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

Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel The Buried Giant begins with an immersive depiction of what it might have been like to live in a European village during the middle ages. Or what it might feel like for us moderns, at least. The couple at the center of the story spends several pages fretting over the loss of a candle, their only one. Without it, their nights are pitch black. In the day, they wander in a fog, unable to remember anything. Though the cause of this turns out to be dark magic, one can’t help thinking that a smartphone would immediately solve all their problems.

This was a time not only before mobile video, but when images of any kind were scarce, when every book was painstakingly copied by hand in careful, elegant script. Many of those rare, scribal copies were not illustrated, they were “illuminated.” Their pages shone out into the darkness and fog. Most of the population could not read them, but they could, in rare instances when they might catch a glimpse, be deeply moved by the colorful, stylized images and lettering.

For the intellectual classes, illumination constituted a language of its own, framing and interpreting medical, classical, and legal texts, gospels and works by the church fathers. Not all books received this treatment but the “most luxurious,” notes the British Library, were “literally ‘lit up’ by decorations and pictures in brightly coloured pigments and burnished gold leaf.” For centuries, despite the explosion of image-making technologies of every kind, most of us, unless we were scholars or aristocrats, were in the same position vis-à-vis these stunning artifacts as the average medieval peasant. Medieval manuscripts were locked away in rare book rooms and seen by very few.

The situation has changed dramatically as libraries digitize their holdings. Last November, hundreds more rare, valuable medieval manuscripts became available to everyone when the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France launched a joint project, making “800 manuscripts decorated before the year 1200 available freely” online, as the BL blog announced in 2016. Both institutions provided 400 manuscripts each for digitization. Some of these are currently on display at the wildly popular, sold-out British Library exhibition Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War. Now they are also virtual public property, as it were, thanks to a grant from the Polonsky Foundation.

That these fragile artifacts have been so inaccessible, kept under glass and well away from insects, thieves, and vandals, now means they are in a condition to be digitally copied and uploaded in high resolution for close viewing, comparison, and careful study. Medievalists.net describes the complementary websites the two libraries have launched:

The first, France-England: medieval manuscripts between 700 and 1200, has been created by the Bibliothèque nationale de France based on the Gallica marque blanche infrastructure, using the IIIF standard and Mirador viewer to make the images held by the different institutions interoperable and enable them to be compared side-by-side within the same digital library or annotated. The second website, Medieval England and France, 700-1200, is aimed at a wider public audience, and has been developed by the British Library to showcase a selection of manuscripts as well as articles, essays and video clips.

The French site has ports of entry according to theme, author, place, and century, and many links to resources for scholars. The British Library site features curated selections, introduced by accessible articles. Laypeople with little experience studying medieval manuscripts can learn about legal, medical, and musical texts, see how the writings of the church fathers received special attention in monastic culture, and learn how manuscripts circulated before 1200. Those who know what they are looking for can conduct advanced searches at the Medieval Manuscripts site, and download a full list of all 800 manuscripts here.

Related Content:

How Illuminated Medieval Manuscripts Were Made: A Step-by-Step Look at this Beautiful, Centuries-Old Craft

Behold the Beautiful Pages from a Medieval Monk’s Sketchbook: A Window Into How Illuminated Manuscripts Were Made (1494)

Behold 3,000 Digitized Manuscripts from the Bibliotheca Palatina: The Mother of All Medieval Libraries Is Getting Reconstructed Online

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

Neil Gaiman Reads His Manifesto on Making Art: Features the 10 Things He Wish He Knew As a Young Artist

I think you're absolutely allowed several minutes, possibly even half a day to feel very, very sorry for yourself indeed. And then just start making art. - Neil Gaiman

It’s a bit early in the year for commencement speeches, but fortunately for lifelong learners who rely on a steady drip of inspiration and encouragement, author Neil Gaiman excels at putting old wine in new bottles.

He repurposed his keynote address to Philadelphia's University of the Arts’ Class of 2012 for Art Matters: Because Your Imagination Can Change the World, a slim volume with hand lettering and illustrations by Chris Riddell.

The above video captures the frequent collaborators appearing together last fall at the East London cultural center Evolutionary Arts Hackney in a fundraiser for English PEN, the founding branch of the worldwide literary defense association. While Gaiman reads aloud in his affable, ever-engaging style, Riddell uses a brush pen to bang out 4 3/4 line drawings, riffing on Gaiman’s metaphors.

While the art-making “rules” Gaiman enumerates herein have been extrapolated and widely disseminated (including, never fear, below), it’s worth having a look at why this event called for a live illustrator.

Leaving aside the fact that each ticket purchaser got a copy of Art Matters, autographed by both men, and a large signed print was auctioned off on behalf of English PEN, Gaiman holds illustrations in high regard.

His work includes picture books, graphic novels, and lightly illustrated novels for teens and young adults, and as a mature reader, he, too, delights in visuals, singling out Frank C. Papé's drawings for the decidedly “adult” 1920s fantasy novels of James Branch Cabell. (1929’s Something about Eve featured a buxom female character angrily frying up her husband's manhood for dinner and an erotic entryway that would have thrilled Dr. Seuss.)

In an interview with Waterstones booksellers upon the publication of Neverwhere another collaboration with Riddell, Gaiman mused:

…a good illustrator, for me, is like going to see a play. You are going to get something brought to life for you by a specific cast in a specific place. That way of illustrating will never happen again. You know, somebody else could illustrate it—there are hundreds of different Alice in Wonderlands.

Which we could certainly take to mean that if Riddell’s style doesn’t grab you the way it grabs Gaiman (and the juries for several prestigious awards) perhaps you should tear your eyes away from the screen and illustrate what you hear in the speech.

Do you need to know how to draw as well as he does? The rules, below, suggest not. We’d love to take a peek inside your sketchbook after.

  1. Embrace the fact that you're young. Accept that you don't know what you're doing. And don't listen to anyone who says there are rules and limits.

  2. If you know your calling, go there. Stay on track. Keep moving towards it, even if the process takes time and requires sacrifice.

  3. Learn to accept failure. Know that things will go wrong. Then, when things go right, you'll probably feel like a fraud. It's normal.

  4. Make mistakes, glorious and fantastic ones. It means that you're out there doing and trying things.

  5. When life gets hard, as it inevitably will, make good art. Just make good art.

  6. Make your own art, meaning the art that reflects your individuality and personal vision.

  7. You get freelance work if your work is good, if you're easy to get along with, and if you're on deadline. Actually you don't need all three. Just two.

  8. Enjoy the ride. Don’t fret it all away. (That one comes compliments of Stephen King.)

  9. Be wise and accomplish things in your career. If you have problems getting started, pretend you're someone who is wise, who can get things done. It will help you along.

  10. Leave the world more interesting than it was before.

Read a complete transcript of the speech here.

Related Content:

Neil Gaiman Teaches the Art of Storytelling in His New Online Course

Hear Neil Gaiman Read a Beautiful, Profound Poem by Ursula K. Le Guin to His Cousin on Her 100th Birthday

18 Stories & Novels by Neil Gaiman Online: Free Texts & Readings by Neil Himself

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City tonight as host of Theater of the Apes’ monthly  book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Historic Manuscript Filled with Beautiful Illustrations of Cuban Flowers & Plants Is Now Online (1826 )

The internet has become an essential back up system for thousands of pieces of historical art, science, and literature, and also for a specialized kind of text incorporating them all in degrees: the illustrated natural science book, from the golden ages of book illustration and philosophical naturalism in Europe and the Americas. We’ve seen some fine digital reproductions of the illustrated Nomenclature of Colors by Abraham Gottlob Werner, for example—a book that accompanied Darwin on his Beagle voyage.

The same source has also brought us a wonderfully illustrated, influential 1847 edition of Euclid’s Elements, with a semaphore-like design that color-codes and delineates each axiom. And we’ve seen Emily Noyes Vanderpoel’s 1903 Color Problems: a Practical Manual for the Lay Student of Color come online (and back in print), a study whose ideas would later show up in the work of modern minimalists like Josef Albers.

Above and below, you can see just a fraction of the illustrations from another example of a remarkable illustrated scientific book, also by a woman on the edge of being forgotten: Nancy Anne Kingsbury Wollstonecraft's 1826 Specimens of the Plants and Fruits of the Island of Cuba.

This study of Cuban plant life might never have seen the light of day were it not for the new online edition from the HathiTrust digital library, “by way of Cornell University’s Library Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections,” notes Atlas Obscura. The book is notable for more than its obscurity, however. It is, says scholar of Cuban history and culture Emilio Cueto, “the most important corpus of plant illustrations in Cuba’s colonial history.” Its author first began work when she moved to the island after her husband, Charles Wollstonecraft (brother of Mary and uncle of Mary Shelley) died in 1817.

She began documenting the plant life in the region of Matanzas through the 1820s. That research became Specimens of the Plants and Fruits of the Island of Cuba, a meticulous study, full of Wollstonecraft’s vibrant, striking watercolors. After making several attempts at publication, she died in 1828, and the manuscript never appeared in public. Now, almost two centuries later, all three volumes are available to read online and download in PDF. They had been dormant at the Cornell University Library, and few people knew very much about them. Cueto, the scholar most familiar with the manuscript's place in history, had himself searched for it for 20 years before finding it hidden away at Cornell in 2018.

Now it is freely available to anyone and everyone online, part of an expanding, shared online archive of fascinating works by non-professional scientists and mathematicians whose work was painstakingly interpreted by artists for the benefit of a lay readership. In the case of Wollstonecraft, as with Goethe and many other contemporary scholar-artists, we have the two in one. View and download her 220-page work, with its 121 illustrated plates at the HathiTrust Digital Library.

via Cornell/Atlas Obscura

Related Content:

A Visionary 115-Year-Old Color Theory Manual Returns to Print: Emily Noyes Vanderpoel’s Color Problems

Explore an Interactive Version of The Wall of Birds, a 2,500 Square-Foot Mural That Documents the Evolution of Birds Over 375 Million Years

Two Million Wondrous Nature Illustrations Put Online by The Biodiversity Heritage Library

Wagashi: Peruse a Digitized, Centuries-Old Catalogue of Traditional Japanese Candies

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

Pioneering Sci-Fi Author William Gibson Predicts in 1997 How the Internet Will Change Our World

"What's the one thing that all great works of science fiction have in common?" asks a 1997 episode of The Net, the BBC's television series about the possibilities of this much-talked-about new thing called the internet. "They all tried to see into the future, and they all got it wrong. Orwell's 1984, Huxley's Brave New World, Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: all, to some extent or other, wrong. And there's another name to add to this list: William Gibson." But then on strolls Gibson himself, fresh off the writing of Idoru, a novel involving a human who wants to marry a digitally generated Japanese pop star, to grant the interview above.

In it Gibson admits that computers hadn't gone quite the way he'd imagined thirteen years earlier in his debut novel Neuromancer — but in which he also offers prescient advice about how we should regard new technology even today. "The thing that Neuromancer predicts as being actually like the internet isn't actually like the internet at all!" Gibson says in a more recent interview with Wired. "I didn't get it right but I said there was going to be something." Back in the mid-1980s, as he tells the BBC, "there was effectively no internet to extrapolate from. The cyberspace I made up isn't being used in Neuromancer the way we're using the internet today."

Gibson had envisioned a corporate-dominated network infested with "cybernetic car thieves skulking through it attempting to steal tidbits of information." By the mid-1990s, though, the internet had become a place where "a really talented and determined fifteen-year-old" could create something more compelling than "a multinational entertainment conglomerate might come up with." He tells the BBC that "what the internet has become is as much a surprise to me as the collapse of the Soviet Union was," but at that point he had begun to perceive the shape of things to come. "I can't see why it won't become completely ubiquitous," he says, envisioning its evolution "into something like television to the extent that it penetrates every level of society."

At the same time, "it doesn't matter how fast your modem is if you're being shelled by ethnic separatists" — still very much a concern in certain parts of the world — and even the most promising technologies don't merit our uncritical embrace. "I think we should respect the power of technology and try to fear it in a rational way," he says. "The only appropriate response" is to give in to neither technophobia nor technophilia, but "to teach ourselves to be absolutely ambivalent about them and imagine their most inadvertent side effects," the side effects "that tend to get us" — not to mention the ones that make the best plot elements. Seeing as how we now live in a world where marriage to synthetic Japanese idols has become a possibility, among other developments seemingly pulled from the pages of Gibson's novels, we would do well to heed even these decades-old words of advice about his main subject.

via Big Think

Related Content:

Take a Road Trip with Cyberspace Visionary William Gibson, Watch No Maps for These Territories (2000)

How Chris Marker’s Radical SciFi Film La Jetée Changed the Life of Cyberpunk Prophet William Gibson

Cyberpunk: 1990 Documentary Featuring William Gibson & Timothy Leary Introduces the Cyberpunk Culture

Sci-Fi Author J.G. Ballard Predicts the Rise of Social Media (1977)

Mark Twain Predicts the Internet in 1898: Read His Sci-Fi Crime Story, “From The ‘London Times’ in 1904”

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The “Slave Bible” Removed Key Biblical Passages In Order to Legitimize Slavery & Discourage a Slave Rebellion (1807)

Photo via the Museum of the Bible

In an 1846 speech to the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, Frederick Douglass summed up the twisted bond between slavery and religion in the U.S. He began with a short summary of atrocities that were legal, even encouraged, against enslaved people in Virginia and Maryland, including hanging, beheading, drawing and quartering, rape, “and this is not the worst.” He then made his case:

No, a darker feature is yet to be presented than the mere existence of these facts. I have to inform you that the religion of the Southern states, at this time, is the great supporter, the great sanctioner of the bloody atrocities to which I have referred. While America is printing tracts and Bibles; sending missionaries abroad to convert the heathen; expending her money in various ways for the promotion of the gospel in foreign lands, the slave not only lies forgotten, uncared for, but is trampled underfoot by the very churches of the land.

Douglass did not intend his statement to be taken as an indictment of Christianity, but rather the hypocrisy of American religion, both that “of the Southern states” and of “the Northern religion that sympathizes with it.” He speaks, he says, to reject “the slaveholding, the woman-whipping, the mind-darkening, the soul-destroying religion” of the country, while professing a religion that “makes its followers do unto others as they themselves would be done by.”

Douglass harshly condemns slave society in the U.S., but, perhaps given his audience, he also politically elides the extensive role many churches in the British Empire played in the slave trade and Atlantic slave economy—a continued role, to Douglass’s dismay, as he found during his UK travels in the 1840s. I'm not sure if he knew that forty years earlier, British missionaries traveled to slave plantations in the Caribbean armed with heavily-edited Bibles in which “any passage that might incite rebellion was removed,” as Brigit Katz writes at Smithsonian. But he would hardly have been surprised.

The use of religion to terrorize and control rather than liberate was something Douglass understood well, having for decades keenly observed slaveowners finding what they needed in the text and ignoring or suppressing the rest. In 1807, the Society for the Conversion of Negro Slaves went so far as to literally excise the central narrative of the Old Testament, creating an entirely different book for use by missionaries to the West Indies. “Gone,” Katz points out, “were references to the exodus of enslaved Israelites from Egypt," references that were integral to the self-understanding of millions of Diaspora Africans.

Gone also were verses that might explicitly contradict the few proof texts slaveholders quoted to justify themselves. Especially dangerous was Exodus 21:16: “And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.” The typical 66 books of a Protestant Bible had been reduced to parts of just 14. How is it possible to publish a Bible without what amounts to the mythic origin story of ancient Israel? One answer is that this was a different religion, one whose aim, says Anthony Schmidt, curator of the Museum of the Bible, was to make “better slaves.”

The "Slave Bible" did not cut out the subject completely. Joseph’s enslavement in Egypt remains, but this is likely as an example, says Schmidt, of someone who “accepts his lot in life" and is rewarded for it, a story U.S. churches used in a similar fashion. Passages in the New Testament that seemed to emphasize equality were cut, as was the entire book of Revelation. The infamous Ephesians 6:5—“servants be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, in fear and trembling”—remained.

Whether or not the Bible really did sanction slavery is a question still up for debate—and maybe an unanswerable one given differences in interpretive frameworks and the patchwork nature of the disparate, redacted texts stitched together as one. But the fact that British and American churches deliberately used it as a weaponized tool of propaganda and indoctrination is beyond dispute. The so-called “Slave Bible” is both a fascinating historical artifact, a very literal symbol of a practice that was integral to the institution of slavery—the total control of the narrative.

Such practices became more extreme after the Haitian Revolution and the many bloody slave revolts in the U.S., as the planter class became increasingly desperate to hold on to power. One of only three extant “Slave Bibles,” the abridged version—called Parts of the Holy Bible, selected for the use of the Negro Slaves, in the British West-India Islands—is now on display at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC, on loan from Fisk University. In the NPR interview above, Schmidt explains the book’s history to All Things Considered’s Michel Martin, who herself describes the text’s purpose in the most concise way: “To associate human bondage and human slavery with obedience to the higher power.”

via The Smithsonian

Related Content:

The Only Surviving Text Written in Arabic by an American Slave Has Been Digitized & Put Online: Read the Autobiography of Enslaved Islamic Scholar, Omar Ibn Said (1831)

1.5 Million Slavery Era Documents Will Be Digitized, Helping African Americans to Learn About Their Lost Ancestors

The Atlantic Slave Trade Visualized in Two Minutes: 10 Million Lives, 20,000 Voyages, Over 315 Years

Cornell Creates a Database of Fugitive Slave Ads, Telling the Story of Those Who Resisted Slavery in 18th & 19th Century America

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

Why Should We Read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451? A New TED-Ed Animation Explains

Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 envisions a future where "firemen" are sent out not to put out fires, but to burn up any books they find with flamethrowers. To students assigned to read the novel today, the idea of an America that has outlawed books entirely might seem like an intriguing if far-fetched notion, perhaps more suited to the reality of the 1950s than the reality of today. Even if we've never read Fahrenheit 451, nearly all of us know the basic outline of its story by now, so why should we still read it? In less than five minutes, the animated TED-Ed video above by the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Iseult Gillespie offers an answer to that question.

"Fahrenheit 451 depicts a world governed by surveillance, robotics, and virtual reality, a vision that proved remarkably prescient, but also spoke to concerns of the time," says Gillespie. "The novel was published in 1953, at the height of the Cold War.  The era kindled widespread paranoia and fear throughout Bradbury's home country of the United States, amplified by the suppression of information and brutal government investigations. In particular, this witch hunt mentality targeted artists and writers who were suspected of communist sympathies. Bradbury was alarmed at this cultural crackdown. He believed it set a dangerous precedent for further censorship, and was reminded of the destruction of the Library of Alexandria and the book-burning of fascist regimes."

These concerns, though relevant to the era in which Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451, are essentially timeless. As with all dystopian fiction, the novel "amplifies troubling features of the world around us and imagines the consequences of taking them to an extreme." Some of the troubling features of the world 65 years ago have diminished, but some have greatly increased, and we would do well to bear in mind that in Fahrenheit 45"it was the apathy of the masses that gave rise to the current regime. The government merely capitalized on short attention spans and the appetite for mindless entertainment, reducing the circulation of ideas to ash. As culture disappears, imagination and self-expression follow." Culture may take many more forms now than it did in the 1950s, but without our constant vigilance, all of them could still be extinguished, just as easily as paper goes up in flame.

Related Content:

Ray Bradbury Reveals the True Meaning of Fahrenheit 451: It’s Not About Censorship, But People “Being Turned Into Morons by TV”

Father Writes a Great Letter About Censorship When Son Brings Home Permission Slip to Read Ray Bradbury’s Censored Book, Fahrenheit 451

An Asbestos-Bound, Fireproof Edition of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953)

New Edition of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 That’s Only Readable When You Apply Heat to Its Pages: Pre-Order It Today

A Teaser Trailer for Fahrenheit 451: A New Film Adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Ever-Relevant Novel

Hear Ray Bradbury’s Classic Sci-Fi Story Fahrenheit 451 as a Radio Drama

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.

Librarian Honors a Dying Tree by Turning It Into a Little Free Library

And then she said to Annika, "Why don't you feel in that old tree stump? One practically always finds things in old tree stumps." 

- Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren 

Remember that other classic of children's literature, wherein a boy runs from the city to a secluded mountain, taking up residence in an old tree he hollows into a cozy shelter?

Public librarian and artist Sharalee Armitage Howard’s Little Free Library is a bit like that, except there was no running involved.

When the venerable and ailing cottonwood in her Coeur d’Alene front yard began dropping branches on cars parked below, Howard faced the inevitable. But rather than chop the tree even with the ground, she arranged with the removal crew to leave a considerable amount of stump intact.

Then, in a Pippi Longstocking-ish move, she filled it with books for her neighbors and strangers to discover.

The interior has a snug, woodland vibe, worthy of Beatrix Potter or Alison Uttley, with tidy shelves, soft lighting, and a shingled roof to protect the contents from the elements.

Ever since December, when Howard posted photos to social media, the fairytale-like structure has been engendering epic amounts of global goodwill.

What a beautiful way to preserve and honor a tree that stood for well over a century.

One of the few naysayers is Reddit user discerningpervert, who is perhaps not giving voice to the Lorax, so much as Thalia, Muse of Comedy, when he writes:

It's like a house of horrors for trees. Inside the corpse of their former comrade are the processed remnants of their treebrothers and treesisters.

A literal Treehouse of Horror...

Visit Howard’s Little Free Library (charter #8206) the next time you're in Idaho. Or install one of your own.

(Those with trees to throw at the cause may want to begin with the stump hollowing tutorial below.)

via Twisted Sifter

Related Content:

RIP Todd Bol, Founder of the Little Free Library Movement: He Leaves Behind 75,000 Small Libraries That Promote Reading Worldwide

Free Libraries Shaped Like Doctor Who’s Time-Traveling TARDIS Pop Up in Detroit, Saskatoon, Macon & Other Cities

Growing Up Surrounded by Books Has a Lasting Positive Effect on the Brain, Says a New Scientific Study

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City in February as host of  Theater of the Apes book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

More in this category... »
Quantcast