20,000 Letters, Manuscripts & Artifacts From Sigmund Freud Get Digitized and Made Available Online

In his introduction to the 2010 essay collection Freud and Fundamentalism, Stathis Gourgouris defines fundamentalism as “thought that disavows multiplicities of meaning, abhors allegorical elements, and strives toward an exclusionary orthodoxy.” While there may be both religious and secular versions of such ideologies worldwide, we can trace the word itself to an Evangelical movement in the U.S., and to a set of beliefs that endures today among around a third of all Americans and has “animated America’s culture wars for over eighty years,” writes David Adams. The fundamentalist movement first took shape in 1920, just as Sigmund Freud wrote and published his Beyond the Pleasure Principle.




It was in that book that Freud introduced the concept of the “death drive.” Adams argues that “the ‘fundamentalist’ and the ‘death drive,’ are twins: they came into being simultaneously,” and “their simultaneity is not merely an accident. Both of these concepts are responding to the profound cultural and psychological crisis resulting from the First World War.” Every calamity since World War I has seemed to reanimate that early 20th century struggle between modernism—with its pluralist values and emphasis on creativity and experiment—and fundamentalism, with its compulsion for rigid hierarchy and destruction. And we might see, as Adams does, such cultural conflicts as analogous to those Freud wrote of between Eros—the pleasure principle—and the drive toward death.

The Great War turned Freud’s thoughts in this direction, as did the racism and anti-Semitism taking hold in both Europe and the U.S. His theory of an instinctual drive toward the destruction of self and others seemed to anticipate the horror of the World War yet to come. Freud integrated the concept into his social theory ten years later in Civilization and its Discontentsin which he wrote that “the inclination to aggression” was “the greatest impediment to civilization.” While meditating on the death instinct as a psychoanalytic and social concept, Freud also pondered his own mortality. Just above, you can see the draft of a death notice that he wrote for himself during the 1920s. This comes to us from the Library of Congress’s new collection of Sigmund Freud papers, which contains artifacts and manuscripts dating from the 6th century B.C.E. (a Greek statue) to correspondence discovered in the late 90s.

The “bulk of the material,” writes the LoC, dates “from 1891 to 1939,” and the “digitized collection documents Freud’s founding of psychoanalysis, the maturation of psychoanalytic theory, the refinement of its clinical technique, and the proliferation of its adherents and critics.” Much of this archive may be of interest only to the specialist scholar of Freud’s life and work, with “legal documents, estate records… school records” of the Freud children, and other mundane bureaucratic paperwork. But there are also letters representing “nearly six hundred correspondents,” such as Freud’s onetime protégé Carl Jung and Albert Einstein, with whom Freud corresponded in 1932 on the subject of “Why war?” (See Freud’s letter to Einstein above.)

The documents are nearly all in German and the handwritten letters, notes, and drafts will be difficult to read even for speakers of the language. Yet, there are also artifacts like the 1936 portrait of Freud at the top, by Victor Krausz, the pocket notebook Freud carried between 1907 and 1908, just above, and---below---a picture of a pocket watch given to Freud by physician Max Schur, whose family left Austria with Freud's in 1938. You can browse the online collection of over 20,000 items by date, name, location, and other indices, and all images are downloadable in high resolution scans. 

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

Techie Working at Home Creates Bigger Archive of Historical Newspapers (37 Million Pages) Than the Library of Congress

"Real news, fake news, who cares, it's all the same, am I right?"

... Not to make light of an existential crisis in journalism and the public trust---a disturbing development. Cynicism threatens to erode the very foundations of... well, ring your own alarm bell. Perhaps it's time we (re)drew some hard lines around what we mean by the word “news.”

How to do that? I leave it to the experts—professors of journalism, reporters and archivists and historians who do the hard work of constructing genealogies and taxonomies of news, discovering its mutations and dead ends.




Journalism libraries around the country fulfill the needs of these scholars, as does the Library of Congress. But if you really want to dig into a comprehensive collection—one that bests even the august Federal government library (sort of)—you’ll need to visit the website of one Tom Tryniski, private citizen, retired “computer expert,” writes Jim Epstein at Reason, and dedicated amateur, “working alone.”

This being Reason, the preserve of “free minds and free markets,” you can expect a good bit of crowing about the entrepreneurial spirit of Tryniski’s accomplishment---an archive of 37,439,000 historic newspaper pages from the U.S. and Canada, “orders of magnitude bigger and more popular than one created by a federal bureaucracy with millions of dollars to spend.” The video above says it succinctly in a tagline: “Amateur beats gov’t at digitizing newspapers.”

Should you take an interest in what Tryniski---the sole employee of Old Fulton New York Postcards---spends, Epstein provides a full accounting of the site's impressively meager operating budget. Should you wonder where the LoC’s money goes, and why it uses so many more resources than one retiree, you may wish to do your own comparison between Tryniski’s site and the Feds’ online news archive, Chronicling America. (And maybe pay their place a visit in the flesh.) There's more to a library than numbers of pages and views.

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In some ways, it's not a fair comparison. Tryniski may be a computer expert, but he’s not a web designer (or he’s an ornery, old-school purist). His site (last updated in 2014), with its frames and heavy use of Flash and GIFs, reflects the web’s anarchic 90s heyday. And where the LoC’s site chronicles all of America, Tryniski’s mostly sticks to New York, with local papers like The Port Chester Journal (above) represented heavily.

That said, the site’s search functions are much cooler than those of glossier competitors, with options for “fuzzy searching,” “phonic searching” (for those of us who can’t spell), “and “user-defined synonyms.” Tryniski also knows his way around microfilm and a microfilm scanner, despite (we’re expressly told for some reason in the video and Epstein's article) his being “a high school graduate.”

In this triumph of the everyman story, however, Tryniski does not introduce his own collection with fulminations of the “old man shakes fist at” variety. Instead he describes his collection as a means of time travel. “It’s the day-to-day life,” he says, “that you could not imagine today. Reading the actual newspaper seems to bring it back into current context. People... sit there and it’s like, they move back into that time, and it’s like they’re living in the same time as their grandparents and great-grandparents.”

Nobody needs to fix journalism, libraries, or federal spending to have this experience, and it’s one everyone should have—whether by traveling through the pages of old newspapers or a family trove of photos and letters. History can seem like little more than a story we tell ourselves about the past, but the primary documents have tales to tell that we could never imagine.

Learn more about Tryniski’s collection at Reason, and visit the quirky, deceptively fulsome Old Fulton NY Post Cards (named as such because the site began as a scanned collection of postcards from Tryniski's hometown of Fulton, NY). You’ll find in its charmingly clunky environs a fascinating repository of vintage news and photos. And remember, “If you did not read about it on Old Fulton NY Post Cards, IT DID NOT HAPPEN!!!”

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

Isaac Newton’s Recipe for the Mythical ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ Is Being Digitized & Put Online (Along with His Other Alchemy Manuscripts)

17th-century-manuscript

In his 1686 Principia Mathematica, Isaac Newton elaborated not only his famous Law of Gravity, but also his Three Laws of Motion, setting a centuries-long trend for scientific three-law sets. Newton’s third law has by far proven his most popular: “every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” In Arthur C. Clarke’s 20th century Three Laws, the third has also attained wide cultural significance. No doubt you’ve heard it: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Clarke’s third law gets invoked in discussions of the so-called “demarcation problem,” that is, of the boundaries between science and pseudoscience. It also comes up, of course, in science fiction forums, where people refer to Ted Chiang’s succinct interpretation: “If you can mass-produce it, it’s science, and if you can’t, it’s magic.” This makes sense, given the central importance the sciences place on reproducibility. But in Newton’s pre-industrial age, the distinctions between science and magic were much blurrier than they are now.

Newton was an early fellow of the British Royal Society, which codified repeatable experiment and demonstration with their motto, “Nothing in words,” and published the Principia. He later served as the Society’s president for over twenty years. But even as the foremost representative of early modern physics---what Edward Dolnick called “the clockwork universe”---Newton held some very strange religious and magical beliefs that we would point to today as examples of superstition and pseudoscience.

In 1704, for example, the year after he became Royal Society president, Newton used certain esoteric formulae to calculate the end of the world, in keeping with his long-standing study of apocalyptic prophecy. What’s more, the revered mathematician and physicist practiced the medieval art of alchemy, the attempt to turn base metals into gold by means of an occult object called the “Philosopher’s stone.” By Newton’s time, many alchemists believed the stone to be a magical substance composed in part of “sophick mercury.” In the late 1600s, Newton copied out a recipe for such stuff from a text by American-born alchemist George Starkey, writing his own notes on the back of the document.

You can see the “sophick mercury” formula in Newton’s hand at the top. The recipe contains, in part, “Fiery Dragon, some Doves of Diana, and at least seven Eagles of mercury,” notes Michael Greshko at National Geographic. Newton's alchemical texts detail what has long been “dismissed as mystical pseudoscience full of fanciful, discredited processes.” This is why Cambridge University refused to archive Newton’s alchemical papers in 1888, and why his 1855 biographer wondered how he could be taken in by “the obvious production of a fool and a knave.” Newton's alchemy documents passed quietly through many private collectors’ hands until 1936, when “the world of Isaac Newton scholarship received a rude shock,” writes Indiana University’s online project, The Chymistry of Isaac Newton:

In that year the venerable auction house of Sotheby’s released a catalogue describing three hundred twenty-nine lots of Newton’s manuscripts, mostly in his own handwriting, of which over a third were filled with content that was undeniably alchemical.

Marked “not to be printed” upon his death in 1727, the alchemical works “raised a host of interesting questions in 1936 as they do even today.” Those questions include whether or not Newton practiced alchemy as an early scientific pursuit or whether he believed in a “secret theological meaning in alchemical texts, which often describe the transmutational secret as a special gift revealed by God to his chosen sons.” The important distinction comes into play in Ted Chiang’s discussion of Clarke’s Third Law:

Suppose someone says she can transform lead into gold. If we can use her technique to build factories that turn lead into gold by the ton, then she’s made an incredible scientific discovery. If on the other hand it’s something that only she can do... then she’s a magician.

Did Newton think of himself as a magician? Or, more properly given his religiosity, as God’s chosen vessel for alchemical transformation? It’s not entirely clear what he believed about alchemy. But he did take the practice of what was then called “chymistry” as seriously as he did his mathematics. James Voelkel, curator of the Chemical Heritage Foundation—who recently purchased the Philosophers' stone recipe—tells Livescience that its author, Starkey, was “probably American’s first renowned, published scientist,” as well as an alchemist. While Newton may not have tried to make the mercury, he did correct Starkey’s text and write his own experiments for distilling lead ore on the back.

Indiana University science historian William Newman “and other historians,” notes National Geographic, “now view alchemists as thoughtful technicians who labored over their equipment and took copious notes, often encoding their recipes with mythological symbols to protect their hard-won knowledge.” The occult weirdness of alchemy, and the strange pseudonyms its practitioners adopted, often constituted a means to “hide their methods from the unlearned and ‘unworthy,’” writes Danny Lewis at Smithsonian. Like his fellow alchemists, Newton “diligently documented his lab techniques” and kept a careful record of his reading.

“Alchemists were the first to realize that compounds could be broken down into their constituent parts and then recombined,” says Newman, a principle that influenced Newton’s work on optics. It is now acknowledged that---while still considered a mystical pseudoscience---alchemy is an important “precursor to modern chemistry” and, indeed, as Indiana University notes, it contributed significantly to early modern pharmacology” and “iatrochemistry... one of the important new fields of early modern science.” The sufficiently advanced technology of chemistry has its origins in the magic of “chymistry,” and Newton was “involved in all three of chymistry’s major branches in varying degrees.”

Newton’s alchemical manuscript papers, such as “Artephius his secret Book” and “Hermes” sound nothing like what we would expect of the discoverer of a “clockwork universe.” You can read transcriptions of these manuscripts and several dozen more at The Chymistry of Isaac Newton, where you’ll also find an Alchemical Glossary, Symbol Guide, several educational resources, and more. The manuscripts not only show Newton’s alchemy pursuits, but also his correspondence with other early modern alchemical scientists like Robert Boyle and Starkey, whose recipe—titled “Preparation of the [Socphick] Mercury for the [Philosophers’] stone by the Antinomial Stellate Regulus of Mars and Luna from the Manuscripts of the American Philosopher”—will be added to the Indiana University online archive soon.

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

The U.S. National Archives Launches an Animated GIF Archive: See Whitman, Twain, Hemingway & Others in Motion

Does it matter to you if some people insist on pronouncing GIF with a hard “g” rather than saying “Jiff,” as if they were telling you when they’d get back from the store? (I freely admit, I’m one of those people.) Well then, you, reader, certainly belong to a core audience for the National Archives and Records Administration’s online library of animated “jiffs.” Clearly NARA knows the correct pronunciation, since they announce their new collection with the dated pun “Getting’ Giphy With It.” And they know what the internet needs most from them in times like these: “quality animated GIFs from a reputable source.”

NARA’s archive of jerky, silent, digital moving pictures resides at their GIPHY channel, and contains an “animated history of all flavors including major historic events, celebrities, National Parks, newsreels, animated patents, dancing sailors,” etc…

"... wait, what’s that?," you say, “animated patents”? Yes. Admittedly, not all of the collection’s GIFs make the quippiest of reaction shots. The archive does, as Allison Meier writes at Hyperallergic, “tell US history in motion.” But animated images of static photos—some dating from before the days of animation---tend to look a little stiff, as in the GIF below, made from two different exposures of a Walt Whitman portrait. Or the already exceedingly stiff portrait further down of a young Mark Twain and friend.

Meier compares these GIF anachronisms to the New York Public Library’s “Stereogranimator,” a neat online tool that allows us to experience a 19th century mechanical version of the GIF. In that regard, they join antiquarian interest with digital curiosity. But when we think of animated GIFs, we generally think of weird little vignettes, like the image at the top, which shows us architect William Van Alen dressed as his famous Chrysler Building, from a 1931 gathering of the Society of Beaux-Arts Architects (which we’ve featured in a previous post).

You’ll find plenty of nostalgic GIFS, such as (if you’re a GenX’er) that of Woody the “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute” public service owl, above.

Naturally, the archive contains its share of images with world historical significance---like the exploding swastika in Nuremberg from the end of World War II, above---and cultural significance, such as the tippling Hemingway and boyish Beatles, below.

Scenes from classic films and TV shows, advertisements and public service campaigns... the resource “currently has over 150 NARA GIFs,” writes Meier, “with more continuing to be added.” Is this a publicity stunt? Absolutely. “GIFs help keep us relevant,” remarks Darren Cole of the National Archives, “but also further the agency’s mission of providing access to our holdings to the public.”

In light of the popularity of “history image accounts” on social media, notes Meier, the NARA GIFs “are a savvy initiative to connect a wider audience with the richness of the National Archives"---a way that allows users to accurately document sources and place images in context. Each GIF on the NARA channel links back to the National Archives Catalog, with various levels of description and sourcing information. Gimmick or no, it’s a pretty cool resource full of some pretty cool GIFs—even, believe it or not, those “animated patents.”

via Hyperallergic

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

Explore 5,300 Rare Manuscripts Digitized by the Vatican: From The Iliad & Aeneid, to Japanese & Aztec Illustrations

vatican-iliad

Hundreds of years before vast public/private partnerships like Google Arts & Culture, the Vatican served as one of the foremost conservators of cultural artifacts from around the world. In the era of the Holy Roman Empire, few of those works were available to the masses (excepting, of course, the city’s considerable public architecture and sculpture). But with over 500 years of history, Vatican Museums and Libraries have amassed a trove of artifacts that rival the greatest world collections in their breadth and scope, and these have slowly become public over time. In 1839, for example, Pope Gregory XVI founded the Egyptian Museum, an extensive collection of Egyptian and Mesopotamian artifacts including the famous Book of the Dead. We also have The Collection of Modern Religious Art, which holds 19th and 20th century impressionists, surrealists, cubists, expressionists, etc. In-between are large public collections from antiquity to the Renaissance.

codex-borgianus

When it comes to manuscripts, the Vatican Library is no less an embarrassment of riches. But unlike the art collections, most of these have been completely inaccessible to the public due to their rarity and fragility. That’s all going to change, now that ancient and modern conservation has come together in partnerships like the one the Library now has with Japanese company NTT DATA.




Their combined project, the Digital Vatican Library, promises to digitize 15,000 manuscripts within the next four years and the full collection of over 80,000 manuscripts in the next decade or so, consisting of codices mostly from the “Middle Age and Humanistic Period.” They’ve made some excellent progress. Currently, you can view high-resolution scans of over 5,300 manuscripts, from all over the world. We previously brought you news of the Library's digitization of Virgil’s Aeneid. They’ve also shared a finely illustrated, bilingual (Greek and Latin) edition of its predecessor, The Iliad (top).

japanese-dance-painting

Further up, from a similar time but very different place, we see a Pre-Columbian Aztec manuscript, equally finely-wrought in its hand-rendered intricacies. You’ll also find illustrations like the circa 17th-century Japanese watercolor painting above, and the rendering of Dante’s hell, below, from a wonderful, if incomplete, series by Renaissance great Sandro Botticelli (which you can see more of here). Begun in 2010, the huge-scale digitization project has decided on some fairly rigorous criteria for establishing priority, including “importance and preciousness,” “danger of loss,” and “scholar’s requests.” The design of the site itself clearly has scholars in mind, and requires some deftness to navigate. But with simple and advanced search functions and galleries of Selected and Latest Digitized Manuscripts on its homepage, the Digital Vatican Library has several entry points through which you can discover many a textual treasure. As the site remarks, “the world’s culture, thanks to the web, can truly become a common heritage, freely accessible to all.” You can enter the collection here.

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

Every Exhibition Held at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) Presented in a New Web Site: 1929 to Present

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Images courtesy of MoMA

We all hate it when we hear of an exciting exhibition, only to find out that it closed last week — or 80 years ago. New York's Museum of Modern Art has made great strides toward taking the sting out of such narrowly or widely-missed cultural opportunities with their new digital exhibition archive. The archive offers, in the words of Chief of Archives Michelle Elligott, "free and unprecedented access to The Museum of Modern Art's ever-evolving exhibition history" in the form of "thousands of unique and vital materials including installation photographs, out-of-print exhibition catalogues, and more, beginning with MoMA's very first exhibition in 1929," a show of post-Impressionist paintings by Cézanne, Gauguin, Seurat, and Van Gogh.

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The photograph of Andy Warhol's Marilyn Monroe portraits at the top of the post comes from a much more recent exhibition, 2015's Andy Warhol: Campbell’s Soup Cans and Other Works, 1953–1967. But MoMA, of course, didn't just just discover the king of pop art last year: search by his name and you'll find no fewer than 128 shows that have included his work, starting with Recent Drawings U.S.A. in 1956.




You can track any number of other cultural icons through the museum's history: Yoko Ono, for instance, a view of whose One Woman Show, 1960-1971, which also opened in 2015, appears above, but whose work you can see in eleven different exhibitions archived online.

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A look through even a fraction of the 3,500 shows whose materials MoMA has so far made available (and public-domain) reveals a thematic variety throughout the museum's entire existence: not just individual artists or groups of them, but fast cars (the idea of a "rational automobile" in general in the 1960s and the Jaguar E-Type in particular in the 90s), travel postersJapanese architecture (featuring an entire traditional Japanese house built in and shipped from Nagoya for the occasion), and the font Helvetica. You can also have a look at the materials archived from the various film series and performance programs they've put on over the years.

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This sort of technological innovation demonstrates that MoMA has, since that moment in the late 1920s when "a small group of enterprising patrons of the arts joined forces to create a new museum devoted exclusively to modern art," remained as exciting an institution as ever. But nothing can replace the experience of actually going there and seeing its exhibitions in person, which is why, whenever I pay a visit to its digital archive, I'll also click over to its calendar of upcoming shows. For 86 years, it has given the public the chance to experience the thrill of the modern, but as a trip through the digital archive reveals, the thrill of the modern goes much deeper than the shock of the new.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, 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.

Watch 222 Great Films in the Public Domain: Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, Buster Keaton & More

Want to learn about film history? You can take a class on the subject, where you’ll likely need a copy of Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell’s standard text Film History: An Introduction, and possibly the companion book, Film Art: An Introduction. These are phenomenal resources written by two top-notch scholars who have spent their lives watching and analyzing films, and should you have the time and money to study their comprehensive introductions, by all means do so. But of course, there’s no substitute for actually watching the hundreds of films they reference, from the early days of the medium through its many re-visions and innovations in the 20th century.

But why, ask Thompson and Bordwell, “should anybody care about old movies?” The obvious answer is that they “offer intense artistic experiences or penetrating visions of human life in other times and places.” Another key scholarly thesis these theorists advance is that in studying narrative film history, we see the development of film (and later, by extension, television, video games, and other visual media) as an international visual language—one nearly everyone on the planet learns to read from a very young age.




In films like The Great Train Robbery (1903) and the technically groundbreaking, if narratively deplorable, Birth of a Nation (1915), we see the creation and refinement of cross-cutting as an essential cinematic technique used in every visual storytelling medium. In Georges Méliès’ brilliant fantasies A Trip to the Moon (1902) and The Impossible Voyage (1904), we see the joyful origins of the special effects film. In Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925), we see montage theory brought to life onscreen. And in the many films of Alfred Hitchcock, we see the ingenious camera and editing moves that define horror and suspense.

All of these films, and many hundreds more, are in the public domain and free to view online as many times as you like, whether you do so as part of a formal course of study or simply for sheer enjoyment. Nathan Heigert at MUBI has compiled a list of 222 “Public Domain Greats” that represents a wide spectrum of film history, “from the silents of Griffith, Keaton and Chaplin, to neglected noirs and the low-budget bliss of Roger Corman, plus nearly all of Hitchcock’s British films—all free for download or streaming (though, naturally, not in Criterion quality)” from the Internet Archive. Heigert’s itemized list offers a tremendous range and breadth, and contains a great many of the essential films referenced in most film history texts.

Most of the films on Heigert’s list can also be found in Open Culture’s collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc.. That includes 16 films above that we’ve previously featured with helpful context on our site. So start watching!

Note: You can find a list with links to all 222 films on Archive.org here.

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

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