An Animated History of Dogs, Inspired by Keith Haring

That quivering teacup Chihuahua…

The long-suffering Labrador whose child-friendly reputation has led to a lifetime of ear tugging and tail pulling…

The wheezing French bulldog, whose owner has outfitted with a full wardrobe of hoodies, tutus, rain slickers, and pajamas

All descended from wolves.

As anthropologist and science educator David Ian Howe explains in the animated TED-Ed lesson, A Brief History of Dogs, above, at first glance, canis lupus seemed an unlikely choice for man’s best friend.

For one thing, the two were in direct competition for elk, reindeer, bison, and other tasty prey wandering Eurasia during the Pleistocene Epoch.

Though both hunted in groups, running their prey to the point of exhaustion, only one roasted their kills, creating tantalizing aromas that drew bolder wolves ever-closer to the human camps.

The ones who willingly dialed down their wolfishness, making themselves useful as companions, security guards and hunting buddies, were rewarded come suppertime. Eventually, this mutually beneficial tail wagging became full on domestication, the first such animal to come under the human yoke.

The intense focus on purebreds didn't really become a thing until the Victorians began hosting dog shows. The push to identify and promote breed-specific characteristics often came at a cost to the animals’ wellbeing, as Neil Pemberton and Michael Worboys point out in BBC History Magazine:

…the improvement of breeds towards ‘perfection’ was controversial. While there was approval for the greater regularity of type, many fanciers complained that standards were being set on arbitrary, largely aesthetic grounds by enthusiasts in specialist clubs, without concern for utility or the health of the animal. This meant that breeds were changing, and not always for the better. For example, the modern St Bernard was said to be a beautiful animal, but would be useless in Alpine rescue work.

Cat-fanciers, rest assured that the opposition received fair and equal coverage in a feline-centric TED-Ed lesson, published earlier this year.

And while we applaud TED-Ed for sparking our curiosity with its “Brief History of” series, covering topics as far ranging as cheese, numerical systems, goths, video games, and tea, surely we are not the only ones wondering why the late artist Keith Haring isn’t thanked or name checked in the credits?

Every canine-shaped image in this animation is clearly descended from his iconic barking dog.

While we can’t explain the omission, we can direct readers toward Jon Nelson’s great analysis of Haring’s relationship with dogs in Get Leashed:

They’re symbolic of unanswered questions, prevalent in the 80s: “Can I do this?” “Is this right?” “What are you doing?” “What is happening?” Dogs stand by people, barking or dancing along, sometimes in precarious scenarios, even involved in some of Haring’s explicitly sexual work. Dogs are neither approving nor disapproving of what people do in the images; their mouth angle is neutral or even happy. In some cases, human bodies wear a dog’s head, possibly stating that we know only our own enjoyment, unaware, like a dog, of life’s next stage or the consequences of our actions.

Visit Ethnocynology, David Ian Howe’s Instagram page about the ancient relationship between humans and dogs.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City April 15 for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The First American Picture Book, Wanda Gág’s Millions of Cats (1928)

For better (I’d say), or worse, the internet has turned cat people into what may be the world’s most powerful animal lobby. It has brought us fascinating animated histories of cats and animated stories about the cats of gothic genius and cat-loving author and illustrator Edward Gorey; cats blithely leaving inky pawprints on medieval manuscripts and politely but firmly refusing to be denied entry into a Japanese art museum. It has given us no shortage of delightful photos of artists with their cat familiars

Cat antics and awe have always been a very online phenomenon, but the mysterious and ridiculous, diminutive beasts of prey have also always been inseparable from art and culture. As further evidence, we bring you Millions of Cats, likely the “first truly American picture book done by an American author/artist,” explains a site devoted to it.

“Prior to its publication in 1928, there were only English picture books for the children’s perusal.” The book “sky rocketed Wanda Gág into instant fame and set in stone her reputation as a children’s author and illustrator.”

It set a standard for Caldecott-winning children’s literature for close to a hundred years since its appearance, though the award did not yet exist at the time. The book’s creator was “a fierce idealist and did not believe in altering her own aestheticism just because she was producing work for children. She liked to use stylized human figures, asymmetrical compositions, strong lines and slight spatial distortion.” She also loved cats, as befits an artist of her independent temperament, one shared by the likes of other cat-loving artists like T.S. Eliot and Charles Dickens.

Millions of Cats’ author and illustrator may not share in the fame of so many other artists who took pictures with their cats, but she and her cat Noopy were as photogenic as any other feline/human artistic duo, and she was a peer to the best of them. The book’s editor, Ernestine Evans, wrote in the Nation that Millions of Cats “is as important as the librarians say it is. Not only does it bring to book-making one of the most talented and original of American lithographers… but it is a marriage of picture and tale that is perfectly balanced.”

Gág (rhymes with “jog”) was “a celebrated artist… in the Greenwich Village-centic Modernist art scene in the 1920s,” writes Lithub, “a free-thinking, sex-positive leftist who also designed her own clothes and translated fairy tales.” She adapted the text from “a story she had made up to entertain her friends’ children,” with the millions of cats modeled on Noopy. Gág is the founding mother of children’s book dynasties like The Cat in the Hat and Pete the Cat, an artist whom millions of cat lovers can discover again or for the first time in a Newbery-winning 2006 collector’s edition.

Read a summary of the charming story of Millions of Cats at Lithub and learn more about her, the talented Gág family of artists, and her charming, very cat-friendly house here.

via LitHub

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

18 Classic Myths Explained with Animation: Pandora’s Box, Sisyphus & More

Greek myths have an incredible shelf life.

We may not retain all the players’ names or the intricacies of the various plot lines, but the creative punishments the gods—Zeus, in particular—visited upon those who displeased them have provided modern mortals with an enduring shorthand for describing our own woes.

Tempted to sneak a peek inside a lover’s diary? Take a teeny swig from the liquor cabinet whilst housesitting? Go snooping in your teenager’s Internet history?

DON’T DO IT, PANDORA!!!

But if curiosity compels you to explore beyond the famous punchlines of mythology’s greatest hits, TED-Ed’s animated Myths from Around the World series is a recommended rummage.

Averaging around five minutes per tale, each episode is packed tight as a snake in a can of mixed nuts. Prepare to be surprised by some of the tidbits that come springing out.

Take Pandora’s box, above.

(Actually it was a jar, but why quibble?)

Not to unleash too many major spoilers, but how many of us remembered that the thing contained a bit of good along with all that evil?

Or that the vessel she wasn’t allowed to open was but one of many gifts the gods bestowed upon her at birth? In fact, Zeus gave her two presents, that pretty box, jar, whatever, and—wait for it—an irrepressibly inquisitive nature.

Or the close connection between Pandora and Prometheus? Zeus conceived of Pandora as a retribution for Prometheus stealing fire and returning it to earth.

Remember Prometheus?

No, not the guy who’s doomed to spend his life rolling a massive rock uphill, only to have it roll back down before he reaches the top. That’s Sisyphus, as in Sisyphean task, like laundry or cleaning the cat litter.

Prometheus is the Titan who winds up chained to a rock so Zeus can send a hungry vulture—some say eagle—to devour his liver once a day.

(Which kind of puts the cat litter in perspective.)

In addition to ancient Greek crowd pleasers, the 18-episode Myths from Around the World playlist delves into the familiar stuff of Norse, Chinese, and ancient Egyptian legends, as well as less widely known Cambodian and Irish tales.

Each video’s description has a link to a full Ted-Ed lesson, with the usual complement of quizzes, resources and opportunities for teacher customization.

Watch the full playlist here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain, this March. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

“Odyssey of the Ear”: A Beautiful Animation Shows How Sounds Travel Into Our Ears and Become Thoughts in Our Brain

As all schoolchildren know, we hear with our ears. And as all schoolchildren also probably know, we hear with our brains — or if they don't know it, at least they must suspect it, given the way sounds around us seem to turn without effort into thoughts in our heads. But how? It's the interface between ear and brain where things get more complicated, but "Odyssey of the Ear," the six-minute video above, makes it much clearer just how sound gets through our ears and into our brains. Suitable for viewers of nearly any age, it combines silhouette animation (of the kind pioneered by Lotte Reiniger) with live action, projection, and even dance.

According to the video, which was originally produced as part of HarvardX's Fundamentals of Neuroscience course, the process works something like this. Our outer ear collects sounds from our environment when things vibrate in the physical world, producing variations in air pressure, or "sound waves" that pass through the air.

The sound waves enter the ear and pass down through the auditory canal, at the end of which they hit the ear drum. The ear drum transfers the vibrations of the sound waves to a "series of little bones," three of them, called the ossicles, or "hammer, anvil, and stirrup." These transmit the sounds to the fluid-filled inner ear through a membrane called the "oval window."

Inside the inner ear is the snail-shaped organ known as the cochlea, and inside the cochlea is the organ of corti, and inside the organ of corti are "thousands of auditory hair cells," actually receptor neurons called stereocilia, that "convert the motion energy of sound waves into electrical signals that are communicated to the auditory nerve." From there, "the signal goes into structures deeper in the brain, until at last it reaches the auditory cortex, where we consciously experience sound." That conscious experience of sound may make it feel as if we immediately recognize and consider all the noises, voices, or music we hear, but as "Odyssey of the Ear" reveals, sound waves have to make quite an epic journey before they reach our brains at all. At that point the waves themselves may have dissipated, but they live on in our consciousness. In other words, "the brain has taken what was outside and made it inside."

via The Kids Should See This

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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.

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

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

- Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A literal Treehouse of Horror...

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

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

via Twisted Sifter

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

How Zora Neale Hurston & Eleanor Roosevelt Helped Create the First Realistic African American Baby Doll (1951)

In the 1930s and 40s, child psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark found that very young black children in the U.S. usually chose dolls with lighter skin colors when given a choice. The findings suggested that the children had internalized dominant prejudices against them “by the time they reached nursery school,” notes the National Museum of Play. “These studies played an important role in the NAACP’s battle in the 1950s to end segregation in public schools.”

What often goes unremarked in accounts of this research is that at the time “almost all of the African American dolls on the market were modeled after racist stereotypes,” as Emily Temple notes in an article on LitHub drawing on the work of historian Gordon Patterson. "Those that weren’t" caricatures "were just white dolls that had been painted brown.” This had been the case for two centuries, as Collectors Weekly explains. Black children had been internalizing racism—learning to associate positive attributes with white dolls and negative attributes with black dolls.

But those children (and their parents) had also been rejecting the racist caricatures and forms of erasure on offer. Temple writes of how one white woman, Sara Lee Creech “noticed two black children playing with white dolls in a car outside of a post office in Belle Glade, Florida.” She felt that they should have toys that represented their experience as well. Already a social justice warrior, as they say—“active in the women’s movements since the mid 1930s” and helping to found “an Interracial Council in Belle Glade”—Creech decided she would create a doll that “would represent the beauty and diversity of black children.”

If this “sounds a little white savior-y,” writes Temple, “I’m with you,” but there’s much more to the story. Creech submitted the idea to her friend Zora Neale Hurston, pioneering ethnographer of African American culture and premier novelist of the Harlem Renaissance. Hurston “was enthusiastic about the project” and, in turn, pledged to “show pictures of the doll to the ‘well known and influential members’ of the black community with whom she had connections.”

In 1950, Hurston wrote to Creech in praise of her intention to “meet our longing for understanding of us as we really are, and not as some would have us.” At the same time, Creech’s friend Maxeda von Hesse brought Eleanor Roosevelt onto the project, who enthusiastically supported it as well, going so far as to host a tea with Mary Bethune, Ralph Bunche, and Jackie Robinson, among other influential figures, “to consult on the appropriate skin.”

The Ideal Toy Company—founded by the creators of the first mass-produced Teddy Bear—took on the enterprise of manufacturing the doll, named Sara Lee, selling the toy between 1951 and 1953. It was the first attempt to mass-market a realistic African American baby doll. She first appeared in the 1951 Sears Roebuck Christmas Catalog. Major magazines like Esquire, Life, Time, Ebony, and Newsweek announced the doll’s arrival, but sales were eventually disappointing due to manufacturing flaws.

The demand, however, had always been there. Filmmaker Samantha Knowles and doll collectors like Debra Britt and Debbie Behan Garrett describe their experiences with the scarcity of black dolls on the market. During her childhood in the 1950s and 60s, Garrett remarks, “black dolls were just not readily available, and those that were available, my mother felt were not true representations of black people. So all of my dolls were white.” (In his article, Patterson cites Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye as the classically tragic literary treatment of the situation.)

Even after the brief introduction of the Sara Lee doll, Garrett's experience continued to be that of most back children. As the Museum of Play notes, it wouldn’t be until 1968 that major companies would again mass-market black dolls, starting with Barbie’s friend Christie. That year also saw the release of “Baby Nancy,writes Garrett, made by newly-founded black-owned doll company Shindana toys, which became “the nation’s largest manufacturer of black dolls and games.”

Read more at LitHub about how Zora Neale Hurston, Eleanor Roosevelt, and an unknown activist in the late 1940s and early 50s first opened the door to a more inclusive toy market that treated its customers more equally. Using commercial means to effect social change may remain a debatable tactic, but there’s no question that positive cultural representation matters for children’s development. Intentional or otherwise, exclusion and stereotyping cause real harm. As Debbie Garrett puts it, “if black children are force-fed that white is better, or if that’s all that they are exposed to, then they might start to think, ‘What is wrong with me?’”

via LitHub

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

Vintage Geological Maps Get Turned Into 3D Topographical Wonders

What good is an old-fashioned map in the age of apps?

One need not be a mountaineer, geoscientist, or civil engineer to get the topographical lay of the land with a speed and accuracy that would have blown Lewis and Clark’s minds’ right through the top of the lynx and otter toppers they took to wearing after their standard issue army lids wore out.

There’s still something to be said for the old ways, though.

Graphic designer Scott Reinhard has all the latest technological advances at his disposal, but it took combining them with hundred-year-old maps for him to get a truly 3-D appreciation for locations he has visited around the United States, as well as his childhood home.

A son of Indiana, Reinhard told Colossal’s Kate Sierzputowski that he found some Grand Teton-type excitement in the notoriously flat Hoosier State once he started marrying official national geospatial data to vintage map designs:

 When I began rendering the elevation data for the state, the story of the land emerged. The glaciers that receded across the northern half of the state after the last ice age scraped and gouged and shaped the land in a way that is spectacularly clear…I felt empowered by the ability to collect and process the vast amounts of information freely available, and create beautiful images.

(The government shut-down has not damaged the accuracy of Reinhard’s maps, but the U.S. Geological Survey’s website does warn the public that the effects of any earthquakes or other force majeure occurring during this black-out period will not immediately be reflected in their topos.)

(Nor are they able to respond to any inquiries, which puts a damper on holiday weekend plans for making salt dough maps, another Hoosier state fave, at least in 1974...)

As writer Jason Kottke notes, the shadows the mountains cast on the margins of Reinhard’s maps are a particularly effective optical trick.

You can see more of Reinhard’s digitally enhanced maps from the late 19th and early 20th-century, and order prints in his online shop.

via Kottke/Colossal

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

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