W.E.B. Du Bois Devastates Apologists for Confederate Monuments and Robert E. Lee (1931)

Who won the U.S. Civil War? “The north, of course,” you say… but ah… if you did not know the answer, you would have reason to be confused. Who loses a war and puts up statues of its heroes on the victor's land? In the south, say, in Northern Virginia, you'll find public shrines to Stonewall Jackson, public highways named for Jefferson Davis, and public schools named after Robert E. Lee and J.E.B. Stewart. These are not historical monuments, i.e. preserved battlefields, graveyards, or historic homes. They were erected decades after the war. You’ll find them in California, Oregon, and Washington state, which did not exist at the time.

Next question: who did the Confederacy fight in the Civil War? The Union, of course. But the leaders of the region also warred with another enemy, as they had for over two hundred years: millions of enslaved people kept in brutal subjection. In many respects, they won this war, though they lost the privileges of legal slavery. Once Andrew Johnson came to power, the south reinstituted conditions that were often more or less the same for Black people as they had been before the war. Grant struggled to reverse the tide, but Reconstruction ultimately failed.

This is the victory the south commemorated when organizations like the United Daughters of the Confederacy and Sons of Confederate Veterans put up monuments to southern generals all over the country. It is the victory invoked by the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia (or the “Confederate Flag”). A defiance of multi-racial democracy and a government that serves the needs of all its citizens; a menacing promotion of white supremacist mythology, maintained with public funds on public lands. Those symbols include:

  • 780 monuments, more than 300 of which are in Georgia, Virginia or North Carolina;
  • 103 public K-12 schools and three colleges named for Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis or other Confederate icons;
  • 80 counties and cities named for Confederates;
  • 9 observed state holidays in five states; and
  • 10 U.S. military bases. 

But, no, one might say, these are observances for the southern dead, who were, after all, Americans too. This is what we’ve heard, over and over. It was a hoary old story when W.E.B. Du Bois heard it in the early decades of the twentieth century. “Lost Cause” ideology had done its work, flooding the culture with sympathetic portrayals of the Confederacy, a wave of propaganda that reached its apex in the spectacle of 1915’s Birth of a Nation (first titled The Clansman), responsible for resurrecting the Ku Klux Klan.

The story went something like this: “No nobler young men ever lived; no braver soldiers ever answered the bugle call nor marched under a battle flag,” proclaimed southern industrialist Julian Carr at the 1913 dedication of Confederate statue Silent Sam, which stood on the campus of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill until activists tore it down recently. “They fought, not for conquest, not for coercion, but from a high and holy sense of duty. They were like the Knights of the Holy Grail.”

Carr goes on like this at length, reciting poetry and making constant references to Greek heroes and gods. His purpose, he says, is to memorialize “the Sacred Cause.” But he never says what that cause is, though he has many exalted words for “the noble women of my dear Southland, who are to-day as thoroughly convinced of the justice of that cause.” The speech is boilerplate Confederate apologism: an almost hysterically bombastic defense of the south that never once mentions slavery.

Yet in an odd moment, Carr breaks off—during a rant about “what the Confederate soldier meant to the welfare of the Anglo Saxon race”—to make a “rather personal… allusion” for seemingly no reason:

One hundred yards from where we stand, less than ninety days perhaps after my return from Appomattox, I horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds, because upon the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady, and then rushed for protection to these University buildings where was stationed a garrison of 100 Federal soldiers. I performed the pleasing duty in the immediate presence of the entire garrison, and for thirty nights afterwards slept with a double-barrel shot gun under my head.

What does it say about his audience that Carr thinks this admission reflects well on him? Du Bois understood it. He had diagnosed the fear and violent hatred men like Carr embodied and seen their cowardice and desperate overcompensation. “They preach and strut and shout and threaten,” he wrote in The Souls of White Folk, “crouching as they clutch at rags of facts and fancies to hide their nakedness, they go twisting, flying by my tired eyes and I see them ever stripped—ugly, human.”

Du Bois knew what Confederate monuments were meant to represent. In 1931, he cut to the heart of the matter in brief remarks published in The Crisis (top). “Du Bois pushes right back against the myth of the Lost Cause,” writes historian Kevin M. Levin. “He refuses to draw a distinction between the Confederate government and men in the ranks,” as represented by statues like Silent Sam. “Du Bois clearly understood that as long as white southerners were able to mythologize the war through their monuments, African Americans would remain second class citizens.”

He did not refer to monuments put up in Confederate cemeteries, as many had been immediately after the war, but to the hundreds of statues and other memorials erected in prominent places of government beginning around 1900. “All of these monuments were there to teach values to people,” says Mark Elliott, professor of history at University of North Carolina, Greensboro. “That’s why they put them in the city squares. That’s why they put them in front of state buildings.” It’s why there are Confederate statues in the U.S. Capital, gifts to the nation from southern states, gladly accepted.

Three years earlier, Du Bois had written many choice words about attempts to deify Confederate leaders like Robert E. Lee (who himself opposed monuments). He also countered the argument that the war was about “States Rights" in one incisive sentence: “If nationalism had been a stronger defense of the slave system than particularism, the South would have been as nationalist in 1861 as it had been in 1812.” None of the high-flown rhetoric about "the cause" of governing principles had anything to do with it, Du Bois argues. “People do not go to war for abstract theories of government. They fight for property and privilege.”

One statue in North Carolina, Du Bois notes wryly in his Crisis remarks, goes so far as to claim that Confederate soldiers “Died Fighting for Liberty!” This would not strike Lost Cause defenders like Carr as ironic. They too fought for liberty, of a kind—the freedom to punish, kill, imprison, exploit, disenfranchise, and otherwise terrorize and impoverish Black Americans at will.

via Nathan Robinson

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

The Moment When Bob Dylan Went Electric: Watch Him Play “Maggie’s Farm” at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965

The phrase “when Dylan went electric” once carried as much weight in pop culture history as “the fall of the Berlin Wall” carries in, well, history. Both events have receded into what feels like the distant past, but in the early 1960s, they likely seemed equally unlikely to many a serious Bob Dylan fan in the folk scene. They also seemed equally consequential. To understand the culture of the decade, we must understand the import of Dylan’s appearance at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, backed by Mike Bloomfield and other members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

The death of rock and roll in the 50s is often told through the lens of tragedy, but there was also anger, disgust, and mass disaffection. The Payola scandal had an impact, as did Elvis joining the army and Little Richard’s return to religion. Rock and roll was broken, tamed, and turned into commercial fodder. Simply put, it wasn’t cool at all, man, and even the Beatles couldn’t save it singlehandedly. Their arrival on U.S. shores is mythologized as music history Normandy—and has been credited with inspiring countless numbers of musicians—but without Dylan and the blues artists he imitated, things would very much have gone otherwise.

In the early 60s, Dylan and the Beatles’ “respective musical constituencies were indeed perceived as inhabiting two separate subcultural worlds,” writes Jonathan Gould in Can’t Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, and America. “Dylan’s core audience was comprised of young people emerging from adolescence—college kids with artistic or intellectual leanings, a dawning political and social idealism, and a mildly bohemian style…. The Beatles’ core audience, by contrast, was comprised of veritable ‘teenyboppers’—kids in high school or grade school whose lives were totally wrapped up in the commercialized popular culture of television, radio, pop records, fan magazines, and teen fashion. They were seen as idolaters, not idealists.”

To evoke anything resembling the commercial pablum of Beatlemania, and at Newport, no less, spoke of treason to folk authenticity. Some called out “Where’s Ringo?” Others called him “Judas.” Dylan’s set “would go down as one of the most divisive concerts ever”—(and that’s saying a lot)—“putting the worlds of both folk and rock in temporary identity crisis,” Michael Madden writes at Consequence of Sound. The former folk hero accomplished this in all of three songs, “Maggie’s Farm,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” and “Phantom Engineer,” an early take on “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry.” Pete Seeger famously “threw a furious tantrum” upon hearing the first few bars of “Maggie’s Farm,” above, though he’s since said he was upset at the sound quality.

The moment was defining—and Dylan apparently decided to do it on a whim after hearing Alan Lomax insult the Paul Butterfield Band, who were giving a workshop at the festival. He came back onstage afterward to play two acoustic songs for the appreciative audience who remained, unfazed by the vehemence of half the crowd’s reaction to his earlier set. Yet the revolution to return rock to its folk and blues roots was already underway. Within six months of meeting Dylan in 1964, Gould writes, “John Lennon would be making records on which he openly imitated Dylan’s nasal drone, brittle strum, and introspective vocal persona.” (Dylan also introduced him to cannabis.)

In 1965, “the distinctions between the folk and rock audiences would have nearly evaporated." The two met in the middle. “The Beatles’ audience, in keeping with the way of the world, would be showing signs of growing up,” while Dylan’s fans showed signs of “growing down, as hundreds of thousands of folkies in their late teens and early twenties” rediscovered “the ethos of their adolescent years.” They also discovered electric blues. Newport shows Dylan accelerating the transition, and also signified the arrival of the great electric blues-rock guitarists, in the form of the inimitable Mike Bloomfield, an invading force all his own, who inspired a generation with his licks on “Like a Rolling Stone” and on the absolute classic Paul Butterfield Blues Band debut album, released in The Year Dylan Went Electric.

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

Dr. Wise on Influenza: Rare Silent Film Shows How They Tried to Educate the Public About the Spanish Flu a Century Ago (1919)

“Pics or it didn’t happen,” says the Internet, a phrase typically “used in jest,” writes Erin Ratelle at Space and Culture, as “a counter to an outrageous claim of events. However, its root is predicated on the notion that media is integral to being or existence," that we must record everything. Such implicit understanding was only in its infancy in 1918, when the influenza outbreak known as the Spanish Flu began, which perhaps goes some way toward explaining why a viral pandemic that killed millions around the world—far more than World War I—is so underrepresented in the historical record.

These days if a Utah county commission meeting about masks for children gets thronged by unmasked protesters, we get almost-instant video at The Washington Post. Images filter out through Twitter and Facebook, or move in the other direction, and millions see them within hours. During the 1918 flu pandemic, unmasked protesters against mask laws also abounded, but coverage of their stunts took months to move from local papers to national outlets, who eventually covered the San Francisco Anti-Mask League's strident refusals. The devastating epidemic, however, estimated to have infected one third of the world, was almost entirely absent from silent film at the time.

Cinema of all kinds avoided the subject, writes Bryony Dixon at the British Film Institute (BFI): "It’s astonishing to think how invisible the first pandemic in the time of cinema is from the film record. Apart from one informational film, which survives in the BFI National Archive, the influenza pandemic of 1918/1919 doesn’t appear in British film at all. There were no newsreel reports, and no fiction films were made that even mentioned the three waves of the pandemic that struck the country in the final year of the First World War and would kill 200,000 people” in the UK and 500 million worldwide.

This does not mean there are no films about plague and pestilence from the time. But the present seemed to have been too painful. Filmmakers looked back to Boccaccio, one of whose Decameron stories was adapted for the screen. “It must certainly have been easier,” Dixon writes, “for silent era audiences to contemplate pandemic within the moral framework of the medieval period.” Edgar Allan Poe’s Masque of the Red Death was adapted by Fritz Lang in a screenplay for Otto Rippert’s 1919 The Plague in Florence. F.W. Murnau’s 1922 Nosferatu is, arguably, about disease, as is its source, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. But fiction and documentary mostly stayed mum about the deadly flu pandemic.

In 1918, the War had nearly every European nation (and the U.S. at that point) preoccupied. Government control over major media outlets censored coverage of the disease, ostensibly to avoid a panic. The staggering death tolls of war and infection were overwhelming. A political narrative took shape to suggest a culprit, Spain, which was neutral during WWI, and the first country to begin covering the disease in their press (hence the “Spanish Flu," which did not originate in Spain). The one exception to the blackout in the BFI archive is the short informational film at the top, Dr. Wise on Influenza.

Produced under the auspices of Sir Arthur Newsholme, the Chief Medical Officer of the Local Government Board (LGB), the film arrived a little too late to do much good after the second wave of infections began in 1919, and it was not widely distributed. The short film promotes wearing masks, and it tells a very familiar story, as Dixon explains:

The ‘doctor’ uses the device of a fictional story in which a rather dim Mr Brown coughs and sneezes over colleagues in the office and the street, before going on to infect 100 people at a theatre (we see a rare early glimpse of the Empire Leicester Square, which was showing a musical, The Lilac Domino).

It doesn’t end well for Mr Brown, and an on-screen title lists the grim totals of deaths in British cities, just as we’ve become used to seeing today. Other parallels with the current situation are spooky: the prime minister, Lloyd George, like Boris Johnson, was hospitalised for days with the virus, and an anxious nation was told it was ‘touch and go’ for a while.

History has been rhyming all over the place lately, maybe the most poetic thing about the ugly times we’re living in. As much as we might have believed that the world, or our particular corner of it, had changed, we’re finding out how little progress we've actually made. Ironically, one of the most remarkable differences between the early 21st century and everything that came before—the omnipresence of cameras and video—has accelerated these realizations. We can now witness, in ways no one possibly could have in 1919, just how much of the past we're dragging along behind us.

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

You Can Play the New Samurai Video Game Ghost of Tsushima in “Kurosawa Mode:” An Homage to the Japanese Master

Video games are starting to look and feel like movies: even those of us who haven't gamed seriously in decades have taken notice. Nor has the convergence between the art forms — if, unlike the late Roger Ebert, you consider video games an art form in the first place — been lost on game developers themselves. While the most ambitious creators in the industry looked for inspiration from cinema even when they were working with relatively primitive digital tools, they can now pay practically direct homage to their aesthetic sources. Take Sucker Punch Productions' Ghost of Tsushima, released this week for the Playstation 4, which features a selectable audiovisual mode "inspired by the movies of legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa."

An ambitious production set on the titular Japanese island during a 13th-century Mongol invasion, Ghost of Tsushima casts the player in the role of a young samurai named Jin Sakai. "All the aesthetic and thematic conventions of samurai films are present and correct," writes The Guardian's Keza MacDonald, including "a story centered on honor and self-mastery; dramatic weather that sweeps across Japan’s spellbinding landscapes; standoffs against backdrops of falling leaves and deserted towns; screen wipe and axial cuts; quick, lethal katana combat that ends with enemies staggering and spurting blood before toppling like felled trees." Kurosawa Mode presents the game's hypnotically lavish visuals in a "grainy black-and-white," and its dialogue in English-subtitled Japanese — just how many of us remember pictures like Seven SamuraiThrone of Blood, and Yojimbo.

Of course, some of us had no choice but to first encounter the work of Kurosawa and other 20th-century Japanese auteurs in versions dubbed into English. In an uncanny reversal of that awkwardness, the American-made Ghost of Tsushima's Japanese-language dialogue comes out of mouths clearly synchronized to an English-language script. Western critics have taken the developers to task for that shortcoming, but Japanese critics have proven comparatively unrestrained in expressing their admiration. According to Kotaku's Brian Ashcraft, not only did popular gaming site Dengeki Online "praise the game for its understanding of the period (as well as historical Japanese movies), it also lauded the game for how it brought the landscape and scenery to life."

While MacDonald calls protagonist Jin Sakai "stiff even by stoical samurai standards," Ashcraft points to a review in Japanese pop-culture site Akiba Souken which calls him not "the typical samurai of foreign creation, but rather, a real Japanese 侍 (samurai)," using "both the English 'samurai' and the word’s kanji to highlight this distinction." Any Kurosawa fan will have a sense of the difference, and of the importance of one thing the game doesn't get right. In a review headlined "There Is No Sense Of Discomfort In This Foreign-Made Japanese World," gaming magazine Weekly Famitsu does note the game's lack of "pauses in conversation that are typical of period pieces. That pause and that silence are key; in Japan, what isn’t said is just as important as what is." Sucker Punch's Ghost of Tsushima team must already know they should retain Kurosawa Mode for the inevitable sequel; all they need to work on is the unspoken.

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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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

A Short Documentary on the Courageous Tuskegee Airmen, Narrated by Morgan Freeman

For decades, would-be black military pilots saw their possible future careers “canceled,” as they say, by racism in the segregated U.S. armed forces. Black servicemen “were denied military leadership roles and skilled training,” writes the official Tuskegee Airmen site, “because many believed they lacked qualifications for combat duty.” Aspiring airmen would finally, after campaigning since World War I, be given the chance to train and fly missions in the early forties, after “civil rights organizations and the black press exerted pressure that resulted in the formation of an all African-American pursuit squadron based in Tuskegee, Alabama.”

Actually trained on a dozen airfields around Tuskegee University, the airmen in the program “came away from those godforsaken Alabama fields with the unwavering belief that their newfound abilities might just help overcome prejudice, hearsay, and plain old dislike,” says Morgan Freeman in his voiceover narration for “Red Tails,” the short documentary above. The “Red Tails” or “Red Tail Angels,” as they were called after the distinctive color of their planes’ tails, roundly surpassed all expectations, becoming some of the most successful fighter pilots of the war.

“They would not be denied, despite the fact that they were unwelcome, unappreciated, and very much underestimated,” says Freeman. This is an understatement. The belief that African Americans lacked the capacity for complicated flight training was so prevalent that even the progressive Eleanor Roosevelt would give voice to it (in a demonstration to disprove it) when she visited the budding program in April 1941. “Can Negroes really fly airplanes?” she cheerfully asked the program’s head Charles “Chief” Anderson. He was obliged to give her a demonstration in his Piper J-3 Cub, against the objections of her Secret Service detail.

Soon afterward, the first Negro Air Corps pilots began training, and the enlisted men chosen for the program became officers. Partly because of turnover among white senior officers in the program, who used it as a stepping stone to promotions and left after a few months, progress was slow. It wasn’t until September that Captain Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. was given the go-ahead for a solo flight, and not until April 1943 that the first squadron, the 99th, given combat clearance. Their story has passed into legend, from the claim that the Red Tails never lost a single bomber to the dramatic recreations of George Lucas’ Red Tails.

Later declassified documents appear to show that they had, in fact, lost bombers, like every other fighter group in the war. The fact hardly tarnishes the Tuskegee Airmen’s many medals or their prolifically attested skill and courage. It wouldn’t be until three years after the war ended that the military was finally desegregated, though the airmen themselves were lauded, promoted, and sought out by private industry when they returned to civilian life. Robert Friend, who died in 2019 at the age of 99, went on to serve in Korea and Vietnam, retired as a lieutenant colonel, worked on space launch vehicles, and formed his own aerospace company.

Charles McGee, who features in the short video documentary, just turned 100 this past February, and received a promotion to brigadier general. His reaction was ambivalent: “At first I would say ‘wow,’ but looking back, it would have been nice to have had that during active duty, but it didn’t happen that way. But still, the recognition of what was accomplished, certainly, I am pleased and proud to receive that recognition.”

Davis, the Tuskegee program’s first solo pilot and commander of the 99th Pursuit Squadron “was instrumental in drafting the Air Force plan to implement” desegregation in 1948, and he would become the Air Force’s first African American general. Davis’ father, it so happens, Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., had been the first black general in the U.S. Army. The Tuskegee Airmen were undoubtedly pioneers, but they were also part of a long tradition of black Americans who fought for the U.S. since its beginnings, "despite the fact," as Freeman says, "that they were unwelcome, unappreciated, and very much underestimated."

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

What Happened When Americans Had to Wear Masks During the 1918 Flu Pandemic

Medical professionals have had a particularly difficult time getting people in the United States to act in unison for the public good during the pandemic. This has been the case with every step that experts urge to curb the spread of COVID-19, from closing schools, churches, and other meeting places, to enforcing social distancing and wearing masks over the nose and mouth in public spaces.

The resistance may seem symptomatic of the contemporary political climate, but there is ample precedent for it during the spread of so-called Spanish Flu, which took the lives of 675,000 Americans a little over a hundred years ago. Even when forced to wear masks by law or face jail time, many Americans absolutely refused to do so.

“In 1918,” writes E. Thomas Ewing at Health Affairs, “US public health authorities recommended masks for doctors, nurses, and anyone taking care of influenza patients.” The advisory “gradually and inconsistently” spread to the general public, in a different cultural climate, in some important respects, than our own, as University of Michigan medical historian J. Alexander Navarro explains.

Nationwide, posters presented mask-wearing as a civic duty – social responsibility had been embedded into the social fabric by a massive wartime federal propaganda campaign launched in early 1917 when the U.S. entered the Great War. San Francisco Mayor James Rolph announced that “conscience, patriotism and self-protection demand immediate and rigid compliance” with mask wearing. In nearby Oakland, Mayor John Davie stated that “it is sensible and patriotic, no matter what our personal beliefs may be, to safeguard our fellow citizens by joining in this practice” of wearing a mask.

Despite the civic spirit and generalized public support for mask wearing, passing local mask ordinances was “frequently a contentious affair.” Debates that sound familiar raged in city councils in Los Angeles and Portland, both of which rejected mask orders. (One official declaring them “autocratic and unconstitutional.”) San Francisco, on the other hand, brought the police down on anyone who refused to wear a mask, imposing fines and jail time.

These measures were adopted by other cities, as well as abroad in Paris and Manchester. "Fines ranged,” Navarro writes, “from US$5 to $200,” a huge amount of money in 1918, and a good amount for many people out of work today. Even in cities that did not impose harsh penalties, “noncompliance and outright defiance quickly became a problem.” Much of the resistance to wearing masks, however, came later, after a first wave of flu infections subsided. When precautions were relaxed, cases rose once again, and new mask mandates went into effect in 1919.

San Francisco’s Anti-Mask League formed in protest, attracting somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 unmasked attendees to a January meeting. Some of their objections rested on an early study that found scant evidence for the efficacy of compulsory mask-wearing. However, a later comprehensive 1921 study by Warren T. Vaughn, notes Ewing, found that the data was too sketchy to draw conclusions: “The problem was human behavior: Masks were used until they were filthy, worn in ways that offered little or no protection, and compulsory laws did not overcome the ‘failure of cooperation on the part of the public.’"

Vaughn concluded, "It is safe to say that the face mask as used was a failure." Many behaviors contributed to this outcome. As we see in the photograph at the top of anonymous Californians wearing masks and holding a sign that reads, “Wear a mask or go to jail,” many did not wear masks properly, leaving their nose exposed, for example, like the woman in the center of the group. Notably, instead of social distancing, the group stands shoulder to shoulder, rendering their masks mostly ineffective.

The kind of masks most people wore were made of thin gauze. (“Obey the laws and wear the gauze. Protect your jaws from septic paws,” went a jingle at the time.) The material wasn't at all effective at closer distances, where today’s quilted cotton masks, on the other hand, have been shown to stop the virus a few inches from the wearer’s face. Still, masks, when combined with other measures, were shown to be effective when compliance was high, though much of the evidence is anecdotal.

What can we learn from this history? Does it undermine the case for masks today? "We need to learn the right lessons from the failure of flu masks in 1918," Ewing argues. The overwhelming scientific consensus is that masks are some of the most effective tools for slowing the spread of the coronavirus, and that, unlike in 1918, "Masks can work if we wear them correctly, modify behavior appropriately, and apply all available tools to control the spread of infectious disease."

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

Cambridge University Professor Cooks 4000-Year-Old Recipes from Ancient Mesopotamia, and Lets You See How They Turned Out

Those of us who’ve dedicated a portion of our isolation to the art of sourdough have not suffered for a lack of information on how that particular sausage should get made.

The Internet harbors hundreds, nay, thousands of complicated, contrary, often contradictory, extremely firm opinions on the subject. You can lose hours…days…weeks, agonizing over which method to use.

The course for Bill Sutherland's recent culinary experiment was much more clearly charted.

As documented in a series of now-viral Twitter posts, the Cambridge University professor of Conservation Biology decided to attempt a Mesopotamian meal, as inscribed on a 3770-year-old recipe tablet containing humankind’s oldest surviving recipes.

As Sutherland told Bored Panda’s Liucija Adomaite and Ilona Baliūnaitė, the translated recipes, found in Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks: Highlights of the Yale Babylonian Collection, were “astonishingly terse” and “perplexing,” leading to some guess work with regard to onions and garlic.

In addition to 25 recipes, the book has photos and illustrations of various artifacts and essays that “present the ancient Near East in the light of present-day discussion of lived experiences, focusing on family life and love, education and scholarship, identity, crime and transgression, demons, and sickness.”

Kind of like a cradle of civilization Martha Stewart Living, just a bit less user friendly with regard to things like measurements, temperature, and cooking times. Which is not to say the instructions aren't step-by-step:

Stew of Lamb

Meat is used. 

You prepare water. 

You add fat. 

You add fine-grained salt, barley cakes, onion, Persian shallot, and milk. 

You crush and add leek and garlic.

The meal, which required just a couple hours prep in Sutherland’s non-ancient kitchen sounds like something he might have ordered for delivery from one of Cambridge's Near Eastern restaurants.

The lamb stew was the hit of the night.

Unwinding, a casserole of leeks and spring onion, looked inviting but was “a bit boring.”

Elamite Broth was "peculiar but delicious," possibly because Sutherland substituted tomato sauce for sheep’s blood.

It’s an admittedly meaty proposition. Only 2 of the 25 recipes in the collection are vegetarian (“meat is not used.”)

And even there, to be really authentic, you’d have to sauté everything in sheep fat.

(Sutherland swapped in butter.)

via Bored Panda

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her isolation projects are sourdough and an animation with free downloadable posters, encouraging the use of face coverings to stop the spread of COVID-19. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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