St Paul's Cathedral, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, lies at the centre of London. At 365 feet high, it was the tallest building in London from 1710 until 1962, and dominated the London skyline. Since the 1960s London has seen multiple high-rise developments, which could crowd out the cathedral. However, views of St Paul's from multiple places in and around the City are preserved by law. This protects St Paul's both from having tall buildings built in front of it, and also behind it in ways that would spoil the silhouette on the horizon. The 'Cheesegrater' for instance, slopes back to protect one such view. Some explanations and demonstrations from Tom Scott, Londonist, and The Guardian. [more inside]
Do you like radios? And museums? Then you need the radiomuseum.org gazatteer of museums and historical places around the world where you can look at radios and associated technologies!
Royal Mail 'special stamps' have been produced in the UK for fifty years since 1965, when the new postmaster general, Tony Benn, expanded the criteria for commemorative stamps to include representations of British life and culture.
Shelf Life is the first episode in a new video blog from the American Museum of Natural History, in which scientists, curators, and collection specialists take you behind-the-scenes at the Museum. Bonus interview: Atlas Obscura.
Form and Landscape - Southern California Edison and the Los Angeles Basin, 1940-1990 - is a series of themed exhibitions that tell the story of how Los Angeles 'became modern' by using photos from the comprehensive archives of Southern California Edison. The photos portray the many roles that electricity has played in the development and modernization of Californian life and culture (domestic life, signage, streetscapes, etc.). Part of the Getty's Pacific Standard Time Presents initiative.
Reel 2 Real: Sound at the Pitt Rivers Museum is a digitization project that is taking the archival field recordings of the Pitt Rivers Museum (Oxford University's museum of ethnography and anthropology), digitizing them, and placing them online with Soundcloud. [more inside]
A collection of pictures of mailboxes in the western US - part of the Fife Collection of Western U.S. Vernacular Architecture, which also includes quilts, murals, tree bark graffiti, fences, gravestones, and festivals, and other examples of folklife and material culture visually recorded by folklorists Austin and Alta Fife. [more inside]
The Written World is a five part radio series put together by Melyvn Bragg as part of the In Our Time BBC radio project. The programmes look at the history of written word, and how it has shaped our intellectual history. Each episode is available as a podcast and has an accompanying page (1 2 3 4 5) with images and links for further exploration. Also: The books that shaped history (narrated slideshow); the British Library page. [more inside]
QWERTY keyboard, how do you plead? Gluty! (Stephen) Fry's English Delight tackles the sociotechnical history of the QWERTY keyboard. [more inside]
Edward Samuel's Illustrated History of Copyright A fascinating illustrated historical tour, looking at how different technologies have shaped how we think about copyright and intellectual property.
Japanese Bicycle History Research Club With a nice gallery of photos, illustrations, and ukiyo-e of vintage bicycles in Japan.
Darwin wrote to 2000 people during his life; 14,500 of these letters still survive. The Darwin Correspondence Project is putting annotated transcriptions of these online, and they've covered about 5,000 so far, including a letter written when he was 12 after he had got into trouble with his sister for not washing regularly while at school. There's an intro here. See also Darwin Online, discussed here. And the prolific network theorist Albert-Laszlo Barabasi has co-authored a paper on statistical similarities between Darwin's and Einstein's correspondence (#51 on the list).
The Hermon Dunlap Smith Center for the History of Cartography Maps, mappers, and the history of mapping, with slide shows, online exhibitions (e.g. The French Empire in North America, popular cartography), and journal articles. Part of the Newberry Library, Chicago.
Maya Ruins - Nice images of Maya ruins in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras, indexed to site plans. See for instance Uxmal: the Grand Pyramid, the House of the Doves, the Nunnery Quadrangle, and the Pyramid of the Magician. See also: the Meso-American Photo Archives.
Curating the City A Flash exhibition exploring the past and present urban landscape of Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles. A modest topic explored in depth - which is perhaps what makes it so fascinating. The site includes a pdf guidebook, in case you want to check out the bricks-and-mortar version.
The Digital Bridges Project Digitized 19th century bridge engineering documents. Luckily for people like me, they've collected links to all the illustrations on one page. See for instance an amazing chronological series of pictures documenting the construction in 1892 of the 330 feet high, 3000 foot long, Pecos Viaduct in Texas.
The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich has some excellent online collections related to maritime history and technology, including telescopes, marine chronometers, sundials, and a whole lot more. Some stuff I've been looking at: John Harrison's chronometers (described in Dava Sobel's book Longitude), polyhedral sundials, and pocket globes.
New York transit history, slides and commentary Audio-visual presentations on various aspects of New York's transit history. I particularly liked the third one, 'Subway style - Design & Architecture in the New York City Subway.'
A potted history of coffee Oh, and some music - Dylan, Bach, Inkspots, Lightnin' Hopkins, Peggy Lee, Duke Ellington, White Stripes, etc.
The Virtual Typewriter Museum Including: the 'Holy Grail,' the 1870 Swedish Hansen Writing Ball - weird and wonderful pre-Cambrian typewriters such as an 1887 Miniature Pocket Typewriter, the Cooper circular, and an early wooden Spanish typewriter - early advertising trade cards and postcard (1 2 3) - and typewriter erotica. The end of the typewriter history is the gorgeous 1970s Olivetti Valentine.
Ignition sequence starts ... A spoken word documentary album of the flight of Apollo 11 to the moon. Dramatic - evocative - the right stuff. Provided by Hepcat Willy.
Some technological histories - including Edison's Electric Pen, a History of the Atlantic Cable & Submarine Telegraphy, and Cox's 1907 Gold Changer.
"A Collection of Rarities" The John Tradescants (Elder and Younger) lived in London in the 16th and 17th centuries. Adventurous travellers, diplomats, horticultural pioneers, polymaths, they were also collectors, acquiring (and asking their friends to acquire) specimens of the wonders of the world. Their growing collection was housed in a large house -- "The Ark" -- in Lambeth, London. The Ark was the prototypical Cabinet of Curiosity or Wunderkammer, a collection of rare and strange objects. The Tradescant's collection was eventually transferred to -- and some say it was swindled out of them by -- Elias Ashmole, who used it to start The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. The Tradescants are buried in St. Mary's Churchyard, Lambeth, now home to the Museum of Garden History.
The Cathode Ray Tube Site Electronic glassware: history and physical equipment.
The Brighton Daddy Longlegs Railway ran offshore along the beach at Brighton, UK, at the turn of the 20th century. Designed by Magnus Volk, it ran on 24 feet high stilts, over the sea, and required a trained sea captain to operate it. For a few years, it was quite the tourist attraction. The rest of Volk's Electric Railway is still in operation.
A clickable genealogy charting the lineage of visual interactive computing systems and user interfaces, by Bruce Damer. Some quirky/broken links, but plenty of interesting stuff there, too.
Ancient Routes Illustrated gazetteers of old trade and communication routes, such as the King's Highway from Egypt to Syria and the Way of the Sea from Egypt to Damascus. Also, an illustrated compendium of ancient Mediterranean cities.
Therapy, pharmacy, and commerce in early-modern Europe Drug Trade is an exhibition of 16C-18C drug jars at the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford. "Marrysh mallowe, soden in wyne or mede, or brused and laid on by it selfe, is good for woundes, for hard kynelles, swellynges, and wennes, for the burnyng and swelling behynd the eares ... & it will ease the payne of ye tethe."
"To Fly is Everything" - A museum of early aeroplane history. Includes galleries of movies of aviation pioneers (watch an early flight from Wilbur Wright's point of view), and links to early aviation patents.
The Bakken: A social history of electricity The Bakken is a growing center "for education and learning that furthers the understanding of the history, cultural context, and applications of electricity and magnetism in the life sciences and their benefits to contemporary society." The site includes an illustrated collection of artifacts ranging from static electricity generators and Leyden jars to Victorian therapeutic magnetic belts, and exhibitions on Mesmer and Mesmerism and Mary Shelley and Frankenstein. The institute was founded by Earl Bakken, the co-inventor of the pacemaker.
A Visit to Old Los Angeles "A pictorial survey of downtown Los Angeles, and certain other areas, focusing on the years 1900 to 1915, though occasionally making use of images from other times. This series will follow, primarily by means of actual postcards of the era, the travels of a farming family from the great plains as they visit Los Angeles and its environs in the early years of the Twentieth Century." In 29 episodes, and with lots of postcards.
Victorian Light and Magic Thomas Weynants' Early Visual Media site describes and illustrates a range of nineteenth century technologies for producing and projecting images and illusions, including phantasmagoria, Pepper's ghost, optical toys such as anamorphoses, steroscopes and stereo photographs, imaging techniques such as the physiontrace, and genres such as diableries (visions of hell) . (Links in site labelled 'nudes' or 'risque' NSFW in a Victorian risque kind of way.)
Black ships and samurai In 1853 four ships under Commodore Perry anchored off the coast of Japan against the wishes of the Japanese. According to historian John Dower, "This initial encounter between the United States and Japan was eye-opening for all concerned, involving a dramatic confrontation between peoples of different racial, cultural, and historical backgrounds. We can literally see this encounter of "East" and "West" unfold through the splendid, yet little known, artwork produced by each side at the time." This beautiful exhibition includes many examples of this artwork, juxtaposing scenes of the encounter from Japanese and American artists' points of view. (Part of MIT's open courseware initiative.)
Engines of Our Ingenuity is a web site run by John Lienhard of the University of Houston. The site includes almost 2000 short, three minute talks on the history of science, technology, and engineering. The talks are in the form of RealAudio files, with accompanying transcripts which often give you more links and references. The transcripts themselves are indexed by keywords and are also fully text-searchable. A simple idea but very effective, and kind of addictive. I've been finding out about Jacquard and Babbage, German women astronomers of the seventeenth century, and the deisgn of the zipper. There's also other cool stuff: what did people say about books in 1498?
A long list of links related to all aspects of the history of scientific instruments, such as sundials, slide rules, and pocket compasses.
The Great Arc of India is a travelling exhibition that celebrates the two hundredth anniversary of the trigonometric survey of the Indian subcontinent by William Lambton, George Everest, and many others. The exhibition will visit Edinburgh, Birmingham, London, and Manchester. In case you can't catch the actual exhibition, the site includes a PDF of the exhibition guide, in two parts. Along with the exhibition there is a programme of performances and visual events by Indian artists.
Images of medieval architecture. A great site put together by Alison Stones, Professor of History of Art and Architecture at the University of Pittsburgh. There are two large gazetteers, one for Britain, and one for France. Besides photos, there are many plans, sketches and elevation drawings, which help to give an idea of the sheer scale of gothic cathedrals such as the cathedral of Saint-Étienne at Bourges (scroll down for the human figures at the bottom).
While there are a number of sites devoted to the history of computer and information technologies, their invention, design and manufacture is also a human story. So I'm glad that there are sites devoted to computing history and culture that also look at the lives of those involved. The Charles Babbage Institute and Center for the History of Information Technology, includes oral histories of engineers and 500 photographs of the Burroughs Corporation form the 1890s on. The Smithsonian Museum Division of Information Technology and Society is a gateway to a large number of 'real life' and online Smithsonian exhibitions related to the history of science and technology, including more oral histories and PDFs of the original DoD press releases for ENIAC. The Oxford University Virtual Museum of Computing includes tributes to information science pioneers, as well as much other stuff. Finally, the Silicon Valley Cultures Project is using anthropology to document the lives of many of those in the Valley.
Everything you ever wanted to know about telephones. Really. I went to the list of History of the Telephone links first.