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kottke.org posts about History

Myths of the Revolutionary War

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 21, 2010

Seven myths about the history of the American Revolutionary War, including “Great Britain Could Never Have Won The War” and “General Washington Was A Brilliant Tactician And Strategist”.

Washington also failed to see the potential of a campaign against the British in Virginia in 1780 and 1781, prompting Comte de Rochambeau, commander of the French Army in America, to write despairingly that the American general “did not conceive the affair of the south to be such urgency.” Indeed, Rochambeau, who took action without Washington’s knowledge, conceived the Virginia campaign that resulted in the war’s decisive encounter, the siege of Yorktown in the autumn of 1781.

The People Speak

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 10, 2009

Loosely based on Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, The People Speak is a show that features well-known actors reading famous speeches and letters from American history.

Using dramatic and musical performances of the letters, diaries and speeches of everyday Americans, The People Speak gives voice to those who spoke up for social change throughout U.S. history, forging a nation from the bottom up with their insistence on equality and justice.

The show starts airing this Sunday but many of the performances are already available online.

The vomitorium myth

posted by Ainsley Drew   Oct 08, 2009

The ancient Roman vomitorium, or vomitoria, were supposedly places where diners could go and void their stomachs during a meal, in order to make room for more delicacies. There are even detailed descriptions of the rooms, stating that they had large slabs or pillars to lean over that would better facilitate voiding the stomach. Though it might come as a disappointment to preteen boys studying Latin, the vomitorium of such lore is a myth. A true vomitoria is actually a well-designed passage within an ampitheater that allowed large numbers of Romans to file in and out of large spaces quickly. The root of the word, vomere, translates to “spew out,” which makes sense when applied to hurried exits.

Hammer vs. feather on the Moon

posted by Ainsley Drew   Oct 02, 2009

Nothing like a little science on the Moon, I always say.

Astronaut David Scott in 1971, from the Apollo 15 Lunar Surface Journal. Scott was part of the Apollo 15 crew, and applied Galileo’s findings about gravity and mass by testing a falcon feather and a hammer. The film, shown in countless high school physics classes, is the nerdy, oft-neglected cousin of Neil Armstrong’s space paces.

Livermush

posted by Ainsley Drew   Oct 01, 2009

Livermush is a combination of pig scraps and cornmeal, and inhabits some culinary purgatory between meatloaf and corndog. Brought to the South in the 1700s by resourceful German immigrants who migrated from the Northern colonies, true livermush contains at least 30% pig parts and uses cornmeal as the binding ingredient. It is often fried like a patty and served in sandwich form, with mayo, lettuce, and tomato. Many people confuse livermush with liver pudding, and although the distinction between the two is somewhat vague, it’s generally accepted that liver mush is the meal to the west of the Yadkin River, while liver pudding is the staple snack of the east.

Once a cornerstone of North Carolinian cuisine, there are signs that this “working man’s staple” is dropping off menus. It appears that only five commercial producers are still churning out the meat mixture all of them family-owned and operated, all of them in North Carolina. Jerry Hunter, a livermush manufacturer in the town of Marion, laments the recent downturn.

“We’re still running a fairly good volume, but a whole lot of us wish we could see better times. It’s not just livermush. All of us is struggling to stay in existence.”

Not everyone is forgetting about livermush. Areas like Marion have begun hosting livermush festivals, hoping to create a resurgence. Perhaps it just needs a few high-profile sponsors to bolster its gustatory delights. To start, the wife of former Cleveland Indians first baseman Jim Thome was asked what he was going to miss most after being acquired by Philadelphia, and she answered, “Livermush.”

Update: Liver lovers rejoice, various forms similar to the ‘mush are alive and well. Goetta is a German ground meat and oat loaf that is also referred to as “Cincinnati caviar,” due to its popularity in the area.

(thx alex)

Update: And Mr. Thorme hopefully discovered the Philadelphia equivalent of livermush, known as scrapple. A mixture of pork bits and cornmeal, this combination is enhanced with flour, buckwheat, and spices.

(thx tim)

Update: In Northwest Ohio they have a livermush-like mixture that’s sold in brick form. It’s called grits, though it’s different from the corn-based breakfast porridge that’s also known as southern, or hominy, grits.

(thx jeff)

A history of modern art in three paragraphs

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 25, 2009

Impressionism - painting outside of a studio with quick, loose brushstrokes to capture an evocative impression of their subject. Van Gogh was an Impressionist but wanted to express how he felt about what he saw so he distorted the subject. This helped to lead to Expressionism practised by artists from Edvard Munch through to Francis Bacon. The Fauves (wild beasts) expressed themselves by painting with bright colours. Jackson Pollock did it by throwing or dripping paint on a canvas. His paintings were abstract — Abstract Expressionism.

Cezanne was very important. He began as an Impressionist but then started to look at a subject from two different perspectives to represent how we see. Picasso and his friend Georges Braque were very impressed and started to paint subjects from lots of different views. This is Cubism. Marcel Duchamp was a Cubist but then changed art for ever. He said the idea is more important than the medium and refused to stick with the limited choice of canvas or stone. So he chose everyday objects and called them art because he had altered their context. This led to Conceptual Art where the idea becomes the medium.

The Dadaists were very cross. They blamed the horrors of the First World War on the Establishment’s reliance on rational and reasoned thought. They radically opposed rational thought and became nihilistic — the punk rock of modern art movements. Dada plus Sigmund Freud equals Surrealism. The Surrealists were fascinated by the unconscious mind, as that’s where they thought truth resided. Piet Mondrian thought he could paint everything he knew, felt and saw by using two lines placed at rectangles and three primary colours. This was called Neo-Plasticism and was inspired by Cubism. So was Futurism, which is Cubism with motion added. Vorticism is the same as Futurism, but British. The Minimalists might represent the real truth because they weren’t trying to represent anything. Performance Art is Dada live.

That’s from Will Gompertz in the Times. (via sippey)

The Inheritance of Rome

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 24, 2009

As Tyler Cowen seemingly reads every new book published in English each year (and I’m not even sure about the “seemingly”), a rave review from him directs my finger from its holster to Amazon’s 1-Click trigger. This week Cowen is on about The Inheritance of Rome by Chris Wickham. From the review:

What can I say? I have to count this tome as one of the best history books I have read, ever.

Having just finished, coincidentially, Cowen’s Create Your Own Economy (more on that soon), I *am* looking for another book to read.

You Are There

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 23, 2009

First broadcast on the radio in 1947, You Are There presented historic events as they would have been reported by modern news broadcasters. In 1953, the program jumped to television with Walter Cronkite as the host, who also hosted a brief revival of the show in the 70s.

The series also featured various key events in American and world history, portrayed in dramatic recreations, with one addition — CBS News reporters, in modern-day suits, would report on the action and interview the characters. Each episode would begin with the characters setting the scene. Cronkite, from his anchor desk in New York, would give a few words on what was about to happen. An announcer would then give the date and the event, followed by a bold, “You Are There!”

Cronkite would then return to describe the event and its characters more in detail, before throwing it to the event, saying, “All things are as they were then, except… You Are There.”

At the end of the program, after Cronkite summarizes what happened in the preceding event, he reminded viewers, “What sort of day was it? A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times… and you were there.”

Here’s a clip from an episode from the 70s version of the show about the siege of the Alamo. Cronkite reports and Fred Gwynne (Herman Munster) plays Davy Crockett.

What a fantastic idea for a show…I’d love to see a contemporary version of this. Well, not too contemporary; watching a CNBC-style presentation of the 1929 stock market crash wouldn’t really be that fun.

What was the most important year ever?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 05, 2009

Long-time readers know that I love “best _____ of all-time” lists and questions. Arriving at a precise answer for a question like “What’s the best movie ever?” is an impossible task but it’s lots of fun to argue about it. Over at the Economist’s Intelligent Life Magazine, they’ve taken up the most preposterous (by which I mean awesome) “best of” question I’ve ever heard: What was the most important year ever?

But alongside 1776, we must include 1945. The atomic bombs alone changed the world’s sense of itself, never mind the final defeat of Nazi Germany, whose attempted genocide of the Jewish people remains the single most important moral fact of modern times, the one that has done most to change the way we think. It was the year when American hegemony in the West was established and when the long Stalinist bondage of eastern Europe began, and when India took decisive steps towards independence.

Update: Several more Economist writers have weighed in. Their choices: 5 BC (birth of Jesus), 1204 (Christianity divided by Crusades), 1439 (Gutenberg’s press), 1791 (invention of telegraph), and 1944 (beginning of worldwide ideological war). Don’t like those choices? Vote for your own.

History smells like old lentils

posted by Jason Kottke   May 08, 2009

It’s all fun and games until someone gets their head stuck in a 3,600-year-old Sumerian pot.

I honestly didn’t think my head would fit into it. But it did, and now I can’t get it out. In addition to my extensive knowledge of the ancient Near East, I am blessed with a near-inexplicable touch-typing ability, so, if you will, picture me sitting at the computer with a pot on my head that dates from roughly the time when the Hittites invented iron-forged weapons. Or, to put it in more familiar terms, the pot on my head was about 400 years old when Troy was sacked.

(via clusterflock)

Stuff about Fluff

posted by Ainsley Drew   Mar 31, 2009

Archibald Query was the inventor of the pasty, sticky, somewhat offensive “creme spread” known as Marshmallow Fluff. The sugar shortage during World War I cost Query his confection. He sold the recipe to H. Allen Durkee and Fred Mower, two candymakers who quickly figured out that combining it with peanut butter creates the “Fluffernutter,” which in turn creates sandwich-obsessed mobs of thieving children. The Fluffernutter may soon be the state sandwich of Massachusetts, even though it was almost legally banned from school lunches back in 2006.

Marshmallow was originally used as a throat-coating precursor to the lozenge, but these days it’s molded into everything, from cereal squares to baby chickens and moon pies.

This Croque Madame is a fancy, sweet version of a fried ham-and-cheese, made with Nutella and Fluff on cinammon-raisin bread. Yum.

History is chancy

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 02, 2009

America was discovered accidentally by a great seaman who was looking for something else; when discovered it was not wanted; and most of the exploration for the next fifty years was done in the hope of getting through or around it. America was named after a man who discovered no part of the New World. History is like that, very chancy.

That’s Samuel Eliot Morison, author of several books of history, including The European Discovery of America, Admiral of the Ocean Sea, and The Oxford History of the American People.

Flickr Commons project

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2008

Of all the things that Flickr has done, The Commons project might be the most significant. If, in two years, there are tens or even hundreds of thousands of old photographs previously unavailable to the general public from collections all over the world — all tagged, geocoded, annotated, contextualized, and available to anyone with a web browser — that would be an amazing resource for exploring our recent history.

A list of reasons why people write

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2008

A list of reasons why people write and explore history with examples of each.

14. The past is heritage: we study it to form or enforce national, ethnic, religious or personal identity, or to combat attempts to destroy heritage. Gertrude Himmelfarb, The De-Moralization of Society.

(via short shrift)

Everything I Know About Hyman Victor is

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 08, 2008

Everything I Know About Hyman Victor is one man’s remembrance of his great grandfather through old photographs and documents.

A hundred and twenty year old photo

posted by Deron Bauman   Mar 10, 2008

A hundred and twenty year old photo of a young Helen Keller has been found.

The photograph, shot in July 1888 in Brewster, shows an 8-year-old Helen sitting outside in a light-colored dress, holding Sullivan’s hand and cradling one of her beloved dolls.

An (animated (and condensed (and brief (and

posted by Deron Bauman   Mar 05, 2008

An (animated (and condensed (and brief (and truncated)))) history of evil. Almost as interesting for the comments as for the video itself.

Bookmarked for some weekend reading: The History

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 01, 2008

Bookmarked for some weekend reading: The History of Visual Communication…from rocks and caves to the avant-garde to the computer. (via girlhacker)

“Junkies are roaming the streets uprooting flower beds”

posted by Choire Sicha   Jan 17, 2008

Letter to the editor, New York Times, August 25, 1993:

The East Village is awash in criminal activity and antisocial behavior, which blatantly occurs all through the day and escalates as the sun goes down. At 7 A.M., when I walk my dog, the area looks like a war zone. Crack vials, human feces, used condoms and hypodermic needles litter the sidewalks, building entryways, halls and stoops. Junkies are roaming the streets uprooting flower beds to look for the drugs they hurriedly stashed the night before.

(Yes; today you are all being the victims of a project for which I’m urgently neck-deep in research.)

Tompkins Square Park, 20 Years Later

posted by Choire Sicha   Jan 17, 2008

This summer will be the 20th anniversary of the Tompkins Square Park riot. From the New York Times, August 6, 1993:

In a playground off Avenue A, Gerry Griffin watched Emily, her 18-month-old towheaded daughter, run after flying bubbles. Ms. Griffin said she enjoys the renovated Tompkins Square Park.

“For people with kids, it’s a dream come true,” she said. “I was against what they were doing, but I am really enjoying the effects of it.” […]

“They said they tore down the bandshell because people slept in it,” said Ruth Silber, who has lived near the park for 26 years. “Pretty soon they’re going to destroy all the subways because homeless people sleep in the subways.” […]

Farther up Avenue A, two officers on mopeds sat inside the locked gate, talking about Saturday, the fifth anniversary of the 1988 battle. They told visitors to come back then if they wanted to see some action.

Do they expect trouble? “I hope so,” one officer said as he rode off.

Things That Sounded Crazy In 1993

posted by Choire Sicha   Jan 17, 2008

Letter to the editor, New York Times, June 23, 1993:

If landlords could double or triple the rent on vacant apartments, it would be a compelling incentive for them to try to drive current tenants out by any means necessary. (During the East Village’s gentrification in the 1980’s, my landlords neglected or cut off heat and hot water, called us late at night to tell us to leave, let crack addicts stay in warehoused apartments and rented storefronts to drug dealers.)

Under luxury decontrol, what would stop them from renting only to tenants who make more than $100,000 a year to get apartments permanently deregulated? Warehousing would burgeon as landlords kept apartments vacant for months waiting for a sucker to pay top market rent.

The Early ’90s New York City Real Estate Slump

posted by Choire Sicha   Jan 17, 2008

New York Times, September 29, 1991:

She began asking $132,000 for her studio in 1988 and has since lowered the asking price to $115,00, but has not had a bid.

Another owner in the Christadora House bought her 1,100-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment for $270,000 in 1986 has been trying to sell it for 14 months. She first asked $305,000 and has lowered her price to $260,000. Her only offer so far, which she rejected six months ago, was for $220,000.

Two blocks away, on 11th Street between Avenue A and Avenue B, the owner of a two-bedroom co-op on the top floor of a renovated five-story tenement has received a bigger blow. He paid $186,000 for it a year ago and has been trying to sell it for four months at $89,000. So far, no takers.

1994 Rick Moody Profile

posted by Choire Sicha   Jan 17, 2008

New York Times, October 23, 1994:

These days you can walk into the St. Marks Bookshop and find his second novel, “The Ice Storm,” on the same shelf as James Michener and Cormac McCarthy, thanks to alphabetical order…. [H]e makes nearly all of his income from writing. And lives in a state of at least intermittent dread. “This minute I’m sitting here being interviewed,” he mused, “and in five years I won’t be able to get published.”

“Where’s Andy Warhol?”

posted by Choire Sicha   Jan 14, 2008

In 1984, Maureen Dowd, now an op-ed columnist, was a reporter on the “Metropolitan staff” of the New York Times. This excerpt (from a 5112-word piece) ran in the Times magazine on November 4, 1984, with the headline “9PM TO 5AM.” (It’s behind the paywall here.)

On Monday nights, Area offers ”obsession” nights—with fixations such as sex, pets and body oddities. At a recent ”sex evening,” nude jugglers and whip dancers moved in and out of the crowd while an ex-nun heard sexual confessions in the ladies’ room and an old man played with inflatable dolls in a pool.

This evening, the theme is ”confinement,” and the club is decorated with dolls in pajamas chained under water, a caged rabbit and go-go dancers armed with guns and dressed in Army fatigues.

”Where’s Andy Warhol?” asks a young punk, dragging on a joint and scanning the crowd. ”I want to get a good look at him.”

”I think he went to Limelight,” says his friend. At Limelight, a church- turned-club on the Avenue of the Americas at 20th Street, halolike arcs of light stream from stained-glass windows.

”We should go there,” says someone else.

”We should go there immediately,” says another.

They scurry off to Limelight, unaware that their quarry, wearing corduroys and a backpack, is standing unobtrusively at the bar.

”This is the best bar in town,” Andy Warhol says. ”You could take everything out and put it in a gallery.”

Matt Dillon, Vincent Spano and Mickey Rourke, each confident in his role as a teen idol, make their separate ways through the crowd, as young girls reach out to touch their arms, backs, anything. Director Francis Ford Coppola is talking to the actress Diane Lane.

Nearby, Don Marino, an up-and-coming actor, is talking to Brian Jones, an up-and-coming director. ”L.A. is a whole different world,” the actor says. ”You go to the A party, the B party and you are home in bed by 11 for your 5 o’ clock call the next morning. In New York, you’ve got to be seen at night, you’ve got to get around.”

The young director scans the room. ”I know people Coppola knows,” he says. ”I wonder if I could go say hi.”

The opening title sequence of The Kingdom

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2007

The opening title sequence of The Kingdom is a nice 3.5 minute overview of the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia.

A timeline of human history (mostly sex

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 08, 2007

A timeline of human history (mostly sex and violence) by Milo Manara. NSFW.

Gems from the archive of the New York Times

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2007

Now that the NY Times has discontinued their Times Select subscription program and made much more of their 150+ years of content available for anyone to read and link to, let’s take a look at some of the more notable items that the non-subscriber has been missing.

- Access to the last two years-worth of columns from the NY Times’ noted Op-Ed columnists, including Thomas Friedman, Maureen Dowd, David Brooks, and Paul Krugman.

- The first mention of the World Wide Web in the Times in February 1993. According to the article, the purpose of the web is “[to make] available physicists’ research from many locations”. Also notable are this John Markoff article on the internet being overwhelmed by heavy traffic and growth…in 1993, and a piece, also by Markoff, on the Mosaic web browser.

- Early report of Lincoln’s assassination…”The President Still Alive at Last Accounts”.

- A report on Custer’s Last Stand a couple of weeks after the occurance (I couldn’t find anything sooner). The coverage of Native Americans is notable for the racism, both thinly veiled and overt, displayed in the writing, e.g. a story from September 1872 titled The Hostile Savages.

- From the first year of publication, a listing of the principle events of 1851.

- An article about the confirmation of Einstein’s theory of gravity by a 1919 expedition led by Arthur Eddington to measure the bending of starlight by the sun during an eclipse.

- A front page report on the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, including a seismograph of the quake which the Times labeled “EARTHQUAKE’S AUTOGRAPH AS IT WROTE IT 3,000 MILES AWAY”.

- The first mention of television (as a concept) in the Times, from February 1907. “The new ‘telephotograph’ invention of Dr. Arthur Korn, Professor of Physics in Munich University, is a distinct step nearer the realization of all this, and he assures us that ‘television,’ or seeing by telegraph, is merely a question of a year or two with certain improvements in apparatus.”

- First mention of Harry Potter. Before it became a phenomenon, it was just another children’s book on the fiction best-seller list.

- Some of the output by prolific Times reporter R.W. Apple is available (after 1981, pre-1981).

- A report during the First World War of the Germans using mustard gas. Lots more reporting about WWI is available in the Times archive.

- Not a lot is available from the WWII era, which is a shame. For instance, I wish this article about the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima was available in the Times archive. Nothing about the moon landing, Kennedy’s assassination, Watergate, etc. etc. either. :(

- On The Table, Michael Pollan’s blog from last summer about food soon after the publication of The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

- Urban Planet, a blog about cities from Steven Johnson, author of The Ghost Map.

- Oddly, The Principles of Uncertainty, an illustrated blog by Maira Kalman isn’t available anymore. Update: Kalman’s blog is probably unavailable because it’s due to be published in book form in October. (thx, rafia) Further update: Kalman’s blog is back online and wonderful. The culprit was a misconfiguration at the Times’ end. (thx, rich)

- Several other previously unavailable blogs are listed here and here.

- It looks like most of the links to old NY Times articles I (and countless other early bloggers) posted in the late 90s and early 00s now work. Tens of thousands of broken links fixed in one pass. Huzzah!

I’ll also note that this move by the Times puts them in a much better position to win the Long Bet between Dave Winer and the Times’ Martin Nisenholtz at the end of this year.

In a Google search of five keywords or phrases representing the top five news stories of 2007, weblogs will rank higher than the New York Times’ Web site.

As of the end of 2005, the Times was not faring very well against blogs.

Update: One more: a report on the sinking of the Titanic. A small mention of the sinking was published in the paper the previous day.

A Brief History of Economic Time. “No 18

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 14, 2007

A Brief History of Economic Time. “No 18th-century politician would have asked ‘Are you better off than you were four years ago?’ because it never would have occurred to anyone that they ought to be better off than they were four years ago.” (via migurski)

Blog to watch: Madame Royale, a blog

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2007

Blog to watch: Madame Royale, a blog about notable women from the past. (via cyn-c)

Nice interactive timeline of British history.

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2007

Nice interactive timeline of British history.