It’s the End of the World as We Know It: The Apocalypse Gets Visualized in an Inventive Map from 1486

When will the world end?

We can find serious scientific answers to this question, depending on what we mean by “world” and “end.” If civilization as we currently know it, climate scientists’ worst-case scenario points toward somewhere around 2100 as the beginning of the end. (New York magazine points out that it “probably won’t kill all of us”). It’s possible, but not inevitable.

If we mean the end of all life on earth, the forecast looks quite a bit rosier: we’ve probably got about a billion years, writes astrophysicist Jillian Scudder, before the sun becomes “hot enough to boil our oceans.” Still not a cheerful thought, but perhaps many more creatures will take after the tardigrade by then. That’s not even to mention nuclear war or the epidemics, zombie and otherwise, that could take us out.

But of course, for a not inconsiderable number of people—including a few currently occupying key positions of power in the U.S.—the question of the world’s end has nothing to do with science at all but with eschatology, that branch of theological thought concerned with the Apocalypse.

Theological thinkers have written about the Apocalypse for hundreds of years, and the world's end was frequently perceived as just around the corner for many of the same reasons modern secular people feel apocalyptic dread: disease, natural disasters, wars, rumors of wars, imperial power struggles, uncomfortably shifting demographics….

Take 15th-century Europe, when “the Apocalypse weighed heavily on the minds of the people,” as Betsy Mason and Greg Miller write at the National Geographic blog All Over the Map: “Plagues were rampant. The once-great capital of the Roman empire, Constantinople, had fallen to the Turks. Surely, the end was nigh.”

While a niche publishing market in the nascent print era produced “dozens of printed works” describing the “coming reckoning in gory detail… one long-forgotten manuscript depicts the Apocalypse in a very different way—through maps.” As you can see here, these maps convey the unfolding of worse-to-worser scenarios in a number of visual registers: temporal, symbolic, geographic, thematic, etc.

At the top, the nested triangles depict the rise of the Antichrist between the years 1570 and 1600. The central concern for this author was the supposed global threat of Islam. Thus, the next map, its “T” shape a common Medieval world map device, shows the world before the Apocalypse, the text around it explaining that “Islam is on the rise from 639 to 1514.”

Then, we have a circular map with five swords pointing at the edges of the known world, illustrating the author’s contention that Islamic armies would reach the edges of the earth. The other maps depict the “four horns of the Antichrist,” above, Judgement Day, below, (the black eye at the bottom is the “black abyss that leads to hell”), and, further down, a diagram describing “the relative diameters of Earth and Hell."

Made in Lübeck, Germany sometime between 1486 and 1488, the manuscript is written in Latin, “but it’s not as scholarly as other contemporary manuscripts,” write Mason and Miller, “and the penmanship is fairly poor.” Historian of cartography Chet Van Duzer explains that “it’s aimed at the cultural elite, but not the pinnacle of the cultural elite.”

Pointing out the obvious, Van Duzer says, “there’s no way to escape it, this work is very anti-Islamic,” a widespread sentiment in medieval Europe, when the “clash of civilizations” narrative spread its roots deep in certain strains of Western thinking. This particular text also “includes a section on astrological medicine and a treatise on geography that’s remarkably ahead of its time.”

Van Duzer and Ilya Dines have studied the rare manuscript for its insightful passages on geography and cartography and published their research in a book titled Apocalyptic Cartography. For all its theological alarmism, the manuscript is surprisingly thoughtful when it comes to analyzing its own formal properties and perspectives.

Mason and Miller note that “the author outlines an essentially modern understanding of thematic maps as a means to illustrate characteristics of the people or political organization of different regions.” As Van Duzer puts it, “this is one of the most amazing passages, to have someone from the 15th century telling you their ideas about what maps can do.” This marks the work, he claims in the introduction to Apocalyptic Cartography, as that "of one of the most original cartographers of the period."

The Apocalypse Map now resides at the Huntington Library in Los Angeles.

via Nat Geo

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


How to Write in Cuneiform, the Oldest Writing System in the World: A Short, Charming Introduction

Teaching child visitors how to write their names using an unfamiliar or antique alphabet is a favorite activity of museum educators, but Dr. Irving Finkel, a cuneiform expert who specializes in ancient Mesopotamian medicine and magic, has grander designs.

His employer, the British Museum, has over 130,000 tablets spanning Mesopotamia’s Early Dynastic period to the Neo-Babylonian Empire “just waiting for young scholars to come devote themselves to (the) monkish work” of deciphering them.

Writing one’s name might well prove to be a gateway, and Dr. Finkel has a vested interest in lining up some new recruits.

The museum’s Department of the Middle East has an open access policy, with a study room where researchers can get up close and personal with a vast collection of cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia and surrounding regions.

But let’s not put the ox before the cart.

As the extremely personable Dr. Finkel shows Matt Gray and Tom Scott of Matt and Tom’s Park Bench, above, cuneiform consists of three components—upright, horizontal and diagonal—made by pressing the edge of a reed stylus, or popsicle stick if you prefer, into a clay tablet.

The mechanical process seems fairly easy to get the hang of, but mastering the oldest writing system in the world will take you around six years of dedicated study. Like Japan’s kanji alphabet, the oldest writing system in the world is syllabic. Properly written out, these syllables join up into a flowing calligraphy that your average, educated Babylonian would be able to read at a glance.

Even if you have no plans to rustle up a popsicle stick and some Play-Doh, it’s worth sticking with the video to the end to hear Dr. Finkel tell how a chance encounter with some naturally occurring cuneiform inspired him to write a horror novel, which is now available for purchase, following a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Begin your cuneiform studies with Irving Finkel’s Cuneiform: Ancient Scripts.

via Mental Floss

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her solo show Nurse!, in which one of Shakespeare’s best loved female characters hits the lecture circuit to set the record straight premieres in June at The Tank in New York City. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Art of Sci-Fi Book Covers: From the Fantastical 1920s to the Psychedelic 1960s & Beyond

If you've never seen Gentlemen Broncos, the little-seen third feature by the Napoleon Dynamite-making husband-and-wife team Jared and Jerusha Hess, I highly recommend it. You must, though, enjoy the peculiar Hess sense of humor, a blend of the almost objectively detached and the heartily sophomoric fixed upon the preoccupations of deeply unfashionable sections of working-class America. In Gentlemen Broncos it makes itself felt immediately, even before the film's story of a young aspiring science fiction writer in small-town Utah begins, with a tour de force opening credits sequence made up of homages to the pulpiest sci-fi book covers of, if not recent decades, then at least semi-recent decades.

The style of these cover images, though risible, no doubt look rich with associations to anyone who's spent even small part of their lives reading mass-market sci-fi novels. To see more than a few higher examples, watch "The Art of Sci-Fi Book Covers," the Nerdwriter video essay above that digs into the history of that enormously inventive yet seldom seriously considered artistic subfield.

Its begins with the world's first science-fiction magazine Amazing Stories (an online archive of which we've previously featured here on Open Culture) and its pieces of fantastical, eye-catching cover art by Austria-Hungary-born illustrator Frank R. Paul. In the mid-1920s, says the Nerdwriter, "these covers were probably among the strangest art that the average American ever got to see."

It would get stranger. The Nerdwriter follows the development of sci-fi cover art from the heyday of the Paul-illustrated Amazing Stories to the introduction of mass-market paperback books in the late 1930s to Penguin's experimentation with existing works of modern art in the 1960s to the commissioning of new, even more bizarre and evocative works by all manner of publishers (some of them sci-fi specialists) thereafter. "You can walk into any used book store anywhere and get five of these old pulp books for a dollar each," the Nerdwriter reminds us. "And then the art is with you; it's in your home. As you read the stories, it's on your bedside table. It's art you hold with your hands. It's not precious: it's bent, folded, and creased. And above all, it's weird."

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

Tom Wolfe’s Groundbreaking Work, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Gets Released as a Limited Collector’s Edition, with Each Copy Signed by the Author 

Taschen recently released a collector's edition of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Tom Wolfe's rollicking account of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters' acid-fueled road trip across the United States, aboard the psychedelic school bus known as "Further." With the passing of Tom Wolfe last weekthe release of the collector's edition takes on some added importance.

When The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test first came out in 1968, Eliot Fremont-Smith wrote in The New York Times that “it is not simply the best book on the hippies, it is the essential book.” The book "is printed in black and white, but the words come through in crazy Day-Glo--fluorescent, psychedelic, at once energetic and epicene."

The new Taschen edition is something different. The abridged text is published in "traditional letterpress, with facsimile reproductions of Wolfe’s manuscript pages, as well as Ken Kesey’s jailhouse journals, handbills, and underground magazines of the period." "Interweaving the prose and ephemera are photographic essays from Lawrence Schiller, whose coverage of the acid scene for Life magazine helped inspire Wolfe to write his story, and Ted Streshinsky, who accompanied Wolfe while reporting for the New York Herald Tribune." There are also photographs by poet Allen Ginsberg.

In total, Taschen has produced 1,968 signed copies of the collector's edition, each signed by Tom Wolfe himself. The cost is set at $350.

If you never spent time with The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and want to read a simple paperback edition that costs less than $10, you can find a copy here.

Note: We belong to the Taschen affiliate program. So if you get a copy of the collector's edition, it benefits not just you and Taschen. It benefits Open Culture too. So consider it win-win-win.

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

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How Women Got Dressed in the 14th & 18th Centuries: Watch the Very Painstaking Process Get Cinematically Recreated

We live in an age of convenience, and one getting more convenient all the time. Few comparisons between past and present underscore that quite so much as the morning routine. Hot and cold running water on demand, properly appreciated, can seem miraculous enough, let alone more recent developments like the availability of high-quality coffee on every city block. But consider clothing, the change in whose outward appearance over the past 700 years or so goes along with an equally dramatic change in use. We still wear clothes for all the same basic reasons we did back then, of course, but what it takes to wear them has diminished to comparative effortlessness.

These videos, one on getting dressed in the 14th century and one on getting dressed in the 18th century, offer detailed, narrated, and cinematic looks at what the process once entailed — or at least what the process entailed for English women of a certain class.

The average man in those periods, too, had to deal with much more hassle putting on his clothes in the morning that he does today, but the female case, with its shift, stays, petticoats, pockets, roll, stockings and garters, gown and stomacher, apron, and more besides, required not just a great deal of discipline and concentration on the part of the dresser but assistance from another pair of hands as well.

You can find more such videos on the finer points of women's dressing routines of yore, including further explanations of such elements as pockets and busks, on this playlist. The social, technological, and industrial stories behind why it has all become so much less complicated over the centuries has provided, and will continue to provide, the driving questions for many an academic thesis. But despite the enormous reduction in the labor-intensiveness of putting them on, clothes have not, of course, become a perfectly simple matter for we dressers of the comparatively ultra-casual 21st century. Still, after watching all it took to get dressed those hundreds and hundreds of years ago, many of us — male or female — might arrive at the thought that we could stand to put just a little more effort into the job.

via Boing Boing

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

Why Sitting Is The New Smoking: An Animated Explanation

In recent years, sitting has become the new smoking. "Past studies have found," declares a 2014 article in The New York Times, "the more hours that people spend sitting, the more likely they are to develop diabetes, heart disease and other conditions, and potentially to die prematurely — even if they exercise regularly." What's the science behind this alarming claim? The animated TED-ED video (watch above) begins to paint the picture. But it doesn't get into the latest and perhaps most important research. According to science writer Gretchen Reynolds, a recent Swedish study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that when you sit all day, your telomeres (the tiny caps on the ends of DNA strands) get shorter. Which is not a good thing. As telomeres get shorter, the rate at which the body ages and decays speeds up. Conversely, the study found "that the telomeres in [those] who were sitting the least had lengthened. Their cells seemed to be growing physiologically younger."

Several years ago, KQED radio in San Francisco aired a program dedicated to this question, featuring medical and ergonomics experts. To delve deeper into it, listen below.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in 2015.

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

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

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Muhammad Ali & Sly Stone Get Into a Heated Debate on Racism & Reparations on The Mike Douglas Show (1974)

Ah, the 70s… an American president was impeached for criminal activity; a congressman, Wayne Hays, resigned for sleeping with his secretary, after divorcing his wife to marry a different secretary; another congressman, Bud Shuster—who described Hays as “the meanest man in the house”—called for an investigation of Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox, after Cox was fired by the soon-to-be impeached president… ‘twas a different time, children, a simpler time….

Well, at any rate, they sure wore funny suits back then, eh? Those lapels…. But just like today, politics mixed freely with sports and entertainment in controversial and televisual ways. Boxers got ratings, singers got ratings, politicians like “meanest man in the house” Wayne Hays got ratings, even before his sex scandal, when he appeared on TV with boxers and singers—appeared, that is, on The Mike Douglas Show in 1974 with Muhammad Ali and Sly Stone. Actor and activist Theodore Bikel was there too, though you might blink and miss him in the fracas just above.

First, Hays offers some banal opinions on the subject of campaign financing, another one of those bygone 70s issues. But when Douglas poses the question to Ali of whether or not he’d ever run for office, things pick up, to say the least. Ali refuses to play the entertainer. He launches flurry after flurry of jabs at white America, and at Hays, who does his best to stay upright under the onslaught. “Ali is unyielding,” writes Dangerous Minds, “intense and brilliant.”

Ali takes on a serious question facing Black nationalists of the 60s and 70s, from the Panthers to the Nation of Islam, whose views Ali embraced at the time, along with, perhaps, some of their ugly anti-Semitism. (The following year he converted to Sunni Islam, and later became a Sufi.) Should Black activists participate in the oppressive systems of the U.S. government? Can anyone do good from inside the halls of imperialist power?

Hays makes an integrationist case, and champions Black leaders like congresswoman Barbara Jordan. Ali is relentlessly combative, calling for reparations. Sly slides in to clarify and pacify, playing mediator and referee. Douglas gets off the applause line, “isn’t it time we all tried to live together.” Ali refuses to gloss over racism and economic inequality. No peace, he says in effect, without justice. Aren’t we glad, forty-four years later, that we’ve ironed all this out? See the full show above for much more heavyweight commentary from Ali and sometimes fuzzy counterpoint from Sly. They go back and forth with Douglas for ten minutes before Hays and Bikel join.

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

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