New Archive of Middle Eastern Photography Features 9,000 Digitized Images

From Shamoon Zamir, a literature professor at NYU Abu Dhabi, comes a "research archive of historical and contemporary photography from the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA)," designed to be  fully accessible to the public. We're told:

Today, Akkasah: The Center for Photography at NYU Abu Dhabi boasts an archive of 62,000 images from the UAE and across the MENA region – of which 9,000 are already digitized and available online -- the only of its kind in the Middle East. These images offer new insights into the history and rapid transformation of the UAE and the broader Arab world. They include historical collections ranging from the nineteenth century to the late twentieth, covering a variety of themes and topics, from early images of the Holy Lands and from the Ottoman Empire, to images from family albums, institutional archives and the history of Egyptian cinema.

You can visit the collection of images here, which is itself divided into a few key areas: Historical CollectionsContemporary Projects, and Photo Albums.

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A Meditative Look at a Japanese Artisan’s Quest to Save the Brilliant, Forgotten Colors of Japan’s Past

We might assume that 21st-century technology enables us to produce fabric in all imaginable colors, most of them totally unknown to our ancestors. Yet none of it has ever quite replicated the striking hues achieved by dyers of centuries and centuries ago. That premise underlies the slow and painstaking work of Sachio Yoshioka, whose family's fabric-dyeing heritage goes back to Japan's Edo period of the 17th to the mid-19th century. Having taken over his father's workshop Textiles Yoshioka in 1988, he has spent the past thirty years working only with traditional plant dyes, the kind that once, in a time long before his family even got into the dyeing business, made his homeland so colorful.

The Japanese dyeing tradition, in this reading of its history, reached its long apex of brilliance in the Nara and Heian periods, which together lasted from the years 710 to 1185. Most of the world admires Japanese aesthetic sensibilities, but often with reference to internationally well-known concepts like wabi-sabi that idealize the rustic, the imperfect, and the subdued. Unlike in the Edo period, when the strict Tokyugawa Shogunate mandated that common people stick to grays and browns, Nara and Heian cities would have been rich with vivid reds, blues, yellows, oranges, and even purples, all in varieties one seldom sees even today, in Japan or anywhere else.




Hence Yoshioka's mission to practice and even refine the same labor-intensive dyeing methods used back then. Formerly a student of philosophy as well as a publisher of books on the history of color and fabric arts, he now seems devoted to what goes on in his Kyoto workshop. You can watch what he and his assistants do there in the video from the Victoria and Albert Museum above. Composed of four short films, it includes a segment on Yoshioka's production of paper flowers for the Omizutori festival at the Tōdai-ji Buddhist temple in Nara, the historical capital outside Kyoto, that culminates in an evening fire ceremony.

That fire ceremony, called Otaimatsu, remains as compelling a spectacle today as it must have been more than a millennium ago, just as surely as the colors Yoshioka has rediscovered have lost none of their allure since then. His dedication to the work of traditional dyeing — work his daughter Sarasa will take into its sixth generation — comes not out of a desire to pay tribute to Japanese history, nor even out of filial piety, but something much simpler: "The colors you can obtain from plants are so beautiful," he says. "This is the one and only reason I do what I do." 

via Kottke/Metafilter

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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.

An Introduction to Ivan Ilyin, the Philosopher Behind the Authoritarianism of Putin’s Russia & Western Far Right Movements

Fascism had been creeping back into European and North American politics for many years before the word regained its currency in mainstream discourse as an alarming description of present trends. In 2004, historian Enzo Traverso wrote of the “unsettling phenomenon” of “the rise of fascist-inspired political movements in the European arena (from France to Italy, from Belgium to Austria).” Many of those far-right movements have come very close to winning power, as in Austria and France’s recent elections, or have done so, as in Italy’s.

And while the sudden rise of the far right came as a shock to many in the US, political commentators frequently point out that the erosion of democratic civil rights and liberties has been a decades-long project, coinciding with the financialization of the economy, the privatization of public goods and services, the rise of the mass surveillance state, and the extraordinary war powers assumed, and never relinquished, by the executive after 9/11, creating a permanent state of exception and weakening checks on presidential power.




This is not even to mention the autocratic regimes of Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, which are tied to other anti-democratic movements across the West not only geopolitically but also philosophically, a subject that gets far less press than it deserves. When analysis of the philosophical underpinnings of neo-fascism comes up, it often focuses on Russian academic Alexander Dugin, “who has been called,” notes Salon’s Conor Lynch, “everything from ‘Putin’s brain’ to ‘Putin’s Rasputin.’” (Bloomberg calls Dugin “the one Russian linking Putin, Erdogon and Trump.”)

Dugin’s fusion of Heideggerian postmodernism and apocalyptic mysticism plays a significant role in the ideology of the globalized far right. But Yale historian Timothy Snyder—who has written extensively on both Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany—points to an earlier Russian thinker whom he says exercises considerable influence on the ideology of Vladimir Putin, the fascist philosopher Ivan Ilyin.

Anton Barbashin and Hannah Thoburn called Ilyin “Putin’s philosopher” in a Foreign Affairs profile. Ilyin was “a publicist, a conspiracy theorist, and a Russian nationalist with a core of fascistic leanings.” David Brooks identified Ilyin as one of a trio of nationalist philosophers Putin quotes and recommends. Snyder defines Ilyin’s philosophy as explicitly “Russian Christian fascism,” describing at the New York Review of Books the Russian thinker's prolific writing before and after the Russian Revolution, a hodgepodge of German idealism, psychoanalysis, Italian fascism, and Christianity.

In brief, Ilyin’s theoretical works argued that “the world was corrupt; it needed redemption from a nation capable of total politics; that nation was unsoiled Russia.” Ilyin’s, and Putin’s, Russian nationalism has had a paradoxically global appeal among a wide swath of far right political parties and movements across the West, as Snyder writes in his latest book The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America. “What these ways of thinking have in common,” write The Economist in their review of Snyder's book, “is a quasi-mystical belief in the destiny of nations and rulers, which sets aside the need to observe laws or procedures, or grapple with physical realities.”

Snyder summarizes Ilyin’s ideas in the Big Think video above in ways that make clear how his thought appeals to far right movements across national borders. Ilyin, he says, is “probably the most important example of how old ideas”—the fascism of the 20s, 30s, and 40s—“can be brought back in the 21st century for a postmodern context.” Those ideas can be summarized in three theses, says Snyder, the first having to do with the conservative reification of social hierarchies. “Social advancement was impossible because the political system, the social system, is like a body… you have a place in this body. Freedom means knowing your place.”

“A second idea,” says Snyder, relates to voting as a ratification, rather than election, of the leader. “Democracy is a ritual…. We only vote in order to affirm our collective support for our leader. The leader’s not legitimated by our votes or chosen by our votes.” The leader, instead, emerges “from some other place.... In fascism the leader is some kind of hero, who emerges from myth.” The third idea might immediately remind US readers of Karl Rove’s dismissal of the “reality-based community,” a chilling augur of the fact-free reality of today’s politics.

Ilyin thought that “the factual world doesn’t count. It’s not real.” In a restatement of gnostic theology, he believed that “God created the world but that was a mistake. The world was a kind of aborted process,” because it lacks coherence and unity. The world of observable facts was, to him, “horrifying…. Those facts are disgusting and of no value whatsoever.” These three ideas, Snyder argues, underpin Putin’s rule. They also define American political life under Trump, he concludes in his New York Review of Books essay.

Ilyin “made of lawlessness a virtue so pure as to be invisible,” Snyder writes, “and so absolute as to demand the destruction of the West. He shows us how fragile masculinity generates enemies, how perverted Christianity rejects Jesus, how economic inequality imitates innocence, and how fascist ideas flow into the postmodern. This is no longer just Russian philosophy. It is now American life.” There are more than enough homegrown sources for American authoritarianism and inequality, one can argue. But Snyder makes a compelling case for the obscure Russian thinker as an indirect, and insidious, influence.

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

Experience the Mystical Music of Hildegard Von Bingen: The First Known Composer in History (1098 – 1179)

The German abbess, visionary, mystic poet, composer, and healer Hildegard von Bingen “has become a symbol to disparate groups,” writes Brian Wise at WQXR, including “feminists and theologians, musicologists and new-age medicine practitioners. Her chants have been set to techno rhythms; her writings on nutrition have yielded countless cookbooks (even though she never left behind a single recipe.)” She did leave behind an astounding body of work that has made her improbably popular for a 12th century nun, with a lively presence on Facebook and her own Twitter account, @MysticHildy (“very into technology, love to travel”).

Her fame rests not only on the beauty of her work, but on her extraordinary life story and the fact that she is the first composer to whose work we can put a name. She was born in 1098 in Bermersheim, the tenth child of a noble family. It being the custom then to dedicate a tenth child (a “tithe”) to the church, Hildegard was sent to the Monastary of Saint Disibodenberg to become a Benedictine nun under the tutelage of Jutta, a highly-respected anchoress. “After Jutta’s death,” notes Fordham University’s sourcebook, “when Hildegard was 38 years of age, she was elected the head of the budding convent living within cramped walls of the anchorage.”

Throughout her life, Hildegard had experienced visions, beginning at the age of 3. (Oliver Sacks attributed these to migraines). At age 42, she had a powerful experience that radically changed her life. She described this moment in her writings:

And it came to pass ... when I was 42 years and 7 months old, that the heavens were opened and a blinding light of exceptional brilliance flowed through my entire brain. And so it kindled my whole heart and breast like a flame, not burning but warming... and suddenly I understood of the meaning of expositions of the books...

Overwhelmed, and fearful of writing down her visions “because of doubt and a low opinion of myself and because of diverse sayings of men,” she nonetheless found encouragement from leaders in the church to write and circulate her theological work: “With papal imprimatur, Hildegard was able to finish her first visionary work Scivias (“Know the Ways of the Lord”) and her fame began to spread through Germany.” Soon after, she relocated her convent to Bingen, and began an incredibly productive period in the last few decades of her life.

All told, she turned out an “extraordinary array of creative treasures,” writes Wise: a drama in verse, “more than 70 musical works, medical texts filled with 2,000 remedies, writings presenting feminine archetypes for the divine.” Although she held to orthodox doctrine, opposing the Cathars, for example, and other “schismatics,” she was a mystic whose ideas far exceeded the cramped theological confines of so many male counterparts. “Hildegard’s visions caused her to see humans as ‘living sparks’ of God’s love, coming from God as daylight comes from the sun,” writes Fr. Don Miller. “This unity was not apparent to many of her contemporaries.”

Her transcendent sight did not blind her to the diverse beauty of the natural world. “She not only had faith,” says German director and actress Margarethe Von Trotta, who made a 2010 biopic about Hildegard, “but she was so curious. Today, perhaps she would have been a scientist because she did so much research on healing people, on plants and animals.” Hildegard’s talent, intellect, and forceful personality made her a formidable person, “the only known female figure of her time,” writes Music Academy Online, “who achieved such intellectual stature and whose contributions have had lasting impact.” The revived interest in her music coincided with “the ‘new age’ chant craze in the mid-1990s,” but Hildegard’s work differs markedly from medieval chant written for male voices.

Varying from “highly syllabic to dramatic melismas (swirling melodies on a single open syllable,” Melanie Spiller explains, “her music is quite distinctive and easily recognizable, with unsual elements for the time, including exceeding an octave by a fourth or fifth, and large and frequent leaps.” Her music also functioned as “a vehicle for her own mystical experience,” and it continues to move listeners—of faith and no faith—who hear in her song celebrations of the divinely feminine and the wonders of the natural world.

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

Enter a Digitized Collection of 38,000 Pamphlets & Periodicals From the French Revolution

“What other solution but revolution?” asks Jonah Walters of the conditions for most of the population in late-18th century France. The majority lived in abject poverty; “the economic subjugation in the countryside was profound.” The urban workers—or sans-culottes—fared little better. “The clergy and nobility,” on the other hand, “comprising about 1.6 percent of the population, were doing just fine—most nobles lived in extreme opulence.” This outline sketches the barest context for the resentment that fueled the violence of the French Revolution and the thousands of executions eventually carried out by the Revolutionary Tribunal.

Lawyer and orator Georges Danton, who had argued forcefully for the killing of Louis XVI, proposed the Tribunal, in fact, as a means of stemming terror. “I shall go so far as to say,” he declared, “that if a tribunal had been in existence” in the years between 1789 and 1793, “the people, who have been so often and so cruelly rebuked for the actions of these days, would not have covered them with blood.” He advocated that the tribunal “be terrible in order that the people may be spared the necessity of being terrible.” The following year, Danton himself was beheaded, accused of leniency and self-indulgence.

Like his contemporaries Robespierre and Marat, Danton’s story illustrates the revolutionaries’ eloquent idealism and their commitment to the execution of royalists, counterrevolutionaries, and thousands of accused criminals as a means of remaking the nation and fully destroying the Ancien Régime. Kingston University’s Marisa Linton sums up the political crisis:

The French went almost overnight from being an absolute monarchy to a political system in which the will of the people replaced that of the king. In the absence of traditions of parliamentary rule, the French fell back on universalist abstract principles and Enlightenment rhetoric which were to prove increasingly divisive and leave no space for legitimate opposition. In this climate, all political rivals had the potential to be denounced as conspirators against popular sovereignty.

As in the American Revolution a few years earlier, these debates took place in public via speeches, periodicals, and pamphlets, which were printed by the tens of thousands. Chicago’s Newberry Library French Revolution Collection houses on the Internet Archive “more than 30,000” such pamphlets and “more than 23,000 issues of 180 periodicals published between 1780 and 1810…. The collection represents the opinions of all the factions that opposed and defended the monarchy during the turbulent period between 1789 and 1799 and also contains innumerable ephemeral publications of the early Republic.”

Much of the impressive Newberry collection, “among the most comprehensive in the world,” has been digitized and made freely available via the French Revolution Pamphlets Digital Initiative. Additionally, the Newberry has an open project for translating these pamphlets into English “in order to broaden access, aid classroom instruction, and support scholarship.” The overwhelming majority of the materials are, of course, in French, but some few are also in Latin and other languages.

The pamphlet at the top is one of several translated by the students of DePaul University Professor Pascale-Anne Brault. This document announces the verdict of the Revolutionary Court against Jean-Baptiste Carrier, a former deputy of the National Convention who stood accused of horrific atrocities in the commission of his duties, including “drowning men, women, children” and “assassinating a large number of people and burning towns, where men and women had their throats cut and girls were raped.” The judgment claims that “Nero was less bloodthirsty” than Carrier and his accomplices.

Further up, we see the first page of a pamphlet written by René Louis Delagueulle, a member of the National Convention, detailing plans for “a Republican Education of the People.” Delagueulle begins his proposal with a set of justifications, among them the need for full employment. “This measure equally obliges all citizens to learn,” he writes, “at a set age, an art, a trade or a profession capable of procuring them the means of subsistence. We have decreed equality: we wish it not to be an empty name, that it remain illusory & without reality; for in a democratic & popular Republic, the law of equality is the only law that can bring about common happiness.”

Just above, see a pamphlet titled “The Declaration of the Rights of Women,” penned in 1792 by an anonymous collective of female French citizens writing under the pseudonym Philaletes (Greek for “lover of truth”). The pamphlet consists of seventeen articles enumerating the rights of free speech for French women. “Women are born, live, and die with the right to speak,” states the first article. “They are equal in their ambition in this regard.” The document ends with a “Dedication Epistle to Female Citizens,” which begins, “for too long the Assemblée Nationale has made you wait for the declaration of your rights; it is essential and urgent that they be proclaimed.”

These fascinating documents represent just a tiny sampling of the thousands of pamphlets available, though most of them remain to be translated into English. You can volunteer to help with the translation initiative here. And enter the enormous archive of nearly 40,000 pamphlets, organized by year, subject, creator, collection, and language, here.

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

Optical Scanning Technology Lets Researchers Recover Lost Indigenous Languages from Old Wax Cylinder Recordings

In an 1878 North American Review description of his new invention, the phonograph, which transcribed sound on wax-covered metal cylinders, Thomas Edison suggested a number of possible uses: “Letter writing and all kinds of dictation without the aid of a stenographer,” “Phonographic books” for the blind, “the teaching of elocution,” and, of course, “Reproduction of music.” He did not, visionary though he was, conceive of one extraordinary use to which wax cylinders might be put—the recovery or reconstruction of extinct and endangered indigenous languages and cultures in California.

And yet, 140 years after Edison’s invention, this may be the most culturally significant use of the wax cylinder to date. “Among the thousands of wax cylinders” at UC Berkeley’s Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, writes Hyperallergic’s Allison Meier, “are songs and spoken-word recordings in 78 indigenous languages of California. Some of these languages, recorded between 1900 and 1938, no longer have living speakers.”




Such is the case with Yahi, a language spoken by a man called “Ishi,” who was supposedly the last surviving member of his culture when anthropologist Alfred Kroeber met him in 1911. Kroeber recorded nearly 6 hours of Ishi’s speech on 148 wax cylinders, many of which are now badly degraded.

“The existing versions” of these artifacts “sound terrible,” says Berkeley linguist Andrew Garrett in the National Science Foundation video at the top, but through digital reconstruction much of this rare audio can be restored. Garrett describes the project—supported jointly by the NSF and NEH—as a “digital repatriation of cultural heritage.” Using an optical scanning technique, scientists can recover data from these fragile materials without further damaging them. You can see audio preservationist Carl Haber describe the advanced methods above.

The project represents a scientific breakthrough and also a stark reminder of the genocide and humiliation of indigenous people in the American west. When he was found, “starving, disoriented and separated from his tribe,” writes Jessica Jimenez at The Daily Californian, Ishi was “believed to be the last Yahi man in existence because of the Three Knolls Massacre in 1866, in which the entire Yahi tribe was thought to have been slaughtered.” (According to another Berkeley scholar his story may be more complicated.) He was “put on display at the museum, where outsiders could watch him make arrows and describe aspects of Yahi culture.” He never revealed his name (“Ishi” means “man”) and died of tuberculosis in 1916.

The wax cylinders will allow scholars to recover other languages, stories, and songs from peoples destroyed or decimated by the 19th century “Indian Wars.” Between 1900 and 1940, Kroeber and his colleagues recorded “Native Californians from many regions and cultures,” the Berkeley project page explains, “speaking and singing; reciting histories, narratives and prayers, listing names for places and objects among many other things, all in a wide variety of languages. Many of the languages recorded on the cylinders have transformed, fallen out of use, or are no longer spoken at all, making this collection a unique and invaluable resource for linguists and contemporary community members hoping to learn about or revitalize languages, or retrieve important piece of cultural heritage.”

via Hyperallergic

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

The Ancient Astronomy of Stonehenge Decoded

The summer solstice draws nigh, and many of us will spend it bemoaning the fact that we have yet again failed to make it to Stonehenge to view the sun rising over its massive Heel Stone.

Don’t beat yourself up too badly.

According to Vox’s Senior Editorial Producer Joss Fong, above, it’s likely that the winter solstice was actually a far bigger deal to the Neolithic builders who engineered the site.

While much of it is now in ruins, archeologists, historians, astronomers, and other experts have been able to reconstruct what the ancient monument would have looked like in its heyday. The placement of the massive stones in carefully arranged concentric circles suggest that its feats of astronomy were no accident.




As Fong points out, the builders would not have known that the earth travels around the sun, nor that it tilts on its vertical axis, thus effecting where the sun’s rays will strike throughout the year.

They would, however, have had good cause to monitor any natural phenomena as it related to their agricultural practices.

The summer solstice would have come at the height of their growing season, but if this year’s sunrise celebrants spin 180 degrees, they will be facing in the same direction as those ancient builders would have when they arrived to celebrate the winter solstice with a sunset feast.

These days, the winter solstice attracts a sizable number of tourists, along with neo-druids, neo-pagans, and Wiccans.

Bundle up and join them, take a virtual tour, or at the very least, try your hand at assembling the nifty Aedes-Ars Stonehenge Model Kit Fong glues together like a pro.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her solo show Nurse!, in which one of Shakespeare’s best loved female characters hits the lecture circuit to set the record straight opens June 12 at The Tank in New York City. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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