Watch and Search Newly Digitized Conversations with 148 People Who Witnessed the Great Depression


In March of 1992, many years after photographer Dorothea Lange’s 1936 image of a migrant mother in California (above) became one of the most iconic images from the Great Depression, a camera crew sat down with two daughters of the subject of Lange’s photo. For about 40 minutes, Norma Rydlewski and Katherine McIntosh shared their stories with Blackside, Inc., a company founded by award-winning filmmaker Henry Hampton. In the footage and transcript of that conversation, accessible for the first time along with many more such interviews through Washington University Libraries, the family’s daily challenges come to life. The sisters describe not only their strong, beautiful mother but everything from field work and playing with dirt clods as children to early union meetings and the economical “saving grace” that was World War II.

When The Great Depression, Blackside’s seven-part documentary series, debuted on PBS in October of 1993, the program wove together short segments from extensive interviews with 148 people who experienced the Great Depression, including Rydlewski and McIntosh. As illuminating as the documentary is in its own right, the many additional hours of oral history that Blackside recorded in the process of creating it are a treasure trove of primary source material—all of it now viewable, browsable, and searchable online through the efforts of WU Libraries’ Visual Media Research Lab and Digital Library Services (DLS).

The diverse range of individuals whose reflections on the 1930s are now easily accessible include a grandson of Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt, celebrated authors Maya Angelou and Gore Vidal, longtime New York Times political reporter Warren Moscow, actors Karen Morley and Ossie Davis, Morton Newman, who worked on the Upton Sinclair campaign for governor in California, and many more from all walks of life. The multicultural, multiregional approach brings needed depth and color to an era that is often remembered and depicted as a monolithic event dragging the nation down for a decade, says Special Collections assistant Alison Carrick, who managed the workflow of the digitization project.

“When we think about the Great Depression, images of the dust bowl and breadlines immediately come to mind,” Carrick says. “And that is part of the history Blackside covered with this series, but they also revealed complex and lively stories that are often overlooked—from union struggles, to heated political campaigns, Works Progress Administration projects, the New Deal, and more. What Blackside managed to do with this series and these interviews was to bring that period of history back to life in a vivid, engaging way.”

The intent behind The Great Depression Interviews project is to provide a seamless, powerful tool with much potential for interdisciplinary research.

“One of the best features of the site, thanks to DLS, is that it is text/keyword searchable,” Carrick says. “This creates a way for users to pinpoint a subject, name, or event and quickly look to see where it occurs in each transcript. Our hope is that this feature will lead users to other transcripts they might not have thought contained similar subject matter.”

This post was written by Evie Hemphill (@evhemphill), a writer and photographer for Washington University Libraries in St. Louis.

Learn Latin, Old English, Sanskrit, Classical Greek & Other Ancient Languages in 10 Lessons

Germania-tacitusI receive weekly reminders of my linguistic ignorance whenever I read anything by authors fluent in Latin. How could I not, whenever Clive James starts to pontificate on the greatness of, say, Tacitus?

“For students acquiring Latin in adult life, the language is most easily approached through those historians who really wrote chronicles — Cornelius Nepos, Sallust, Suetonius and Livy — but with the Histories of Tacitus you get the best reason for approaching it at all… What Sainte-Beuve said of Montaigne — that his prose is like one continuous epigram — is even more true of Tacitus.”

Fantastic! So, which translation should I read?

“There are innumerable translations but the original gives you [Tacitus]’ unrivalled powers of compression.”

As with Latin classics, so with other Indo-European language texts, including Beowulf, originally in Old English, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, in Classical Greek, and the ancient Vedic hymns of the Rigveda, in Sanskrit.

For those willing to take up the challenge of reading these canonic texts in their original form, the University of Texas’ Linguistics Research Center provides an excellent resource. In addition to hosting a multitude of Indo-European volumes in their entirety, the LRC has made 10-lesson crash courses, developed by several UT-Austin academics. Lessons include a brief guide to the alphabet, background knowledge on the language's development, and a grammar guide, all  available for the following languages:

Best of all, lessons are based on seminal texts from each language: Latin lessons rely on Tacitus’ Germania, Livy’s History of Rome, and Virgil’s Aeneid, while Homer, Hesiod’s Works and Days, and Plato’s Republic feature prominently in the Classical Greek classes. Students progress through each lesson by reading the original passages, and using the provided guides to translate them to English.

We’ll be adding these to our growing list of Free Language Lessons (and our list of Free Online Courses), where you can learn over 46 languages, from Arabic to Yiddish.

Note: These links will direct you to pages formatted in Unicode 2. If you’re having trouble reading the texts, head to the Early Indo-European Online lessons site and choose a different encoding in the sidebar.

Ilia Blinderman is a Montreal-based culture and science writer. Follow him at @iliablinderman.

via Metafilter

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The Tom Waits Map: A Mapping of Every Place Waits Has Sung About, From L.A. to Africa’s Jungles

"And what becomes of all the little boys who never comb their hair? They're lined up all around the block, on the Nickel over there." So sings Tom Waits on 1980's "On the Nickel," which he originally composed for Ralph Waite's eponymous feature film, a story of shame, degradation, and good times in the sketchiest part of downtown Los Angeles, through which runs 5th Street — the "Nickel" of the title. That part of town has managed an astonishing cleanup since 1980 (then again, most parts of town have, including the once-seething corner referenced by Heartattack and Vine, the title of Waits' album from that year) to the point that you'll now find, just off 5th, the new-wave retro, hipster-friendly Nickel Diner: a favorite eatery of mine, incidentally, but hardly one describable with Waits' signature rasp, a forcefully resigned instrument tuned to evoke the classically, near-mythologically ragged American life.

Still, you can find the old Nickel on The Tom Waits Map, which marks out all the lyrically identifiable places in Waits' America, from Minneapolis' 9th Street ("Hey Charlie, I'm pregnant and living on the 9th street," goes "Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis") to the state of Idaho ("Danny says we gotta go, gotta go to Idaho, but we can't go surfing 'cause it's 20 below," on "Danny Says").

We may think of Waits' artistic persona as a certain lower slice of America made song, but this map, when zoomed out to a global level, reveals references to many exotic lands, as when he sings about "a Hong Kong drizzle on Cuban heels," from the perspective of a character who "drank with all the Chinamen, walked the sewers of Paris" and of "Radion the human torso, deep from the jungles of Africa."

The Tom Waits map itself, in fact, comes from an obviously die-hard Swedish fan by the name of Jonas Nordström. As he and the rest of the Waits faithful know, the man doesn't just speak to an askew sensibility in America; he speaks to askew sensibilities all throughout humanity.

via @sheerly

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, Asia, film, literature, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on his brand new Facebook page.

Quentin Tarantino & Steve Buscemi Rehearse Scenes for Reservoir Dogs in 1991 (NSFW)

Think about the actors and directors who stood as pillars of the 1990s "indiewood" movement, and the distinctive images of Quentin Tarantino and Steve Buscemi will surely cross your mind. Both delivered much of interest in that cinematically fruitful decade. Buscemi, whom Roger Ebert deemed "the house act of American independent films," played highly memorable roles in movies like Alexandre Rockwell's In the Soup, Tom DiCillo's Living in Oblivion, and the Coen brothers' Fargo and The Big Lebowski. Tarantino directed three features that need no introduction, the first of which, 1991's Reservoir Dogs, brought them together. In the clip above, you can watch Tarantino and Buscemi's videotaped rehearsal sessions, wherein, among other things, they work out their respective characters, the would-be diamond thieves Mr. Brown and Mr. Pink.

Before Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino had attempted only the incomplete My Best Friend's Birthday. Before shooting what would become his first finished movie for real, he put together mock-ups of these scenes at the Sundance Institute Director's Workshop and Lab, which then subjected them to frank evaluations from a rotating panel of veteran filmmakers. As much as we enjoy his acting, let's not forget his own contributions as a director; his 1996 debut Trees Lounge, in which he also stars, easily ranks among the finest products of that era's independent cinema. And as for Tarantino's own subsequent forays into acting... well, nobody can argue that they don't entertain.

via Biblioklept

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, Asia, film, literature, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on his brand new Facebook page.

Watch Documentaries on the Making of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here

Pink Floyd had to find its way again after founding singer Syd Barrett had a mental breakdown and left the band in 1968. The new group became introspective, exploring a range of effects and soundscapes that increasingly trended toward (or invented) New Age music. For example the opening instrumental, “Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Part 1)” from 1975’s Wish You Were Here sounds for all the world like Vangelis. At this point in their career, the band seemed like it would be perfectly at home scoring sci-fi films, which—given the golden age of far out space-glam futurism that was the 1970s—I consider a wonderful thing. What this also means however, is that Wish You Were Here is an album short on songs, featuring only five properly listed, though the first and last tracks are over ten minute long rock operettas.

Musically, it’s a tremendously accomplished piece of work, lush and expansive but curiously restrained. The centerpiece, “Have a Cigar”— surely a precursor of bitter showbiz rant disguised as double concept album, The Wall—is in fact sung by a ringer, Roy Harper. (The only other time the band featured a guest vocalist was on the soaring, wordless “Great Gig in the Sky” from the previous album, Dark Side of the Moon.) Though the collaboration was a fluke—Harper simply happened to be recording in the next studio over—his presence seems essential in hindsight. The band were big fans of Harper’s, an eccentric folk singer who has released 22 albums to date. It’s easy to see why. He’s like a psychedelic British Neil Young, an artist whom, I would argue, sometimes has a lot in common with Pink Floyd, such as a willingness to release albums almost fully composed of extended jams.

Wish You Were Here was written around the song “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” an extended jam broken into two extended sequences that bookend the album. The song is about their tragically befuddled former singer, and the album has some of the saddest lyrics in the band’s oeuvre, which I suppose says quite a lot (I attended many an adolescent party where someone—yes, sometimes that someone was me—picked up the acoustic guitar and led a maudlin singalong of the title track.) Fans of the band will need no further persuading to watch the above documentary about the making of Wish You Were Here, but if my touting doesn't sway you, consider it then a rare opportunity to see some of the most talented musicians of the twentieth century at work, shining even into their very English older years (though rarely in the same room), with a dignity and dedication that is difficult to find in modern pop music. I say this with full awareness of how cranky it may sound, but so be it. They don’t make bands like this anymore.

People do still occasionally make records like Pink Floyd’s, especially like 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon—which more or less perfected the sound of space rock—but no one has ever made one so perfectly realized. And yet if asked to choose between that album and Wish You Were Here, I could not do it. They are far too different in their approaches. In the Making of Dark Side of the Moon documentary above, Roger Waters characteristically says that Dark Side was made at a time when the band “still had a common goal—that is to become rich and famous.” And for all its acid satire of wealth and fame and its often morbid themes, it’s the sound of a band full of youthful self-confidence and ambition, where the follow-up’s orchestral pieces speak of deeper and sadder realms.

The songs on Dark Side of the Moon were partly finished live as the band debuted experimental versions of the songs in a 1972 tour, and the album’s success the following year saw the band realize their dreams. Pink Floyd became a stadium act overnight. One can imagine the toll the Dark Side of the Moon touring took on the band, who—despite their renown for stage spectacles—have always seemed like very retiring individuals, except for the frequently grandiose Waters.

Waters has taken a lot of flack for his part in the longstanding animosity between himself and co-leader, guitarist David Gilmour, but seeing him mastermind Dark Side of the Moon—through retrospective interviews mainly—reminds us of what an enormous talent he had. Speaking of retiring personalities, Waters, for a time the band’s primary lyricist, penned the unforgettable line, “hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way” from “Time”—a line cribbed from Thoreau but that could have been written by Evelyn Waugh or Somerset Maugham, says guitarist Nigel Williamson. It’s a “description of the English character,” says Williamson, that “permeate[s] the whole record, and indeed the whole of Pink Floyd’s career.”

H/T and thanks goes to @BrainPicker for sending the top film our way.

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

A Brief History of Sampling: From the Beatles to the Beastie Boys

Jonny Wilson, otherwise known as Eclectic Method, has made an art of "splicing together music, TV and film and setting it to high-energy dance beats." He has also become something of a digital curator of pop culture. In the video above, Wilson presents:

A video remix journey through the history of sampling taking in some of the most noted breaks and riffs of the decades. A chronological journey from the Beatles’ use of the Mellotron in the 60s to the sample dense hiphop and dance music of the 80s and 90s. Each break is represented by a vibrating vinyl soundwave exploding into various tracks that sampled it, each re-use another chapter in the modern narrative.

The audio track can be downloaded over at SoundCloud. If you dig this brief bit of musical history, you won't want to miss some of the related items below.

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David Foster Wallace Talks About Literature (and More) in an Internet Chatroom: Read the 1996 Transcript

dfw internet chat

Reddit’s Ask Me Anything (AMA) series, where users get the chance to pose questions to the likes of Neil deGrasse Tyson, Stephen King, and Bill Nye the Science Guy, provides a surprisingly simple way to interact with celebrities. Before Reddit’s arrival in 2005, however, real-time exchanges between your garden-variety Internet user and famous personalities were occasionally conducted in Internet chatrooms. One such early case appears to be a chat between the readers of WORD Magazine and David Foster Wallace (read 30 of his essays free online), which seems to have taken place in May of 1996.

If AMAs are an orderly, if vast, Q & A session, this chat is more like a boozy group meeting with your favorite English lit professor in a smoky bar. (Read the transcript here.) Wallace, using the handle “dfw,” is on a refreshingly level field with the other chat participants, and the conversation naturally drifts from one topic to another. Things, as they often do, begin with a bit of banter:

dfw: I've had some unpleasant nicknaames and monikers in my time, but nobody's ever hung "fosty" on me before.

Keats: You know, I still think it should be spelled Fostie, or Fostey.
Keats: Fosty looks too much like "Frosty" and "sty" to me.

Keats: And makes me think of eyeballs packed in ice.

dfw: "Sty" as in an impacted eyelash or a pigpen, you mean?

Keats: Yeah. Is that what a sty as in "sty in your eye" is?

Marisa: I used to think the word "sty" was pronounced "stee".

Keats: I had no idea exactly, just an unpleasant feeling about it.

dfw: Yes. Massively painful and embarrassing, too. Like a carbuncle on the exact tip of your nose -- that sort of thing.

Keats: I used to think the word "trough" was pronounced "troff."

Keats: You know, I happen to have a carbuncle on the tip of my nose right now.

Keats: Except it's not a carbuncle, it's more like a welt. It's still embarrassing.

dfw: In my very first seminar in college, I pronounced facade "fakade." The memory's still fresh and raw.

Soon, things take a turn for the serious, and readers begin to ask Wallace about irony:

dfw: I don't think irony's meant to synergize with anything as heartfelt as sadness. I think the main function of contemporary irony is to protect the speaker from being interpreted as naive or sentimental.

Marisa: Why are people afraid to be seen as naive and sentimental?

dfw: Marisa: I think that's a very deep, very hard question. One answer is that commercial comedy's often set up to feature an ironist making devastating sport of someone who's naive or sentimental or pretentious or pompous.

Keats: I'm starting to see a lot of irony in Hollywood and in advertising, but its function seems to be to let them talk out of both sides of their mouths.

dfw: Keats: advertising that makes fun of itself is so powerful because it implicitly congratulates both itself and the viewer (for making the joke and getting the joke, respectively).

Wallace also drops a few mentions of some of his favorite authors:

DaleK: Mr. Wallace, I'm curious...who among current novelists do you find the most interesting?

dfw: Dalek -- DeLillo, Ozick, R. Powers, AM Homes, Denis Johnson, David Markson, (old) JA Phillips and Louise Erdrich.

While we can't conclusively confirm that this was indeed the real DFW conducting the chat, it's hard to deny that "dfw" sounds very much like the author. Certainly, the complete exchange is as much fun to read for its mid-90s internet chatroom nostalgia as it is for Wallace’s thoughts on irony, Infinite Jest, and the sound of one hand clapping. The whole transcript is available here.

Ilia Blinderman is a Montreal-based culture and science writer. Follow him at @iliablinderman.

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