A Digital Archive of 1,800+ Children’s Books from UCLA

In the early 18th century, the novel was seen as a frivolous and trivial form at best, a morally corrupting one at worst. Given that the primary readers of novels were women, the belief smacks of patriarchal condescension and a kind of thought control. Fiction is a place where readers can imaginatively live out fantasies and tragedies through the eyes of an imagined other. Respectable middle-class women were expected instead to read conduct manuals and devotionals.

English novelist Samuel Richardson sought to bring respectability to his art in the form of Pamela in 1740, a novel which began as a conduct manual and whose subtitle rather bluntly states the moral of the story: “Virtue Rewarded.”

This moralizing expressed itself in another literary form as well. Children’s books, such as there were, also tended toward the moralistic and didactic, in attempts to steer their readers away from the dangers of what was then called “enthusiasm.”

“Prior to the mid-eighteenth century,” notes the UCLA Children’s Book Collection—a digital repository of over 1800 children’s books dating from 1728 to 1999—“books were rarely created specifically for children, and children’s reading was generally confined to literature intended for their education and moral edification rather than for their amusement. Religious works, grammar books, and ‘courtesy books’ (which offered instruction on proper behavior) were virtually the only early books directed at children.” But a change was in the making in the middle of the century.

Pamela attracted a ribald, even pornographic, response—most notably in Henry Fielding’s satire An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews and the Marquis de Sade’s Justine Meamwhile, the world of children’s literature also underwent a radical shift. “The notion of pleasure in learning was becoming more widely accepted.” Illustrations, previously “consisting of small woodcut vignettes,” slowly began to move to the fore, and “innovations in typography and printing allowed greater freedom in reproducing art.”

That’s not to say that the didactic attitude was dispelled—we see codes of conduct and overt religious themes embedded in children’s literature throughout the 19th century. But as we pointed out in a post on another children’s book archive from the University of Florida, the more staid and traditional books increasingly competed with adventure stories, works of fantasy, and what we call today Young Adult literature like that of Mark Twain and Louisa May Alcott. You can see this tension in the UCLA collection, between pleasure and duty, leisure and work, and education as moral and social training and as a means of achieving personal freedom.

Of the adult literary imagination of the time, Leo Bersani writes in A Future for Astyanax that “the confrontation in nineteenth-century works between a structured, socially viable and verbally analyzable self and the wish to shatter psychic and social structures produces considerable stress and conflict.” I think we can see a similar conflict, expressed much more playfully, in books for children of the past two hundred years or so. Enter the UCLA collection, which includes not only historic children's books but present-day exhibit catalogs and more, here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

1934 Map Resizes the World to Show Which Country Drinks the Most Tea

Not a day goes by that I don’t use Google Maps for something or other, whether it’s basic navigation, researching an address, or finding a dry cleaner. Though some of us might resent the dominance such mapping technology has over our daily interactions, there’s no denying its endless utility. But maps can be so much more than useful tools for getting around—they are works of art, thought experiments, imaginative flights of fancy, and data visualization tools, to name but a few of their overlapping functions. For the imperialists of previous ages, maps displayed a mastery of the world, whether cataloguing travel times from London to everywhere else on the globe, or—as in the example we have here—resizing countries according to how much tea their people drank.

But this is not a map we should look to for accuracy. Like many such cartographic data charts, it promotes a particular agenda. “George Orwell once wrote that tea was one of the mainstays of civilization,” notes Jack Goodman at Atlas Obscura. “Tea, asserted Orwell, has the power to make one feel braver, wiser, and more optimistic. The man spoke for a nation.” (And he spoke to a nation in a 1946 Evening Standard essay, “A Nice Cup of Tea.”) From the map above, titled “The Tea is Drunk” and published by Fortune Magazine in 1934, we learn, writes Goodman, that “Britain consumed 485,000 pounds of tea per year. That’s one hundred billion cups of tea, or around six cups a day for each person.” We might note however, that “the population of China was then nine times bigger than that of the U.K., and they drank roughly twice as much tea as the Brits did.” Why isn’t China at the center of the map? “The author made a tenuous point about the cultural differences between the two: the Chinese drank tea as a necessity, the British by choice.”

Cornell University library’s description of the map is more forthright: “While China actually consumed twice as much tea as Britain, its position at the edge of the map assured that the focus will be on the British Isles.” That focus is commercial in nature, meant to encourage and inform British tea merchants for whom tea was more than a beverage; it was one of the nation's pre-eminent commodities, though most of what was sold as a national product was Indian tea grown in India. Yet the map brims with pride in the British tea trade. “Thus may be told the geography and allegiance of Tea,” its author proclaims, “an empire within an empire, whose borders follow everywhere the scattered territories of that nation on which the sun never sets.” A little over a decade later, India won its independence, and the empire began to fall apart. But the British never lost their taste for or their national pride in tea. View and download a high-resolution scan of the "Tea is Drunk" map at the Cornell Library site.

via Atlas Obscura

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Expensive Wine Is for Dupes: Scientific Study Finds No Strong Correlation Between Quality & Price

If wine is on your Thanksgiving menu tomorrow, then keep this scientific finding in mind: According to a 2008 study published in the Journal of Wine Economics, the quality of wine doesn't generally correlate with its price. At least not for most people. Written by researchers from Yale, UC Davis and the Stockholm School of Economics, the abstract for the study states:

Individuals who are unaware of the price do not derive more enjoyment from more expensive wine. In a sample of more than 6,000 blind tastings, we find that the correlation between price and overall rating is small and negative, suggesting that individuals on average enjoy more expensive wines slightly less. For individuals with wine training, however, we find indications of a non-negative relationship between price and enjoyment. Our results are robust to the inclusion of individual fixed effects, and are not driven by outliers: when omitting the top and bottom deciles of the price distribution, our qualitative results are strengthened, and the statistical significance is improved further. These findings suggest that non-expert wine consumers should not anticipate greater enjoyment of the intrinsic qualities of a wine simply because it is expensive or is appreciated by experts.

You can read online the complete study, "Do More Expensive Wines Taste Better? Evidence from a Large Sample of Blind Tastings." But if you're looking for something that puts the science into more quotidien English and makes the larger case for keeping your hard-earned cash, watch the video from Vox above.

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See the First Photograph of a Human Being: A Photo Taken by Louis Daguerre (1838)

You’ve likely heard the reason people never smile in very old photographs. Early photography could be an excruciatingly slow process. With exposure times of up to 15 minutes, portrait subjects found it impossible to hold a grin, which could easily slip into a pained grimace and ruin the picture. A few minutes represented marked improvement on the time it took to make the very first photograph, Nicéphore Niépce’s 1826 “heliograph.” Capturing the shapes of light and shadow outside his window, Niépce’s image “required an eight-hour exposure,” notes the Christian Science Monitor, “long enough that the sunlight reflects off both sides of the buildings.”

Niépce’s business and inventing partner is much more well-known: Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, who went on after Niépce’s death in 1833 to develop the Daguerreotype process, patenting it in 1839. That same year, the first selfie was born. And the year prior Daguerre himself took what most believe to be the very first photograph of a human, in a street scene of the Boulevard du Temple in Paris. The image shows us one of Daguerre’s early successful attempts at image-making, in which, writes NPR’s Robert Krulwich, “he exposed a chemically treated metal plate for ten minutes. Others were walking or riding in carriages down that busy street that day, but because they moved, they didn’t show up.”

Visible, however, in the lower left quadrant is a man standing with his hands behind his back, one leg perched on a platform. A closer look reveals the fuzzy outline of the person shining his boots. A much finer-grained analysis of the photograph shows what may be other, less distinct figures, including what looks like two women with a cart or pram, a child’s face in a window, and various other passersby. The photograph marks a historically important period in the development of the medium, one in which photography passed from curiosity to revolutionary technology for both artists and scientists.

Although Daguerre had been working on a reliable method since the 1820s, it wasn’t until 1838, the Metropolitan Museum of Art explains, that his “continued experiments progressed to the point where he felt comfortable showing examples of the new medium to selected artists and scientists in the hope of lining up investors.” Photography’s most popular 19th century use—perhaps then as now—was as a means of capturing faces. But Daguerre’s earliest plates “were still life compositions of plaster casts after antique sculpture,” lending “the ‘aura’ of art to pictures made by mechanical means.” He also took photographs of shells and fossils, demonstrating the medium’s utility for scientific purposes.

If portraits were perhaps less interesting to Daguerre’s investors, they were essential to his successors and admirers. Candid shots of people moving about their daily lives as in this Paris street scene, however, proved next to impossible for several more decades. What was formerly believed to be the oldest such photograph, an 1848 image from Cincinnati, shows what appears to be two men standing at the edge of the Ohio River. It seems as though they’ve come to fetch water, but they must have been standing very still to have appeared so clearly. Photography seemed to stop time, freezing a static moment forever in physical form. Blurred images of people moving through the frame expose the illusion. Even in the stillest, stiffest of images, there is movement, an insight Eadweard Muybridge would make central to his experiments in motion photography just a few decades after Daguerre debuted his world-famous method.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

 

Watch “Alike,” a Poignant Short Animated Film About the Enduring Conflict Between Creativity and Conformity

From Barcelona comes "Alike," a short animated film by Daniel Martínez Lara and Rafa Cano Méndez. Made with Blender, an open-source 3D rendering program, "Alike" has won a heap of awards and clocked an impressive 10 million views on Youtube and Vimeo. A labor of love made over four years, the film revolves around this question: "In a busy life, Copi is a father who tries to teach the right way to his son, Paste. But ... What is the correct path?" To find the answer, they have to let a drama play out. Which will prevail? Creativity? Or conformity? It's an internal conflict we're all familiar with. 

Watch the film when you're not in a rush, when you have seven unburdened minutes to take it in. "Alike" will be added to our list of Free Animations, a subset of our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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via Design Taxi

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60-Second Introductions to 12 Groundbreaking Artists: Matisse, Dalí, Duchamp, Hopper, Pollock, Rothko & More

Some art historians dedicate their entire careers, and indeed lives, to the work of a single artist. But what about those of us who only have a minute to spare? Addressing the demand for the briefest possible primers on the creators of important art, paintings and otherwise, of the past century or so, the Royal Academy of Arts' Painters in 60 Seconds series has published twelve episodes so far. Of those informationally dense videos, you see here the introductions to Salvador Dalí, Marcel Duchamp, Edward Hopper, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko.

Though short, these crash courses do find their way beyond the very basics. "There's more to Dalí," says the Royal Academy of the Arts' Artistic Director Tim Marlow, than "skillfully rendered fever dreams of sex and decay.

He painted one of the twentieth century's great crucifixions, but it's more about physics than religion, and he was as influenced by philosophy as he was by Sigmund Freud." Duchamp's unorthodox and influential ideas "came together in one of the most ambitious works of the 20th century, The Large Glass, an endlessly analyzed work of machine-age erotic symbolism, science, alchemy, and then some."

In the seemingly more staid Depression-era work of Edward Hopper, Marlow points to "a profound contemplation of the world around us. Hopper slows down time and captures a moment of stillness in a frantic world," painted in a time of "deep national self-examination about the very idea of Americanness." Hopper painted the famous Nighthawks in 1942; the next year, and surely on the very other end of some kind of artistic spectrum, Hopper's countryman and near-contemporary Jackson Pollock painted Mural, which shows "the young Pollock working through Picasso, continuing to fracture the architecture of cubism" while "at the same time taking on the lessons of the Mexican muralists like Siqueiros and Orozco."

Yet Mural also "starts to proclaim an originality that is all Pollock's," opening the gateway into his heroic (and well-known) "drip period." Rothko, practicing an equally distinctive but entirely different kind of abstraction, ended up producing "some of the most moving paintings in all of the 20th century: saturated stains of color." Making reference to classical architecture — going back, even, to Stonehenge — his work becomes "a kind of threshold into which you, the viewer, project yourself," but its soft edges also give it a sense of "breathing, pulsating, and sometimes, of dying."

If you happen to have more than a minute available, how could you resist digging a bit deeper into the life and work of an artist like that? Or perhaps you'd prefer to get introduced to another: Henri Matisse or Grant Wood, say, or Kazimir Malevich or Joan Mitchell. You may just find one about whom you want to spend the rest of your years learning.

See all videos, including new ones down the road, at the Painters in 60 Seconds series playlist.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Colorful Maps from 1914 and 2016 Show How Planes & Trains Have Made the World Smaller and Travel Times Quicker

This time of year especially, we complain about the greed and arrogance of airlines, the confusion and inefficiency of airports, and the sardine seating of coach. But we don’t have to go back very far to get a sense of just how truly painful long-distance travel used to be. Just step back a hundred years or so when—unless you were a WWI pilot—you traveled by train or by ship, where all sorts of misadventures might befall you, and where a journey that might now take several dull hours could take several dozen, often very uncomfortable, days. Before railroads crossed the continents, that number could run into the hundreds.

In the early 1840s, for example, notes Simon Willis at The Economist’s 1843 Magazine, “an American dry-goods merchant called Asa Whitney, who lived near New York, travelled to China on business. It took 153 days, which he thought was a waste of time.” It’s probably easier to swallow platitudes about destinations and journeys when the journey doesn’t take up nearly half the year and run the risk of cholera. By 1914, the explosion of railroads had reduced travel times considerably, but they remained at what we would consider intolerable lengths.

We can see just how long it took to get from place to place in the “isochronic map” above (view it in a large format here), which visualizes distances all over the globe. The railways “were well-established,” notes Gizmodo, “in Europe and the U.S., too, making travel far more swift than it had been in the past.” One could reach “the depths of Siberia” from London in under ten days, thanks to the Trans-Siberian Railway. By contrast, in Africa and South America, “any travel inland from the coast took weeks.”

The map, created by royal cartographer John G. Bartholomew, came packaged with several other such tools in An Atlas of Economic Geography, a book, Willis explains, “intended for schoolboys,” containing “everything a thrusting young entrepreneur, imperialist, trader or traveller could need.” All of the distances are measured in “days from London,” and color-coded in the legend below. Dark green areas, such as Sudan, much of Brazil, inland Australia, or Tibet might take over 40 days travel to reach. All of Western Europe is accessible, the map promises, within five days, as are parts of the east coast of the U.S., with parts further Midwest taking up to 10 days to reach.

What might have seemed like wizardry to Walter Raleigh probably sounds like hell on earth to business class denizens everywhere. How do these journeys compare to the current age of rapid air travel? Rome2rio, a “comprehensive global trip planner,” aimed to find out by recreating Bartholomew’s map, updated to 2016 standards. You can see, just above (or expanded here), the same view of the world from its onetime imperialist center, London, with the same color-coded legend below, “Distances in Days from London.” And yet here, a journey to most places will take less than a day, with certain outer reaches—Siberia, Greenland, the Arctic Circle, stretching into two, maybe three.

Should we have reason to complain, when those of us who do travel—or who must—have it so easy compared to the danger, boredom, and general unpleasantness of long-distance travel even one-hundred years ago? The question presumes humans are capable of not complaining about travel. Such complaint may form the basis of an ancient literary tradition, when heroes ventured over vast terrain, slaying monsters, solving riddles, making friends, lovers, and enemies…. The epic dimensions of historic travel can seem quaint compared to the sterile tedium of airport terminals. But just maybe—as in those long sea and railway voyages that could span several months—we can discover a kind of romance amidst the queasy food courts, tacky gift shops, and motorized moving walkways.

via  1843 Magazine

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

What Made Freddie Mercury the Greatest Vocalist in Rock History? The Secrets Revealed in a Short Video Essay

I wasn’t always a Queen fan. Having cut my music fan teeth on especially downbeat, miserable bands like Joy Division, The Cure, and The Smiths, I couldn’t quite dig the unabashed sentimentality and operatic bombast. Like one of the “Kids React to Queen” kids, I found myself asking, “What is this?” What turned me around? Maybe it was the first time I heard Queen’s theme song for Flash Gordon. The 1980 space opera is most remarkable for Max von Sydow’s turn as Ming the Merciless, and for those bursts of Freddie Mercury and his mates’ multi-tracked voices, explosions of syncopated angel song, announcing the coming of the eighties with all the high camp of Rocky Horror and the rock confidence of Robert Plant.

As a frontman Mercury had so much more than the perfect style and stance—though he did own every stage he set foot on. He had a voice that commanded attention, even from mopey new wave teenagers vibrating on Ian Curtis’s frequency. What makes Mercury's voice so compelling—as most would say, the greatest vocalist in all of rock history? One recent scientific study concluded that Mercury’s physical method of singing resembled that of Tuvan throat singers.

He was able to create a faster vibrato and several more layers of harmonics than anyone else. The video above from Polyphonic adds more to the explanation, quoting opera soprano Montserrat Caballé, with whom Mercury recorded an album in 1988. In addition to his incredible range, Mercury “was able to slide effortlessly from a register to another,” she remarked. Though Mercury was naturally a baritone, he primarily sang as a tenor, and had no difficulty, as we know, with soprano parts.

Mercury was a great performer—and he was a great performative vocalist, meaning, Caballé says, that “he was selling the voice…. His phrasing was subtle, delicate and sweet or energetic and slamming. He was able to find the right colour or expressive nuance for each word.” He had incredible discipline and control over his instrument, and an underrated rhythmic sensibility, essential for a rock singer to convincingly take on rockabilly, gospel, disco, funk, and opera as well as the blues-based hard rock Queen so easily mastered. No style of music eluded him, except perhaps for those that call for a certain kind of vocalist who can’t actually sing.

That’s the rub with Queen—they were so good at everything they did that they can be more than a little overwhelming. Watch the rest of the video to learn more about how Mercury’s superhuman vibrato produced sounds almost no other human can make; see more of Polyphonic’s music analysis of one-of-a-kind musicians at our previous posts on Leonard Cohen and David Bowie’s final albums and John Bonham’s drumming; and just below, hear all of those Mercury qualities—the vibrato, the perfect timing, and the expressive performativity—in the isolated vocal track from “I Want to Break Free” just below.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

An Artist with Synesthesia Turns Jazz & Rock Classics Into Colorful Abstract Paintings

For those in the arts, few moments are more blissful than those spent “in the zone,” those times when the words or images or notes flow unimpeded, the artist functioning as more conduit than creator.

Viewed in this light, artist Melissa McCracken’s chromesthesia—or sound-to-color synesthesia—is a gift. Since birth, this rare neurological phenomenon has caused her to see colors while listening to music, an experience she likens to visualizing one’s memories.

Trained as a psychologist, she has made a name for herself as an abstract painter by transferring her colorful neurological associations onto canvas.

John Lennon’s "Julia" yields an impasto flame across a pale green field.

The bold daffodil and phlox hues of Jimi Hendrix’s "Little Wing" could have sprung from Monet’s garden at Giverny.

McCracken told Broadly that chromesthetes’ color associations vary from individual to individual, though her own experience of a particular song only wavers when she is focusing on a particular element, such as a bass line she’s never paid attention to before.

While her portfolio suggests a woman of catholic musical tastes, colorwise, she does tend to favor certain genres and instruments:

Expressive music such as funk is a lot more colorful, with all the different instruments, melodies, and rhythms creating a highly saturated effect. Guitars are generally golden and angled, and piano is more marbled and jerky because of the chords. I rarely paint acoustic music because it's often just one person playing guitar and singing, and I never paint country songs because they're boring muted browns.

Her favorite kind of music, jazz, almost always presents itself to her in shades of gold and blue, leading one to wonder if perhaps the Utah Jazz’s uniform redesign has a synesthetic element.

Certainly, there are a large number of musicians—including Duke Ellington, Kanye West, and Billy Joel—for whom color and music are inextricably linked.

View Melissa McCracken’s portfolio here.

via Broadly

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

New “Women of NASA” Lego Immortalizes the STEM Contributions of Sally Ride, Margaret Hamilton, Mae Jemison & Nancy Grace Roman

Earlier this year, the Lego company announced that it would produce a Women of NASA Lego set, based on a proposal it received from science writer Maia Weinstock. In that proposal, Weinstock wrote: "Women have played critical roles throughout the history of the U.S. space program, a.k.a. NASA or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Yet in many cases, their contributions are unknown or under-appreciated — especially as women have historically struggled to gain acceptance in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)."

Now on the market, the new Lego set immortalizes the contributions of NASA astronauts Sally Ride and Mae Jemison; astronomer Nancy Grace Roman; and computer scientist Margaret Hamilton, who we featured here this past summer. The video above gives you a complete walk-through, showing you, for example, Hamilton standing next to the large pile of source code that powered the Apollo mission (just as she did in this historic photo). Or you'll see Nancy Grace Roman accompanied by a posable Hubble Space Telescope and a projected image of a planetary nebula. The video closes with some commentary on the social merits of this new Lego set, which you may or may not agree with.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

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