The Illustrated Medicinal Plant Map of the United States of America (1932): Download It in High Resolution

Two years ago, we highlighted collector David Rumsey’s huge map archive, which he donated to Stanford University in April of 2016 and which now resides at Stanford’s David Rumsey Map Center. The opening of this physical collection was a pretty big deal, but the digital collection has been on the web, in some part, and available to the online public since 1996. Twenty years ago, however, though the internet was decidedly becoming an everyday feature of modern life, it was difficult for the average person to imagine the degree to which digital technology would completely overtake our lives, not to mention the almost unbelievable wealth and power tech companies would amass in such short time.

Similarly, when the above 1932 Medicinal Plant Map of the United States (see in a larger format here) first appeared—one of the tens of thousands of maps available in the digital Rumsey collection—few people other than Aldous Huxley could have foreseen the exponential advances, and the rise of wealth and power, to come in the pharmaceutical industry.




But the pharmacists had a clue. The map, produced by the National Wholesale Druggists’ Association, “was intended to boost the image of the profession,” writes Rebecca Onion at Slate, “at a time when companies were increasingly compounding new pharmaceuticals in labs,” thereby rendering much of the drug-making knowledge and skill of old-time druggists obsolete.

Although the commercial pharmaceutical industry began taking shape in the late 19th century, it didn’t fully come into its own until the so-called “golden era” of 1930-1960, when, says Onion, researchers developed “a flood of new antibiotics, psychotropics, antihistamines, and vaccines, increasingly relying on synthetic chemistry to do so.” Over-the-counter medications proliferated, and pharmacists became alarmed. They sought to persuade the public of their continued relevance by pointing out, as a short blurb at the bottom left corner of the map notes, that “few people realize the extent to which plants and minerals enter into the practice of pharmacy.”

The map appeared during "Pharmacy Week" in October, when "pharmacists in Anglo-Saxon countries" promote their services. Losing sight of those important services, the Druggists’ Association writes, will lead to suffering, should the traditional pharmacist's function “be impaired or destroyed by commercial trends.” Thus we have this visual demonstration of competence. The map identifies important species—native or cultivated—in each region of the country. In Kentucky, we see Nicotina tabacum, whose cured leaves, you guessed it, “constitute tobacco.” Across the country in Nevada, we are introduced to Apocynum cannabinum, “native of U.S. and Southern Canada—the dried rhizome and roots constitute the drug apocynum or Canadian hemp.”

The better-known Cannibus sativa also appears, in one of the boxes around the map’s border that introduce plants from outside North America, including Erythroxylon coca, from Bolivia and Peru, and Papaver somniferum, from which opium derives. Many of the other medications will be less familiar to us—and belong to what we now call naturopathy, herbalism, or, more generally, "traditional medicine." Though these medicinal practices are many thousands of years old, the druggists try to project a cutting-edge image, assuring the map’s readers that “intense scientific study, expert knowledge, extreme care and accuracy are applied by the pharmacist to medicinal plants.”

While pharmacists today are highly-trained professionals, the part of their jobs that involved the making of drugs from scratch has been ceded to massive corporations and their research laboratories. The druggists of 1932 saw this coming, and no amount of colorful public relations could stem the tide. But it may be the case, given changing laws, changing attitudes, the backlash against overmedication, and the devastating opioid epidemic, that their craft is more relevant than it has been in decades, though today's "druggists" work in marijuana dispensaries and health food stores instead of national pharmacy chains.

View and download the map in a high resolution scan at the David Rumsey Map Collection, where you can zoom in to every plant on the map and read its description.

via Slate

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

A Periodic Table Visualizing the Year & Country in Which Each Element Was Discovered

On the "Data is Beautiful" subreddit, a user named Udzu posted a visualisation of the Periodic Table of Elements that highlights the year and country in which each element was discovered. You can view it in a larger format here. Elaborating on how the graphic was made, he adds (his words, not mine, follow):

  • The year and country of discovery are taken from Wikipedia and are based on when the element was first observed or predicted rather than when it was first isolated.
  • The priority for the discoveries is often contentious. The visualisation uses the listings currently in the Wikipedia article, with no claim as to their accuracy.
  • The country is typically both the citizenship of the discoverer and the location of discovery. Exceptions include Hafnium (discovered by a Dutch and Hungarian duo in Copenhagen) and Radon (discovered by a British and American duo in Montreal); these are listed under location.
  • Countries and flags are of the modern equivalents when appropriate: e.g. Russia rather than the USSR, UK rather than England/Scotland, and Mexico rather than New Spain.
  • The etymologies are also taken from Wikipedia.
  • The legends contain summary counts of the data. Good work, Sweden.

Ranked in order, the UK could lay claim to 19 elements, Sweden and Germany to 18 each, France to 16, and Russia and the United States to 11 each.

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Infographics Show How the Different Fields of Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics & Computer Science Fit Together

Ask anyone who's pursued a career in the sciences what first piqued their interest in what would become their field, and they'll almost certainly have a story. Gazing at the stars on a camping trip, raising a pet frog, fooling around with computers and their components: an experience sparks a desire for knowledge and understanding, and the pursuit of that desire eventually delivers one to their specific area of specialization.

Or, as they say in science, at least it works that way in theory; the reality usually unrolls less smoothly. On such a journey, just like any other, it might help to have a map.




Enter the work of science writer and physicist Dominic Walliman, whose animated work on the Youtube channel Domain of Science we've previously featured here on Open Culture. (See the "Related Content" section below for the links.)

Walliman's videos astutely explain how the subfields of biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, and computer science relate to each other, but now he's turned that same material into infographics readable at a glance: maps, essentially, of the intellectual territory. He's made these maps, of biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, and computer science, freely available on his Flickr account: you can view them all on a single page here along with a few more of his infographics..

As much use as Walliman's maps might be to science-minded youngsters looking for the best way to direct their fascinations into a proper course of study, they also offer a helpful reminder to those farther down the path — especially those who've struggled with the blinders of hyperspecialization — of where their work fits in the grand scheme of things. No matter one's field, scientific or otherwise, one always labors under the threat of losing sight of the forest for the trees. Or the realm of life for the bioinformatics, biophysics, and biomathematics; the whole of mathematics for the number theory, the differential geometry, and the differential equations; the workings of computers for the scheduling, the optimization, and the boolean satisfiability.

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The Map of Chemistry: New Animation Summarizes the Entire Field of Chemistry in 12 Minutes

The Art of Data Visualization: How to Tell Complex Stories Through Smart Design

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 the Brilliant Colors of Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts Were Made with Alchemy

Today the word "alchemy" seems used primarily to label a variety of crackpot pursuits, with their bogus premises and impossible promises. To the extent that alchemists long strove to turn lead miraculously into gold, that sounds like a fair enough charge, but the field of alchemy as a whole, whose history runs from Hellenistic Egypt to the 18th century (with a revival in the 19th), chalked up a few lasting, reality-based accomplishments as well. Take, for instance, medieval illuminated manuscripts: without alchemy, they wouldn't have the vivid and varied color palettes that continue to enrich our own vision of that era.

Many of the illuminators' most brilliant pigments "didn't come straight from nature but were made through alchemy," says the video from the Getty above, produced to accompany the museum's exhibition "The Alchemy of Color in Medieval Manuscripts."




Alchemists "explored how materials interacted and transformed," and "discovering paint colors was a practical outcome." The colors they developed included "mosaic gold," a fusion of tin and sulfur; verdigris, "made by exposing copper to fumes of vinegar, wine, or even urine"; and vermillion, a mixture of sulfur and mercury that made a brilliant red "associated with chemical change and with alchemy itself."

The very nature of books, specifically the fact that they spend most of the time closed, has performed a degree of inadvertent preservation of illuminated manuscripts, keeping their alchemical colors relatively bold and deep. (Although, as the Getty video notes, some pigments such as verdigris have a tendency to eat through the paper — one somehow wants to blame the urine.) Still, that hardly means that preservationists have nothing to do where illuminated manuscripts are concerned: keeping the windows they provide onto the histories of art, the book, and humanity clear takes work, some of it based on an ever-improving understanding of alchemy. Lead may never turn into gold, but these centuries-old illuminated manuscripts may survive centuries into the future, a fact that seems not entirely un-miraculous itself.

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Dante’s Divine Comedy Illustrated in a Remarkable Illuminated Medieval Manuscript (c. 1450)

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1,000-Year-Old Illustrated Guide to the Medicinal Use of Plants Now Digitized & Put Online

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.

Read the “Don’t Let the Bastards Get You Down” Letter That Albert Einstein Sent to Marie Curie During a Time of Personal Crisis (1911)

Marie Curie’s 1911 Nobel Prize win, her second, for the discovery of radium and polonium, would have been cause for public celebration in her adopted France, but for the nearly simultaneous revelation of her affair with fellow physicist Paul Langevin, the fellow standing to the right of a 32-year-old Albert Einstein in the above group photo from the 1911 Solvay Conference in Physics.

Both stories broke while Curie—unsurprisingly, the sole woman in the photo—was attending the conference in Brussels.




Equally unsurprisingly, the press preferred la scandal to la réalisation scientifique. Sex sells, then and now.

The fires of radium which beam so mysteriously...have just lit a fire in the heart of one of the scientists who studies their action so devotedly; and the wife and the children of this scientist are in tears....

—Le Journal, November 4, 1911

There's no denying that the affair was painful for Langevin’s family, particularly his wife, Jeanne, who supplied the media with incriminating letters from Curie to her husband. She must have been aware that Curie would be the one to bear the brunt of the public’s disapproval. Double standards with regard to gender are nothing new.

A furious throng gathered outside of Curie’s house and anti-Semitic papers, dissatisfied with labeling the pioneering scientist a mere home wrecker, declared—erroneously—that she was Jewish. The timeline was tweaked to suggest that Curie had taken up with Langevin prior to her husband’s death. Fellow radiochemist Bertram Boltwood seized the opportunity to declare that "she is exactly what I always thought she was, a detestable idiot.”

In the midst of this, Einstein, who had made Curie’s acquaintance at the conference, proved himself a true friend with a “don’t let the bastards get you down” letter, written on November 23. Other than a delicate allusion to Langevin as a person with whom he felt privileged to be in contact, he refrained from mentioning the cause of her misfortune.

A friendly word can go a long way in times of disgrace, and Einstein supplied his new friend with some stoutly unequivocal ones, denouncing the scandalmongers as “reptiles” feasting on sensationalistic “hogwash”:

Highly esteemed Mrs. Curie,

Do not laugh at me for writing you without having anything sensible to say. But I am so enraged by the base manner in which the public is presently daring to concern itself with you that I absolutely must give vent to this feeling. However, I am convinced that you consistently despise this rabble, whether it obsequiously lavishes respect on you or whether it attempts to satiate its lust for sensationalism! I am impelled to tell you how much I have come to admire your intellect, your drive, and your honesty, and that I consider myself lucky to have made your personal acquaintance in Brussels. Anyone who does not number among these reptiles is certainly happy, now as before, that we have such personages among us as you, and Langevin too, real people with whom one feels privileged to be in contact. If the rabble continues to occupy itself with you, then simply don’t read that hogwash, but rather leave it to the reptile for whom it has been fabricated.

With most amicable regards to you, Langevin, and Perrin, yours very truly,

A. Einstein

PS I have determined the statistical law of motion of the diatomic molecule in Planck’s radiation field by means of a comical witticism, naturally under the constraint that the structure’s motion follows the laws of standard mechanics. My hope that this law is valid in reality is very small, though.

That deliberately geeky postscript amounts to another sweet show of support. Perhaps it fortified Curie when a week later, she received a letter from Nobel Committee member Svante Arrhenius, urging her to skip the Prize ceremony in Stockholm. Curie rejected Arrhenius’ suggestion thusly:

The prize has been awarded for the discovery of radium and polonium. I believe that there is no connection between my scientific work and the facts of private life. I cannot accept ... that the appreciation of the value of scientific work should be influenced by libel and slander concerning private life.

For a more in-depth look at Marie Curie’s nightmarish November, refer to “Honor and Dishonor” the sixteenth chapter in Barbara Goldsmith’s Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Periodic Table of Endangered Elements: Visualizing the Chemical Elements That Could Vanish Before You Know It

The Periodic Table of Elements lists the 118 chemical elements that make up everything in our world. Some you're familiar with--Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen, etc. Others maybe less so--Vanadium, Germanium and Yttrium.

According to the American Chemical Society, 44 of those 118 elements might disappear by century's end. Enter the Periodic Table of Endangered Elements (shown above). The most endangered ones, highlighted in red, are Zinc, Gallium, Germanium, Arsenic (is this a good or very bad thing?), Silver, Indium, Tellurium, and Hafnium. Made available under a Creative Commons license, the Periodic Table of Endangered Elements can be viewed in a larger format here.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

via Kottke

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A New Animation Explains How Caffeine Keeps Us Awake

Let’s preface this by recalling that Honoré de Balzac drank up to 50 cups of coffee a day and lived to the ripe old age of … 51.

Of course, he produced dozens of novels, plays, and short stories before taking his leave. Perhaps his caffeine habit had a little something to do with that?

Pharmacist Hanan Qasim’s TED-Ed primer on how caffeine keeps us awake top loads the positive effects of the most world’s commonly used psychoactive substance. Global consumption is equivalent to the weight of 14 Eiffel Towers, measured in drops of coffee, soda, chocolate, energy drinks, decaf…and that’s just humans. Insects get theirs from nectar, though with them, a little goes a very long, potentially deadly way.




Caffeine’s structural resemblance to the neurotransmitter adenosine is what gives it that special oomph. Adenosine causes sleepiness by plugging into neural receptors in the brain, causing them to fire more sluggishly. Caffeine takes advantage of their similar molecular structures to slip into these receptors, effectively stealing adenosine’s parking space.

With a bioavailability of 99%, this interloper arrives ready to party.

On the plus side, caffeine is both a mental and physical pick me up.

In appropriate doses, it can keep your mind from wandering during a late night study session.

It lifts the body’s metabolic rate and boosts performance during exercise—an effect that’s easily counteracted by getting the bulk of your caffeine from chocolate or sweetened soda, or by dumping another Eiffel Tower’s worth of sugar into your coffee.

There’s even some evidence that moderate consumption may reduce the likelihood of such diseases as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and cancer.

What to do when that caffeine effect starts wearing off?

Gulp down more!

As with many drugs, prolonged usage diminishes the sought-after effects, causing its devotees (or addicts, if you like) to seek out higher doses, negative side effects be damned. Nervous jitters, incontinence, birth defects, raised heart rate and blood pressure… it’s a compelling case for sticking with water.

Animator Draško Ivezić (a 3-latte-a-day man, according to his studio’s website) does a hilarious job of personifying both caffeine and the humans in its thrall, particularly an egg-shaped new father.

Go to TED-Ed to learn more, or test your grasp of caffeine with a quiz.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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