The City of Nashville Built a Full-Scale Replica of the Parthenon in 1897, and It’s Still Standing Today

Photo by Mayur Phadtare, via Wikimedia Commons

A recent executive order stating that “the classical architectural style shall be the preferred and default style” for federal buildings in the U.S. has reminded some of other executives who enforced neoclassicicism as the state’s official aesthetic dogma. In the case of the U.S., however, neoclassical building does not draw from ancient sources, but from “a 19th century interpretation of what people were doing in Rome and Athens millennia ago,” as Steve Rose writes at The Guardian.

In other words, contemporary “classical architectural style” in the U.S. is a copy of a copy. Kitsch. But maybe the creation of simulations is what America does best, though not typically under threat of government sanction should one do otherwise. “Living in the relatively youthful country that’s a mere 241 years old,” Isaac Kaplan wrote at Artsy in 2017, “it’s understandable that some Americans might decide to import a little extra history from abroad,” by making versions of ancient monuments in their backyard.




Such buildings span the country, from offbeat roadside attractions to the most expensive and elaborate recreations. “There is a faux-Venice in Las Vegas, and a Stonehenge II in Texas.” And in Nashville, Tennessee: a full-scale replica of the Parthenon, built in 1897 for the Centennial Exposition celebrating the state’s 100th anniversary. The detailed re-creation went further than imitating a ruin. It “restored the aspects of the original Parthenon that were lost or damaged” in an interpretive re-creation of what it might have looked like.

The building held the Exposition’s art gallery and “spoke to the city’s self-declared reputation as the ‘Athens of the South.’” (Memphis countered the grand architectural gesture by building a pyramid; Athens, Georgia, however, did not respond in kind.) Constructed out of concrete, and not built to outlast the celebrations, the replica began to fall apart soon afterwards, prompting a restoration effort in 1920 aimed at making the Nashville Parthenon as “enduring and as historically true to the original Parthenon as possible.”

The Great Depression halted plans for an enormous statue of Athena, meant to recreate one that once stood inside the original Parthenon, but after decades of donations it was finally unveiled in 1990. Standing 42 feet high, the massive figure holds a 6-foot-4-inch statue of the goddess Nike in her hand. Unlike 19th century neoclassical recreations, Athena “boasts a major historical detail: polychromy,” painted in bright greens, reds, and blues, righting “the long-held and historically incorrect view of the ancient past as one dominated by whiteness.”

Image by Dean Dixon, via Wikimedia Commons

See more photographs from 1909 at the Library of Congress digital collections, of the replica of a temple originally dedicated to honoring the female personification of wisdom. And at the top, see a much more recent photo of the restored building. The Nashville Parthenon is still in business, charging reasonable admission for a view tourists could never get in Athens, as well as a permanent collection of 63 paintings by American artists and galleries housing temporary shows and exhibits.

via @DaveEverts

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

New Digital Archive Will Bring Medieval Chants Back to Life: Project Amra Will Feature 300 Digitized Manuscripts and Many Audio Recordings

Among historians of European Christianity, it long seemed a settled question that Irish Catholicism, the so-called “Celtic Rite,” differed significantly in the middle ages from its Roman counterpart. This despite the fact that the phrase Celtic Rite “must not be taken to imply any necessary homogeneity,” notes the Catholic Encyclopedia, “for the evidence such as it is, is in favour of considerable diversity.” Far from an insular religion, Irish Catholicism spread to France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Northern Spain through the missions of St. Columbanus and others, and both influenced and absorbed the Continent’s practices throughout the medieval period.

Historians have recently set out to “restore [the Irish Church] to its rightful place on the European historical map,” writes Trinity College Dublin’s Ann Buckley in her introduction to a book of scholarly essays called Music, Liturgy, and the Veneration of Saints of the Medieval Irish Church in a European Context.




To varying degrees, all of the scholars represented in this collection write to counter the essentializing “quest for what might be unique or ‘other’ about Ireland and Irish culture” among all other European national and religious histories.

Buckley’s writing on the veneration of Irish saints has made a significant contribution to this effort, and her decade and a half of archival work has helped create the Amra project, which aims “to digitize and make freely available online over 300 manuscripts containing liturgical material associated with some 40 Irish saints which are located in research libraries across Europe.” So write Medievalists.net, who also point out some of the most exciting aspects of this accessible resource:

The digital archive, when completed, will also incorporate recordings and performing editions of all the chants and prayers from the original manuscripts, as well as translations of the Latin texts into a number of European languages. In this way, contemporary audiences can enjoy first-hand the devotional songs associated with Irish saints, bringing them out of their slumber after more than half a millennium.

You can hear one antiphonal chant, “Magni patris/Mente mundi,” from the Office St. Patrick, just above. Perhaps unsurprisingly, “no other Irish saint is represented so extensively or with such variety in medieval liturgical sources,” writes Buckley. Manuscript hymns, prayers, and offices for Patrick have been found in Dublin, Oxford, Cambridge, the British Library, and “in the Vienna Schottenkloster dating from the time of its foundation by Irish Benedictine monks in the twelfth century.” (See the opening of the Office of St. Patrick, “Venerenda imminentis,” from a late-15th century manuscript, at the top.)

Other saints represented in the archival material include Brigit, Colmcille, Columbanus, Canice, Declan, Ciaran, Finian, and Laurence O’Toole. The missionary monks all received their own “offices,” liturgical ceremonies performed on their feast days. Many of the manuscripts, such as the opening of the Office of St. Brigit, above, contain musical notation, allowing musicologists like Buckley to recreate the sound of Irish Catholicism as it existed in Ireland, Britain, and Continental Europe several hundred years ago.

The project is developing a digital archive of such recordings, as well as “a fully searchable database,” Medievalists.net notes, with “interactive maps showing the geographical distribution of the cults of Irish saints across Europe, and of the libraries where the manuscripts are now housed. A series of documentary films is also envisaged.” You don’t have to be a specialist in the history of the Irish Church, or an Irish Catholic, for that matter, to get excited about the many ways such a rich resource will bring this medieval history to new life.

via Medievalists.net

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

Bertrand Russell’s Prison Letters Are Now Digitized & Put Online (1918 – 1961)

Boethius, Henry David Thoreau, Antonio Gramsci, Martin Luther King, Jr…. It’s possible, if one tried, to draw other comparisons between these disparate figures, but readers familiar with the work of all four will immediately recognize their most obvious literary commonality: all wrote some of their most impassioned and persuasive work while unjustly confined to a cell.

In the case of Bertrand Russell, however, perhaps one of the most famous figures in 20th century philosophy and intellectual life more generally, periods of incarceration in Brixton prison in 1918 and, forty-three years later, in 1961, play a minimal role in the larger drama of his writing life, despite the fact that he did a good deal of writing, including some significant philosophical work, behind bars.




Even scholars well-read in Russell’s work may have little knowledge of his prison writing, and for good reason: most of it has been inaccessible. “Now, for the first time,” writes Erica Balch at McMaster University’s Brighter World blog, “Russell’s prison letters—part of McMaster’s Bertrand Russell Archives—are being made available online through a new digitization project developed by the Bertrand Russell Research Centre. Complete with detailed annotations and fully searchable text, the project is providing scholars from around the world with access to these rarely seen materials.”

The contents of the letters reveal other reasons that Russell’s prison writing isn’t better known. He did plenty of impassioned and persuasive writing for the public outside of a prison cell—publishing fiery books, essays, and lectures against war and propaganda and in defense of free thought throughout his life. Behind bars, however, Russell’s writing turned almost solely professional and personal, in letters addressed primarily to “his then lover Lady Constance Malleson (known as ‘Colette’) and his former lover, aristocrat and socialite Lady Ottoline Morrell.”

The 105 letters “reveal the private thoughts of one of the 20th century’s most public figures and provide an interesting window on Russell’s inner life,” says Andrew Bone, Senior Research Associate at McMaster’s Bertrand Russell Research Centre.  Most of the letters “were written in secret,” Balch notes, “and smuggled out of Brixton by Russell’s friends, concealed between the uncut pages of books.” Russell was only allowed one letter per week; officially sanctioned correspondence is written on prison stationary and bears the Brixton governor’s initials.

A lifelong pacifist, Russell was first jailed for six months in 1918 for a speech opposing U.S. entry into World War I. “I found prison in many ways quite agreeable,” he later wrote in his autobiography. “I had no engagements, no difficult decisions to make, no fear of callers, no interruptions to my work. I read enormously; I wrote a book, ‘Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy’... and began the work for ‘Analysis of Mind,’” a project that never reached fruition. In 1961, at age 89, he was jailed for seven days for participating in a London anti-nuclear demonstration.

During his first stay as a prisoner of Brixton’s “first division,” Russell was “allowed to furnish his cell, wear civilian clothes, purchase catered food, and most importantly, be exempted from prison work while he pursued his profession as an author," as the Bertrand Russell Research Centre points out. It’s little wonder he looked forward to the experience as a “holiday from responsibility,” he wrote in a letter to his brother, Frank, four days after he began his sentence.

Russell may not have suffered—or acquired a heightened sense of political urgency—while behind bars (at one point he was heard laughing out loud and had to be reminded by the warden that “prison is a place of punishment”). But his prison letters offer significant insight into not only the deeply emotional relationships he had with Malleson and Morrell, but also his relationship with other members of the famous Bloomsbury group and “literary celebrities such as D.H. Lawrence, and T.S. Eliot,” writes Balch, “many of whom are referenced in the letters.”

The 104 letters from 1918, including Russell’s correspondence with his brother, his publisher, The Nation magazine and others, are all available in original scans with transcriptions and annotations at the McMaster University Bertrand Russell Research Centre site. The final letter, number 105, the sole piece of correspondence from Russell’s weeklong stay in Brixton in 1961, is addressed to his wife Edith.

My Darling,

The lawyer’s nice young man brought me cheering news of you and told me I could write to you, which I had not known. Every one here treats me kindly and the only thing I mind is being away from you. At all odd minutes I have the illusion that you are there, and forget that if I sneeze it won’t disturb you. I am enjoying Madame de Staël immensely, having at last got round to reading her. At odd moments I argue theology with the chaplain and medicine with the Doctor, and so the time passes easily. But separation from you is quite horrid, Dearest Love, it will be heavenly when we are together again. Take care of yourself, Beloved.

B.

As in most of the earlier letters, Russell avoids politics and keeps things personal. But as in nearly all of his writing, the prose is lively, evocative, and poignant, revealing much about the personality behind it. While these letters may never achieve the status of great literature, by virtue of their private nature and their minor role in Russell’s major canon, that does not mean they aren’t a joy to read, for students of Bertrand Russell and anyone else who appreciates the workings of a brilliant philosophical and ethical mind. Enter the Brixton Letter archive here.

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

Explore Ancient Athens 3D, a Digital Reconstruction of the Greek City-State at the Height of Its Influence

Today any of us can go Athens, a city with flavorful food, pleasant weather, a picturesque setting, reasonable prices, and a decent subway system. That is to say, we can enjoy Athens as it is, but what about Athens as it was? As one of the oldest cities in the world, not to mention a developmental center of Western civilization itself, its history holds as much interest as its present reality. Despite all the historical research into ancient Greece, we lack a fully accurate image of what Athens looked and felt like at the height of its power as a city-state. But thanks to the last dozen years of work by photographer and visual effects artist Dimitris Tsalkanis, we can experience Athens as it might have been in the form of Ancient Athens 3D.

"Visitors to the site can browse reconstructions that date back as early as 1200 BCE, the Mycenaean period — or Bronze Age — through Classical Athens, featuring the rebuilds made necessary by the Greco-Persian War, and ages of occupation by Romans and Ottomans," writes Hyperallergic's Sarah Rose Sharp.




"Tsalkanis traces the evolution of sites like the Acropolis throughout the ages, the rise and fall of the city walls, the Agora, which served as center of city life, and various temples, libraries, and other fortifications." All we might see only as monochromatic ruins on our modern Athenian travels stands tall and colorful in Tsalkanis' three-dimensional digital recreation — as does all that hasn't survived even as ruins.

Tsalkanis writes of using "artistic license" to reconstruct "monuments that have left few or no traces at all (like the Mycenaean palace of the Acropolis) and other complementary constructions — such as houses — that were incorporated into the render in order to create a more complete image of the monument and its space." Though he draws on all the historical and archaeological information he can find, much of that information remains sketchy, or at least incomplete. Fortunately, the digital nature of the project, as well as its accessibility to viewers with knowledge of their own to offer, keeps it more or less current with the state of the research. "Tsalkanis stays up to date with his fantasy city," writes Sharp, "updating reconstructions constantly for better quality of models and better archaeological and historical accuracy.

"You can immerse into this environment," Tsalkanis tells Sharp, "or you can even 3D print it if you like." You can also view the individual digital reconstruction videos posted to Ancient Athens 3D's Youtube channel, which showcase such monuments as the Temple of Ilissos, the Temple of Hephaestus, and the city of Delphi. Just as Tsalkanis' historical models of Athens will continue to be filled in, expanded, and improved, the technological range of their possible uses will only expand. Tsalkanis himself mentions the smartphone apps that could one day enrich our visits to Athens with augmented reality — allowing us, in other words, to experience Athens as it is and Athens as it might have been, both at the same time.

via Hyperallergic

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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.

America’s First Drag Queen Was Also America’s First LGBTQ Activist and a Former Slave

Negro Dive Raided. Thirteen Black Men Dressed as Women Surprised at Supper and Arrested. —The Washington Post, April 13, 1888

Sometimes, when we are engaged as either participant in, or eyewitness to, the making of history, its easy to forget the history-makers who came earlier, who dug the trenches that allow our modern battles to be waged out in the open.

Take America’s first self-appointed “queen of drag” and pioneering LGBTQ activist, William Dorsey Swann, born into slavery around 1858.

30 years later, Swann faced down white officers busting a drag ball in a “quiet-looking house” on Washington, DC’s F street, near 12th.

"You is no gentleman,” Swann allegedly told the arresting officer, while half the guests broke for freedom, correctly surmising that anyone who remained would see their names published in the next day’s newspaper as participants in a bizarre and unseemly ritual.




A lurid Washington Post clipping about the raid caught the eye of writer, historian, and former  Oberlin College Drag Ball queen, Channing Gerard Joseph, who was researching an assignment for a Columbia University graduate level investigative reporting class:

An animated conversation, carried on in effeminate tones, was in progress as the officers approached the door, but when they opened it and the form of Lieut. Amiss was visible to the people in the room a panic ensued. A scramble was made for the windows and doors and some of the people jumped to the roofs of adjoining buildings. Others stripped off their dresses and danced about the room almost in a nude condition, while several, headed by a big negro named Dorsey, who was arrayed in a gorgeous dress of cream-colored satin, rushed towards the officers and tried to prevent their entering.

Joseph’s interest did not flag when his reporting class project was turned in. House of Swann: Where Slaves Became Queens will be published in 2021.

Meanwhile you can bone up on Swann, Swann’s jail time for running a brothel, and the Washington DC drag scene of the Swann era in Joseph’s essay for The Nation, "The First Drag Queen Was a Former Slave."

Please note that William Dorsey Swann does not appear in the photo at the top of the page. As per Joseph:

The dancers — one in striped pants, the other in a dress — were recorded in France by Louis Lumière. Though their names are lost, they are believed to be American. In the show, they performed a version of the cakewalk, a dance invented by enslaved people, and the precursor to vogueing.

via The Nation

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join Ayun’s company Theater of the Apes in New York City this March for her book-based variety series, Necromancers of the Public Domain, and the world premiere of Greg Kotis’ new musical, I AM NOBODY. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

How the Brooklyn Bridge Was Built: The Story of One of the Greatest Engineering Feats in History

When Emily Roebling walked across the Brooklyn Bridge on May 24th, 1883, the first person to cross its entire span, she capped a family saga equal parts triumph and tragedy, a story that began sixteen years earlier when her father-in-law, German-American engineer John Augustus Roebling, began design work on the bridge. Roebling had already built suspension bridges over the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh, the Niagara River between New York and Canada, and over the Ohio River between Cincinnati and Covington, Kentucky. But the bridge over the East River was to be something else entirely. As Roebling himself said, it “will not only be the greatest bridge in existence, but it will be the greatest engineering work of the continent, and of the age.”

New York City officials may have had little reason to think so in the mid-1860s. “Suspension bridges were collapsing all across Europe,” notes the TED-Ed video above by Alex Gendler. “Their industrial cables frayed during turbulent weather and snapped under the weight of their decks.” But the overcrowding city needed relief. An “East River Bridge Project” had been in the works since 1829 and was seen as more necessary with each passing decade. Despite their misgivings, the authorities were willing to trust Roebling with a hybrid design that combined methods used by both suspension and cable-stayed bridges. Two years later, he was dead, the result of a tetanus infection contracted after he lost several toes in a dock accident.




Roebling’s son Washington, a civil engineer who had fought for the Union Army at the Battle of Gettysburg, took over the project, only to suffer from paralysis after he got the bends while trapped inside a caisson in 1870. For the remainder of the bridge’s construction, he would advise from his bedroom, relaying instructions through his wife Emily—who became after a time the bridge’s de facto chief engineer. She “studied mathematics, the calculations of catenary curves, strengths of materials and the intricacies of cable construction,” writes Emily Nonko at 6sqft.  She knew the bridge so well that “many were under the impression she was the real designer.”

“1.5 times longer than any previously built suspension bridge,” the video lesson notes, Roebling’s design worked because it used steel cables instead of hemp, with towers rising over 90 meters (295 feet) above sea level. This is almost three times higher than editors at the New York Mirror projected in 1829, when they called the brand new “East River Bridge Project” an “absurd and ruinous” proposition. “Who would mount over such a structure, when a passage could be effected in a much shorter time, and that, too, without exertion or trouble, in a safe and well-sheltered steamboat?”

Just six days after Emily Roebling crossed the newly opened Brooklyn Bridge, a stampede killed twelve people, and months later, P.T. Barnum led 21 elephants over the bridge to prove its safety. Who would cross such a structure? It turned out, for better or worse, anyone and everyone would drive, walk, run, subway, bike, scoot, climb up, leap from, and otherwise “mount over” the East River by way of the neo-gothic wonder (and later its much uglier sibling, the Manhattan Bridge). Learn much more in the short lesson above how John A. Roebling’s bombastic claims about his design were not far off the mark, and why the Brooklyn Bridge is one of the greatest engineering feats in modern history.

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

David Bowie Became Ziggy Stardust 48 Years Ago This Week: Watch Original Footage

For all the not-quite-believable material in the annals of 1970s rock history, is any more difficult to accept than the fact that Ziggy Stardust first materialized in the suburbs? Specifically, he materialized in Tolworth, greater London, at the Toby Jug pub, whose storied history as a live-music venue also includes performances by Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, Genesis, and King Crimson. There, on the night of February 10, 1972, David Bowie — until that point known, to the extent he was known, as the intriguing but not wholly unconventional young rocker of "Space Oddity" — took the stage as his androgynous Martian alter ego, bedecked in otherworldly colors and acting as no rocker ever had before.

History.com quotes Bowie in an interview published in Melody Maker less than three weeks before the Toby Jug show: "I’m going to be huge, and it’s quite frightening in a way, because I know that when I reach my peak and it’s time for me to be brought down it will be with a bump.”




He was certainly right about the first part: while Bowie's performance as Ziggy Stardust brought him serious attention, the release that summer of his concept album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars would launch him permanently into the popular-culture canon. Later described as "a boot in the collective sagging denim behind of hippie singer-songwhiners," the album expanded the listening public's sense of what rock and rock stars could be.

In a sense, Bowie was also correct about the time coming for him to be brought down — if "him" means Ziggy Stardust, that deliberately doomed creation, his fall foretold in the title of the very album on which he stars. As we've previously posted about here on Open Culture, Bowie-as-Ziggy famously bid the Earth farewell onstage in 1973, not much over a year after his arrival. Of course, what to some looked like the end of Bowie's career proved to be only the end of one chapter: the saga would continue in such incarnations as Aladdin Sane, the Thin White Duke, and a variety of others known only as "David Bowie." But this much-mythologized and hugely influential shapeshifting all goes back to that February night in Tolworth, real footage of which you can see above. The sound comes spliced in from a different show, played that same year in Santa Monica — but then, Bowie was about nothing if not artifice.

via Boing Boing

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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.

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