (from this thread and a previous one):

When pilgrims were landing on Plymouth Rock, you could already visit what is now Santa Fe, New Mexico to stay at a hotel, eat at a restaurant and buy Native American silver.

Prisoners began to arrive to Auschwitz a few days after McDonald's was founded.

The first wagon train of the Oregon Trail heads out the same year the fax machine is invented.

Nintendo was founded in 1888. Jack the Ripper was on the loose in 1888.

1912 saw the maiden voyage of the Titanic as well as the birth of vitamins, x-ray crystallography, and MDMA.

1971: The year in which America drove a lunar buggy on the moon and Switzerland gave women the vote.

NASA's Gemini program was winding down at the same time as plate tectonics, as we know it today, was becoming refined and accepted by the scientific community.

Spain was still a fascist dictatorship when Microsoft was founded.

There were no classes in calculus in Harvard's curriculum for the first few years because calculus hadn't been discovered yet.

Two empires [Roman & Ottoman] spanned the entire gap from Jesus to Babe Ruth.

When the pyramids were being built, there were still woolly mammoths.

The last use of the guillotine was in France the same year Star Wars came out.

Oxford University was over 300 years old when the Aztec Empire was founded.

Related: true facts that sound made up, timeline twins, and the Great Span.

The surprising ages of the Founding Fathers on July 4, 1776Aug 13 2013

For the Journal of the American Revolution, Todd Andrlik compiled a list of the ages of the key participants in the Revolutionary War as of July 4, 1776. Many of them were surprisingly young:

Marquis de Lafayette, 18
James Monroe, 18
Gilbert Stuart, 20
Aaron Burr, 20
Alexander Hamilton, 21
Betsy Ross, 24
James Madison, 25

This is kind of blowing my mind...because of the compression of history, I'd always assumed all these people were around the same age. But in thinking about it, all startups need young people...Hamilton, Lafayette, and Burr were perhaps the Gates, Jobs, and Zuckerberg of the War. Some more ages, just for reference:

Thomas Jefferson, 33
John Adams, 40
Paul Revere, 41
George Washington, 44
Samuel Adams, 53

The oldest prominent participant in the Revolution, by a wide margin, was Benjamin Franklin, who was 70 years old on July 4, 1776. Franklin was a full two generations removed from the likes of Madison and Hamilton. But the oldest participant in the war was Samuel Whittemore, who fought in an early skirmish at the age of 80. I'll let Wikipedia take it from here:

Whittemore was in his fields when he spotted an approaching British relief brigade under Earl Percy, sent to assist the retreat. Whittemore loaded his musket and ambushed the British from behind a nearby stone wall, killing one soldier. He then drew his dueling pistols and killed a grenadier and mortally wounded a second. By the time Whittemore had fired his third shot, a British detachment reached his position; Whittemore drew his sword and attacked. He was shot in the face, bayoneted thirteen times, and left for dead in a pool of blood. He was found alive, trying to load his musket to fight again. He was taken to Dr. Cotton Tufts of Medford, who perceived no hope for his survival. However, Whittemore lived another 18 years until dying of natural causes at the age of 98.

!!!

Explore history through Google MapsMay 16 2013

MyReadingMapped makes use of Google Maps & Google Earth to tell stories about history. For instance, here are maps of The Civil War and the American Revolution, a map of Roald Amundsen's 1910 South Pole expedition, and a map of the wars of Alexander the Great.

OMG American history LOLApr 04 2012

Perez Hamilton is a site covering American history through the lens of gossip blogger Perez Hilton. It's up to the 1690s now...here's an account of Leisler's Rebellion from 1691:

During all the drama between the Boston revolt, New England and New France going to war and King James II being overthrown, German-American Jacob Leisler seized control of New York and ruled it against the wishes of the new King William III. In response, KWIII sent a new governor to NY, but he didn't get there for a couple years because he was lazy delayed by bad weather.

After an awkward stand-off resulting in words along the lines of, "You're not governor, I am!" and, "No, bitch, NY is mine!" Jacob Leisler was finally arrested by the REAL governor and sentenced to death.

This is riDICKulous. You can't just steal New York and expect to get away with it!!!!

If it was THAT easy, don't you think we'd have stolen it loooong ago?? Where else can you get the best food and fashion in America??!

Human wormholes and the Great SpanJan 30 2012

At the end of last week's post about John Tyler's grandsons still being alive (and indeed, NY Mag did an interview with one of them), I provided a couple of other examples of living personals bridging distant historical periods and asked:

Someone needs to come up with a term for this sort of thing (history bridges? no.)

On Twitter, David Galbraith suggested "timebenders". After more thought, I came up with "human wormholes" but that's not quite right either. Tony Hiss, in a book about his father Alger (the accused Soviet spy), said that Alger had a term for stories kind of like these: the Great Span.

My father himself even had a name for a kind of ongoing closeness between people in which death is sometimes only an irrelevance. He called it "the Great Span," a sort of bucket brigade or relay race across time, a way for adjacent generations to let ideas and goals move intact from one mind to another across a couple of hundred years or more.

Hiss cites a pair of stories involving Alger (who died in 1996) and Oliver Wendell Holmes, who Alger clerked for and also figured in one of my earlier examples. In one story, Holmes told Alger about his experience fighting in the Civil War. The other story reaches back even further:

In the Holmes story Alger treasured above all others, the Justice told him that when he had been very young, his grandmother, a woman he revered, had shared her memories of the day at the beginning of the American Revolution when she was five and had stood in her father's front window on Beacon Hill in Boston and watched rank after rank of Redcoats marching through town.

Another instance of the Great Span are the three Civil War widows (Maudie Hopkins, Alberta Martin, and Gertrude Janeway) who lived into the 2000s, two of them collecting their husbands' pensions until their deaths. (thx, mike & @ithinkihaveacat)

President John Tyler's grandsons are still alive!!Jan 25 2012

That's right, two exclamation points because this blows my mind. John Tyler was the 10th President of the United States. He was born in 1790 and took office in 1841. His son, Lyon Gardiner Tyler, was born in 1853, when Tyler was 63 years old1. Lyon had six children with two different wives2, two of whom were Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Jr. (born 1924 when Lyon Sr. was 71) and Harrison Ruffin Tyler (born 1928 when Lyon Sr. was 75). They are reportedly both still living in their 80s.

Someone needs to come up with a term for this sort of thing (history bridges? no.). There's also this 1956 game show appearance of a Lincoln assassination eyewitness and Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes (1841-1935) shaking hands during his lifetime with both John Quincy Adams (b 1767) and John F Kennedy (d 1963), one man spanning 200 years of American history. (via ★mattbucher)

[1] Tyler actually had two children after Lyon...Robert was born when he was 65 and Pearl followed at 70.

[2] Lyon's second wife was 36 years his junior and actually younger than each of his three previous children.

The Beastie Boys, AnnotatedMay 02 2011

The Onion A/V Club has put together a short, alphabetical guide to obscure, semi-obscure, and I-forget-that-other-people-might-find-that-obscure references/allusions in the music of The Beastie Boys.

It's called "'Electric Like Dick Hyman': 170 Beastie Boys references explained." Here's a representative entry:

Drakoulias, George ("Stop That Train" from "B-Boy Bouillabaisse," Paul's Boutique)
Def Jam A&R man George Drakoulias helped discover the Beastie Boys for Rick Rubin, and later became a producer for Rubin's American Recordings, working on albums by The Black Crowes, The Jayhawks, and Tom Petty. There's no record of him ever working at an Orange Julius.

I obsessed over this stuff as a kid, especially with Paul's Boutique: I was nine years old, living in Detroit's 8 Mile-esque suburbs, not New York, hadn't seen any cult movies from the 70s not titled Star Wars, and had no internet to consult. I was literally pulling down encyclopedias from the shelf and asking my parents (who generally likewise had no clue) obnoxious questions to try to figure out what the heck they were talking about.

In a post I wrote here last summer, I said that hip-hop's culture of musical sampling and what Ta-Nehisi Coates called "digging in the crates" for old records helped ensure that a significant chunk of my generation would be into history.

But it was definitely the references, too. Whether silly or serious, you couldn't listen to The Beastie Boys or Public Enemy or Boogie Down Productions and not try to sort through these casually dropped names, memes, and places and try to reconstruct the worlds where they came from.

Napoleonic preproductionMay 02 2011

Stanley Kubrick's unfinished Napoleon project was supposed to be (in Kubrick's words) "the greatest film ever made." At the meticulous-yet-epic scale Kubrick imagined it -- think 30,000 real troops (from Romanian and Lithuanian Cold-War-armies) in authentic costume on location as extras for the battle scenes -- it was unfilmable.

So instead of the film, we have Kubrick's gigantic preproduction archive of notes and drawings and photographs, which (on top of the complete screenplay and drafts for the movie) is one of the largest scholarship-grade Napoleonic archives in the world.

Two years ago, Taschen put out a ten-volume de luxe edition of this material that cost $1500, which was by all accounts definitely awesome, but so expensive and unwieldy I don't think even Kubrick superfan John Gruber bought it.

Now there's a one-volume, 1100-page edition that lists at $70 but is running for $44 at Amazon. Brainiac's Josh Rothman breaks it down:

The book, in a deliberate echo of the film, is rough around the edges. Rather than providing a seamless, synthesized account of Kubrick's vision, the editor, Alison Castle, has focused on the raw materials: the photographs, clippings, letters, and notes that Kubrick kept in binders and a huge, library-style card catalog. There are interviews with Kubrick, and a complete draft of the screenplay, with many marked-up pages from earlier drafts. Here and there you'll find introductory essays by Kubrick experts, or a historian's response to Kubrick's screenplay -- but the emphasis is on the small gestures, as in the collection of underlined passages and marginal notes that Castle compiles from Kubrick's personal library of books about the emperor. A special 'key card' included with the book gives you access to a huge online library of images.

While I was wondering how/if we'd remember Kubrick differently if the Napoleon movie had come together, I came across this snappy transition from Kubrick's Wikipedia page:

After 2001, Kubrick initially attempted to make a film about the life of Napoleon Bonaparte. When financing fell through, Kubrick went looking for a project that he could film quickly on a small budget. He eventually settled on A Clockwork Orange (1971).

YouTube Time MachineSep 09 2010

You give it a year and YouTube Time Machine will show you videos of events from that year. For instance: 1894, 1943, and 1991. A super idea. (thx, alice)

Digging in the crates (or Why my generation is into history) Aug 13 2010

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a journalist for the Atlantic who blogs mostly about contemporary cultural issues, hip-hop, politics, nerd culture, race relations, video games, journalism, and the American Civil War. (I'm guessing, no statistical averages here.)

How does that work? I think TNC actually explains it in this post. First he responds to Andy Rooney's "I don't know who Lady Gaga is, and kids today probably don't know who Ella Fitzgerald was. Maybe we should call it even" with "I suspect that he gives himself too much credit."

When I was a kid at Howard, I used to go into Ben's Chili Bowl and hit the jukebox. I always played Otis Redding, The JBs, or Sam and Dave. I knew this music for two reasons: 1.) It was what my parents played, and on long road trips their music, not mine, was the soundtrack. It's like being black in America--I knew that part of their world in a way that they could not know mine. 2.) Hip-Hop created a culture of Digging In The Crates. The notion was that digging through crates and crates of records to find a gem was something to be prized.

Whatever you think of the music, no self-respecting hip-hop head, at that time, could ever get away with saying, "Man, I don't be listening to no Ella Fitzgerald!" Your friends would have looked at you like you were crazy. Knowledge--not the kind of ignorance Rooney evinces here--was prized. I remember going into Ben's and the old heads looking over and going, "Son, what you know about that?"

Here's what I knew--when me and Kenyatta took long drives through Maryland, I knew to play Otis Redding, not H-Town. I learned that digging through the crates. I learned that from my parents. But I never said that of course. I just laughed because it was cool and it was funny. But it was also instructional, and here I must apply what I've learned. Perhaps my generation had a monopoly on that kind of knowledge. Maybe young people today really don't know who Ella Fitzgerald is. I don't really know.

I do dimly perceiveAug 09 2010

Electro-acoustic sample wizards The Books have a new album out, and they have a Tumblr that annotates each track. "A Wonderful Phrase By Gandhi" includes a sample of the Mahatma's voice from a 1931 gramophone recording.

Mostly I think of this track as a P.S.A. Everyone should know what Gandhi's voice sounds like; it's timbre communicates so much regardless of what he's saying, if we can help spread it in our small way it seems worth the 18 seconds.

Nick Zammuto goes on to compare Gandhi's voice to Einstein's, whose voice graces a track on the band's second album. This comparison, and the scarcity of fair-quality recordings of Gandhi's voice, made me realize how important our memory of an historical figure's voice can become. Try to imagine FDR, Martin Luther King Jr, or Hitler without thinking of their voice. Yet we don't know what Lincoln sounded like, or Napoleon, let alone Confucius or Cicero.

The vanished gardens of CordobaAug 09 2010

Cordoba is a city in southern Spain that was capital of the Umayyad caliphate of the same name during the Middle Ages. In the tenth century, it passed Baghdad the largest city in Islam and may have been the largest in the world.

Cordoba House is the name of a proposed complex on Park Place in Lower Manhattan, two blocks from the World Trade Center site, sometimes called the "ground-zero mosque."

Newt Gingrich thinks the name is "a deliberately insulting term" that tests "the historic ignorance of American elites." In particular, he cites transformation of a church in Cordoba into a mosque as "a symbol of Islamic conquest" over Christian Spain.

Carl Pyrdum, a graduate student who blogs at Got Medieval, wrote a long, well-footnoted post detailing the problems with Newt's history.

Notice how carefully he's phrased his claim to give the impression that during the medieval conquest of Spain the Muslims charged into Cordoba and declared it the capital of a new Muslim empire, and in order to add insult to injury seized control of a Christian church and built the biggest mosque they could, right there in front of the Christians they'd just conquered, a big Muslim middle finger in the heart of medieval Christendom. Essentially, they've done it before, they'll do it again, right there at Ground Zero, if all good Christians don't band together to stop them.

The problem is, in order to give that impression of immediacy, Newt elides three hundred years of Christian and Muslim history. Three hundred years. The Muslims conquered Cordoba in 712. The Christian church that was later transformed into the Great Mosque of Cordoba apparently continued hosting Christian worship for at least a generation after that. Work on the Mosque didn't actually begin until seventy-odd years later in 784, and the mosque only became "the world's third-largest" late in the tenth century, after a series of expansions by much later rulers, probably around 987 or so.

The Great Mosque was actually built to commemorate the defeat of the Abbasids, the Umayyad's rivals for control of Andalusia. Joint worship emphasized the legitimacy of the Cordoban caliphate and its superiority to the rowdy Abbasids. "Far from 'symboliz[ing] their victory'," Pyrdum writes, "the Mosque was held up by Muslim historians a symbol of peaceful coexistence with the Christians--however messier the actual relations of Christians and Muslims were at the time." Before the Christians, the site hosted ruins of a Roman pagan temple.

Pyrdum's post was picked up by Crooked Timber, the Huffington Post, Andrew Sullivan, and other popular sites and worked its way up from there. On Twitter, David Weinberger wrote: "It's why we have blogs, people."

Imagine a newspaper or television station reporting on this story twenty years ago; if they had thought to fact-check Newt's talking point, they would have either sent a researcher to the library or phoned an historical or Islamic studies expert for comment. Then it may have been cut for space or time. That's not how things work any more. Knowledge floats.

Update:Michael Berube notes that the name "Cordoba" in Cordoba House is a known reference to the deliberately insulting interior of a 1975 Chrysler.

US National Archives on Flickr CommonsFeb 04 2010

The US National Archives have added a number of photos to the Flickr Commons project. Flickr is quietly building the greatest collection of historical documents on the web.

A history of the world in 100 objectsJan 26 2010

I feel like I've linked to this before but in case I haven't: the BBC and The British Museum are collaborating on a radio series (and more) called A History of the World.

At the heart of the project is the BBC Radio 4 series A History of the World in 100 objects. 100 programmes, written and narrated by Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, and focusing on 100 objects from the British Museum's collection. The programmes will travel through two million years from the earliest object in the collection to retell the history of humanity through the objects we have made. Each week will be tied to a particular theme, such as 'after the ice age' or 'the beginning of science and literature'.

Myths of the Revolutionary WarJan 21 2010

Seven myths about the history of the American Revolutionary War, including "Great Britain Could Never Have Won The War" and "General Washington Was A Brilliant Tactician And Strategist".

Washington also failed to see the potential of a campaign against the British in Virginia in 1780 and 1781, prompting Comte de Rochambeau, commander of the French Army in America, to write despairingly that the American general "did not conceive the affair of the south to be such urgency." Indeed, Rochambeau, who took action without Washington's knowledge, conceived the Virginia campaign that resulted in the war's decisive encounter, the siege of Yorktown in the autumn of 1781.

The People SpeakDec 10 2009

Loosely based on Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, The People Speak is a show that features well-known actors reading famous speeches and letters from American history.

Using dramatic and musical performances of the letters, diaries and speeches of everyday Americans, The People Speak gives voice to those who spoke up for social change throughout U.S. history, forging a nation from the bottom up with their insistence on equality and justice.

The show starts airing this Sunday but many of the performances are already available online.

The vomitorium mythOct 08 2009

The ancient Roman vomitorium, or vomitoria, were supposedly places where diners could go and void their stomachs during a meal, in order to make room for more delicacies. There are even detailed descriptions of the rooms, stating that they had large slabs or pillars to lean over that would better facilitate voiding the stomach. Though it might come as a disappointment to preteen boys studying Latin, the vomitorium of such lore is a myth. A true vomitoria is actually a well-designed passage within an ampitheater that allowed large numbers of Romans to file in and out of large spaces quickly. The root of the word, vomere, translates to "spew out," which makes sense when applied to hurried exits.

Hammer vs. feather on the MoonOct 02 2009

Nothing like a little science on the Moon, I always say.

Astronaut David Scott in 1971, from the Apollo 15 Lunar Surface Journal. Scott was part of the Apollo 15 crew, and applied Galileo's findings about gravity and mass by testing a falcon feather and a hammer. The film, shown in countless high school physics classes, is the nerdy, oft-neglected cousin of Neil Armstrong's space paces.

LivermushOct 01 2009

Livermush is a combination of pig scraps and cornmeal, and inhabits some culinary purgatory between meatloaf and corndog. Brought to the South in the 1700s by resourceful German immigrants who migrated from the Northern colonies, true livermush contains at least 30% pig parts and uses cornmeal as the binding ingredient. It is often fried like a patty and served in sandwich form, with mayo, lettuce, and tomato. Many people confuse livermush with liver pudding, and although the distinction between the two is somewhat vague, it's generally accepted that liver mush is the meal to the west of the Yadkin River, while liver pudding is the staple snack of the east.

Once a cornerstone of North Carolinian cuisine, there are signs that this "working man's staple" is dropping off menus. It appears that only five commercial producers are still churning out the meat mixture all of them family-owned and operated, all of them in North Carolina. Jerry Hunter, a livermush manufacturer in the town of Marion, laments the recent downturn.

"We're still running a fairly good volume, but a whole lot of us wish we could see better times. It's not just livermush. All of us is struggling to stay in existence."

Not everyone is forgetting about livermush. Areas like Marion have begun hosting livermush festivals, hoping to create a resurgence. Perhaps it just needs a few high-profile sponsors to bolster its gustatory delights. To start, the wife of former Cleveland Indians first baseman Jim Thome was asked what he was going to miss most after being acquired by Philadelphia, and she answered, "Livermush."

Update: Liver lovers rejoice, various forms similar to the 'mush are alive and well. Goetta is a German ground meat and oat loaf that is also referred to as "Cincinnati caviar," due to its popularity in the area.

(thx alex)

Update: And Mr. Thorme hopefully discovered the Philadelphia equivalent of livermush, known as scrapple. A mixture of pork bits and cornmeal, this combination is enhanced with flour, buckwheat, and spices.

(thx tim)

Update: In Northwest Ohio they have a livermush-like mixture that's sold in brick form. It's called grits, though it's different from the corn-based breakfast porridge that's also known as southern, or hominy, grits.

(thx jeff)

A history of modern art in three paragraphsAug 25 2009

Impressionism - painting outside of a studio with quick, loose brushstrokes to capture an evocative impression of their subject. Van Gogh was an Impressionist but wanted to express how he felt about what he saw so he distorted the subject. This helped to lead to Expressionism practised by artists from Edvard Munch through to Francis Bacon. The Fauves (wild beasts) expressed themselves by painting with bright colours. Jackson Pollock did it by throwing or dripping paint on a canvas. His paintings were abstract -- Abstract Expressionism.

Cezanne was very important. He began as an Impressionist but then started to look at a subject from two different perspectives to represent how we see. Picasso and his friend Georges Braque were very impressed and started to paint subjects from lots of different views. This is Cubism. Marcel Duchamp was a Cubist but then changed art for ever. He said the idea is more important than the medium and refused to stick with the limited choice of canvas or stone. So he chose everyday objects and called them art because he had altered their context. This led to Conceptual Art where the idea becomes the medium.

The Dadaists were very cross. They blamed the horrors of the First World War on the Establishment's reliance on rational and reasoned thought. They radically opposed rational thought and became nihilistic -- the punk rock of modern art movements. Dada plus Sigmund Freud equals Surrealism. The Surrealists were fascinated by the unconscious mind, as that's where they thought truth resided. Piet Mondrian thought he could paint everything he knew, felt and saw by using two lines placed at rectangles and three primary colours. This was called Neo-Plasticism and was inspired by Cubism. So was Futurism, which is Cubism with motion added. Vorticism is the same as Futurism, but British. The Minimalists might represent the real truth because they weren't trying to represent anything. Performance Art is Dada live.

That's from Will Gompertz in the Times. (via sippey)

The Inheritance of RomeAug 24 2009

As Tyler Cowen seemingly reads every new book published in English each year (and I'm not even sure about the "seemingly"), a rave review from him directs my finger from its holster to Amazon's 1-Click trigger. This week Cowen is on about The Inheritance of Rome by Chris Wickham. From the review:

What can I say? I have to count this tome as one of the best history books I have read, ever.

Having just finished, coincidentially, Cowen's Create Your Own Economy (more on that soon), I *am* looking for another book to read.

You Are ThereJul 23 2009

First broadcast on the radio in 1947, You Are There presented historic events as they would have been reported by modern news broadcasters. In 1953, the program jumped to television with Walter Cronkite as the host, who also hosted a brief revival of the show in the 70s.

The series also featured various key events in American and world history, portrayed in dramatic recreations, with one addition -- CBS News reporters, in modern-day suits, would report on the action and interview the characters. Each episode would begin with the characters setting the scene. Cronkite, from his anchor desk in New York, would give a few words on what was about to happen. An announcer would then give the date and the event, followed by a bold, "You Are There!"

Cronkite would then return to describe the event and its characters more in detail, before throwing it to the event, saying, "All things are as they were then, except... You Are There."

At the end of the program, after Cronkite summarizes what happened in the preceding event, he reminded viewers, "What sort of day was it? A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times... and you were there."

Here's a clip from an episode from the 70s version of the show about the siege of the Alamo. Cronkite reports and Fred Gwynne (Herman Munster) plays Davy Crockett.

What a fantastic idea for a show...I'd love to see a contemporary version of this. Well, not too contemporary; watching a CNBC-style presentation of the 1929 stock market crash wouldn't really be that fun.

What was the most important year ever?Jun 05 2009

Long-time readers know that I love "best _____ of all-time" lists and questions. Arriving at a precise answer for a question like "What's the best movie ever?" is an impossible task but it's lots of fun to argue about it. Over at the Economist's Intelligent Life Magazine, they've taken up the most preposterous (by which I mean awesome) "best of" question I've ever heard: What was the most important year ever?

But alongside 1776, we must include 1945. The atomic bombs alone changed the world's sense of itself, never mind the final defeat of Nazi Germany, whose attempted genocide of the Jewish people remains the single most important moral fact of modern times, the one that has done most to change the way we think. It was the year when American hegemony in the West was established and when the long Stalinist bondage of eastern Europe began, and when India took decisive steps towards independence.

Update: Several more Economist writers have weighed in. Their choices: 5 BC (birth of Jesus), 1204 (Christianity divided by Crusades), 1439 (Gutenberg's press), 1791 (invention of telegraph), and 1944 (beginning of worldwide ideological war). Don't like those choices? Vote for your own.

History smells like old lentilsMay 08 2009

It's all fun and games until someone gets their head stuck in a 3,600-year-old Sumerian pot.

I honestly didn't think my head would fit into it. But it did, and now I can't get it out. In addition to my extensive knowledge of the ancient Near East, I am blessed with a near-inexplicable touch-typing ability, so, if you will, picture me sitting at the computer with a pot on my head that dates from roughly the time when the Hittites invented iron-forged weapons. Or, to put it in more familiar terms, the pot on my head was about 400 years old when Troy was sacked.

(via clusterflock)

Stuff about FluffMar 31 2009

Archibald Query was the inventor of the pasty, sticky, somewhat offensive "creme spread" known as Marshmallow Fluff. The sugar shortage during World War I cost Query his confection. He sold the recipe to H. Allen Durkee and Fred Mower, two candymakers who quickly figured out that combining it with peanut butter creates the "Fluffernutter," which in turn creates sandwich-obsessed mobs of thieving children. The Fluffernutter may soon be the state sandwich of Massachusetts, even though it was almost legally banned from school lunches back in 2006.

Marshmallow was originally used as a throat-coating precursor to the lozenge, but these days it's molded into everything, from cereal squares to baby chickens and moon pies.

This Croque Madame is a fancy, sweet version of a fried ham-and-cheese, made with Nutella and Fluff on cinammon-raisin bread. Yum.

History is chancyFeb 02 2009

America was discovered accidentally by a great seaman who was looking for something else; when discovered it was not wanted; and most of the exploration for the next fifty years was done in the hope of getting through or around it. America was named after a man who discovered no part of the New World. History is like that, very chancy.

That's Samuel Eliot Morison, author of several books of history, including The European Discovery of America, Admiral of the Ocean Sea, and The Oxford History of the American People.

Flickr Commons projectJun 26 2008

Of all the things that Flickr has done, The Commons project might be the most significant. If, in two years, there are tens or even hundreds of thousands of old photographs previously unavailable to the general public from collections all over the world -- all tagged, geocoded, annotated, contextualized, and available to anyone with a web browser -- that would be an amazing resource for exploring our recent history.

A list of reasons why people writeApr 28 2008

A list of reasons why people write and explore history with examples of each.

14. The past is heritage: we study it to form or enforce national, ethnic, religious or personal identity, or to combat attempts to destroy heritage. Gertrude Himmelfarb, The De-Moralization of Society.

(via short shrift)

Everything I Know About Hyman Victor isApr 08 2008

Everything I Know About Hyman Victor is one man's remembrance of his great grandfather through old photographs and documents.

A hundred and twenty year old photoMar 10 2008

A hundred and twenty year old photo of a young Helen Keller has been found.

The photograph, shot in July 1888 in Brewster, shows an 8-year-old Helen sitting outside in a light-colored dress, holding Sullivan's hand and cradling one of her beloved dolls.

An (animated (and condensed (and brief (andMar 05 2008

An (animated (and condensed (and brief (and truncated)))) history of evil. Almost as interesting for the comments as for the video itself.

Bookmarked for some weekend reading: The HistoryFeb 01 2008

Bookmarked for some weekend reading: The History of Visual Communication...from rocks and caves to the avant-garde to the computer. (via girlhacker)

"Junkies are roaming the streets uprooting flower beds"Jan 17 2008

Letter to the editor, New York Times, August 25, 1993:

The East Village is awash in criminal activity and antisocial behavior, which blatantly occurs all through the day and escalates as the sun goes down. At 7 A.M., when I walk my dog, the area looks like a war zone. Crack vials, human feces, used condoms and hypodermic needles litter the sidewalks, building entryways, halls and stoops. Junkies are roaming the streets uprooting flower beds to look for the drugs they hurriedly stashed the night before.

(Yes; today you are all being the victims of a project for which I'm urgently neck-deep in research.)

Tompkins Square Park, 20 Years LaterJan 17 2008

This summer will be the 20th anniversary of the Tompkins Square Park riot. From the New York Times, August 6, 1993:

In a playground off Avenue A, Gerry Griffin watched Emily, her 18-month-old towheaded daughter, run after flying bubbles. Ms. Griffin said she enjoys the renovated Tompkins Square Park.

"For people with kids, it's a dream come true," she said. "I was against what they were doing, but I am really enjoying the effects of it." [...]

"They said they tore down the bandshell because people slept in it," said Ruth Silber, who has lived near the park for 26 years. "Pretty soon they're going to destroy all the subways because homeless people sleep in the subways." [...]

Farther up Avenue A, two officers on mopeds sat inside the locked gate, talking about Saturday, the fifth anniversary of the 1988 battle. They told visitors to come back then if they wanted to see some action.

Do they expect trouble? "I hope so," one officer said as he rode off.

Things That Sounded Crazy In 1993Jan 17 2008

Letter to the editor, New York Times, June 23, 1993:

If landlords could double or triple the rent on vacant apartments, it would be a compelling incentive for them to try to drive current tenants out by any means necessary. (During the East Village's gentrification in the 1980's, my landlords neglected or cut off heat and hot water, called us late at night to tell us to leave, let crack addicts stay in warehoused apartments and rented storefronts to drug dealers.)

Under luxury decontrol, what would stop them from renting only to tenants who make more than $100,000 a year to get apartments permanently deregulated? Warehousing would burgeon as landlords kept apartments vacant for months waiting for a sucker to pay top market rent.

The Early '90s New York City Real Estate SlumpJan 17 2008

New York Times, September 29, 1991:

She began asking $132,000 for her studio in 1988 and has since lowered the asking price to $115,00, but has not had a bid.

Another owner in the Christadora House bought her 1,100-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment for $270,000 in 1986 has been trying to sell it for 14 months. She first asked $305,000 and has lowered her price to $260,000. Her only offer so far, which she rejected six months ago, was for $220,000.

Two blocks away, on 11th Street between Avenue A and Avenue B, the owner of a two-bedroom co-op on the top floor of a renovated five-story tenement has received a bigger blow. He paid $186,000 for it a year ago and has been trying to sell it for four months at $89,000. So far, no takers.

1994 Rick Moody ProfileJan 17 2008

New York Times, October 23, 1994:

These days you can walk into the St. Marks Bookshop and find his second novel, "The Ice Storm," on the same shelf as James Michener and Cormac McCarthy, thanks to alphabetical order.... [H]e makes nearly all of his income from writing. And lives in a state of at least intermittent dread. "This minute I'm sitting here being interviewed," he mused, "and in five years I won't be able to get published."

"Where's Andy Warhol?"Jan 14 2008

In 1984, Maureen Dowd, now an op-ed columnist, was a reporter on the "Metropolitan staff" of the New York Times. This excerpt (from a 5112-word piece) ran in the Times magazine on November 4, 1984, with the headline "9PM TO 5AM." (It's behind the paywall here.)

On Monday nights, Area offers ''obsession'' nights—with fixations such as sex, pets and body oddities. At a recent ''sex evening,'' nude jugglers and whip dancers moved in and out of the crowd while an ex-nun heard sexual confessions in the ladies' room and an old man played with inflatable dolls in a pool.

This evening, the theme is ''confinement,'' and the club is decorated with dolls in pajamas chained under water, a caged rabbit and go-go dancers armed with guns and dressed in Army fatigues.

''Where's Andy Warhol?'' asks a young punk, dragging on a joint and scanning the crowd. ''I want to get a good look at him.''

''I think he went to Limelight,'' says his friend. At Limelight, a church- turned-club on the Avenue of the Americas at 20th Street, halolike arcs of light stream from stained-glass windows.

''We should go there,'' says someone else.

''We should go there immediately,'' says another.

They scurry off to Limelight, unaware that their quarry, wearing corduroys and a backpack, is standing unobtrusively at the bar.

''This is the best bar in town,'' Andy Warhol says. ''You could take everything out and put it in a gallery.''

Matt Dillon, Vincent Spano and Mickey Rourke, each confident in his role as a teen idol, make their separate ways through the crowd, as young girls reach out to touch their arms, backs, anything. Director Francis Ford Coppola is talking to the actress Diane Lane.

Nearby, Don Marino, an up-and-coming actor, is talking to Brian Jones, an up-and-coming director. ''L.A. is a whole different world,'' the actor says. ''You go to the A party, the B party and you are home in bed by 11 for your 5 o' clock call the next morning. In New York, you've got to be seen at night, you've got to get around.''

The young director scans the room. ''I know people Coppola knows,'' he says. ''I wonder if I could go say hi.''

The opening title sequence of The KingdomDec 13 2007

The opening title sequence of The Kingdom is a nice 3.5 minute overview of the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia.

A timeline of human history (mostly sexNov 08 2007

A timeline of human history (mostly sex and violence) by Milo Manara. NSFW.

Gems from the archive of the New York TimesSep 19 2007

Now that the NY Times has discontinued their Times Select subscription program and made much more of their 150+ years of content available for anyone to read and link to, let's take a look at some of the more notable items that the non-subscriber has been missing.

- Access to the last two years-worth of columns from the NY Times' noted Op-Ed columnists, including Thomas Friedman, Maureen Dowd, David Brooks, and Paul Krugman.

- The first mention of the World Wide Web in the Times in February 1993. According to the article, the purpose of the web is "[to make] available physicists' research from many locations". Also notable are this John Markoff article on the internet being overwhelmed by heavy traffic and growth...in 1993, and a piece, also by Markoff, on the Mosaic web browser.

- Early report of Lincoln's assassination..."The President Still Alive at Last Accounts".

- A report on Custer's Last Stand a couple of weeks after the occurance (I couldn't find anything sooner). The coverage of Native Americans is notable for the racism, both thinly veiled and overt, displayed in the writing, e.g. a story from September 1872 titled The Hostile Savages.

- From the first year of publication, a listing of the principle events of 1851.

- An article about the confirmation of Einstein's theory of gravity by a 1919 expedition led by Arthur Eddington to measure the bending of starlight by the sun during an eclipse.

- A front page report on the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, including a seismograph of the quake which the Times labeled "EARTHQUAKE'S AUTOGRAPH AS IT WROTE IT 3,000 MILES AWAY".

- The first mention of television (as a concept) in the Times, from February 1907. "The new 'telephotograph' invention of Dr. Arthur Korn, Professor of Physics in Munich University, is a distinct step nearer the realization of all this, and he assures us that 'television,' or seeing by telegraph, is merely a question of a year or two with certain improvements in apparatus."

- First mention of Harry Potter. Before it became a phenomenon, it was just another children's book on the fiction best-seller list.

- Some of the output by prolific Times reporter R.W. Apple is available (after 1981, pre-1981).

- A report during the First World War of the Germans using mustard gas. Lots more reporting about WWI is available in the Times archive.

- Not a lot is available from the WWII era, which is a shame. For instance, I wish this article about the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima was available in the Times archive. Nothing about the moon landing, Kennedy's assassination, Watergate, etc. etc. either. :(

- On The Table, Michael Pollan's blog from last summer about food soon after the publication of The Omnivore's Dilemma.

- Urban Planet, a blog about cities from Steven Johnson, author of The Ghost Map.

- Oddly, The Principles of Uncertainty, an illustrated blog by Maira Kalman isn't available anymore. Update: Kalman's blog is probably unavailable because it's due to be published in book form in October. (thx, rafia) Further update: Kalman's blog is back online and wonderful. The culprit was a misconfiguration at the Times' end. (thx, rich)

- Several other previously unavailable blogs are listed here and here.

- It looks like most of the links to old NY Times articles I (and countless other early bloggers) posted in the late 90s and early 00s now work. Tens of thousands of broken links fixed in one pass. Huzzah!

I'll also note that this move by the Times puts them in a much better position to win the Long Bet between Dave Winer and the Times' Martin Nisenholtz at the end of this year.

In a Google search of five keywords or phrases representing the top five news stories of 2007, weblogs will rank higher than the New York Times' Web site.

As of the end of 2005, the Times was not faring very well against blogs.

Update: One more: a report on the sinking of the Titanic. A small mention of the sinking was published in the paper the previous day.

A Brief History of Economic Time. "No 18Jun 14 2007

A Brief History of Economic Time. "No 18th-century politician would have asked 'Are you better off than you were four years ago?' because it never would have occurred to anyone that they ought to be better off than they were four years ago." (via migurski)

Blog to watch: Madame Royale, a blogJun 07 2007

Blog to watch: Madame Royale, a blog about notable women from the past. (via cyn-c)

Nice interactive timeline of British history.May 21 2007

Nice interactive timeline of British history.

An animated version of the Bayeux Tapestry,May 03 2007

An animated version of the Bayeux Tapestry, which tells the story of the Norman invasion of England in 1066. Wikipedia has more info on the tapestry and VSL has more on the video.

Short interview by James Surowiecki of NassimApr 09 2007

Short interview by James Surowiecki of Nassim Taleb about his new book, The Black Swan. "History is dominated not by the predictable but by the highly improbable -- disruptive, unforeseeable events that Taleb calls Black Swans. The effects of wars, market crashes, and radical technological innovations are magnified precisely because they confound our expectations of the universe as an orderly place." Malcolm Gladwell wrote an article on Taleb for the New Yorker in 2002, which Taleb said "put too much emphasis on the far less interesting, more limited -- and rather boring -- applications of my ideas to finance/economic, & less on the dynamics of historical events/philosophy of history, artistic success, and general uncertainty in society". See also an interview in New Scientist, a NY Times op-ed, and a long piece on the Edge site about the black swan idea.

A list of the earliest printed booksMar 30 2007

A list of the earliest printed books in select languages. Movable metal type printing in Korea predates that of Gutenberg by a couple hundred years. See also the Wikipedia entry for movable type.

Thoughtful post on the extreme recency ofMar 22 2007

Thoughtful post on the extreme recency of recorded human history. We know very little about the people who lived before the invention of writing and collections of stories like the Bible, save for what we can glean from speechless skeletons, footprints, and other remains. "And look at how much is lost. Between the time of the couple fleeing across a field of volcanic ash and poor dead Lucy lies 400,000 years. If a Bible is a record of the struggle of a people for 2,000 years, we'd need 200 Bibles to tell us the tale of just this one obscure, remote branch of our lineage." (thx, alexander)

How to think about the scale ofMar 12 2007

How to think about the scale of human history: "Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., one the United States' great historians, is less than two lifetimes removed from a world where the United States did not exist. Through Mr. Schlesinger, you're no more than three away yourself. That's how short the history of our nation really is. Not impressed? It's only two more life spans to William Shakespeare. Two more beyond that, and the only Europeans to see America are those who sailed from Greenland. You're ten lifetimes from the occupation of Damietta during the fifth crusade. Twenty from the founding of Great Zimbabwe and the Visigoth sack of Rome. Make it forty, and Theseus, king of Athens, is held captive on Crete by King Minos, the Olmecs are building the first cities in Mexico, and the New Kingdom collapses in Egypt."

Wikipedia has a series of maps showingMar 07 2007

Wikipedia has a series of maps showing the political and social boundries of the world in 2000 BC, 1000 BC, 500 BC, 323 BC and so on.

Some recent rigorous radiocarbon dating has thrownFeb 26 2007

Some recent rigorous radiocarbon dating has thrown into doubt the theory that the Americas were first settled 11,000 years ago by the so-called Clovis peoples.

Writer's Dreamtools has a timeline of events,Dec 08 2006

Writer's Dreamtools has a timeline of events, people, entertainment, fashion, money, etc. for every decade since 1650. This allows the writer to put herself in that time period and as a jumping off point for further historical research. Favorite categories: "who's in" and "what's in". What a great resource for writers. (via youngna)

Historiography is the study of the practiceOct 04 2006

Historiography is the study of the practice of history. "When you study 'historiography' you do not study the events of the past directly, but the changing interpretations of those events in the works of individual historians."

Bound for GloryAug 16 2006

The Library of Congress has an online photography exhibit called Bound for Glory: America in Color, 1939-1943 (thx, shay). The photos were a little low contrast, so I color corrected a few of them in Photoshop:

My goal was not to blow out the contrast or unnecessarily accentuate colors, but attempt to duplicate what these photos would look like had they been taken with a contemporary camera and processed using contemporary techniques and materials.

Bound For Glory Thumb

Bound for Glory and Color Corrected »

Since he was 12, Gilles Trehin has beenJul 26 2006

Since he was 12, Gilles Trehin has been drawing and writing about the imaginary city of Urville, which is situated on the Mediterranean coast of France, was founded by the Phoenicians in the 12th century BC, and currently houses over 17 million inhabitants. Don't miss the drawings. (via godammit)

Social, political, economic, cultural, historical, and technologicalMay 25 2006

Social, political, economic, cultural, historical, and technological timelines of the world from 1750 to 2100. Having all the timelines in one view is nice, but the zoomable interface is clunky.

The CIA World Factbook maintains a pageMar 29 2006

The CIA World Factbook maintains a page about the entire world, which seems like it was meant to be read by aliens about to visit Earth for the first time. (thx jake)

This Onion story is right on theMar 16 2006

This Onion story is right on the edge between humor and tasteless: Kent State Basketball Team Massacred By Ohio National Guard In Repeat Of Classic 1970 Matchup. I laughed, but I felt bad about it.

The story of the Hindenburg disaster. Amazingly, 2/3Jan 06 2006

The story of the Hindenburg disaster. Amazingly, 2/3 of the zeppelin's passengers survived the crash. Here's an audio recording of the famous Herbert Morrison radio broadcast ("oh, the humanity") of the disaster.

This Day in Apple History offers aJan 04 2006

This Day in Apple History offers a daily story about what happened on a given day in Apple's history.

A Brief Economic History of the World, 10,000Oct 20 2005

A Brief Economic History of the World, 10,000 BC-2000 AD, consisting of several PDFs. I only read the intro, but it seems pretty interesting if you're interested in such things.

Right around 1985 is when American cuisine tookOct 14 2005

Right around 1985 is when American cuisine took hold in NYC...and with it came other changes. "It can be argued that fine dining finally lost its haughty attitude then, that cloches became less important than customer comment cards. A fascination with classic French cooking was forevermore trumped by an insistence on something lighter, more flexible and less hidebound. The trickle of a simpler sensibility from California became a tide. The glories of the Greenmarket took ineradicable root."

Timeline of video games, mostly business-related. ButOct 13 2005

Timeline of video games, mostly business-related. But holy crap, Hunt the Wumpus (a game I had for the TI-99) was invented in 1973? Cool.

A natural history of the @ sign. (via nonist)Sep 22 2005

A natural history of the @ sign. (via nonist)

Who knew the history of the hambugerAug 19 2005

Who knew the history of the hambuger was so convoluted? Here's what we know: somewhere between Kublai Khan and the Big Mac, someone somewhere invented it.

A huge set of historic NBA photosJul 28 2005

A huge set of historic NBA photos.

Steven Shapin reviews Tom Standage's A HistoryJul 28 2005

Steven Shapin reviews Tom Standage's A History of the World in 6 Glasses, a "social life of beverages". Standage is one of my favorite technology/culture writers; he wrote about the telegraph in The Victorian Internet.

Slideshow of historic photography from the archivesJul 20 2005

Slideshow of historic photography from the archives of ICP and the George Eastman Collection. Lots of photos from both collections are set to be available online in 2006 at photomuse.org.

The Harry Potter book series as allegory for 1930s EuropeJul 15 2005

The Harry Potter book series as allegory for 1930s Europe. Voldemort as Hitler, Dumbledore as Churchill, and Potter as FDR's America?

Animated geographic history of the United StatesJul 06 2005

Animated geographic history of the United States. This is pretty cool.

Slideshow history of the vibratorJul 05 2005

Slideshow history of the vibrator.

Jared Diamond calls agriculture "the worst mistakeJun 29 2005

Jared Diamond calls agriculture "the worst mistake in the history of the human race". "With the advent of agriculture [the] elite became better off, but most people became worse off".

David McCullough's 1776 and the tension between academic historians and popularizersMay 19 2005

David McCullough's 1776 and the tension between academic historians and popularizers. Also apropos to the scientists vs. pop science writers argument I've been hearing lately re: Blink and Everything Bad is Good for You.

A condensed history of the world, fromMay 18 2005

A condensed history of the world, from the Big Bang to the present (and a little of the future).

Guns, Germs, and SteelAug 29 2003

Guns, Germs, and Steel

Jared Diamond has written a fantastic book that lays out in simple terms how Europeans came to dominate the rest of the world without resorting to racist notions of Europeans being intrinsically smarter or more gifted than the inhabitants of the rest of the world. Diamond's thesis is so simple and powerful, it seems, as Erdos would say, to come from "God's book of proofs". An illustration of this powerful simplicity is how the orientation of the continents affected the spread of domestication of crops, animals, germs, and ideas (which in turn influenced how fast difference cultures matured):

Why was the spread of crops from the Fertile Crescent so rapid? The answer partly depends on that east-west axis of Eurasia with which I opened this chapter. Localities distributed east and west of each other at the same latitude share exactly the same day length and its seasonal variations. To a lesser degree, they also tend to share similar diseases, regimes of temperature and rainfall, and habitats or biomes (types of vegetation). That's part of the reason why Fertile Crescent [crops and animals] spread west and east so rapidly: they were already well adapted to the climates of the regions to which they were spreading.

A Short History of Nearly EverythingAug 06 2003

A Short History of Nearly Everything

I've read so much about science that I was reluctant to pick up Bryson's book, but I'm a sucker for good but accessible science writing, so I forged ahead anyway. The beginning of the book was interesting but nothing I hadn't heard before, but once Bryson got to the more recent developments in everything from physics to evolutionary biology, I was hooked. I try to keep up with where science stands today by reading magazine and newspaper articles, but the big picture is hard to visualize that way. Bryson painted that big picture...the last few chapters of the book should be required reading for high school science students who may have learned that protons, neutrons, and electrons are indivisible or that Darwin had the first and final say on how evolution works.

A People's History of the United StatesNov 28 2002

A People's History of the United States

Zinn's a Marxist freak (well, according to some), but this book is still worth reading as an antidote to what most American kids learn about in school.

kottke.org

Front page
About + contact
Site archives

Subscribe

Follow kottke.org on Twitter

Follow kottke.org on Tumblr

Like kottke.org on Facebook

Subscribe to the RSS feed

Advertisement

Ads by The Deck

Support kottke.org shop at Amazon

And more at Amazon.com

Looking for work?

More at We Work Remotely

Kottke @ Quarterly

Subscribe to Quarterly and get a real-life mailing from Jason every three months.

 

Enginehosting

Hosting provided EngineHosting