The Strange Story of Dr. James Barry, the Pioneering 19th Century British Doctor Who Was a Woman in Disguise

The work of many recent historians has brought more balance to the field, but even within heavily masculinist, Eurocentric histories, we find nonwhite people who slipped past racial gatekeepers to leave their mark, and women who made it past the gender police—sometimes under the guise of male pen names, and sometimes in disguise, as in the case of Dr. James Barry, who, upon his death in 1865, turned out to be “a perfect female,” as the surprised woman who washed the body discovered.

What makes Dr. Barry—born in Ireland as Margaret Bulkley, niece of the painter James Barry—such a noteworthy person besides passing for male in the company of people who did not tolerate gender fluidity? As the Irish Times writes in a review of a new biography, “her life as James Barry was a succession of audacious firsts—the first woman to become a doctor; the first to perform a successful caesarean delivery; a pioneer in hospital reform and hygiene; and the first woman to rise to the rank of general in the British Army (Barry’s commission, signed by Queen Victoria, still exists).”

When Barry's sex was discovered, it caused a sensation, inspiring everyone from muckraking anonymous journalists to Charles Dickens to weigh in on the case. The tale “was explored in novels,” notes The Guardian, “and even a play,” but the “true story is both more prosaic and infinitely more strange.” The video at the top of the post walks us through Barry’s career serving the Empire in South Africa, where she treated soldiers, lepers, and ailing mothers. Margaret's story as Dr. Barry begins in Cork when, longing for adventure at 18, she first decided to take on the persona of “a hot-tempered ladies’ man,” Atlas Obscura writes, “donning three-inch heeled shoes, a plumed hat, and sword.” When her wealthy uncle passed away and left the family his fortune, she also took his name.

Three years later in 1809, with the encouragement of her mentor and guardian, Venezuelan general Francisco Miranda, “she decided to embody a smooth-faced young man in order to attend the men’s-only University of Edinburgh and practice medicine—a guise that would last for 56 years.” Margaret’s early years were marked by hardship and tragedy. In her teens she had been raped by a family member and had born a child. When she became James Barry, a physician attending to pregnant women, she “had a secret advantage,” her biographers Michael du Preez and Jeremy Dronfield write. “There was not another practicing physician in the world who knew from personal experience what it was like to bear a child.”

But of course, she did not need to experience leprosy or gunshot wounds to treat the many hundreds of patients in her care. Her sex was incidental to her skill as a physician. Margaret Bulkley's transformation may be “one of the longest deceptions of gender identity ever recorded,” writes du Preez. Barry "is remembered for this sensational fact rather than for the real contributions that she made to improve the health and the lot of the British soldier as well as civilians.” The doctor’s wild personal story weaves through the lives of commoners and aristocrats, soldiers and revolutionaries, duels and illicit love affairs, and is surely worthy of an HBO miniseries. Her medical accomplishments are worthy of public memorialization, Joanna Smith argues at CBC News, along with a host of other accomplished women who changed the world, even as their legacies were elbowed aside to make even more room for famous men.

via The Guardian

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

A Virtual Tour of Japan’s Inflatable Concert Hall

After the massive Fukushima earthquake in 2011, architect Arata Isozaki and artist Anish Kapoor created the Ark Nova, an inflatable mobile concert hall, designed to bring music to devastated parts of Japan. Made of a stretchy plastic membrane, the Ark Nova can be inflated within two hours. Add air in the afternoon. At night, enjoy a concert in a 500-seat performance hall. Afterwards, deflate, pack on truck, and move the gift of music to the next city.

Marc Kushner, author of The Future of Architecture in 100 Buildings, takes us on a virtual tour of the concert hall in the video above. Over on the website Dezeen, you can see an array of photos, showing both the interior and exterior of this ingenious structure.

via Swiss Miss

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Wes Anderson’s Cinematic Debt to Stanley Kubrick Revealed in a Side-By-Side Comparison

Most film fans hold the work of Stanley Kubrick and Wes Anderson in high regard, even if they don't find one, the other, or both to their particular taste. And at first glance, it might seem hard to understand what kind of taste could possibly encompass both Kubrick and Anderson. The former made mostly complex and emotionally chilled period pieces, visually grand yet stark, tinged with grim humor, and possessing a dim view of humanity. The latter makes colorful, outwardly high-spirited comedies, sometimes even animated ones, that seem to delight in their own carefully cultivated aesthetics.

But both bodies of work reveal directorial minds that take cinema itself very seriously indeed. "Kubrick is one of my favorites," says Anderson in an interview clip used in the video essay comparing shots from his films to shots from Kubrick's, just above. "Usually, by the time I'm making the movie, I don't really know where I'm stealing everything from. By the time it's a movie, I think it's my thing, and I forget where I took it all — but I think I'm always pretty influenced by Kubrick." That influence, on a visual level, does come through in this comparison, certainly in all those first-person perspectives and views through portholes, but even more so with the camera moves, especially in the tracking shots and zooms.

As Bill Murray said in a 1999 interview with Charlie Rose of Rushmore, the picture that would make Murray an Anderson regular, "Boy, this has got some great moves in it." By that he meant "the way stories get told in pictures." A filmmaker needs a script, of course, but "the way you shoot it, too, shows how you want to impact things on an audience." He describes Anderson and his collaborators as possessed of "an enormous film culture," recalling shots from cinema past and, in their own productions, repurposing them completely. Murray remembers Anderson describing a shot in Rushmore as "one I saw in Barry Lyndon." "You remember Barry Lyndon?" Murray asks Rose. "It was this enormous thing. Ours, though, is the intermission of the school play."

That school play, you may recall, appears as one of several put on by Rushmore's protagonist Max Fischer, whose sensibilities (and artistic abilities) may differ from Anderson's, but who shows just the same zeal for creatively "ripping off" from the movies. "I talk to a lot of those guys who come in here, these young directors," Rose says of Anderson and his generation. "They've seen every movie. They're more students of cinema than most." Murray cautions that "it always gets perverted when people say, 'Oh, the good ones copy, the great ones steal,'" an idea that can lead to empty formal tributes, but "Wes," to his mind, was different. Possessed of both "mind and body," he "just knows how to get these things together in one place," using the language of cinema, whether invented or borrowed, for maximum impact — as, in a different yet startlingly similar way, did Kubrick.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

An Introduction to the Codex Seraphinianus, the Strangest Book Ever Published

Imagine you could talk to Hieronymus Bosch, the authors of the Book of Revelation, or of the Voynich Manuscript—a bizarre 15th century text written in an uncrackable code; that you could solve centuries-old mysteries by asking them, “what were you thinking?” You might be disappointed to hear them say, as does Luigi Serafini, author and illustrator of the Codex Seraphinianus, “At the end of the day [it’s] similar to the Rorschach inkblot test. You see what you want to see. You might think it’s speaking to you, but it’s just your imagination.”

If you were a longtime devotee of an intensely symbolic, mythic text, you might refuse to believe this. It must mean something, fans of the Codex have insisted since the book’s appearance in 1981.

It shares many similarities with the Voynich Manuscript (highlighted on our site last week), save its relatively recent vintage and living author: both the Seraphinianus and the Voynich seem to be compendiums of an otherworldly natural science and art, and both are written in a wholly invented language.

Serafini tells Wired he thinks Voynich is a fake. “The Holy Roman Emperor Rudulf II loved ancient manuscripts; somebody swindled him and spread the rumor that it was original. The idea of made-up languages is not new at all.” As for his own made-up language in the Codex, he avers, “I always said that there is no meaning behind the script; it’s just a game.” But it is not a hoax. Though he hasn’t minded the money from the book’s cult popularity, he created the book, he says, “trying to reach out to my fellow people, just like bloggers do.” It is, he says, "the product of a generation that chose to connect and create a network, rather than kill each other in wars like their fathers did."

The Codex, writes Abe books, who made the short video review above, is “essentially an encyclopedia about an alien world that clearly reflects our own, each chapter appears to deal with key facets of this surreal place, including flora, fauna, science, machines, games and architecture.” That’s only a guess given the unintelligible language.

The illustrations seem to draw from Bosch, Leonardo da Vinci, and the medieval travelogue as much as from the surrealism of contemporary European artists like Fantastic Planet animator René Laloux. (Justin Taylor at The Believer points to a number of similar 20th century texts, like Borges' Book of Imaginary Beings.)

Serafini has been delighted to see an extensive internet community coalesce around the book, and has had his fun with it. He “now states,” writes Dangerous Minds, “that a stray white cat that joined him while he created the Codex in Rome in the 1970s was actually the real author, telepathically guiding Serafini as he drew and ‘wrote.’” You can now, thanks to a recent, relatively affordable edition published by Rizzoli, purchase your copy of the Codex. Buy now, I’d say. First editions of the book now fetch upwards of $5000, and the its popularity shows no sign of slowing. Also check out the more recent Codex Seraphinianus wall calendar.

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

Stream Online The Vietnam War, the New Documentary by Ken Burns & Lynn Novick

Right now, PBS is in the midst of airing The Vietnam War, a ten-part, 18-hour documentary film series directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. The "immersive 360-degree narrative" tells "the epic story of the Vietnam War," using never-before-seen footage and interviews. If you're not watching the series on the TV, you can also view it on the web and through PBS apps for smartphones, tablets, Apple TV, Roku and Amazon Fire TV. Episode 1 appears above. Find all of them here.

Note: If these videos don't stream outside of the US, we apologize in advance. Sometimes PBS geo-restricts their videos. Also, these videos likely won't stay online forever. If you're interested in watching the series, I'd get going sooner than later.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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Hamilton Mania Inspires the Library of Congress to Put 12,000 Alexander Hamilton Documents Online

Remember when bloody, bloody Andrew Jackson seemed like a shoe in for Best Sepulchral Historical Figure Brought Back to Life by an American Musical?

Alas for the 7th President, a little juggernaut called Hamilton came along, and just like that, it was the first Treasury Secretary and author of the Federalist Papers who had a fan base on the order of Beatlemania.

Teachers, historians, and librarians thrilled to reports of kids singing along with the Hamilton soundtrack. Playwright and original star Lin-Manuel Miranda’s clever rap lyrics ensured that young Hamilfans (and their parents, who reportedly were never allowed to listen to anything else in the car) would become well versed in their favorite founding father’s personal and professional history.

Out of town visitors who spend upwards of a month’s grocery budget for Broadway tickets voluntarily side trip way uptown to tour Hamilton Grange. The insatiable selfie imperative drives them to Central Park and Museum of the City of New York in search of larger than life sculptures. They take the PATH train to Weehawken to pay their respects in the spot where Hamilton was felled by Aaron Burr

Hamilton merchandise, needless to say, is selling briskly. Books, t-shirts, jewelry, bobble heads commemorative mugs…

The Library of Congress is not out to cash in on this cultural moment in the monetary sense. But "given the increased interest in Hamilton," says Julie Miller, a curator of early American manuscripts, it's no accident that the Library has taken pains to digitize 12,000 Hamilton documents and make them available on the web. The collection includes speeches, a draft of the Reynolds Pamphlet, financial accounts, school exercises and correspondence, both personal and public, encompassing such marquee names as John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, the Marquis de Lafayette, and George Washington.

One need not be a musical theater fan to appreciate the emotion of the letter he wrote to his wife, Elizabeth Schuyler, on the eve of his fateful duel with Aaron Burr:

I need not tell you of the pangs I feel, from the idea of quitting you and exposing you to the anguish which I know you would feel. . . . Adieu best of wives and best of Women. Embrace all my darling Children for me.

Explore the Library of Congress’ Hamilton collection here.

And enter the online lottery for $10 Hamilton tickets because, hey, somebody’s got to win.

via Theater Mania

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

Behold the “Book Wheel”: The Renaissance Invention Created to Make Books Portable & Help Scholars Study (1588)

Devotees of print may object, but we readers of the 21st century enjoy a great privilege in our ability to store a practically infinite number of digitized books on our computers. What's more, those computers have themselves shrunk down to such compactness that we can carry them around day and night without discomfort. This would hardly have worked just forty years ago, when books came only in print and a serious computer could still fill a room. The paper book may remain reasonably competitive even today with the convenience refined over hundreds and hundreds of years, but its first handmade generations tended toward lavish, weighty decoration and formats that now look comically oversized.

These posed real problems of unwieldiness, one solution to which took the unlikely form of the bookwheel. In 1588's The Various and Ingenious Machines of Captain Agostino Ramelli, the Italian engineer of that name "outlined his vision for a wheel-o-books that would employ the logic of other types of wheel (water, Ferris, 'Price is Right', etc.) to rotate books clockwork-style before a stationary user," writes the Atlantic's Megan Garber.

The design used "epicyclic gearing — a system that had at that point been used only in astronomical clocks — to ensure that the shelves bearing the wheel's books (more than a dozen of them) would remain at the same angle no matter the wheel's position. The seated reader could then employ either hand or foot controls to move the desired book pretty much into her (or, much more likely, his) lap." This rotating bookcase gave 16th century readers the ability to read heavy books in place, with far greater ease.

In his 1588  book, Ramelli added:

This is a beautiful and ingenious machine, very useful and convenient for anyone who takes pleasure in study, especially those who are indisposed and tormented by gout. For with this machine a man can see and turn through a large number of books without moving from one spot. Moveover, it has another fine convenience in that it occupies very little space in the place where it is set, as anyone of intelligence can clearly see from the drawing.

Inventors all over Europe created their own versions of the bookwheel during the 17th and 18th centuries, fourteen examples of which still exist. (The one pictured in the middle of the post, built around 1650, now resides in Leiden.) Just above you can seen a bookwheel reconstructed and operational in a virtual reality MMORPG, a technology beyond the wildest dreams of Ramelli and his colleagues in imaginative engineering. Even architect Daniel Libeskind has built one, based on Ramelli's design and exhibited in his homeland at the 1986 Venice Biennale. Alas, after it went to Geneva for an exhibition at the Palais Wilson, it fell victim to a terrorist fire bombing. Innovation, it seems, will always have its enemies.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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