Category Archives: History

Stunning Portraits Of The World’s Remotest Tribes Before they Disappear

Living in a concrete box with hot water pouring from the tap, a refrigerator cooling our food and wi-fi connecting us to the rest of the world, we can barely imagine a day in a life of, say, Tsaatan people. They move 5 to 10 times per year, building huts when the temperature is -40 and herding reindeer for transportation, clothing and food. “Before They Pass Away,” a long-term project by photographer Jimmy Nelson, gives us the unique opportunity to discover more than 30 secluded and slowly vanishing tribes from all over the world.

Spending 2 weeks in each tribe, Jimmy became acquainted with their time-honoured traditions, joined their rituals and captured it all in a very appealing way. His detailed photographs showcase unique jewellery, hairstyles and clothing, not to forget the surroundings and cultural elements most important to each tribe, like horses for Gauchos. According to Nelson, his mission was to assure that the world never forgets how things used to be: “Most importantly, I wanted to create an ambitious aesthetic photographic document that would stand the test of time. A body of work that would be an irreplaceable ethnographic record of a fast disappearing world.”

All of his snapshots now lie in a massive book and will be extended by a film (you can see a short introduction video below). So embark on a journey to the most remote corners and meet the witnesses of a disappearing world. Would you give up your smartphone, internet and TV to live free like them?


Kazakh, Mongolia

Himba, Namibia

Huli, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea

Asaro, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea

Kalam, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea

Goroka, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea

Chukchi, Russia

Maori, New Zealand

Gauchos, Argentina

Tsaatan, Mongolia

Samburu, Kenya

Rabari, India

Mursi, Ethiopia

Ladakhi, India

Vanuatu, Vanuatu Islands

Drokpa, India

Dassanech, Ethiopia

Karo, Ethiopia

Banna, Ethiopia

Dani, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea

Maasai, Tanzania

Nenets, Russia

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Ordering the Heavens: A Visual History of Mapping the Universe

Maria Popova via Brain Pickings



From Copernicus to Ancient Korea, or what the Chinese concept of change has to do with Aztec astrology.

The love of maps is a running theme here atBrain Pickings, from these 7 must-read books on creative cartography to, most recently, BBC’s fantastic documentary on important medieval maps. Humanity’s long history of visual sensemaking is as much a source of timeless inspiration as a living record of how our collective understanding of the universe and our place in it evolved. It seems like the farther from the known mapmakers’ imaginations traveled, the more fascinating their maps became. And hardly does the unknown glimmer with more alluring sparkle than the cosmos. Explaining and Ordering the Heavens is a fantastic online exhibition from The Library of Congress, examining over 8 centuries of humanity’s evolving views of the universe, from ancient Buddhist cosmological maps to Galileo’s seminal work in astronomy to Persian celestial globes and more. Gathered here is a curated selection of images from the exhibition, alongside the original caption text accompanying them.


The Emperor’s Astronomy

Petrus Apianus. Astronomicum Caesareum. (The Emperor’s Astronomy). Ingolstadt, Germany: 1540.

The ‘Emperor’s Astronomy'(dedicated to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V) elegantly depicts the cosmos and heavens according to the 1400-year-old Ptolemaic system, which maintained that the sun revolved around the earth. By means of hand-colored maps and moveable paper parts (volvelles), Petrus Apianus (1495-1552) laid out the mechanics of a universe that was earth- and human-centered. Within three years of Apianus’s book, this view was challenged by Copernicus’s assertion that the earth revolved around the sun, making this elaborate publication outdated.



Popular Sixteenth-Century Scientific Work

Petrus Apianus and Gemma Frisius. Cosmographia, Petri Apiani. additis euisdem argumenti libellis ipsius Gemmaa Frisii. (Cosmographia of Petrus Apianus,carefully corrected and with all errors set to right by Gemma Frisius.) Antwerp: Arnoldi Birckmanni, 1564.

Cosmographia (1524) by German mathematician Petrus Apianus (1492-1552) provides a layman’s introduction to subjects such as astronomy, geography, cartography, surveying, navigation, and mathematical instruments. In this popular edition with changes by another noted mathematician, Gemma Frisius (1508-1555), movable paper instruments (volvelles) enabled readers to solve calendar problems and find the positions of the sun, moon, and the planets. Apianus depicted the cosmos according to the 1400-year-old Ptolemaic system, which maintained that the sun revolved around the earth, a theory challenged by Nicolas Copernicus (1473-1543) in Apianus’s lifetime.



A Heliocentric Cosmos

Nicolaus Copernicus. De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, Libri VI. Nuremberg: Ioh. Petreius, 1543.

This volume is the first edition of the work that set forth evidence that the earth and other planets revolve around the sun. Written by Polish astronomer, Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), and published just before his death, the work was met by tremendous opposition because it contradicted religious beliefs of the time. The Copernican views provided the basis for the later work of Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), Galileo (1564-1642), and Isaac Newton (1642-1727).




Ancient Chinese Concept of Change

The Astronomical Phenomena. (Tien Yuan Fa Wei). Compiled by Bao Yunlong in the 13th century. Ming Dynasty edition, 1457-1463.

The book is an explanation of the ‘Ba Gua’ used in the Yi-ching (I Ching or Classic of Changes, also known as the Book of Divination). According to this Chinese world view, the universe is run by a single principle, the Tao, or Great Ultimate. This principle is divided into two opposite principles–yin and yang. All phenomena can be understood using yin-yang and five associated agents, which affect the movements of the stars, the workings of the body, the nature of foods, the qualities of music, the ethical qualities of humans, the progress of time, the operations of government, and even the nature of historical change.



Earth-Centered Universe View

William Cuningham. ‘Coelifer Atlas’ from The Cosmographical Glasse. London: John Day, 1559.

This illustration from William Cuningham’s The Cosmographical Glasse (1559) represents Ptolemy’s conception of the universe. Atlas, dressed like an ancient king, bears on his shoulders an armillary sphere representing the universe. In the center of the sphere is earth, made up of the elements of earth and water. Surrounding the earth are two more elemental spheres, for air and for fire. Other bands represent the spheres of the planets, the firmament of fixed stars, the crystalline sphere, the primum mobile, and the signs of the zodiac. Below Atlas are lines on cosmological themes from Virgil’s Aeneid.




Descartes’s Mechanical Philosophy

René Descartes. Principia philosophiae. Amsterdam: Apud L. Elzevirium, 1644.

According to French philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650), the universe operated as a continuously running machine which God had set in motion. Since he rejected Newton’s theory of gravity and idea of a vacuum in space, Descartes argued that instead the universe was composed of a ‘subtle matter’ he named ‘plenum,’ which swirled in vortices like whirlpools and actually moved the planets by contact. Here, these vortices carry the planets around the Sun.



First Atlas of the Moon

Johannes Hevelius. Selenographia sive lunae descriptio, atque accurata tum macularum eius, quam motuum diversorum. Danzig: Hunefeldianis, 1647.

Before the revolutionary, sun-centered ideas of Copernicus, the traditional geocentric or earth-centered universe was usually depicted by concentric circles. In this popular German work on natural history, medicine, and science, Konrad von Megenberg (1309-1374) depicted the universe in a most unusual but effective manner. The seven known planets are contained within straight horizontal bands which separate the Earth below from Heaven, populated by the saints, above.



Picturing the Universe

Konrad von Megenberg, Buch der Natur (Book of Nature). Augsberg: Johannes Bämler, 1481.

Before the revolutionary, sun-centered ideas of Copernicus, the traditional geocentric or earth-centered universe was usually depicted by concentric circles. In this popular German work on natural history, medicine, and science, Konrad von Megenberg (1309-1374) depicted the universe in a most unusual but effective manner. The seven known planets are contained within straight horizontal bands which separate the Earth below from Heaven, populated by the saints, above.



Buddhist Cosmological Map

Sekai dais no zu (Buddhist Cosmological Map). Japan: 1830

This map represents the Buddhist mythological and real worlds. The upper half of the map depicts the seven great forests interwoven with seven rivers, the Sun God Palace, and the ‘Great Jambu Tree.’ The tree is described as 10,000 miles high and bearing the most delicious fruits. Only those who cultivated the divine power can visit the tree. The central section is the Sun God Palace in heaven.



Traditional Korean Maps

Chonhado (World Map) from Chonha Chido (Map of the World).Hand-copied manuscript map. Korea: mid-eighteenth century.

From the oldest known examples (perhaps from the sixteenth century) to almost the end of the tradition in the nineteenth century, the content and structure of traditional Korean maps such as these examples changed very little. The map of the world (or Chonhado) presents Korea, China, and their East Asian neighbors surrounded by rings of exotic, mythical lands and peoples and reflects the traditional Korean view that the world was flat. Being a peninsula, Korea stood out on the map and was close to China, the classical center of Asian civilization.



Tibetan Astrological Thangka

Srid pa ho (Divination Chart). Tibet, late twentieth century. Paint on cloth.

Tibetan astrology depicts the signs and symbols of the universe in this traditional format, possibly introduced from China as early as the seventh century and popular in Tibet since the seventeenth century. The central figure is a large golden tortoise, representing the Bodhisattva of Knowledge, upon whom are drawn various geomantic diagrams, such as the nine magic squares and symbols of the eight planets. This type of Thangka is often hung in homes for protection and displayed for special occasions.



Constellations from Classical Antiquity

Reiner Ottens. Atlas maior cvm generales omnivm totius orbis regnorvm. Amsterdam: 1729. Hand-colored engraving.

The star charts of Reiner Ottens (1698-1750) were intended first and foremost as a feast for the eye and had no pretensions to scientific precision or the presentation of the most recent cartographic information. The constellations on this chart are elaborately represented by figures from classical antiquity. In the corners of the chart are illustrations of four European observatories, including that of the noted sixteenth-century astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546-1601). This atlas is a seven-volume compendium of assembled-to-order star charts and geographical maps.



Aztec Calendar Stone

Antonio de León y Gama. Descripción histórica y cronológica de las dos piedras. Mexico City: F. Zuniga y Ontiveros, 1792.

In 1790 workers repaving near the Cathedral in Mexico City discovered a stone eleven and one-half feet in diameter inscribed with the Aztec calendar. When in use, the stone would have had bright polychrome colors and would have held sacrificed human hearts that the Aztecs believed were needed to feed the sun and keep civilization alive. This first study (pictured to the left) of the stone explained its 260-day divinatory cycle. The stone’s colossal size, elaborate patterning, and symbolic imagery have made it an unofficial emblem of Mexico.



Omens in the Sun

Burmese astronomical-astrological manuscript, mid-nineteenth century. Accordion-style paper manuscript.

This manuscript of the mid-nineteenth century, possibly of Sgau Karen origin (the Karen are a minority people in the mountainous parts of Burma), shows various appearances in the sun, the moon, clouds, etc., and indicates the primarily bad omens these appearances foretell. Explanations in English were added to this manuscript by a nineteenth-century American missionary.



Astronomy Cards

Jehoshaphat Aspin. A Familiar Treatise on Astronomy. London, 1825.

An unidentified lady, referred to by her nom-de-plume, Jehoshaphat Aspin, designed these whimsical astronomy cards. Most of the names of the zodiacal constellations date from the early Babylonian period, possibly from the Sumerians. The zodiac itself is a mathematical concept, which does not appear to be in use prior to 400 B.C. It provides a frame of reference in which the positions of the sun, moon, and planets could be expressed by their angular distance from the beginning of the sign in which they were located.


See more gems in the Library of Congress online exhibition. You can read more about how the exhibition was envisioned, curated and brought to life here.

Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia cathedral completed in 60 seconds (virtually, of course)

When Antoni Gaudí began work on the Sagrada Familia cathedral in 1883, it was already a neo-Gothic work-in-progress; another architect had begun constructing it a year before. But Gaudí swiftly began imposing elements of his singular organic, nature-inspired sensibility upon the structure, as well as designing furniture and objects for the interior.

Gaudí toiled for the remainder of his life on the project, turning down other commissions to focus solely on the church starting in 1914. He worked and lived on site in his final years before being struck down by a tram in 1926 at age 73.

But while he labored over this grandiose monument to Catholicism—one that has in turn become a shrine to his own genius and a symbol of the city of Barcelona itself—Gaudí only completed around 25 percent of what has always been a privately funded work. What’s more, he wasn’t in a rush to finish. “The work of the Sagrada Família progresses slowly because the master of this work is in no great hurry,” he once said, suggesting that his project’s slow progress was not only due to a lack of manpower or means.

In recent decades, construction has been guided by architect Jordi Bonet, whose own father had worked under Gaudí, and by architect Jordi Faulí, who took on the role in May. Throughout, there has been controversy about how to carry out Gaudí’s original ideas. Some people seem bent on executing an absolute interpretation of Gaudí’s vision, guided by the writing, sketches and drawings that survived the Spanish Civil War. In 2008, a group of Catalan architects even suggested halting work altogether in order to preserve Gaudí’s authorship. Others believe that Gaudí left the plans open to collaborators from future generations who would ultimately be responsible for finishing what he had started.

And now, thanks to the magic of computer-rendered animation, what Gaudí could not complete in a lifetime is virtually realized in the space of a one-minute YouTube video released by the Sagrada Familia foundation. The stunning video uses digitally enhanced helicopter footage to magically fill in the future outlines of Gaudí’s dream. It shows the completed church as Gaudí envisioned it, with its 18 towers dedicated to various religious figures. The foundation projects the work will be completed by the 100-year anniversary of Gaudí’s death, in 2026.

The video offers a thrilling voyage into the future. But it’s also a pointed reminder that much of the magic of the UNESCO World Heritage Site for the 2.5 million who visit each year lies in its semi-realized state. The world has long known the poetry of half-bombed churches and other ruins, but how often does modern civilization have a chance to witness in slow motion as a great building is built? Not a skyscraper that might take years, but a historic building that has been in the works for more than a century?

Even unfinished, Sagrada Familia is a masterpiece, the crown jewel in Barcelona’s architectural landscape. This living monument that began as an homage to the life of Christ has ended up becoming a testament to the divine possibilities of the human imagination.

I remember the spell the structure cast when I visited 15 years ago, climbing its staircases and struggling to envision what it would eventually become, marveling at what was already there, noting the sacrilegious presence of a Coke machine for the tourists. Now that we’ve seen the video, has some of the mystery been lost? Now that we can picture what it’s going to look like, does it really need to be finished?

By Kristin Hohenadel via Slate

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The Search for Edgar Allan Poe’s Secret Poems

Edgar-Allan-Poe_1249986cSometimes, as Edgar Allan Poe mused in “The Purloined Letter,” a secret hides in plain sight. After Poe’s first poetry collection, “Tamerlane and Other Poems,” débuted in 1827—anonymously, and quite sensibly so, as the eighteen-year-old author was on the run from creditors—two of his poems (“The Happiest Day” and “Dreams”) reappeared that autumn in the North American, a short-lived weekly newspaper in Baltimore. They didn’t run with Edgar’s name, though, but under the initials W.H.P.—William Henry Leonard Poe.

Few readers know that Edgar had an older brother. Typically going by the name Henry, he was a poet, like his famous sibling, and a hard-drinking sailor. Orphaned and raised apart, the two reunited in adulthood and roomed together in Baltimore, where Henry staggered from alcoholism into an early death at the age of twenty-four, in 1831. Aside from a 1926 collection (“Poe’s Brother”) issued in a thousand copies, Henry’s slender body of work has never been reprinted, and he remains the most obscure corner of Poe studies.

For more than thirty years, Henry’s initials hid those two poems by Edgar, and it was by sheer luck that their true authorship was uncovered. Without the discovery in 1859 of “Tamerlane and Other Poems,” neither “Dreams” nor “The Happiest Day” would be known today as attributable to Edgar. But why had they run under Henry’s name in the North American? Most likely, Edgar was still hiding from creditors, since he’d vanished altogether by enlisting in the Army under an assumed name—as “Henri,” in fact.

But Henry Poe’s North American work also includes pieces of prose. “Monte Video” is a travel letter about Henry’s experiences as a sailor, but the other three—“The Pirate,” “Recollections,” and “A Fragment”—are fiction. The editors of the 1926 reprint of Henry’s work claimed, on no particular evidence, that he based the maritime drama of “The Pirate” on an early love affair of Edgar’s. More perceptively, they ventured that “some of the sentences seem to indicate that Edgar may have written the tale at least in part.” (It helps that the title character announces himself thus: “I am Edgar Leonard!”) “Recollections,” perhaps tellingly, recounts travelling abroad to find a long-lost brother named Leonard. But these hints were pursued no further by the editors in 1926—and one tale to run in North American, “A Fragment,” was pretty well ignored.

Yet it is strangely familiar. At just five hundred and forty-two words, “A Fragment” is a fevered first-person account by a despairing man about to shoot himself: “Heavens! my hand does tremble—No! tis only the flickering of the lamp. … No more—the pistol—I have loaded it—the balls are new—quite bright—they will soon be in my heart—Incomprehensible death—what art thou? …” Influenced by the suspenseful “Blackwood’s tales” of the day, right down to a ludicrous only-a-dream ending, it’s remarkably similar to the mad, insistent narrators of Edgar’s work.

Bear in mind that “Metzengerstein,” an 1832 Gothic tale of a family feud, is considered Edgar’s first fiction. And yet here, five years earlier—in what is ostensibly Henry’s only stint as a short-story writer—are three pieces worthy of an eighteen-year-old Edgar, and evincing elements of his later work. Edgar was, in fact, trying to start a writing career in 1827: the one account of his teen-age attempt to go it alone in Boston noted that his landlady “had no patience with a boarder who sat up nights writing on paper which he could not afterward sell … He then tried literary work, but failed to obtain employment on any of the large journals.” These three stories might be the remains of that failed effort—or they might indeed be by his older brother. So the puzzle becomes not whether the North American stories are Poe’s first published fiction: they are.

But which Poe?

In a past era, any suspicions about Edgar’s authorship of these pieces would be dutifully wrapped in supporting quotes and biographical context—and short of finding other documentation, that would be the end of it. But as J. K. Rowling discovered recently with the unmasking of “The Cuckoo’s Calling,” author attribution is becoming a very different game altogether. “The Professor Who Declared, It’s J.K. Rowling” announced a headline in the aftermath of Rowling’s confession. Patrick Juola is not a lit professor: he teaches computer science at Duquesne University, where he’s developed JGAAP, the Java Graphical Author Attribution Program.The idea behind the software, called stylometry, is an old one: the mathematician Augustus De Morgan proposed in 1851 that authorship might be sussed out through word frequencies, and the early nineteen-sixties saw the use of manual counts to determine authorship of the Federalist Papers—researchers noticed, for instance, that Hamilton used “while” and Madison used “whilst.” Modern stylometrists can deploy programs to seek subtle patterns in how individuals tend to use language—for instance, the recourse to certain chunks of words (“word stems”), as well as clustered “n-grams” of characters, words, and parts of speech. By comparing an unknown text to a group of known texts, the program can then rank the known authors by similarity. “The Cuckoo’s Calling,” for instance, was compared with work by Rowling, Ruth Rendell, P. D. James, and Val McDermid. While Rowling didn’t score No. 1 on every test—McDermid did well on some measures—Rowling had a high rank consistently across different measures. Once confronted, she confessed.

Could it work for Poe, too?

Though JGAAP’s options are bewildering to the newcomer, the basics are simple. You enter the unknown and known texts; then you apply “canonizers” that strip noise like extra spacing and case from the work. Then you choose which language events to look for, and which algorithmic drivers to analyze patterns with. The result is a ranked list, with No. 1 as the closest resemblance to the unknown work. After I prepared a set of texts, I emailed Professor Juola, unsure of which algorithmic drivers to apply. “Probably our best overall analysis method, time-tested and all that, is the Author Centroid Driver,” Professor Juola advised. “You can use it with a lot of different methods and distance functions.”

Any one test isn’t a reliable indication of authorship. But with a likely author, the results across multiple tests start to show a pattern. And with Edgar Allan Poe and six other comparable authors placed in comparison to Henry’s prose works, Juola pointed out, there was a specific set of ranks to look for if Edgar was the likely author: namely, the top three, and particularly the first or second rank. “What you want to see, ideally, is that Edgar comes out as the most likely author every time,” Juola noted. “You won’t see this, but if he comes out as the most likely or second most likely almost every time, it’s still highly likely that it’s him.”

For my analysis of Henry’s collected fiction, I picked as my known texts works by Poe and six contemporaries: “The Last of the Mohicans, ” by James Fenimore Cooper; “Twice-Told Tales,” by Nathaniel Hawthorne; “The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon,” by Washington Irving; “The Quaker City,” by George Lippard; “Idiosyncrasies,” by John Neal; “The Wigwam and the Cabin,” by William Gilmore Simms; and Poe’s “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque.”To keep the computer from crashing, I used the first ten thousand words of each work—a good sample size. Simple matters of timing meant that some of these authors couldn’t have created Henry Poe’s prose, but no matter: they were, in the parlance of stylometry, my distracters. If Edgar could consistently rank above his peers, then maybe I had my author. After selecting for word occurrences, word stems, and n-grams for parts of speech, characters, and words, I used Juola’s recommendations for a driver (“Centroid”), for functions (“Cosine,” “Histogram,” and “Manhattan”), for a culler (“Most Common Event”), and then clicked the final screen’s button:PROCESS.

For a moment my computer appeared frozen, and my heart sank. Then came my first screen of results. I scrolled down through fifteen different test outcomes: Edgar, Edgar, Edgar, Edgar. It was a shutout: he’d swept all the No. 1 rankings.

To be fair, I hadn’t included Henry in this round. The one prose work that is biographically specific to him, “Monte Video,” is problematic—at only one thousand two hundred and sixty-three words, it’s not an ideal sample. Still, this time I ran the test again with Henry taking over James Fenimore Cooper’s slot. Edgar’s ranks didn’t budge, and Henry’s did not look especially promising: six, six, six, four, five, three, four, two, two, two, two, three, four, three.

So to the extent that his sample size could be trusted, the alleged author of this work was scoring an average rank of 3.86 out of seven—or about what one would expect from a random distracter.

The results were good for Edgar—so good that I became suspicious. Would JGAAP correctly identify a known Edgar Allan Poe story? I tossed “The Pit and Pendulum” in as the unknown text, and sure enough, Edgar’s “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque” sample (which did not include the story) came up as the favorite—he had nine out of fifteen possible No. 1 rankings. Remarkably, this also meant that JGAAP had ranked Edgar higher for authoring Henry’s stories than for one of his own.

If Henry’s stories are really Edgar Allan Poe’s, though, then why did they remain unattributed, even after Edgar would have no longer needed to hide his authorship?

That may be the simplest question to answer. 1827 was a turbulent year for Edgar, who even at the best of times could neglect his manuscripts. The 1841 copy of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” exists only because a printer’s apprentice saved it from a wastebasket. (It was stillnearly incinerated on three different occasions in the following decades.) Edgar later resorted to borrowing an old copy of the Southern Literary Messenger to retrieve work for “The Raven and Other Poems”; he also had to borrow his own 1829 volume, “Poems,” from a cousin. Tracking down the North American would hardly have been so simple—it collapsed after just twenty-eight issues. For Poe, finding prose juvenilia from 1827 simply may not have been worth his effort.

But are they his works? I found that Edgar still remained on top when run against an entirely different set of distracters. Assembling everyone into a fifteen-author battle royal still couldn’t dislodge Edgar from his perch—along with Henry and the original seven, there was N. P. Willis, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Robert Montgomery Bird, Lydia Maria Child, Charles Fenno Hoffman, Augustus Longstreet, and John Pendleton Kennedy. But when I changed Edgar’s comparison sample to the next ten-thousand words of “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque,” his ranking finally got dented. Even so, he remained the top pick in some runs, and among likely authors over all.

So the results are suggestive—but perhaps they are only that. Sample sizes and the choice of texts can be treacherous things. As Juola himself has pointed out, even his results for J. K. Rowling were ultimately resolved by a living author’s confession. “In the event that we were studying a long-dead author,” he mused, “this is the kind of thing that could and would be argued about in the journals for decades.” In the hands of a novice, maybe stylometric software can’t produce certainties, but it can inspire good questions—not just about attribution, but about the subtle currents of language that run even deeper than subject matter or genre.

As I finished my JGAAP session, I had a bit of fun with it: what if I threw Edgar’s “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque” into the hopper as the unknown, and then removed him from known authors? In short, which contemporary would JGAAP pick as its likely author if it didn’t know Edgar existed? I clicked, and my eyebrows went up. A dutiful guess of Irving or Hawthorne, it turns out, would be wrong. But then, so was my own guess of George Lippard or John Neal. The work’s overwhelming affinity was with John Pendleton Kennedy, who judged the 1833 story contest that handed Edgar Allan Poe his first big break—and made him a known author at last.


By Paul Collins via the New Yorker


Che Guevara’s Letter to his Children: Grow up as Good Revolutionaries

In 1955, Argentinean-born Che Guevara met Fidel Castro and quickly joined his efforts to oust Fulgencio Batista as leader of Cuba — a revolution in which he would go on to play a major role and which would lead to Guevara becoming Finance Minister under Castro’s rule. By 1965, Guevara was keen to spread his revolutionary ideas: he began by travelling to the Congo where he unsuccessfully attempted to train rebel forces in the area; he then moved on to Bolivia, where he was ultimately captured by the Bolivian army and later, in 1967, executed on the orders of President René Barrientos.

Before he left for Bolivia, Guevara secretly visited his wife back in Cuba and gave her a letter, to be read by his five children in the event of his death; the next year, he wrote a similar letter just for his eldest daughter, Hilda. Both are below.


To my children

Dear Hildita, Aleidita, Camilo, Celia, And Ernesto,

If you ever have to read this letter, it will be because I am no longer with you. You practically will not remember me, and the smaller ones will not remember me at all.

Your father has been a man who acted on his beliefs and has certainly been loyal to his convictions.

Grow up as good revolutionaries. Study hard so that you can master technology, which allows us to master nature. Remember that the revolution is what is important, and each one of us, alone is worth nothing.

Above all, always be capable of feeling deeply any injustice committed against anyone, anywhere in the world. This is the most beautiful quality in a revolutionary.

Until forever, my children. I still hope to see you.

A great big kiss and a big hug from,



February 15. 1966

Dearest Hildita,

I am writing you now, although you’ll receive this letter much later. But I want you to know that I am thinking about you and I hope you’re having a very happy birthday. You are almost a woman now, and I cannot write to you the way I write to the little ones, telling them silly things or little fibs.

You must know that I am still far away and will be gone for quite some time, doing what I can to fight against our enemies. Not that it is a great thing, but I am doing something, and I think you will always be proud of your father, as I am of you.

Remember, there are many years of struggle ahead, and even when you are a woman, you will have to do your part in the struggle. Meanwhile, you have to prepare yourself, be very revolutionary-which at your age means to learn a lot, as much as possible, and always be ready to support just causes. Also, obey your mother and don’t think that you know it all too soon. That will come in time.

You should fight to be among the best in school. The best in every sense, and you already know what that means; study and revolutionary attitude. In other words: good conduct, seriousness, love for the revolution, comradeship, etc.

I was not that way at your age, but I lived in a different society, where man was an enemy of man. Now you have the privilege of living in another era and you must be worthy of it.

Don’t forget to go by the house to keep an eye on the other kids and advise them to study and behave themselves. Especially Aleldita, who pays a lot of attention to you as her older sister.

All right, old lady. Again I hope you are very happy on your birthday. Give a hug to your mother and to Gina. I give you a great big strong one to last as long as we don’t see each other.

Your Papa

Original article:  Letters of Note

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When Sartre and Camus Met Hoover’s G-Men

By D. D. GUTTENPLAN via the New York TImes

Jean-Paul Sartre expounding on his idea of ''littérature engagée,'' or ''committed literature,''  in 1945, at the Maison Française of Columbia University, New York.

Jean-Paul Sartre expounding on his idea of ”littérature engagée,” or ”committed literature,” in 1945, at the Maison Française of Columbia University, New York.

In April 1945, while World War II still raged in Europe and Asia, an emissary from recently liberated Paris arrived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The setting was the Maison Française at Columbia University, a town house on 117th Street devoted to bringing French thought and French thinkers to New York. The messenger was Jean-Paul Sartre, not yet 40 years old, but already acclaimed as a playwright and philosopher. His message, delivered in a seminal lecture later published in Vogue magazine: “Literature is no fancy activity independent of politics.”

Expressing for the first time to a public audience his idea of “littérature engagée,” or “committed literature,” Sartre held up his friend, the novelistAlbert Camus, as a model of a writer who, far from turning his back on conflict and controversy, was fully involved in the burning questions of his day. Sartre himself was in New York on assignment for Combat, the clandestine French resistance newspaper edited by Camus.

A year later, in March 1946, it was Camus’s turn to visit New York. According to Andy Martin, the author of “The Boxer and the Goalkeeper: Sartre versus Camus,” both men’s lectures at Columbia University were well attended by students and faculty members — and by agents from J. Edgar Hoover’s F.B.I.

Later, Sartre and Camus would quarrel over Soviet communism and the political use of violence, but at that time they were comrades of the left. Yet Sartre, on his visit, was actually invited to the Pentagon; Camus, in contrast, “was stopped at immigration,” said Mr. Martin by telephone. “Hoover sent out a ‘stop letter’ to all U.S. customs agents saying this man should be detained,” Mr. Martin said. Eventually, Camus was allowed to proceed to New York, where his novel “L’Étranger” (“The Stranger”) had just been published in English.

On Sep. 18, Mr. Martin will give a talk at Columbia on “The F.B.I. and French Philosophers,” discussing what happened when Hoover’s G-men met France’s leading Existentialists. The lecture is part of an exhibition and events, starting Sep. 10, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Maison Française.

The idea of a home for French culture on a U.S. campus was the brainchild of Nicholas Murray Butler, the president of Columbia University from 1902 to 1945. “Butler had lived in Germany and France after he finished his own studies here,” said Shanny Peer, the current director of the Maison Française. “He used to boast: ‘I know every important man in France,’ which was probably true,” she said. “He was also president and founder of the France-America Society, whose membership was a who’s who of New York society.”

When it came to campus outposts, the Germans got there first: The Deutsches Haus at Columbia was founded in 1911. The Maison Française came two years later, after an agreement between Butler and Louis Liard, the head of the Sorbonne in Paris.

A. Barton Hepburn, the New York banker who donated the house on 117th Street — the institute has since moved to nearby Buell Hall — told Butler that he wanted “to place the French interests in this city on a par with the German,” according to an essay in the exhibition catalogue written by Ms. Peer.

The university also organized what may have been the first U.S. study abroad programs, sending students and faculty members on tours of Paris and the French provinces.

“The idea was to create a network of elites in France and America,” said Ms. Peer. For France, the motivation was clear: to make sure that in the event of a war with Germany, the United States would side with the French.

When World War I broke out in 1914, J.P. Morgan, the treasurer of the France-America Society, became the purchasing agent for both the French and British governments, while his eponymous banking firm raised hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to France and Britain.

“You have to remember that before World War I, the United States had much stronger ties with Germany than France,” Ms. Peer said. “There were many more Americans of German origin, and in academia especially, German universities were particularly influential.” Yet, “by the end of the war, French had replaced German as the most studied foreign language in the U.S.,” she said.

According to Michael Rosenthal, an English professor at Columbia and the author of “Nicholas Miraculous,” a biography of Butler, the shift in allegiance was wrenching. “Butler loved the Germans, Kaiser Wilhelm above all,” Mr. Rosenthal said. But after publicly praising the Kaiser, to whom he wrote a lengthy testimonial in the New York Times Magazine in June 1913, Butler welcomed the opportunity offered by the Maison Française to “cover his pro-German tracks,” Mr. Rosenthal said. “He was obviously horribly embarrassed by what he had done.”

Though the Deutsches Haus was shut during the war — its premises were used as part of the Columbia War Hospital — the French link flourished, with the university awarding honorary doctorates to Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the supreme commander of the Allied forces, and to Prime Minister Aristide Briand in 1921.

When hostilities between Germany and France resumed in World War II, Frédéric Hoffherr, a professor of French and the director of the Maison Française, formed a committee to support the efforts of Charles De Gaulle. He later worked for the U.S. Office of War Information, the propaganda agency that invited Sartre to the United States.

“Sartre was part of a group of journalists brought over by the O.W.I.,” said Mr. Martin. “They were trying to put out good propaganda, and Hoover wondered what kind of good propaganda you can hope to get out of the author of ‘Nausea’ and ‘Being and Nothingness.”’

“Hoover thought there must be some kind of conspiracy between communists, blacks, poets and French philosophers. He was hoping for some kind of evidence of conspiracy,” he said.

The F.B.I. was baffled by Sartre. “These agents were trying to work out what the hell existentialism was all about,” said Mr. Martin, adding that “20 years later there’s a note in Sartre’s file saying ‘I can’t work out if he’s pro-Communist or anti-Communist.’ They were still baffled!”

At least they spelled Sartre’s name correctly, unlike that of Camus, who is identified as “Canus” or “Corus” in his file.

“Camus had been a member of the French Communist party, but the F.B.I. didn’t seem to know that,” said Mr. Martin. “The thing that disturbed them was that he was a member of the resistance.”

Describing the whole episode as “the Untouchables in pursuit of the unintelligible,” Mr. Martin said that the visits of Sartre and Camus to New York had a lasting impact on both.

“Sartre mistrusted America politically. He thought there was a conspiracy to support Vichy,” the French collaborationist government. “But he loved the literature. He loved jazz. He loved the movies,” Mr. Martin said.

“Camus was much more ambivalent,” Mr. Martin continued. “He acquired a girlfriend” — Patricia Blake, a young copywriter at Vogue magazine — and “he loved ice cream and the Camel billboard in Times Square that sent out real smoke. But he found America depressing and never returned.”

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Varanasi, India’s “Holy Men”: A Photo Series and Documentary

Varanasi, one of world’s oldest living cities, is rightly called the religious capital of India. Also known as Banaras or Benaras, this holy city is located in the southeastern part of the state of Uttar Pradesh in northern India. It rests on the left bank of the holy river Ganga (Ganges), and is one of the seven sacred spots for Hindus. Every devout Hindu hopes to visit the city at least once in a lifetime, take a holy dip at the famous ‘Ghats‘ of the Ganga, walk the pious Panchakosi road that bounds the city, and, if God wills, die here in old age.

All photos from : Joey L‘s photo series “Holy Men”


A Place of Spiritual Luminance

The former name of the city, ‘Kashi’ signifies that it is a ‘site of spiritual luminance.’ Indeed it is! Not only is Varanasi a place for pilgrimage, it is also a great center of learning, and a place known for its heritage in music, literature, art and craft. It is a cherished name in the art of silk weaving. The Banarasi silk sarees and brocades are prized all over the world. The classical musical styles or ‘gharanas’ are woven into the lifestyle of the people and are accompanied by musical instruments that are manufactured in Varanasi. Many religious texts and theosophical treatises have been written here. It is also the seat of one of India’s biggest universities, theBanaras Hindu University.

A Haven For Pilgrims

Varanasi is a veritable paradise for pilgrims, who throng the ‘Ghats’ of the Ganges for spiritual rewards like deliverance from sin and attainment of nirvana. The Hindus believe that to die here on the banks of the Ganges is an assurance of heavenly bliss and emancipation from the eternal cycle of birth and death. So, many Hindus travel to Varanasi at the twilight hour of their life.

What Makes It Holy?

To the Hindus, the Ganges is a sacred river and any town or city on its bank is believed to be auspicious. But Varanasi has a special sanctity, for it is believed, this is where Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati stood when time started ticking for the first time. The place also has an intimate connection with a host of legendary figures and mythical characters, who are said to have actually lived here. Varanasi has found place in the Buddhist scriptures as well as the great Hindu epic of Mahabharata. The holy epic poem Shri Ramcharitmanas by Goswami Tulsidas was also written here. All this makes Varanasi a significantly holy place.

The City of Temples

Varanasi is also famous for its antique temples. The renowned Kashi Vishwanath Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva has a ‘lingam’ – the phallic icon of Shiva – that goes back to the time of the epics. Skanda Purana by Kasikanda mentions this temple of Varanasi as Shiva’s abode. It has withstood the onslaught of various invasions by Muslim rulers. The present temple was rebuilt by Rani Ahalya Bai Holkar, the ruler of Indore, in 1776. Then in 1835, the Sikh ruler of Lahore, Maharaja Ranjit Singh had its 15.5 m high spire plated in gold. Since then it is also known as the Golden Temple.

Major Temples of Varanasi

The 8th century Durga Temple, situated on the Ramnagar Pandav road, is home to hundreds of monkeys that reside in the nearby trees. Another popular temple is the Sankatmochan temple dedicated to the simian-god Hanuman. Varanasi’s Bharat Mata Temple is probably the only temple in India that is dedicated to the ‘Mother India.’ Inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi in 1936, it has a big relief map of India carved in marble. Another relatively new temple is the Tulsi Manas Temple built in honor of Lord Rama in 1964 at the place where Tulsidas composed the Ramacharitmanas, the vernacular version of the epic of Ramayana. The walls of this temple adorn the scenes and verses depicting the exploits of Lord Rama.

Other significant places of worship include the Sakshi Vinayaka Temple of Lord Ganesha, the Kaal Bhairav Temple, the Nepali Temple, built by the King of Nepal on Lalita Ghat in Nepali style, the Bindu Madhav Temple near the Panchaganga Ghat and the Tailang Swami Math.

“BEYOND” is an exclusive documentary featuring photographer Joey L. Set in Varanasi, India. The documentary by filmmaker Cale Glendening follows Joey and his assistant Ryan as they complete their latest photo series- “Holy Men.”

Almost every major religion breeds ascetics; wandering monks who have renounced all earthly possessions, dedicating their lives to the pursuit of spiritual liberation.Their reality is dictated only by the mind, not material objects. Even death is not a fearsome concept, but a passing from the world of illusion.

Created by: Cale Glendening, Joey L., Ryan McCarney
Directed by: Cale Glendening
Edit/Color: Chris Dowsett, Cale Glendening, Joey L., Megan Miller, John Carrington
Graphic/Titles: James Zanoni
Original Score: Stephen Keech,Tony Anderson
All Photographs: Joey L.
Guiding/Translation: Raju Verma, Tejinder Singh

Special Thanks: Jesica Bruzzi / BH Photo, Kessler Crane

Varanasi, India:Beyond Trailer

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400 Year Old Jewel Encrusted Skeletons Unearthed Across Europe

Back in 1578 came the fascinating discovery of a network of labyrinthine tombs, lurking deep beneath the street of Rome. The tombs were home to the decayed skeletons of early Christian martyrs – believed to be saints on account of their bravery & unwavering support of Christian beliefs.

Many of these skeletons (given the name ‘The Catacomb Saints’ by those who first discovered them) were then distributed across Europe (predominantly Germany) as replacements for the countless holy relics which had been smashed, stolen or destroyed during the Protestant Reformation.

Once delivered, each skeleton was then clothed and adorned into a variety of precious jewels, expensivecloth, crowns, armour and even given wigs. They were put on display inside their designated churches as a reminder to all who visited, for the riches and wealth that awaited them post death – providing they swore allegiance to the Christian faith.

Heavenly Bodies Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs  By Paul Koudounaris 2

So fascinated by the discovery and indeed the story behind ‘The Catacomb Saints’ art historian (and self-confessed relic hunter) Paul Koudounaris travelled all over Europe trying to find and document the status of each Saint. Amazingly many of the skeletons were yet to be put on display, still stored in containers waiting to be dressed and revealed to the public.

His book Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs looks at the gripping origins and history of ‘The Catacomb Saints’, posing such as questions as who were they? How exactly did they die? Who ordered them to be placed in the catacombs? And why had they laid forgotten in Europe’s religious institutions for so long?

His work serves as a compelling documentation of some of the most elaborate & forgotten relics from a by-gone era. Below are a few photographs from the book itself, which you can purchase right here

Heavenly Bodies Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs  By Paul Koudounaris 3

Heavenly Bodies Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs  By Paul Koudounaris 4

Heavenly Bodies Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs  By Paul Koudounaris 5

Heavenly Bodies Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs  By Paul Koudounaris 6

Heavenly Bodies Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs  By Paul Koudounaris 7 Continue reading

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BibViz Project – An Interactive Visual Chart of Bible Contradictions, Misogyny and Violence

No matter what your beliefs, it’s hard to deny that the era in which the Bible takes place was a more, uh, brutal time, filled with plagues, salt pillars, and excessive murders—plus plenty of conflicting moral diktats from the man himself. Now, one designer has built a handy map to help us navigate the text.

Using data from the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, programmer Daniel G. Taylor created this encyclopedic visualization of 463 of the Bible’s major contradictions. Here’s how to read it: Each vertical blue line represents a different chapter, ordered chronologically. The red arcs trace each represent a question about a specific person or concept. These range from incredibly mundane (“Is it OK to use perfume?”) to the monumental (“Is God the creator of evil?”). Clicking on one of the red lines takes you to a list of every relevant quote from both Old and New Testaments.

Taylor’s point isn’t to criticize or pick apart the book. Rather, he’s interested in analyzing it carefully—and visually—to reveal common threads through the entire story. “This website aspires to be a beautiful and interactive resource for skeptics and believers alike to explore some of the more negative aspects of holy books,” he writes.

Though this is certainly a more skeptical take on the Bible, Taylor also included augmentative demographic data about faith in America. One Gallup poll, for example, found that forty-six percent of Americans not only believe in God, but also believe in the creationist view that God created humans in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years. So, yes, Americans are still plenty faithful.

This Comprehensive Map Traces 463 of the Bible's Contradictions

This Comprehensive Map Traces 463 of the Bible's ContradictionsSEXPAND

This Comprehensive Map Traces 463 of the Bible's Contradictions

Direct Link :

BibViz Project – Bible Contradictions, Misogyny, Violence, Inaccuracies.

Article by Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan via Gizmodo

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The Baby and the Baath Water

I felt this article from Adam Curtis’s blog was incredibly relevant regarding the Syrian intervention debacle we currently find ourselves in today. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Curtis, he is an award-winning documentary maker at the BBC. His films include the ‘Power of Nightmares’ about the parallel between the rise of Islamism in the Arab world and neo-conservatism in the United States.  I also highly suggest his documentary series ‘All Watched Over by the Machines of Loving Grace’ as well as some of earlier documentaries (‘The Trap’ and “Century of the Self’). This particular article was posted over two years ago but is incredibly insightful regarding current western intervention in the region and intervention in the past.

What is happening in Syria feels like one of the last gasps of the age of the military dictators. An old way of running the world is still desperately trying to cling to power, but the underlying feeling in the west is that somehow Assad’s archaic and cruel military rule will inevitably collapse and Syrians will move forward into a democratic age.

That may, or may not, happen, but what is extraordinary is that we have been here before. Between 1947 and 1949 an odd group of idealists and hard realists in the American government set out to intervene in Syria. Their aim was to liberate the Syrian people from a corrupt autocratic elite – and allow true democracy to flourish. They did this because they were convinced that “the Syrian people are naturally democratic” and that all that was neccessary was to get rid of the elites – and a new world of “peace and progress” would inevitably emerge.

What resulted was a disaster, and the consequences of that disaster then led, through a weird series of bloody twists and turns, to the rise to power of the Assad family and the widescale repression in Syria today.

I thought I would tell that story.

In 1968 a CIA agent called Miles Copeland wrote a book called ‘The Game of Nations’ that revealed what went on in 1947. Back then Copeland was part of a mangement consulting team in Washington who were working out how America should contain the threat of communism in the Middle East, now the old European Empires had gone. This was before the CIA existed, and Copeland describes how they got together an odd group of diplomats, secret agents left over from the war, advertising men from Madison Avenue, and “pipe-smoking owls” (which is what intellectuals were called in those days).

Copeland describes an impassioned lecturer telling this group that their aim should be to change the leadership in the countries in the Middle East:

“Politicians in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt seem to have been elected into power, but what elections! The winners were all candidates of foreign powers, old land-owners who tell their tenants and villagers how to vote, or rich crooks who can buy their votes. But peoples of these countries are intelligent, and they have a natural bent for politics. If there is a part of the world which is crying for the democratic process the Arab World is it.” Continue reading

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