A New Digitized Menu Collection Lets You Revisit the Cuisine from the “Golden Age of Railroad Dining”

The coming of the railroad in the U.S. of the 19th century meant unprecedented opportunity for millions—a triumph of transportation and commerce that changed the country forever. For many more—including millions of American bison—it meant catastrophe and near extinction. This complicated history has provided a rich field of study for scholars of the period—who can tie the railroad to nearly every major historical development, from the Civil War to presidential campaigns to the spread of the Sears merchandising empire from coast to coast.

But as time wore on, passenger trains became both more commonplace and more luxurious, as they competed with air and auto travel in the early 20th century. It is this period of railroad history that most attracted Ira Silverman as a graduate student at Northwestern University in the 1960s. While enrolled at Northwestern’s Transportation Center in Evanston, Illinois, Silverman and his classmates found endless “opportunities for research, adventure, and unparalleled feasting,” writes Claire Voon at Atlas Obscura.




Silverman especially took to the dining cars—and more to the point, to the menus, which he collected by the dozens, “eventually amassing an archive of 238 menus and related pamphlets. After a long career in transit, he donated the collection to his alma mater’s Transportation Library, which recently digitized it in its entirety.” Silverman’s collection represents “35 United States and Canadian railroads,” points out Northwestern, and its contents mostly date from the early 60s to the 1980s—from his most active years riding the rails in style, that is.

But Silverman was also able to acquire earlier examples, such as a 1939 menu “once perused by passengers aboard the famed 20th Century Limited train,” Voon writes, “which traveled between New York City and Chicago.” Twenty years after this menu’s appearance, Cary Grant, “playing an adman in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, orders a brook trout with his Gibson” while riding the same line. The Art Deco menu for the "new streamlined" line features such delicacies as “genuine Russian caviar on toast and grilled French sardines.”

Even kids' menus—now reliably dominated by chicken fingers, pizza, PB&Js, and mac & cheese—offered far more sophisticated dining than we might expect to find, with “items such as grilled lamb chops, roast beef, and seasonal fish" on the North Coast Limited menu below. “The mid-20th century seems to have been a golden age of railroad dining,” remarks Northwestern Transportation Librarian Rachel Cole. “It was never something that railroads profited on, but they used it to compete against each other and attract passengers,” taking pride in “selections that would be rivaled in restaurants.”

The fine dining-car experience might also include novelty items passengers would be unlikely to find anywhere else, such as Northwestern Pacific’s Great Baked Potato, “a monstrous spud,” Voon explains, “that could weigh anywhere between two to five pounds” and came served with “an appropriately sized butter pat.” One can see the appeal for a food and travel enthusiast like Silverman, who had the privilege of trying dishes on most of these menus for himself.

The rest of us will have to rely on our gustatory imaginations to conjure what it might have been like to eat prime rib on the Western Star in the Pacific Northwest in the early 60s, or braised smoked pork loin on an Amtrak train in 1972. If your memories of dining on a train mostly consist of pulling soggy, microwaved “food” from steaming hot plastic bags, or munching on packaged, processed salty snacks, expand your sense of what railroad dining could be at the Ira Silverman Railroad Menu Collection here.

via Atlas Obscura

Related Content:

Foodie Alert: New York Public Library Presents an Archive of 17,000 Restaurant Menus (1851-2008)

Mark Twain Makes a List of 60 American Comfort Foods He Missed While Traveling Abroad (1880)

What Prisoners Ate at Alcatraz in 1946: A Vintage Prison Menu

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

160,000 Pages of Glorious Medieval Manuscripts Digitized: Visit the Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis

We might think we have a general grasp of the period in European history immortalized in theme restaurant form as "Medieval Times." After all, writes Amy White at Medievalists.net, “from tattoos to video games to Game of Thrones, medieval iconography has long inspired fascination, imitation and veneration.” The market for swordplay, armor, quests, and sorcery has never been so crowded.

But whether the historical period we call medieval (a word derived from medium aevum, or “middle age”) resembled the modern interpretations it inspired presents us with another question entirely—a question independent and professional scholars can now answer with free, easy reference to “high-resolution images of more than 160,000 pages of European medieval and early modern codices”: richly illuminated (and amateurishly illustrated) manuscripts, musical scores, cookbooks, and much more.

The online project, called Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis, houses its digital collection at the Internet Archive and represents “virtually all of the holdings of PACSCL [Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries]," a wealth of documents from Princeton, Bryn Mawr, Villanova, Swarthmore, and many more college and university libraries, as well as the American Philosophical Society, National Archives at Philadelphia, and other august institutions of higher learning and conservation.

Lehigh University “contributed 27 manuscripts amounting to about 5,000 pages,” writes White, including “a 1462 handwritten copy of Virgil’s Aeneid with penciled sketches in the margins" (see above). There are manuscripts from that period like the Italian Tractatus de maleficiis (Treatise on evil deeds), a legal compendium from 1460 with “thirty-one marginal drawings in ink” showing “various crimes (both deliberate and accidental) being committed, from sword-fights and murders to hunting accidents and a hanging.”

The Tractatus' drawings “do not appear to be the work of a professional artist,” the notes point out, though it also contains pages, like the image at the top, showing a trained illuminator's hand. The Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis archive includes 15th and 16th-century recipes and extracts on alchemy, medical texts, and copious Bibles and books of prayer and devotion. There is a 1425 edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in Middle English (lacking the prologue and several tales).

These may all seem of recent vintage, relatively speaking, for a medieval archive, but the collection reaches back to the 9th century, with hundreds of documents, like the 1000 AD music manuscript above, from a far earlier time. "Users can view, download and compare manuscripts in nearly microscopic detail," notes White. "It is the nation’s largest regional online collection of medieval manuscripts," a collection scholars can draw on for centuries to come to learn what life was really like—at least for the few who could read and write—in Medieval Times.

via Medievalists.net

Related Content: 

Why Knights Fought Snails in Illuminated Medieval Manuscripts

800 Illuminated Medieval Manuscripts Are Now Online: Browse & Download Them Courtesy of the British Library and Bibliothèque Nationale de France

The Medieval Masterpiece, the Book of Kells, Is Now Digitized & Put Online

A Free Yale Course on Medieval History: 700 Years in 22 Lectures

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

The Isamu Noguchi Museum Puts Online an Archive of 60,000 Photographs, Manuscripts & Digitized Drawings by the Japanese Sculptor

No matter how unfamiliar you may be with the work of Isamu Noguchi, you're likely to have encountered it, quite possibly more than once, in the form of a Noguchi table. Designed in the 1940s for the Herman Miller furniture company (in a catalog that also included the work of George Nelson, Paul László, and Charles Eames of the eponymous chair), it shows off Noguchi's distinctive aesthetic as well as many of his most acclaimed sculptures, set designs, and public spaces. That aesthetic could only have arisen from a singular artistic life like Noguchi's, which began in Los Angeles where he was born to an American mother and a Japanese father, and soon started crossing back and forth across both the Pacific and the Atlantic: a childhood spent around Japan, schooling and apprenticeship back in the U.S., a Guggenheim Fellowship in Paris, periods of study in China and Japan — and all that before age 30.

Now, thanks to the Noguchi Museum, we can take a closer look at not just the Noguchi table but all the fruits of Noguchi's long working life, which began in the 1910s and continued until his death in the 1980s. (He executed his first notable work, the design of the garden for his mother's house in Chigasaki, at just eight years old.)




The institution that bears his name recently digitized and made available 60,000 archival photographs, manuscripts, and digitized drawings, and also launched a digital catalogue raisonné designed to be updated with discoveries still to come about Noguchi's life and work. "The completion of a multiyear project, the archive now features 28,000 photographs documenting the artist’s works, exhibitions, various studios, personal photographs, and influential friends and colleagues," writes Hyperallergic's Alissa Guzman. "The wealth of imagery is overwhelming and also surprising, bringing attention to works we might not often associate with Noguchi."

Indeed, as the project's managing editor Alex Ross tells Guzman, the research process revealed "several significant artworks which were assumed to have been lost or destroyed," as well as "previously unattributed pieces that the archive is now able to confirm as works by Noguchi." The difficulty of confirming the authenticity of certain works speaks to the protean quality of Noguchi's art that goes hand-in-hand with its distinctiveness, a balance struck by few major artists of any era. And though quite a few of Noguchi's creations (and not just the table) have been described as timeless, no other body of work reflects quite so clearly the intermingling of East and West – a West that included the Old World as well as the New — that, having begun on economic and social levels, reached the aesthetic one in the century through which Noguchi lived. Explore his catalogue raisonné, and you may find that, no matter what part of the world you're from, you have more experience with Noguchi's work than you thought.

via Hyperallergic

Related Content:

3D Scans of 7,500 Famous Sculptures, Statues & Artworks: Download & 3D Print Rodin’s Thinker, Michelangelo’s David & More

The Getty Digital Archive Expands to 135,000 Free Images: Download High Resolution Scans of Paintings, Sculptures, Photographs & Much Much More

Download 2,500 Beautiful Woodblock Prints and Drawings by Japanese Masters (1600-1915)

Download Vincent van Gogh’s Collection of 500 Japanese Prints, Which Inspired Him to Create “the Art of the Future”

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, 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.

The Internet Archive Is Digitizing & Preserving Over 100,000 Vinyl Records: Hear 750 Full Albums Now

There seems to be widespread agreement—something special was lost in the rushed-to-market move from physical media to digital streaming. We have come to admit that some older musical technologies cannot be improved upon. Musicians, producers, engineers spend thousands to replicate the sound of older analog recording technology, with all its quirky, inconsistent operation. And fans buy record players and vinyl records in surprisingly increasing numbers to hear the warm and fuzzy character of their sound.

Neil Young, who has relentlessly criticized every aspect of digital recording, has dismissed the resurgence of the LP as a “fashion statement” given that most new albums released on vinyl are digital masters. But buyers come to vinyl with a range of expectations, writes Ari Herstand at Digital Music News: “Vinyl is an entire experience. Wonderfully tactile…. When we stare at our screens for the majority of our days, it’s nice to look at art that doesn’t glow and isn’t the size of my hand.” Vinyl can feel and look as good as it sounds (when properly engineered).




While shiny, digitally mastered vinyl releases pop up in big box stores everywhere, the real musical wealth lies in the past—in thousands upon thousands of LPs, 45s, 78s—relics of “the only consumer playback format we have that’s fully analog and fully lossless,” says vinyl mastering engineer Adam Gonsalves. Few institutions can afford to store thousands of physical albums, and many rarities and oddities exist in vanishingly fewer copies. Their crackle and hiss may be forever lost without the intervention of digital preservationists like the Internet Archive.

The Archive is “now expanding its digitization project to include LPs,” reports Faye Lessler on the organization’s blog. This will come as welcome news to cultural historians, analog conservationists, and vinyl enthusiasts of all kinds, who will mostly agree that digitization is far better than extinction, though the tactile and visual pleasures may be irreplaceable. The Archive has focused its efforts on the over 100,000 audio recordings from the Boston Public Library’s collection, “in order to prevent them from disappearing forever when the vinyl is broken, warped, or lost."

“These recordings exist in a variety of historical formats, including wax cylinders, 78 rpms, and LPs," though the project is currently focused on the latter. "They span musical genres including  classical, pop, rock, and jazz, and contain obscure recordings like this album of music for baton twirlers, and this record of radio’s all-time greatest bloopers.” The method of rapidly converting the artifacts at the rate of ten LPs per hour (which you can read more about at the Archive blog) serves as a testament to what digital technology does best—using machine learning and metadata to automate the archival process and create extensive, searchable databases of catalogue information.

Currently, the project has uploaded 1,180 recordings to its site, “but some of the albums are only available in 30 second snippets due to rights issues,” Lessler points out. Browse the "Unlocked Recordings" category to hear 750 digitized LPs available in full: these include a recording of Gian Carlo Menotti's ballet The Unicorn, the Gorgon, and the Manticore, further up; The Begetting of the President, above, a satire of Nixon's rise to power as Biblical epic, read by Orson Welles in his King of Kings' voice; and Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto no. 1 in B-flat minor, played by Van Cliburn, below.

The range and variety captured in this collection—from fireworks sound effects to Elton John’s second, self-titled album to classic Pearl Baily to 80s new wave band The Communards to Andres Segovia playing Bach to the Smokey and the Bandit 2 soundtrack—will outlast copyright restrictions. And they will leave behind an extensive record, no pun intended, of the LP: “our primary musical medium for over a generation," says the Archive's special projects director CR Saikley, "witness to the birth of both Rock & Roll and Punk Rock... integral to our culture from the 1950s to the 1980s." Vinyl remains the most revered of musical formats for good reason—reasons future generations will discover, at least virtually, for themselves someday.

via Kottke

Related Content:

How Vinyl Records Are Made: A Primer from 1956

An Interactive Map of Every Record Shop in the World

25,000+ 78RPM Records Now Professionally Digitized & Streaming Online: A Treasure Trove of Early 20th Century Music

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

The Entire Archive of Contact: A Journal for Contemporary Music Has Been Digitized and Put Online

FYI on a new digitization project:

"Contact: A Journal for Contemporary Music was active from 1971–1990 and independently published by its editors. As with many independent print publications of that era, this has meant that, for readers and researchers operating in a contemporary digital landscape, the richness of its resource has been all but inaccessible. In recognition of this situation, in the years 2016–2019, the entire journal was digitised and made available over the course of a three-year research project.."

"Contact’s basic intentions – as set out fully in the first issue, dated Spring 1971 – were to promote informed discussion of 20th-century music in general and the music of our own time in particular. Among the original concerns of the founders of the magazine were that popular musics, jazz and contemporary folk music should play a part in our scheme. In the earlier days, especially, we continually sought for good writing in these fields, as well as contributions on ‘serious’ music."

Enter the Contact online archive here...

via @ideoforms

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. 

 

Libraries & Archivists Are Digitizing 480,000 Books Published in 20th Century That Are Secretly in the Public Domain

Image by Jason "Textfiles" Scott, via Wikimedia Commons

All books in the public domain are free. Most books in the public domain are, by definition, on the old side, and a great many aren't easy to find in any case. But the books now being scanned and uploaded by libraries aren't quite so old, and they'll soon get much easier to find. They've fallen through a loophole because their copyright-holders never renewed their copyright, but until recently the technology wasn't quite in place to reliably identify and digitally store them.

Now, though, as Vice's Karl Bode writes, "a coalition of archivists, activists, and libraries are working overtime to make it easier to identify the many books that are secretly in the public domain, digitize them, and make them freely available online to everyone." These were published between 1923 and 1964, and the goal of this digitization project is to upload all of these surprisingly out-of-copyright books to the Internet Archive, a glimpse of whose book-scanning operation appears above.




"Historically, it’s been fairly easy to tell whether a book published between 1923 and 1964 had its copyright renewed, because the renewal records were already digitized," writes Bode. "But proving that a book hadn’t had its copyright renewed has historically been more difficult." You can learn more about what it takes to do that from this blog post by New York Public Library Senior Product Manager Sean Redmond, who first crunched the numbers and estimated that 70 percent of the titles published over those 41 years may now be out of copyright: "around 480,000 public domain books, in other words."

The first important stage is the conversion of copyright records into the XML format, a large part of which the New York Public Library has recently completed. Bode also mentions a software developer and science fiction author named Leonard Richardson who has written Python scripts to expedite the process (including a matching script to identify potentially non-renewed copyrights in the Internet Archive collection) and a bot that identifies newly discovered secretly public-domain books daily. Richardson himself underscores the necessity of volunteers to take on tasks like seeking out a copy of each such book, "scanning it, proofing it, then putting out HTML and plain-text editions."

This work is now happening at American libraries and among volunteers from organizations like Project Gutenberg. The Internet Archive's Jason Scott has also pitched in with his own resources, recently putting out a call for more help on the "very boring, VERY BORING (did I mention boring)" project of determining "which books are actually in the public domain to either surface them on or help make a hitlist." Of course, many more obviously stimulating tasks exist even in the realm of digital archiving. But then, each secretly public-domain book identified, found, scanned, and uploaded brings humanity's print and digital civilizations one step closer together. Whatever comes out of that union, it certainly won't be boring.

via Vice

Related Content:

Public Domain Day Is Finally Here!: Copyrighted Works Have Entered the Public Domain Today for the First Time in 21 Years

11,000 Digitized Books From 1923 Are Now Available Online at the Internet Archive

British Library to Offer 65,000 Free eBooks

Download for Free 2.6 Million Images from Books Published Over Last 500 Years on Flickr

Free: You Can Now Read Classic Books by MIT Press on Archive.org

The Library of Congress Launches the National Screening Room, Putting Online Hundreds of Historic Films

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, 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.

How Marion Stokes, an Activist Librarian, Recorded 30 Years of TV News on 70,000 Video Tapes: It’s All Now Being Digitized and Put Online

“Nothing is more important than television,” said J.D. Salinger (as impersonated, that is, in an episode of Bojack Horseman). A passive, pacifying medium—“cool,” as Marshall McLuhan called it—TV has also long been an easy target for punditry, for many decades before the perpetrator du jour, video games. Television spread ignorance, was “the drug of the nation," said Michael Franti, peddled fake heroes on “channel zero,” said Public Enemy, and would lead to an “electrical re-tribalization of the West,” McLuhan predicted (and further explained in this interview).

Marion Stokes set out to do more than any of the men above who made pronouncements about television. She dedicated her life to preserving the evidence, taping television news for over 33 years, from 1979 “until the day she died,” writes the Internet Archive, who now hold Stokes’ “unique 71k+ video cassette collection” and intend to digitize all of it. Stokes “was a fiercely private African American social justice champion, librarian, political radical, TV producer, feminist, Apple Computer super-fan and collector like few others.”




She “questioned the media’s motivations and recognized the insidious intentional spread of disinformation…. Ms. Stokes was alarmed. In a private herculean effort, she took on the challenge of independently preserving the news record of her times in its most pervasive and persuasive form—TV.” She also preserved three decades of televised critiques of television. She began making her archive at the beginning of the Iran Hostage Crisis on November 14, 1979. “She hit record and never stopped,” her son Michael Metelits says in Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project, “a newly released documentary,” reports Atlas Obscura, “about [Stokes] and the archival project that became her life’s work.”

In one remarkable example of TV critique, at the top, we see William Davidon, professor of Physics at Haverford College, decrying television for spreading ignorance, social irresponsibility, and passive consumption, making people unable to participate in the political process. The roundtable discussion took place on a 1968 episode of Input. A little over a year later, writes the Internet Archive, Davidon “would take an action of great social consequence,” breaking into an FBI field office with seven others and stealing the evidence that “revealed COINTELPRO.” (They were never caught, and Davidon’s role only came out posthumously.)

Then known as Marion Metelits, Stokes co-produced Input, a local Philadelphia Sunday morning talk show, with her future husband John S. Stokes Jr., and both of them appear on the program above (both credited as representing the Wellsprings Ecumenical Center). The conversation ranges widely, with Ms. Metelits and Davidon spiritedly defending “human potential” against too-rigid systems of classification and manipulation. There are a few dozen more episodes of Input currently at the Internet Archive, with panels featuring academics, activists, and clergy (such as the episode explaining, sort of, the “Wellsprings Ecumenical Center.”)

It’s a hard-hitting, controversial show for a local broadcast, and it gives us a detailed view of a range of both popular and radical positions of the time, including Stokes’, which we can learn more about in the journals, notes, lists, newspaper and magazine clippings, pamphlets, leaflets, handbills, and more she collected since 1960, many of which have also been digitized at the Internet Archive. Stokes backed her views with action. She was “surveilled by the government for her early political activism,” Atlas Obscura writes, and “attempted to defect to Cuba” with her first husband Melvin Metelits. She kept her recording project private, “eschewed Tivo” and “never sent an email in her life.”

She also made a small fortune in Apple stock, which funded her project and “the massive storage space she required as the sole force behind it.” Stokes left us no doubt as to why she documented thirty years of TV news. But those documents get to speak for themselves—or they will, at least. Stokes recorded far more than her own program, three decades more. And the Internet Archive is currently “endeavoring to help make sure” the entire collection “is digitized and made available online to everyone, forever, for free.”

If television had, and maybe still has, the power ascribed to it by its many astute critics, then Marion Stokes’ painstaking archive offers an invaluable means of understanding how we got to where we are, if not how to change course. Stokes’ collection, and the documentary about her life, show "how the news was going to evolve into an addiction,” as Owen Gleiberman writes at Variety. The project took over her life and fractured her relationships. “Even if you’re obsessed with the inaccuracy of TV news, it has still entrapped you, like a two-way mirror that won’t let you see the other side.” If the medium is the message, the other side might always be more television.

via Atlas Obscura

Related Content:

Hear Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage (1967)

5 Animations Introduce the Media Theory of Noam Chomsky, Roland Barthes, Marshall McLuhan, Edward Said & Stuart Hall

New Archive Makes Available 800,000 Pages Documenting the History of Film, Television & Radio

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

More in this category... »
Quantcast