A Medieval Book That Opens Six Different Ways, Revealing Six Different Books in One

Technology has come so far that we consider it no great achievement when a device the size of a single paper book can contain hundreds, even thousands, of different texts. But 21st-century humanity didn't come up with the idea of putting multiple books in one, nor did we first bring that idea into being — not by a long shot. Medieval book historian Erik Kwakkel points, for example, to the "dos-à-dos" (back to back) binding of the 16th and 17th centuries, which made for books "like Siamese twins in that they present two different entities joined at their backs: each part has one board for itself, while a third is shared between the two," so "reading the one text you can flip the 'book' to consult the other."

Not long thereafter, Kwakkel posted an artifact that blows the dos-à-dos out of the water: a 16th-century book that contains no fewer than six different books in a single binding. "They are all devotional texts printed in Germany during the 1550s and 1570s (including Martin Luther, Der kleine Catechismus) and each one is closed with its own tiny clasp," he writes.




"While it may have been difficult to keep track of a particular text’s location, a book you can open in six different ways is quite the display of craftsmanship." You can admire it — and try to figure it out — from a variety of different angles at the Flickr account of the National Library of Sweden, where it currently resides in the archives of the Royal Library.

Four or five centuries ago, a book like this would no doubt have impressed its beholders as much as or even more than the most advanced piece of handheld consumer electronics impresses us today. But when the internet discovered Kwakkel's post, it became clear that this six-in-one devotional captivates us in much the same way as a brand-new, never-before-seen digital device. "With a literacy rate hovering around an estimated 5 to 10 percent of the population during the Middle Ages, only a select few of society's upper echelons and religious castes had use for books," Andrew Tarantola reminds us. "So who would have use for a sextuplet of stories bound by a single, multi-hinged cover like this? Some seriously busy scholar." And he writes that not on a site for enthusiasts of old books, Medieval history, or religious scholarship, but at the temple of tech worship known as Gizmodo.

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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.

Europe’s Oldest Intact Book Was Preserved and Found in the Coffin of a Saint

Photo via the British Library

If you’re a British history buff, next month is an ideal time to be in London for the British Library’s “once-in-a-generation exhibition” Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War, opening October 19th and featuring the illuminated Lindisfarne Gospels, Beowulf, Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, the “world-famous” Domesday Book, and Codex Amiatinus, a “giant Northumbrian Bible taken to Italy in 716” and returning to England for the first time in 1300 years. But with all of these manuscript stars stealing the show, one special exhibit might go overlooked, the St. Cuthbert Gospel, the oldest surviving intact European book.

A Latin copy of the Gospel of John, the book was originally called the Stonyhurst Gospel, after its first owner, Stonyhurst College. It acquired its current name because it was found inside the coffin of St. Cuthbert, a hermit monk who died in 687 and whose remains, legend has it, were incorruptible. This supposed miracle inspired a cult that placed offerings around Cuthbert’s tomb. Just when and how the small book made its way into his coffin remains a mystery. It was likely sometime between the 700s and 800s CE, when his body was moved to Durham due to Viking raids.




When Cuthbert’s casket was opened in 1104, the book was found “in miraculously perfect condition,” writes the British Library, inside “a satchel-like container of red leather with a badly-frayed sling made of silken threads.” Scholars have dated the book’s creation to between 700 and 730, and its interest for academics and lay people alike lies not only in the legend of St. Cuthbert but in the book’s physical qualities and its own uncorrupted nature. As Allison Meier writes at JSTOR Daily, “the 1,300-year-old manuscript retains its original pages and binding,” a remarkable fact for a book of its age.

Its condition makes it an “important example of Insular art, which was created on the British Isles and Ireland between 600 and 900 CE.” The general features of this style involve “the layering of pattern, line, and color on seemingly flat surfaces,” notes Oxford Bibliographies, in order to create “complex spatial patterns.” Scholar Robert D. Stevick describes these properties on the ornate dyed leather covers of the St. Cuthbert Gospel:

There is interlace pattern in two panels on the front cover, step-pattern implying two crosses on the lower cover, a prominent double vine scroll at the center of the front cover—elements of this early art that have been well catalogued for their individual features as well as for their affinities to similar decorative elements in other artifacts.

Bound with a sewing technique that originated in North Africa (and therefore often called “Coptic sewing”), the “simple but elegant” book, Meier explains, “reflects the transmission of publishing knowledge across Europe” from the Mediterranean. Its small size and placement in a leather pouch is also significant. St. John’s Gospel “was sometimes employed as a protective talisman,” worn in a pouch on the body to ward off evil. Why one of Cuthbert’s admirers would have given such a talisman to his corpse remains unclear.

If you can’t make it to the British Library to see this fascinating artifact in person, you can see its miraculously well-preserved binding and pages in scans at the British Library site here.

via JSTOR Daily

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

Explore an Interactive, Online Version of Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours, a 200-Year-Old Guide to the Colors of the Natural World

In a post earlier this year, we brought to your attention Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours. Used by artists and naturalists alike, the guide originally relied on written description alone, without any color to be found among its pages. Instead, in the late eighteenth century, German mineralogist Abraham Gottlob Werner painstakingly detailed the qualities of the 110 colors he surveyed, by reference to where they might be found on animals, vegetables, and minerals. The color “Pearl Gray,” for example, might be located on the “Backs of black headed and Kittwake Gulls,” the “Back of Petals of Purple Hetatica,” or on “Porcelain Jasper.”

The literary possibilities of this approach may seem vast. But its usefulness to those engaged in the visual arts—or in close observation of new species in, say, the Galapagos Islands—may have been somewhat lacking until Scottish painter Patrick Syme updated the guide in 1814 with color swatches, most of them using the very minerals Werner described.




It was the second edition of Syme's guide that accompanied Charles Darwin on his 1831 voyage aboard the HMS Beagle, where he “used it to catalogue the flora and fauna that later inspired his theory of natural selection,” as historian Daniel Lewis writes at Smithsonian.

While we might think of taxonomies of color as principally guiding artists, web designers, and house painters, they have been indispensable for scientists. “They can indicate when a plant or animal is a different species or a subspecies,” Lewis notes; “in the 19th century, the use of color to differentiate species was important for what it said about evolution and how species changed over time and from region to region.” For historians of science, therefore, Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours represents an essential tool in the early development of evolutionary biology.

Other color dictionaries followed, “designed to give people around the world a common vocabulary to describe the colors of everything from rocks and flowers to stars, birds, and postage stamps.” Some of these were highly specialized, such as the two-volume set created by the French Society of Chrysanthemists in 1905. All of them, however, strove to meet the high bar set by Werner when it came to level of detailed description. These are guides that speak in human terms, in contrast to the nomenclature most often used today, which “is really a machine language,” Kelsey Cambell-Dollaghan writes at Fast Company, “numerical hex codes crafted to communicate with software on computers and printers.”

In recognition of Werner and Syme’s contribution to color nomenclature, Smithsonian Books recently republished the 1814 edition of their guide, and the revised 1821 edition has been available for some time as scans at the Internet Archive. Now it has received a 21st update thanks to designer Nicholas Rougeux, who has created an online interactive version of the book, “with additions like data visualizations of its 100 colors and internet-sourced photographs of the animals and minerals that the book references"—a feature its creators could never have dreamed of. You can read Werner’s complete text, see all of the colors as illustrated and categorized by Syme, and even purchase through Rougeux's site cool 36” x 24” posters like that above, starting at $27.80.

It’s true, viewing the book online has its drawbacks, related to how Syme’s paint swatches are translated into hex codes, then displayed differently depending on various screen settings. But Rougeux has tried to compensate for this difference between print and screen. On a publicly accessible Google Doc, he has provided the hex codes “for each of the 18th-century hues, from Skimmed Milk (#e6e1c9) to Veinous Blood Red (#3f3033).” Not nearly as poetic as Werner’s descriptions, but it’s what we have to work with these days when reference books get written for computers as much as they do for humans.

See the interactive Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours here.

via Fast Company

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

Download Classic Japanese Wave and Ripple Designs: A Go-to Guide for Japanese Artists from 1903

Traditional Japanese art may please so many of us, even those of us with little interest in Japan itself, because of the way it inhabits the realm between representation and abstraction. But then, it doesn't just inhabit that realm: it has settled those borderlands, made them its own, for much longer than most cultures have been doing anything at all. The space between art, strictly defined, and what we now call design has also seen few achievements quite so impressive as those made in Japan, going all the way back to the rope markings on the clay vessels used by the islands' Jōmon people in the 11th century BC.

Those ancient rope-on-clay markings can easily look like predecessors of the "wave patterns" still seen in Japanese art and design today. Since time almost immemorial they have appeared on "swords (both blades and handles) and associated paraphernalia (known as 'sword furniture'), as well as lacquerware, Netsuke, religious objects, and a host of other items."




So says the Public Domain Review, which has featured a series of three books full of elegant wave and ripple designs originally published in 1903 and now available to download free at the Internet Archive (volume onevolume twovolume three).

Called Hamonshū, the books were produced by the artist Mori Yuzan, "about whom not a lot is known," adds the Public Domain review, "apart from that he hailed from Kyoto, worked in the Nihonga style" — or the "Japanese painting" style of Japanese painting, which emerged during the Meiji period, a time of rapid Westernization in Japan.

He "died in 1917. The works would have acted as a kind of go-to guide for Japanese craftsmen looking to adorn their wares with wave and ripple patterns." Though they do contain text, they require no knowledge of the Japanese language to appreciate the many illustrations they present.

Taken together, Mori's books offer a complete spectrum from traditional Japanese-style representation — especially of land, water, mountains, sky, and other natural elements — to a taste of the infinite variety of abstract patterns that result. Such imagery remains prevalent in Japan more than a century after the publication of Hamonshū, as any visitor to Japan today will see.

But now that the Internet Archive has made the books freely available online (volume onevolume twovolume three), they'll surely inspire work not just between representation and abstraction as well as between art and design, but between Japanese aesthetics and those of every other culture in the world as well.

via Public Domain Review

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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.

How to Download Bob Woodward’s Fear: Trump in the White House as a Free Audiobook

Bob Woodward made his career by breaking the Watergate story that led to the demise of the Nixon presidency in 1974--a process that Woodward and Carl Bernstein documented in their now classic work, All the President's Men. Since the 70s, Woodward has covered every American president, writing lengthy volumes that have offered an unusual glimpse inside the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations. Now, in his latest book, he tackles the chaotic Trump White House. Based on more than 100 interviews with Trump administration officials and staffers, Fear: Trump in the White House lets us see, no matter how harrowing it might be, how politics gets done in this unusually volatile Oval Office.

Starting today, you can purchase a print edition of Woodward's book for $19.50 in hard copy, or $14.99 in Kindle format. Or, alternatively, you can get it as a free audiobook. Here's one viable way to do it: If you start a 30 day free trial with Audible.com, you can download two free audio books of your choice. At the end of 30 days, you can decide whether you want to become an Audible subscriber or not. No matter what you decide, you get to keep the two free audiobooks. Fear: Trump in the White House can be one of them. It runs 12 hours.

To sign up for Audible's free trial program, follow the prompts/instructions on this page.

Also, if you want to learn how Woodward goes about investigating his stories, see his recent online course on Investigative Journalism, offered through MasterClass.

NB: Audible is an Amazon.com subsidiary, and we're a member of their affiliate program.

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Why You Should Read One Hundred Years of Solitude: An Animated Video Makes the Case

Maybe we read some celebrated literary works the way we eat kale or quinoa—you don’t exactly love it but they say it’s, like, a superfood. Not so Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. When I first started reading the novel, I couldn’t stop. Twelve hours and a couple pots of coffee later, I wanted to read it again right away. It’s a page-turner—not something one often says of literary fiction beloved by highbrow critics and academics—but I mean it as the highest possible compliment.

The book has every feature of a binge-worthy soap opera: characters we love and love to hate, doomed affairs, sex, violence, endless family squabbling, tragedy, intrigue, melodrama…. Again, this is no criticism; Marquez loved telenovelas and even wrote a script for one. He wanted his work to reach as many people as possible, to thrill and entertain. But he didn't withhold any literary nutrients either.

The novel’s poetic language, historical scope, and thematic and symbolic complexity has led critics like William Kennedy to compare it to the book of Genesis, and led no small number of readers to wildly prefer it to the Bible or any other ancient book of mythology.

If you’re one of the two or three people who hasn’t read the novel, and you don’t find all this praise fully convincing, consider the case made by Francisco Díez-Buzo in the TED-Ed animated video above.

The story, we learn, arrived as an epiphany Marquez had while he and his family were on the road to a vacation destination. He turned the car around, abandoned the trip, and started writing immediately—an example of the total commitment many writers promise themselves they’ll one day get around to maybe working on. Eighteen months and many pots of coffee later, One Hundred Years of Solitude appeared, introducing a worldwide readership to Marquez, magical realism, and Latin American literature, politics, and history.

Most every reader now has a volume of Octavio Paz or Pablo Neruda on the shelf, and novels by Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, or Isabelle Allende. Before Cien años de soledad arrived, however, this was rarely so outside of Spanish-speaking countries. The novel created a global appetite for rich Latin American traditions of storytelling and lyrical poetry. New translations from the region began appearing everywhere.

Like Faulkner’s entire corpus compressed into one volume, the epic tale of seven generations of Buendías in the fictional Colombian town of Macondo is vast and sprawling. It “is not an easy book to read,” says Díez-Buzo. Here, as you might expect, I disagree. It is harder not to read it once you’ve picked it up. But you will need to read it again, and again, and again.

So packed is the book with detail, allusion, historical reference, and narrative that you could read it for the rest of your life and never exhaust its layers of meaning. As Harold Bloom put it, “every page is rammed full of life beyond the capacity of any single reader to absorb… There are no wasted sentences, no mere transitions, in this novel, and you must notice everything at the moment you read it.” Pablo Neruda called it "the greatest revelation in the Spanish language since Don Quixote of Cervantes"—the founding text of Spanish-language literature and, indeed, of the novel form itself.

The supernatural and the surreal suffuse each page, raising even mundane encounters to a mythic dimension, staging history as timeless drama, played out over and over again through each generation. In each repetition, fantastic and fatal changes also “produce a sense of history," says Díez-Buzo, "as a downward spiral the characters seem powerless to escape.”

It is this history that Marquez described, when he accepted the Nobel Prize in 1982, as “a boundless realm of haunted men and historic women, whose unending obstinacy blurs into legend.” Marquez’s own family history, full of “haunted men and historic women,” served as a model for his succession of fictional ancestors. Latin Americans, he said, “have not had a moment’s rest,” yet in the face of colonialist brutality, civil war, dictatorships, “oppression, plundering and abandonment,” he declared, “we respond with life.” By some strange act of magic, Marquez contained all of that life in one extraordinary novel.

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

Discover “Journey of the Universe,” a Multimedia Project That Explores Humanity’s Place in the Epic History of the Cosmos

Today we know what no previous generation knew: the history of the universe and of the unfolding of life on Earth. Through the astonishing achievements of natural scientists worldwide, we now have a detailed account of how galaxies and stars, planets and living organisms, human beings and human consciousness came to be.

With this knowledge, the question of what role we play in the 14-billion-year history of the universe imposes itself with greater poignancy than ever before. In asking ourselves how we will tell the story of Earth to our children, we must inevitably consider the role of humanity in its history, and how we connect with the intricate web of life on Earth.

In Journey of the Universe--a multimedia educational project that features a book, film and free online courses--evolutionary philosopher Brian Thomas Swimme and historian of religions Mary Evelyn Tucker provide an elegant, science-based narrative to tell this epic story, leading up to the challenges of our present moment. The authors describe the origins of humans on Earth, how we developed a symbolic consciousness, and how our ability to communicate using symbols make humans a “planetary presence.”

We are now faced with a new dynamic—one where the survival of the species and entire ecosystems depend primarily on human activity, and the choices humans make.

Weaving together the findings of modern science together with enduring wisdom found in the humanistic traditions of the West, Asia, and indigenous peoples, the authors explore cosmic evolution as a profoundly wondrous process based on creativity, connection, and interdependence, and they envision an unprecedented opportunity for the world’s people to address the daunting ecological and social challenges of our times.

Developed over several decades, and inspired by the authors’ long collaboration with Thomas Berry, Journey of the Universe boasts an impressive roster of science advisors including Ursula Goodenough, Craig Kochel, and Terry Deacon.

Journey of the Universe is a multimedia educational project that includes:

1.) The Journey of the Universe: A Story for Our Time Specialization available on Coursera, created by Yale.  This is a collection of three Massive Online Open Courses that take students through the scientific and cultural cosmology found throughout Journey of the Universe, as well as deep into its lineage with cultural historian and cosmologist Thomas Berry:

Course 1: Journey of the Universe: The Unfolding of Life

Course 2: Journey of the Universe: Weaving Knowledge and Action

Course 3: The Worldview of Thomas Berry: The Flourishing of the Earth Community

2) The Journey of the Universe Film, winner of the 2012 San Francisco/Northern California Emmy® Award for best documentary. You can watch the trailer for the film above

3) The Journey of the Universe Book, published by Yale University Press. Translated into French, Italian, Spanish, German, Turkish, Chinese, Korean, Indonesian.

4) The Journey of the Universe Conversation Series, a twenty-part educational series integrates the perspectives of the sciences and the humanities into a retelling of our 13.7 billion year story. In a series of one-on-one interviews, scientists, historians, and environmentalists explore the unfolding story of the universe and Earth and the role of the human in responding to our present challenges.

Devin O'Dea lives in San Francisco where he serves as the manager of the Journey of the Universe project: a collaborative, multimedia conversation that draws together scientific discoveries with humanistic insights concerning the nature of the universe.  Devin welcomes all interests and feedback to Journey materials at devin@journeyoftheuniverse.org.
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