An Archive of 8,000 Benjamin Franklin Papers Now Digitized & Put Online

Let me quickly pass along some good news from the Library of Congress: "The papers of American scientist, statesman and diplomat Benjamin Franklin have been digitized and are now available online for the first time.... The Franklin papers consist of approximately 8,000 items mostly dating from the 1770s and 1780s. These include the petition that the First Continental Congress sent to Franklin, then a colonial diplomat in London, to deliver to King George III; letterbooks Franklin kept as he negotiated the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War; drafts of the treaty; notes documenting his scientific observations, and correspondence with fellow scientists." Find the digitized collection of papers here.

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Apply to Become an Archivist Overseeing Prince’s Artifacts & Archival Materials: Applications Are Being Accepted Now

Image by Ann Althouse, via Flickr Commons

If all of Prince’s official releases somehow disappeared from history—no Controversy, 1999, Purple Rain, Sign o’ the Times, Lovesexy—you could still make a case for him as a singular, if unheard, musical genius based on his massive trove of unreleased material alone. At least that’s my theory, but the evidence is somewhat lacking since we’ve yet to hear much from the notorious Paisley Park vault. We do know, as Rolling Stone reported in 2016, that it’s full of “thousands of hours of unheard live and studio material—jams, random songs and entire albums”…enough material, it seems, to recreate Prince should his career somehow get erased from the timeline.

One former Paisley Park employee, Scott LeGere, witnessed the Purple One’s manic energy during many a long recording session, as he churned out music at a superhuman rate, then relegated much of it, for reasons known only to Prince, to the Vault—an actual basement bank vault “complete with a time lock and large spinning handle.” Only Prince knew the combination. “At one point,” LeGere remembered, “I was holding tapes and he would beckon me to come in. I said, ‘Actually, sir, I’d rather not. That is your space and your work.’” I don’t know about you, but I probably would have gone in. Then again, I’ve never actually been to Paisley Park and experienced what seems to have been a very humbling atmosphere.

As you must have heard by now, the Vault is open, and unreleased material has begun to trickle out, like the original studio recording of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” above with previously unreleased rehearsal footage of Prince and his band. He “recorded every part himself,” writes Jon Pareles, as was his custom, “except some backing vocals (by Paul Peterson and Susannah Melvoin) and a saxophone solo (by Eric Leeds).” It is, without a doubt, “a crescendo of heartache underscored by everyday details, a finished song.”

If you’re a Prince fan (and how could you not be?), you’ll have to wait until September for the first full album of songs from the Vault. But one lucky person with the relevant skills and experience in archival work and conservation will get the chance to work directly with the materials at Paisley Park, now a permanent museum, as the Archives Supervisor reporting to the Director of Archives. “Some knowledge of Prince is helpful,” the job announcement—posted on April 12th—specifies.

You’ll have to be prepared to work weekends, holidays, evenings, and overtime. Benefits are not guaranteed but “may be be offered after successful completion of a sixty (60) day introductory period.” You must have a car and “adhere to a pescatarian environment.” I can’t speak to how these conditions compare to similar kinds of employment, but hey, for the chance to “work in a confidential work area,” including, we might assume, the mysterious Vault itself, some sacrifices may be worth it. You'll likely get to see and hear, before anyone else, the profusion of unreleased film and audio Prince left behind—a lifetime's worth of work that puts most other musicians to shame, stashed away in the basement for future generations to find. You can apply here.

via Rolling Stone

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

Download an Archive of 16,000 Sound Effects from the BBC: A Fascinating History of the 20th Century in Sound

I was crate digging at my local used vinyl emporium a little while ago and came across some sound effects records from the early ‘60s. Nothing amazing, until I checked the track list and noticed “Sounds of Football Match -- ‘Block that Kick!’”

If you’re a Beatles fan like me, you’ll know what I suspected and then found to be true: I was holding the source of not just one, but several of the sound effects used in “Revolution 9” as well as the bird effects heard on "Across the Universe" and “Blackbird.” Apparently this must have been a popular disc at Abbey Road.

Now I mention this as a preamble to this amazing website by the BBC, in which they’ve opened their archive of 16,000 (technically 16,016) sound effects, many of which have surely been used over and over on various radio plays. (For the Americans out there, yes, BBC Radio still produces radio plays!)




The sounds, each of which you can download, are being released under a non-commercial use license as part of their RemArc program, which is “designed to help trigger memories in people with dementia using BBC Archive material as stimulation.”

The archives run from the nightmarish “South American parrot talking and screeching” which I actually never want to hear again:

to “Zeppelin bomb-drop mechanism. (Comedy Spot Effect),” which doesn’t *sound* funny, but who knows how it was used:

There’s also sounds of the 1966 F.A. Cup Final between Everton and Sheffield Wednesday:

Plenty of these sound effects were relevant at the time. However, a lot of them are now remnants of a time long past, from sounds of offices--noisy then, dead silent now--to high streets (much less music). How many kids would recognize a dial tone or a busy signal, let alone the majestic alien weirdness of a Creed Machine operating:

Back to my opening musing. I would suspect those sound effects also found their way into any number of television shows.

Could we assume, then, that Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam raided these archives for his animations? Or David Attenborough’s crew for any number of nature documentaries? Sound detectives, start digging. Enter the BBC Sound Effects Archive here.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

70,000+ Religious Texts Digitized by Princeton Theological Seminary, Letting You Immerse Yourself in the Curious Works of Great World Religions

It is maybe easy for those unfamiliar with the study of religion to reduce the academic discipline to a ponderous exercise—self-serious, obsessed with tradition, rendered suspect by histories of violence and highly implausible, contradictory claims. But this is a mistake. For one thing, as scholar of religion Wilfred Cantwell Smith once wrote, “the study of religion is the study of persons”—quite broadly, he suggests, to study religion is to study humanity: anthropology, sociology, history, art, literature, philosophy, mythology, psychology, etc. Studying religion can also be—contrary to certain stereotypes—a great deal of fun.

In what other scholarly pursuit, after all, can one read Reginald Scot, Esquire’s 1584 The Discoverie of Witchcraft, L. Austine Waddell’s 1805 The Buddhism of Tibet, and J.G. Frazer’s 1894 The Golden Bough, inspiration for T.S. Eliot’s poetry and spiritual ancestor to Joseph Campbell’s popular comparative work The Hero with a Thousand Faces?




But of course, not many an advanced scholar would find him or herself immersed in all of these texts, specializing, as they must, in one particular area. Those of us who are merely curious, however, or insatiably curious, can do as we please in the theology library, thumbing through whatever strikes our fancy.

We may do so from the comfort of wherever we can get wifi thanks to Princeton Theological Seminary’s Theological Commonsproject with the Internet Archive, which has digitized over 70,000 texts from the Princeton Theological Seminary Library, spanning hundreds of years and nearly every conceivable religious subject. Yes, there are shelves of hymnals, hardly the kind of thing to generate much interest among any but the most devout or the most deeply-down-a-scholarly-rabbit-hole. But there are also many fascinating gems like Jacob Grimm’s 1882-88 Teutonic Mythology in four volumes (translated into English), like E.A. Wallis Budge’s beautifully illustrated 1911 Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection, and like Wesleyan minister Charles Roberts’ 1899 The Zulu-Kafir Language Simplified for Beginners.

Like many texts written by colonial observers and Orientalist scholars, some of these books may tell us as much or more about their authors than about the purported subjects—we encounter in religious scholarship no more nor less bias than in any other field, though piety is given license to take more overt forms. Unfortunately, as Cantwell Smith wrote, “the traditional form of Western scholarship in the study of other men’s religion was that of an impersonal presentation of an ‘it.’” But these outdated views are themselves instructive—as part of a process towards a wider humanist understanding, “the gradual recognition of what was always true in principle, but was not always grasped.”

For students and professional scholars, the Princeton digital library is obviously, well… a godsend. For the merely—or insatiably—curious, it is an open invitation to explore strange new worlds, so to speak, and to realize, again and again, that they’re all the same world, seen in innumerably different ways. In this archive, you'll find primary texts and commentaries on Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Greek and Egyptian religions, indigenous faiths of all kinds, and, of course, given the source, plenty of Christianity (like the 1606, pre-King James Bible at the top). “The next step,” writes Cantwell Smith, in moving the study of religion forward, “is a dialogue.... If there is listening and mutuality... the culmination of this progress is when ‘we all’ are talking with each other about ‘us.’”

Enter the online Princeton Theological Seminary Library here.

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

Large Archive of Hannah Arendt’s Papers Digitized by the Library of Congress: Read Her Lectures, Drafts of Articles, Notes & Correspondence

Many people read the German-Jewish political philosopher and journalist Hannah Arendt as something of an oracle, a secular prophet whose most famous works—her essay on the trial of Adolf Eichmann and her 1951 Origins of Totalitarianism—contain secrets about our own times of high nationalist fervor. And indeed they may, but we should also keep in mind that Arendt’s insights into the horrors of Nazism did not emerge until after the war.

Arendt did not identify as Jewish during the Nazi's rise to power, but as a fully assimilated German; she had a romantic relationship with her professor Martin Heidegger, who became a doctrinaire Nazi, and she seemed to have little understanding of German antisemitism during the thirties and forties. Arendt, many have alleged, sometimes seemed too close to her subject.




In such times as hers, to use the words of Wallace Stevens—a writer with his own complicated relationship to fascism—the “difficult rigor” of observing the moment means that “we reason of these things with later reason.” Arendt’s observations of Europe in the 1950s were reckonings with the recent past—she drew together strains of experience that could not always be connected during what Stevens calls the “irrational moment.” So too, intellectual observers of our own “irrational moment” may only truly understand it “with later reason.”

But if Americans wish to learn about their country’s longstanding political tendencies from Arendt’s work, it is perhaps not to her writing on Germany or the U.S.S.R. that we should turn, but to her work on the U.S., much of which is reflected in typed drafts of essays and lectures, correspondence, and notes contained at the Library of Congress’s Hannah Arendt Papers collection. All of the collection has been digitized, and some of those scans are online. Finding out which documents have been uploaded and which only remain viewable onsite takes a little digging around in the catalog, but it is work that pays off for those with a genuine interest in the fascinating turns of Arendt’s thought.

We may turn to essays such as 1971’s “Lying in Politics,” written after the release of the Pentagon Papers, notes Brain Pickings, and “included in Crises of the Republic—a collection of Arendt’s timelessly insightful and increasingly timely essays on politics [and] civil disobedience.” As Arendt writes in an earlier lecture that preceded “Lying in Politics”—with the earlier title “The Role of the Lie in Politics” (top)—“Truthfulness has never been counted as among the political virtues.” You can view and download high-quality images of that typed lecture here, and see her revise her ideas in corrections and marginal notes.

The political lie, she writes wearily, “has existed since the beginning of recorded history.” And yet, there is something unique about its use in U.S. politics, in which “the only person likely to be an ideal victim of complete manipulation is the President of the United States.” Despite her dispassionate philosophical view, Arendt found the lies of the Vietnam War-era particularly disturbing. In the typescript page at the top, you can see a proposed subtitle penciled in at the top left corner: “How Could They? What Went Wrong in America.”

In the typed lecture above, “Action and the Pursuit of Happiness,” from 1960, Arendt remarks on the “amazing discovery” by the country’s naturalized “new citizens” that the “pursuit of happiness” remains a “more than meaningless phrase and an empty word in the public and private life of the American Republic.” This “most elusive of all human rights,” she continues, “apparently entitles men, in the words of Howard Mumford Jones, to ‘the ghastly privilege of pursuing a phantom and embracing a delusion.'”

Arendt’s 1968 New York Times editorial “Is America By Nature a Violent Society,” whose typescript you can see in part above, opens with a number of assumptions about the country’s “national character,” beginning with the comment that the country’s “multitude of ethnic groups… for better or worse have never melted together into a nation.” Perhaps this is too broad a characterization. Or perhaps the U.S. as a nation is no more “artificial ‘by nature,’” in its composition than many other, much older, nations.

Arendt’s observations on her adopted land weren’t always so astute, but she did have enough critical distance from the country to closely observe it during times of crisis and see clearly what others could or would not. You’ll find many more of Arendt’s keen observations—typed in drafts and notes, scribbled in margins, and written in letters—at the Library of Congress’ Hannah Arendt Papers collection, (partly) online.

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

Massive Archive of 78RPM Records Now Digitized & Put Online: Stream 78,000 Early 20th Century Records from Around the World

Last summer we checked in with the Internet Archive’s Great 78 Project, a volunteer effort to digitize thousands of 78rpm records—the oldest mass-produced recording medium. Drawing on the expertise and vast holdings of preservation company George Blood, L.P., the ARChive of Contemporary Music, and over 20 more institutions from around the world, the project aims to save the recorded sounds of the past, and not only those that have come down to us through the efforts of highly selective curators. What we think of as the sound of the early 20th century—the blues, jazz, country, classical, ragtime, gospel, bluegrass, etc.—only represents a popular sample.

Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle wants to widen our sonic appreciation of the period, and include everything, “Midwest, different countries, different social classes, different immigrant communities and their loves and fears.”




This massive archive will eventually number in the millions, up to 3 million recordings, to be exact, and continues apace at the rate of about 5,000 new uploads per month.

Last August, the recordings in the archive numbered over 25,000. Now, the Great 78 Project contains more than 78,000 and counting digital transfers of fragile 78rpm records—everything from Prokofiev to the Carter Family (further up) to Mississippi John Hurt from 1928 (above) to international folk dances to field recordings of animal sounds.

The collected works of Al Jolson, spanning the years 1911 to 1926, appear (above), as does a fascinating collection from Argentina, brought to the U.S. by Tina Argumedo, who began collecting 78s in the 30s and continued to do so for another 20 years before moving to the States. Her digitized collection of almost 700 records “comprises primarily tango music, with boleros, sambas, mambo, and other dance music,” like the Argentine swing of Dajos Bela y su Orquestra from 1932 below.

As we noted in our previous post, the utmost care has gone into preserving the original sound of these records, with a variety of digital transfers made with different vintage styluses to represent the differences in playback systems. The process also preserves all the original records’ crackle and hiss—sometimes the music seems to swim below the surface noise, which only enhances the effect of hearing, transported through time, music from 80, 90, and 100 years ago and more.

Enter the 78 archive here.

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

New Gabriel García Márquez Digital Archive Features More Than 27,000 Digitized Letters, Manuscript Pages, Photos & More

Unidentified photographer. Gabriel García Márquez in Aracataca, March 1966.
Courtesy Harry Ransom Center.

When Gabriel García Márquez died in 2014, it was said that only the Bible had sold more books in Spanish than the Colombian writer’s work: Love in the Time of Cholera, The Autumn of the Patriarch, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, The General in His Labyrinth… and yes, of course, One Hundred Years of Solitude, the 1967 novel William Kennedy described in a New York Times review as “the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race.”

García Márquez began to hate such elevated praise. It raised expectations he felt he couldn’t fulfill after the enormous success of that incredibly brilliant, seemingly sui generis second novel. Everyone in South America read the book. To avoid the crowds, the author moved to Spain (where Mario Vargas Llosa wrote a doctoral dissertation on him). He needn’t have worried.




Everything he wrote afterward met with near-universal acclaim—bringing earlier work like No One Writes to the Colonel, Leaf Storm, short story collections like A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings, and decades of journalism and non-fiction writing—to a much wider readership than he’d ever had before.

Gabriel García Márquez's revised typescript of Chronicle of a Death Foretold, 1980.
Courtesy Harry Ransom Center.

After Gregory Rabassa’s 1970 translation of One Hundred Years of Solitude, waves of “magical realist” and Latin American literature from the 50s and 60s swept through the English-speaking world, much of it in translation for the first time. García Márquez declared the English version of his novel better than the original, and affectionately called Rabassa, “the best Latin American writer in the English language.” Upwards of 50 million people worldwide now know the story of the Buendía family. “Published in 44 languages,” The Atlantic notes, “it remains the most translated literary work in Spanish after Don Quixote, and a survey among international writers ranks it as the novel that has most shaped world literature over the past three decades.”

The story of the book’s composition is even more fascinating. In the Democracy Now tribute video below, you can hear García Márquez himself tell it. And at the University of Texas at Austin’s Harry Ransom Center, we can see artifacts like the photograph of the author at the top, in his hometown of Aracataca, Colombia in March of 1966, during the composition of One Hundred Years of Solitude. We can see scanned images of typescript like the page above from Chronicle of a Death Foretold.


In all, the archive “includes manuscript drafts of published and unpublished works, research material, photographs, scrapbooks, correspondence, clippings, notebooks, screenplays, printed material, ephemera, and an audio recording of García Márquez's acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982… approximately 27,500 items from García Márquez's papers.” These documents and photos, like that further down of young journalist García Márquez with Emma Castro and, just below, of the seasoned famous novelist, with her brother, tell the story of a writer who lived his life steeped in the politics and history of Latin America, and who translated those stories faithfully for the rest of the world.

Unidentified photographer. Gabriel García Márquez with Fidel Castro, undated.
Courtesy Harry Ransom Center.

Enter, search, and explore the archive here. This amazing resource opens up to the general public a wealth of material previously only available to scholars and librarians. The project features “text-searchable English- and Spanish-language materials, took 18 months and involved the efforts of librarians, archivists, students, technology staff members and conservators.” Perhaps only coincidentally, 18 months is the time it took García Márquez to write One Hundred Years of Solitude, barricaded in his office while he ran out of money, pulled forward by some irresistible force. “I did not stop writing for a single day for 18 straight months, until I finished the book,” he tells us. As always, we believe him.

Unidentified photographer. Gabriel García Márquez with Emma Castro, 1957.
Courtesy Harry Ransom Center.

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

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