An expert in prison literature, Smith felt sure that the book was written by someone with firsthand knowledge of 19th-century correctional facilities. And if Haunted Convict was a genuine account, it would be groundbreaking: the earliest-known narrative penned by an African-American prisoner.
Beneath glimmering chandeliers at an Art Deco movie house built into the side of a mountain, 150 silent-movie buffs sat wide-eyed as snippets from films lost decades ago lighted up the screen. Their quest: Name the film, or at least spot details that will advance the cause. The fans shouted clues as a piano player wearing an old-time parlor vest and a thick period mustache improvised jaunty scores. They scoured vintage magazines on their laptops, checked film databases on their tablets, and scrubbed their brains for odd bits of early 20th century cultural history. Every frame had the potential to unlock a secret.
Signs of Modern Astronomy Seen in Ancient Babylon - "Scientists have found a small clay tablet with markings indicating that a sort of precalculus technique was used to track Jupiter's motion in the night sky." [more inside]
Welcome to WorldPopulationHistory.org, an interactive site that lets you explore the peopling of our planet from multiple perspectives – historical, environmental, social and political. It is about the 2,000-year journey of human civilization and the possible paths ahead to the middle of this century.
On This Spot is a history blog that focusses on then and now photography, comparing historical and contemporary photographs of the same locations. Locations include cities and battlefields in the UK, Germany, France, Japan and Canada.
Why was laundry disintegrating on urban clotheslines in the 1920s? Chemical Heritage Magazine has the answer!
The unusual foods Americans loved a century ago. A massive collection of historical menus at the New York Public Library has been digitised for your perusal.
Ending the new Thirty Years War "Why the real history of the Peace of Westphalia in 17th-century Europe offers a model for bringing stability to the Middle East."
"An econ buff in the year 2500 might know all about the Great Depression that happened in the early 20th century and the major recession that happened about 80 years later, but that same person might mistake the two world wars for happening in the 1800s or the 2200s.... Likewise, I might know that Copernicus began writing his seminal work... in the early 1510s, but by learning that right around that same time in Italy, Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, I get a better picture of the times. [It]allows me to see the 1510s horizontally, like cutting out a complete segment of the vine tangle and examining it all together."
For a six-ingredient food product, it's taken on a life of its own. Spam — the square-shaped mash-up of pork, water, salt, potato starch, sugar, and sodium nitrate — recently celebrated its 77th anniversary of being alternately maligned, celebrated, musicalized, or the subject of urban legend (one particularly pervasive myth insists that its name is actually an acronym for "Scientifically Processed Animal Matter"). And despite today's more locavore approach to food and some unkind memories from soldiers who were served Spam during WWII, Spam has entered its third quarter-century on the rise.
Portland Community College to launch a "Whiteness History Month." (April to be specific) The American Conservative disapproves: "... plainly designed to convince white students to despise themselves and their culture." The Washington Post hits the ground running with a listicle: Whiteness History Month is a great idea. Here are 7 ways to observe it.
Matador, Texas is a town on borrowed time. If you're not from there or one of the few similarly sinking small towns scattered across the Great Plains region, you would almost definitely not know that it exists. Its population has fallen from 740 to just 607 in 10 years according to a 2010 census. Of course, it wasn't always that way. A true Texas round-up of links to celebrate the Matador that was and still is before it is gone. [more inside]
Here's a primer for white Americans to learn about race and racism without making their friends/colleagues/acquaintances of color have to keep explaining it.
Peterborough & The Great War. At the Peterborough (UK) East Railway Station during 1916 and 1917, the Women’s United Total Abstinence Council ran a tea stall. There were two visitors books there signed by the soldiers travelling to and from the various fronts during World War I which have been digitised for the website. [more inside]
Robbie Judkins visits Tanzania to witness first hand the attempt to save a quarter of a century of musical history from oblivion. Listen to an exclusive mix of tracks newly digitized by the Tanzania Heritage Project
This section reads as would a biblical genealogy of sorts: Alexander von Humboldt (wiki) taught Heinrich Berghaus (short wiki bio)and influenced Alexander Keith Johnston; Berghaus taught August Petermann (wiki); and Petermann collaborated with Berghaus and Johnston. More accurately, it reflects the passing on of the thematic torch lit by Humboldt. There were isolated “ignitions” throughout Europe before him—he, of course, was not the first to construct a thematic map or even to think of how one might do it—but every science needs a founding figure. More than anyone who preceded him, Humboldt provided that role.Landmark Thematic Atlases, from Princeton University Library's Historic Maps Collection website of Landmark Thematic Maps.
The high-street staple is under threat. Can a new generation of entrepreneurs save the nation’s tandoori?
Quakers pioneered social enterprise. They were also the first to fail: How hard was it to opt out of the slave economy in the U.S. before the Civil War? Pretty hard, as the "free produce" movement discovered: In 1829... the members of [the Female Association for Promoting the Manufacture and Use of Free Cotton] reported their contractors had spun 2,515 pounds of cotton. Compared to the approximately 78 million pounds of cotton produced across the country in the year 1800 alone, it was a drop in the bucket. The economics of slavery previously.
Why do male authors and subjects dominate history books? Digging into bestselling history books in the United States. (SLS) [more inside]
"This summer will mark 35 years since the first reports of AIDS. Additionally, two decades have now passed since combination antiretroviral treatment began to transform a health crisis into a more manageable public health concern. " [more inside]
The Code of Honor; or Rules for the Government of Principals and Seconds in Duelling by John Lyde Wilson 1858. (via Chief Justice John Roberts)
On July 31, 1760, L'Utile, a ship of the French East Indian Company loaded with an illegal cargo of about 160 Malagasy slaves, was shipwrecked on a barren, windswept islet now known as Tromelin Island, 500 km east of Madagascar. The French crew, with the help of the surviving Malagasy, built a makeshift boat and set sail for Madagascar two months later, leaving behind 60 Malagasy with three months’ provisions, a letter recognising their good conduct and the promise that someone would come back for them. Weeks passed, then months, then years. Since 2006, archeological teams have gone to Tromelin to examine the wreck site and learn about the lives of the marooned Malagasy: diary of the 2010 campaign. [more inside]
Reddit's /r/askhistorians "Best of 2015" thread is something you'll learn from, maybe. Probably the most rigidly moderated subreddit regarding historical topics, /r/askhistorians has some of the smartest answers you'll find to some of the most unusual questions they answered in 2015. Check the thread for questions answered in earlier years.
Sci-Fi Author (and Metafilter's own) Charlie Stross has an interesting thought experiment: Could you get to a technological society without the use of writing? And if so, what would that look like?
New book shows Marie Antoinette used invisible ink, secret stamps in love letters to Swedish count Touched on somewhat less sensationally in this article: From letters to apps, the secret code language of lovers [more inside]
Mike Duncan of the Revolutions podcast reworked the Star Wars prequel trilogy by way of the American and French revolutions on Twitter today. Episode One: The Glorious Cause, Episode Two: The Coruscant Revolution, and Episode Three: The Clone Wars have been storified for your historical Star Wars mashup needs.
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]
Hungarian inventions that have shaped the modern world: Laszlo Biro's ballpoint pen, the telephone exchange and holography, and the Magyar microcar, "how Hungary circumvented Stalin and also had a bit of fun." This is just one of a number of weirdly awesome microcars of Hungary from the 1940s and '50s.
The night that the Berlin Wall collapsed was certainly one of the most dramatic moments in the cascading events of 1989, events that brought the era of Communist rule in Eastern Europe to a close. What follows is an examination of the intersecting developments that led to the collapse of the Communist regimes in 1989. [more inside]
Atlanta: Darker Than Blue presented by Black Vrchives, November 2015. A curated journey through Atlanta's history. [more inside]
The history of the relationship between social science and foreign relations offers important insights into the changing politics and ethics of expertise in American public policy.
Following the Christian Reconquest and unification of Spain, concluded with the marriage of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, the victorious Catholic sovereigns decreed on March 31, 1492 that all Jews convert to Christianity or leave Spain by the last day of July. Whether they stayed or left, many Jewish families continued to practice their faith in secret. Such crypto-Jews passed their traditions down the generations and around the world, some ending up in the Southwest. 500 years later, New Mexico's "hidden Jews" were found among strong Hispanic Catholic communities. Though some were skeptical about the origins of certain family practices, additional research and a pattern of breast cancer lead to genetic testing and confirmation of prior beliefs. [more inside]
The site of the Tristán de Luna colony has reportedly been found in Pensacola: "'There were 1500 people there ... for about a two-year period' ... The colony lasted from 1559-61 and included 550 Spanish soldiers, about 200 Aztecs and an unknown number of African slaves ... The Luna colony is arguably the first European settlement and unquestionably the oldest multi-year European settlement" in the present-day United States. Just two years ago, the site of a 1567 fort built by the Juan Pardo expedition in western North Carolina [NYT] was confirmed as well. [more inside]
Around Christmas weird vestigial foods reappear. Fruitcake, eggnog, and weirdest and in America all but forgotten: mincemeat pie. The modern take is a sort of sugary glop made by grinding dried fruit, leaving even the homemade stuff mostly miserable and pointless. But it wasn't always like that way as the late (previously) Cliff Doerksen noted. [more inside]
Breeding Improved Honey Bees was originally printed in 1951, in The American Bee Journal. It is an informative and often dryly amusing introduction to the history and arts of bee breeding. "The honey bee has a definite place in our modern world. Its products of honey and wax are useful to man, although perhaps not essential to all men." Those histories and arts are, as you might expect, covered in bees.
Hitler really did have only one testicle, German researcher claims. [The Guardian]
The song sung in schoolyards by generations of British children mocking Adolf Hitler for only having “one ball” might be accurate after all. A German historian has unearthed the Nazi leader’s long-lost medical records, which seem to confirm the urban legend that he only had one testicle. The records, taken during a medical exam following Hitler’s arrest over the failed Beer hall putsch in 1923, show that he suffered from “right-side cryptorchidism”, or an undescended right testicle. Notes written by Dr Josef Steiner Brin, the medical officer at Landsberg prison, state “Adolf Hitler, artist, recently writer” was otherwise “healthy and strong”.
Children have been sending letters to Santa for well over a century now, and for much of that time those letters don't look very different from today's. Children want toys, and they want to convince Santa that they ought to get them. But where did that tradition come from, and how did it develop into its modern form? How did we come to believe that Santa lives at the North Pole and that the postal service can carry letters to Santa? What kinds of things have changed in the things children ask for over time? The Smithsonian's trying to deliver some answers for the holidays. (Previously: 1, 2).
Last week, the BBC radio programme Woman’s Hour ran an item on the American documentary film "Do I Sound Gay?" The film explores what’s popularly known as ‘the gay voice’, a way of speaking that identifies a man as gay (though not all gay men have it, and some men who do sound gay are actually straight). The Woman’s Hour feature ranged more widely over the subject of gay language, including a lengthy discussion of Polari (previously: 1, 2). But it was all about the boys–-until, towards the end of the item, the presenter broached the inevitable question: do lesbians also have a language of their own? Nothing comparable to Polari--but we do have some historical evidence of in-group lesbian slang.
The paintings commissioned by Akbar and Jahangir were a blend of Western iconography with Indian and Islamic elements. [more inside]
If one year during the Toronto International Film Festival you’re engaging a Hollywood producer in conversation and have only a few seconds to pitch your action script before the bouncers drag you out from under the door of her bathroom stall, just fire off a three-word description of the two unlikely antagonists. Hollywood loves oddball enemies even more than unlikely buddy cops: cowboys versus aliens, mercenaries versus dinosaurs, Predators versus future governors of American states. Yet, inexplicably, no movie has been made of Toronto’s contribution to the genre: clowns versus firefighters.
Before "no-fault" divorce laws were enacted in the U.S., married persons seeking divorce had to prove grounds for divorce under extremely narrow circumstances. In the late 19th century, divorce laws were more permissive in some parts of the country than others, leading to a form of "divorce tourism". [more inside]
Animation of the warrior plate of the Gundestrup Cauldron, the largest surviving example of European Iron Age silver work.