Posts tagged with history
The Last Book I Loved: History of the Peloponnesian War
This is not an easy book to love. As an object, it is one of those books all of an age: squat, with yellowing, pulpy pages, the kind whose corners you can’t turn down because the paper creases so hard it that it might as well be perforated. Dog-ear it in the opposite direction and the corner comes off entirely. The print is small and dense; and it is a 2,400 year old account of a war that gets no press. It’s not sexy like the Fall of Troy, not Homerically epic. The gods don’t factor in. The content is almost as hard to love as the way I remember myself when the book first came to me.
Black History Is American History
Think of Black History Month, and chances are you think in turn of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., maybe Marcus Garvey. It’s a familiar group — and that, says Alex Pierce, is precisely the problem. “It’s become a way to pack a few hundred years of history into one 28-day month of the year,” the Texas-based designer and art director says. And so this month, Pierce launched Black in History, a blog to highlight the accomplishments of influencers like Gerald Anderson Lawson, the inventor of the video game console, Roy L. Clay Sr., the “Black Godfather of Silicon Valley,” and jazz great Nat King Cole. We talked to Pierce about his love/hate relationship with Black History Month.
Your day job is in advertising. Has that made you a cynic?
I would say I’m more sensitive than some to the strange relationship advertising has with black people. It’s not all bad, believe me, but I do cringe when Black History Month comes rolling around and a few brands decide to change their jingles to soul-R&B music and feature more colorful people in their broadcast spots and print ads. My family laughs about it all the time. I get it — it’s a great way to tie your brand to an important message while selling some stuff. I’m not necessarily against that. It’s just when it’s done bad, it’s pretty bad. Black history in a lot of advertising has become a way to say something without really saying anything at all.
Letters to Newtown: Preserving 500,000 Messages of Hope & Sorrow
Walk into the Newtown town hall, and you see bin after bin of cards and letters — some 500,000 at least, more arriving every day. They line both sides of the long main hall and fill up the branching halls and offices. Posters, paintings, quilts, and flags cover the walls. There are banners from students at Columbine and Virginia Tech; there are letters from school kids across America and from people as far away as France and Australia. And there are boxes of Kleenex on every table for those who read them.
Language Is a Virus: How Loanwords Move the World’s Tongues
There are an estimated 6,700 to 6,900 languages in the world today, and they drift through the air like a meteorological echo — Hello! Hallo! Allô! — a roll of thunder or a set of bird calls off in the corner of the ear and the eye. And accompanying every tongue are loanwords, or, rather, lehnwerts, the tin-eared telephone line tossed from house to house, the improvised bridge of a tree knocked across a river’s expanse, or, more prosaically, words one “borrows” from one language into another. Loanwords explain how and why English speakers can say things like Frankfurter, pretzel, hinterland, dreck, or kaput without their conversational co-conspirator batting an eye.
10 Billion Documents, 1 Day at a Time
The United States National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has turned to Tumblr in an effort to make its collection of over ten billion historical documents more accessible. Since 1934, the Archives have protected the country’s most precious documents, including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Emancipation Proclamation. As “America’s record keeper,” the agency also keeps track of the American government’s daily business. Every federal office is required to report their activities in detail to the NARA, whose staff is then responsible for deciding which of these materials will be saved and made public. This means the Archives are continually growing. Only about 1-3% of documents submitted annually make the cut, and those that do can affect the shape of contemporary politics as well as historical memory.
Accordingly, the NARA faces the constant threat of politicization as an independent agency responsible for federal oversight. The Archives clashed with the Clinton administration when one of the President’s advisors, Sandy Berger, stole and destroyed NARA documents related to terrorist plots. During the second Bush presidency, the Archives were accused of weakness in their negotiations with the executive branch over access to public records; the New York Times said they could use some “spine-stiffening.” Bush’s administration defended their practices on grounds of national security.
More recently, on his first day in office in 2009, President Obama issued a letter to all federal agencies and departments calling for “transparency and open government.” He urged the use of “new technologies to put information about [goverment] operations and decisions online and readily available to the public.” Proclaiming “[i]nformation maintained by the Federal Government … a national asset,” this transparency memo prompted major internal changes at the National Archives.
The Reconstructionists: Celebrating Badass Women
What do Buddhist artist Agnes Martin, Hollywood inventor Hedy Lamarr, and French-Cuban author Anaïs Nin have in common? Their names may not conjure popular recognition, and yet, for Lisa Congdon and Maria Popova, these women represent a particular breed of cultural trailblazer: female, under-appreciated, badass. They are “Reconstructionists,” as the writer-illustrator duo call them — and for the next year, they’ll be celebrated on a blog of the same name. Every Monday for 12 months, The Reconstructionists will debut a hand-painted illustration and short essay highlighting a woman from fields such as art, science, and literature. The subject needn’t be famous, but she will, as Popova, the creator of Brain Pickings, puts it, “have changed the way we define ourselves as a culture.” We spoke with Popova, and illustrator Congdon, about the inspiration behind their project.
How’d you come up with the name ‘Reconstructionist’?
Maria Popova: It’s very challenging to celebrate women without pigeonholing the project into some stereotypical and alienating feminist corner, the most dangerous part of which is the preaching-to-the-choir quality that many such projects tend to have. So when it was time to come up with a title for the project, it couldn’t be something too literal or too obvious. After sifting through hundreds of letters, diaries, autobiographies, and other writing, I suddenly remembered something Anaïs Nin had written in a 1944 diary entry — about “woman’s role in the reconstruction of the world.” It was perfect. It was the only common denominator between those women – they aren’t all artists, or all writers, or all to be expected in the pages of a tenth-grade history book. They are simply all reconstructionists.