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

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

Prisons Around the U.S. Are Banning and Restricting Access to Books

“We live,” wrote philosopher Alain Badiou, “in a contradiction.” Dehumanization must be normalized in order to keep the economy going. “A brutal state of affairs… where all existence is evaluated in terms of money alone—is presented to us as ideal.” Yet the market that promises freedom just as often strips it away, in public-private partnerships that bring censorship and rent-seeking into happy symbiosis.

In recent years, free market opportunism has taken hold in the most unfree places in the U.S., the country’s prisons, which hold more people proportionally than in any other nation in the world: a huge, previously untapped market for sales of hygiene products and visits with family. “Like the military,” writes Adam Bluestein at Inc.,, “the corrections system is a big, well-capitalized customer.”




One recent commercial encroachment on prisoners’ freedoms arrived this year when the West Virginia Division of Corrections issued inmates tablets, under a contract with a company called Global Tel Link, who charge them by the minute to read books online. One might make the argument that forcing inmates to pay for basic needs satisfies some ideal of punishment. But to restrict access to books seems to dispense with the pretense that prison might also be a place of rehabilitation.

“Any inmates looking to read Moby Dick,” reports Reason, “may find that it will cost them far more than it would have if they’d simply gotten a mass market paperback.” Katy Ryan of the Appalachian Prison Book Project, which donates free books and materials to prisons, points out how limiting the scheme is: “If you pause to think or reflect, that will cost you. If you want to reread a book, you will pay the entire cost again.”

West Virginia is not banning print books, purchased or donated. It is, however, charging inmates for already free material. The books they pay per minute to read online are all on Project Gutenberg, the open platform for thousands of free eBooks. That the program amounts to a kind of economic-based censorship may hardly be coincidence. Other states around the country have begun limiting, or outright banning, books in prisons.

The Washington State Department of Corrections has prohibited all books donated by nonprofits, presumably because they might be used to smuggle contraband. Prison officials at the Danville Correctional Center in Illinois made clear what they considered contraband—books about black history, 200 of which were removed from the prison library—including W.E.B. Du Bois The Souls of Black Folk and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin—after they were deemed “too racial.”

These are only a few examples of a widespread phenomenon PEN America details in a new report, “Literature Locked Up: How Prison Book Restriction Policies Constitute the Nation’s Largest Book Ban.” Paradoxically, some restrictions can seem at odds with market demands—such as limits on inmates’ ability to order books from online retailers. But like many contradictions in the system, perhaps these also serve a larger goal—preventing prisoners from educating themselves may ensure a steady stream of repeat customers in the hugely profitable carceral industry.

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

Lynda Barry’s New Book Offers a Master Class in Making Comics

In the same way you don’t have to like the way your liver looks for it to be able to function, you don’t have to like the way your drawings look for them to start to work.  —Lynda Barry

Want to feel more alive in the world?

Get back in touch with your inner four-year-old artist, using methods put forward by artist, educator, and g*ddamn national treasure Lynda Barry.

Making Comics, the latest book from the University of Wisconsin associate professor, MacArthur Genius, and Omega Institute faculty member, bypasses standardized professional skills such as inking, storyboarding, and lettering, in order to foment a deeper emotional connection between cartoonist and comic.




First things first, you can draw. Stop saying you can’t. You can.

Stop saying your drawings look like they were made by a four-year-old.

In Barry’s experience, the unfettered drawings of four-year-old artists are something to aim for.

As author and comics historian Chris Gavaler notes in his Pop Matters review:

Making Comics is a love letter to every child who ever picked up a crayon and started making marks with unselfconscious intensity. Those children include her college students. Like her readers, some arrive at class with artistic training and some arrive with none at all. The latter arrive having long forgotten the uninhibited style of image-making they understood instinctively as children. Finding each of those children is Barry's mission, and she is very very good at it.

Barry, who is childless, is keenly attuned to the sort of playful assignments that hold immediate appeal for children of all ages.

And she doles out instructions on a need to know basis, disarming the self-doubt and excuse-making that plague adult students who are presented with the big picture too early in the process.

In Making Comics, exercises include drawing with eyes closed, drawing with the non-dominant hand, two-handed drawing, simultaneous partner drawing, Exquisite Corpse, and transforming scribbles and coffee stains by teasing out whatever image they may suggest.

Barry also conveys precise instructions with regard to speed and materials, knowing that those can close as many windows as they open.

She’s battling the stifling impulse toward perfection, the impossible standards that cause so many to turn away from making pictures and stories as they mature.

Don’t sweat it! More rock, less talk! Unleash the monsters of your id! Invite unforeseen ghosts into the frame!

As Barry says:

….there are two working languages in human life. One is sort of top of the mind, what we’re conscious of. The other is this unconscious stuff that we might not know about or have access to. The way we access it is usually through this thing we call ‘the arts.’ Unfortunately, that has gotten removed from the regular daily experience of human life. What I’m trying to do is to show that there is a way that they can come together, and that you can make things in a way that makes you actually feel alive and present.

Read an excerpt of Lynda Barry’s Making Comics. Or purchase your own copy of Making Comics here.

Video at the top of the page courtesy of Art Book Walk-throughs & Reviews.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, December 9 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates Dennison’s Christmas Book (1921). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Alice B. Toklas Reads Her Famous Recipe for Hashish Fudge (1963)

toklas cookbook

Alice Babette Toklas met Gertrude Stein in 1907, the day she arrived in Paris. They remained together for 39 years until Stein’s death in 1946. While Stein became the center of the avant-garde art world, hosting an exclusive salon that welcomed the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, James Joyce, Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Toklas largely preferred to stay in Stein’s shadow, serving as her secretary, editor and assistant.

That changed in 1933 when Stein wrote The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas -- a retelling of the couple’s life together with Toklas serving as narrator. The book is Stein’s most accessible and best-selling work. It also turned the shy, self-effacing Toklas into a literary figure.

After Stein’s death, Toklas published The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook in 1954, which combined personal recollections of her time with Stein along with recipes and musings about French cuisine. Yet it wasn’t her stories about tending to the wounded during WWI or her opinions on mussels that made the book famous. Instead, it was the inclusion of a recipe given to her by Moroccan-based artist Brion Gysin called “Hashish Fudge.”

In this 1963 recording from Pacifica Radio, Toklas reads her notorious recipe. The snack “might provide an entertaining refreshment for a Ladies’ Bridge Club or a chapter meeting of the DAR,” Toklas notes in her reedy, dignified voice. Then she gets on to the recipe itself:

Take one teaspoon black peppercorns, one whole nutmeg, four average sticks of cinnamon, one teaspoon coriander. These should all be pulverized in a mortar. About a handful each of stoned dates, dried figs, shelled almonds and peanuts: chop these and mix them together. A bunch of Cannabis sativa can be pulverized. This along with the spices should be dusted over the mixed fruit and nuts, kneaded together. About a cup of sugar dissolved in a big pat of butter. Rolled into a cake and cut into pieces or made into balls about the size of a walnut, it should be eaten with care. Two pieces are quite sufficient.

Toklas concedes that getting the key ingredient “can present certain difficulties” and recommends finding the stuff in the wild, which might have been possible to do in the early 1960s. Nowadays, the best course of action is to move to Washington, Colorado or Uruguay.

In the recording, Toklas then goes on to recall how hashish fudge came to be included into her book.

“The recipe was innocently included without my realizing that the hashish was the accented part of the recipe,” she says without a trace of facetiousness. “I was shocked to find that America wouldn’t accept it because it was too dangerous.”

“It never went into the American edition,” she says. “The English are braver. We’re not courageous about that sort of thing.”

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in January 2014.

Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.

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Quentin Tarantino’s World War II Reading List

Image by Georges Biard, via Wikimedia Commons

With his first three features Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Jackie Brown, Quentin Tarantino claimed 1990s Los Angeles as his own. Then he struck boldly out into not just new geographical and cultural territories, but other time periods. With his first full-on period piece, 2009's Inglourious Basterds, he showed audiences just how he intended to use history: twisting it for his own cinematic purposes, of course, but only making his departures after steeping himself in accounts of the time in which he envisioned his story taking place. This naturally involves plenty of reading, and Tarantino recently provided HistoryNet with a few titles that helped him properly situate Inglourious Basterds in the Europe of the Second World War.

Tarantino calls Ian Ousby's Occupation: The Ordeal of France 1940–1944 "a very good overview that answered all of my questions about life in Nazi-occupied France." Ulysses Lee's The Employment of Negro Troops is "the most profound thing I’ve ever read on both the war and racist America of the 1940s, commissioned by the U.S. Army to examine the effectiveness of their employment of black soldiers." And for Tarantino, who doesn't just make films but lives and breathes them, understanding Nazi Germany means understanding its cinema, beginning with Eric Rentschler's Ministry of Illusion: Nazi Cinema and Its Afterlife, "a wonderful critical reexamination of German cinema under Joseph Goebbels" that "goes far beyond the demonizing approach employed by most writers on this subject," including even excerpts from Goebbels' diaries.




Rentschler also "dares to make a fair appraisal of Nazi filmmaker Veit Harlan," who made antisemitic blockbusters as one of Goebbels' leading propaganda directors. But the work of no Nazi filmmaker had as much of an impact as that of Leni Riefenstahl, two books about whom Tarantino puts on his World War II reading list: Glenn B. Infield's Leni Riefenstahl: The Fallen Film Goddess, the first he ever read about her, as well as Riefenstahl's eponymous memoir, which he calls "mesmerizing. Though you can’t believe half of it. That still leaves half to ponder. Her descriptions of normal friendly conversations with Hitler are amazing and ring of truth" — and that praise comes from a filmmaker who made his own name with good dialogue.

In a recent DGA Quarterly conversation with Martin Scorsese, Tarantino revealed that he's also at work on a book of his own about that era: "I've got this character who had been in World War II and he saw a lot of bloodshed there. Now he's back home, and it's like the '50s, and he doesn't respond to movies anymore. He finds them juvenile after everything that he's been through. As far as he's concerned, Hollywood movies are movies. And so then, all of a sudden, he starts hearing about these foreign movies by Kurosawa and Fellini," thinking "maybe they might have something more than this phony Hollywood stuff." He soon finds himself drawn inexorably in: "Some of them he likes and some of them he doesn't like and some of them he doesn't understand, but he knows he's seeing something." This is hardly the kind of premise that leads straight to the kind of violent catharsis in which Tarantino specializes, but then, he's pulled off more unlikely artistic feats in his time.

via HistoryNet

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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.

Salvador Dalí’s Iconic Deck of Tarot Cards Get Re-Issued: It’s Out Today

Last month, we highlighted Salvador Dali's deck of Tarot cards. Originally created in 1984, the tarot deck is now being re-issued by Taschen in a beautiful 184-page art book. For those interested, the official release date is today. Read all about the famous deck here. Or purchase your own set of Dali's tarot cards here.

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Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Novel Adaptation

The human imagination can be an extraordinary coping device in times of trouble, a tiny window providing mental escape from whatever cell fate has consigned us to.

Diarist and aspiring professional writer Anne Frank, who died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp at the age of 15, chafed at her now-universally-known confinement in the Secret Annex. She chafed at her mother’s authority and the seemingly effortless saintliness of her older sister. Documenting her daily physical and emotional reality offered temporary respite from it.




The liberating power of the creative mind is one of the aspects writer Ari Folman and illustrator David Polonsky sought to tease out when adapting Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl as a graphic novel.

The graphic novel format decreed that entire passages would be cut or condensed. Polonsky can use a single panel to show logistics it took Anne paragraphs to describe. The interpersonal conflicts she dwelt on are now conveyed by facial expressions and body language.

As with Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón’s 2010 Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biographythe diary’s small stage is expanded to give readers, particularly those unacquainted with the original text, a historical context for understanding the wider social implications of Anne’s tragedy.

But this graphic retelling is unique in that it traffics in magic realist visuals that should play well with 21st-century youth, who cut their teeth on CGI, fast-paced edits, and streaming teen-focused entertainments wherein characters are apt to break the fourth wall or break into song.

These are the readers to whom the project is most intentionally pitched. As Folman told Teen Vogue’s Emma Sarran Webster:

I truly believe that in a few years, when the very last survivors will have died, the angle that will be taken from the story will be that with every year, we are 10 years further away from the original. [...] There is a severe threat that the things we have to learn from it will not be taught and learned if we don’t find a new language for them. So any new language in my opinion is blessed, as long as it stays within the framework and reaches young audiences by means of their tools, which are now very visual.

Ergo, Kitty, Anne’s nickname for her diary, has been personified, emerging from the little plaid book’s pages like Peter Pan’s shadow, ear attentively cocked toward the secrets Anne whispers into it.

The melodramatic Mrs. van Daan’s prized fur coat has an anthropomorphized rabbit head collar, capable of joining in the dialogue.

Polonsky pays homage to artists Edvard Munch, whose “degenerative” work Hitler had removed from German museums, and Gustav Klimt, who painted many works that were confiscated from their Jewish owners by Nazi decree.

Young readers' modern sensibilities also guided Folman’s approach to the text. The spirit of the original is preserved, but certain phrasings have been given a 21st century update.

The snarky Secret Annex menus and diet tips he allows his heroine harken to the direct address of various meta teen comedies, as well as the blistering parody of the Sarajevo Survival Guide, a purported travel guide written during the Siege.

Noble goal of engaging the next generation aside, there are no doubt some purists who will view these innovations as imposition. Rest assured that Anne Frank's Diary: The Graphic Adaptation is sanctioned by Anne Frank Fonds, the charitable foundation established by Anne’s father, Otto.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, November 4 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates Louise Jordan Miln’s “Wooings and Weddings in Many Climes (1900). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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