Cornell Creates a Database of Fugitive Slave Ads, Telling the Story of Those Who Resisted Slavery in 18th & 19th Century America

While the value of slaves in the U.S. from the colonial period to the Civil War rose and fell like other market goods, for the most part, enslaved people constituted the most valuable kind of property, typically worth even more than land and other highly valued resources. In one study, three University of Kansas historians estimate that during most of the 18th century in South Carolina, slaves “made up close to half of the personal wealth recorded in probate inventory in most decades.” By the 19th century, slaveholders had begun taking out insurance policies on their slaves as Rachel L. Swarns documents at The New York Times.

“Alive,” Swarns writes, “slaves were among a white man’s most prized assets. Dead, they were considered virtually worthless…. By 1847, insurance policies on slaves accounted for a third of the policies in a firm”—New York Life—“that would become one of the nation’s Fortune 100 companies.” Given the huge economic incentives for perpetuating the system of chattel slavery, the fact that people did not want to be held in forced labor for life—and to condemn their children and grandchildren to the same—presented slaveholders with a serious problem.

For over 250 years, countless numbers of enslaved people attempted to escape to freedom. And thousands of slaveowners ran newspaper ads to try and recover their investments. These ads are likely familiar from textbooks and historical articles on slavery; they have long been used singly to illustrate a point, “but they have never been systematically collected,” notes Cornell University’s Freedom on the Move project, which intends to “compile all North American slave runaway ads and make them available for statistical, geographical, textual, and other forms of analysis.” While the database is still in progress, examples of the ads are being shared on the @fotmproject Twitter account.

The ongoing project presents a tremendous opportunity for historical scholars of the period. “If we could collect and collate all of these ads,” the project’s researchers write, “we would create what might be the single richest source of data possible for understanding the lives of the approximately eight million people who were enslaved in the U.S.” It is estimated that 100,000 or more such ads survive “from the colonial and pre-Civil War U.S.,” though they might represent a fraction of those published, and of the number of attempted, and successful, escapes.

Many of the ads casually reveal evidence of brutal treatment, listing scars and brands, missing fingers, speech impediments, and halting walks. They show many of the escaped slaves to have been skilled in several trades and speak multiple languages. A large number of the escapees are children. As University of New Orleans historian Mary Niall Mitchell tells Hyperallergic, “ironically, in trying to retrieve their property—the people they claimed as things—enslavers left us mounds of evidence about the humanity of the people they bought and sold.” (Mitchell is one of the projects three lead researchers, along with University of Alabama’s Joshua Rothman and Cornell’s Edward Baptist, author of The Half Has Never Been Told.)

The slaveholders who ran ads also left evidence of what they made themselves believe in order to hold people as property. One ad describes a runaway slave named Billy as having been “persuaded to leave his master by some villain,” as though Billy must surely have been contented with his lot. In the overwhelming majority of cases, we will never know with certainty what most people thought about being enslaved. Yet the fact that hundreds of thousands attempted to escape at great personal risk, often without any help—to such a degree that extreme, inflammatory measures like the Fugitive Slave Act were eventually deemed necessary—should offer sufficient testament, if the relatively few written narratives aren’t enough. “For some” of the people in the ads, says Mitchell, “this may be the only place something about them survives, in any detail, in the written record,”

Freedom on the Move, writes Hyperallergic’s Allison Meier, “expands on the history of resistance against slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries.” It offers a compelling picture of two intolerably irresolvable views—those of slaveholders who viewed enslaved people as proprietary investments; and those of the enslaved who refused to be reduced to objects for others’ pleasure and profit.

Visit Freedom on the Move and find out more.

via Hyperallergic

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

The Genius of Harry Beck’s 1933 London Tube Map–and How It Revolutionized Subway Map Design Everywhere

The subway is a marvel of engineering, and so is the modern subway map.

For the first 25 years of its existence, London Underground riders relied on a map that reflected the actual distance between stations, as well as rivers, parks, and other aboveground phenomena.

As designer Michael Bierut observes in the video at the top, the radically revised approach it finally adopted in 1933 proved so intuitive and easy to use, it remains the universal template for modern subway maps.

The brainchild of Harry Beck, a young draftsman in the London Underground Signals Office, the new map is more accurately a diagram that prioritized riders’ needs.




He did away with all aboveground references save the Thames, and replotted the stations at equidistant points along color-coded straight lines.

This innovation—for which he was paid about $8—helped riders to glean at a glance where to make the subterranean connections that would allow them to travel from point A to point B.

The former senior curator of London Transport Museum, Anna Renton, said in an interview with The Verge that Beck’s design may have helped persuade city dwellers to make the leap to suburbs serviced by the Underground "by making them look closer to the center, and showing how easy it was to commute.”

It’s not Beck’s fault if service falls short of his map’s efficient ideal, particularly on nights and weekends, when track work and service advisories abound, rendering such commutes a nightmare.

The appeal of subway map-themed souvenirs is also a testament to the visual appeal of Beck’s original design, especially given that such purchases are not limited to tourists.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, April 23 for the third installment of her literary-themed variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

A Vending Machine Now Distributes Free Short Stories at Francis Ford Coppola’s Café Zoetrope

I loved the idea of a vending machine, a dispensing machine that doesn’t dispense potato chips or beer or coffee for money but gives you art. I especially liked the fact that you didn’t put money in. - Filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola

Thusly did filmmaker Coppola arrange for a free Short Edition story vending machine to be installed in Café Zoetrope, his San Francisco restaurant.

The French-built machine is the perfect companion for solitary diners, freely dispensing tales on skinny, eco-friendly paper with the push of a button. Readers have a choice over the type of story—romantic, funny, scary—and the amount of time they’re willing to devote to it.

After which, they can perhaps begin the task of adapting it into a feature-length film script. Part of Coppola’s attraction to the form is that short stories, like movies, are intended to be consumed in a single sitting.




Short Edition, the Grenoble-based start-up, has been following up on the public’s embrace of the Café Zoetrope machine by sending even more short story kiosks stateside.

Columbus Public Health just unveiled one near the children’s area at its immunization clinic, providing Ohio kids and parents from mostly disadvantaged backgrounds with access to free literature while they wait.

Philadelphia’s Free Library won a grant to install four story dispensers, with more slated for locations in South Carolina and Kansas.

Part of the allure lays in receiving a tangible object. You can recycle your story into a bookmark, leave it for someone else to find, or—in Coppola’s words—save it for an “artistic lift” while “waiting for a bus, or marriage license, or lunch.”

A café patron described the cognitive dissonance of watching her cousin read the story the Zoetrope machine picked out for her:

The scene seemed archaic: a woman frozen in concentration, in the middle of a buzzing crowd, reading from a line of print instead of scrolling through Instagram, as one might normally do while sitting solo at a bar. 

“When people ask [if] we have wifi for the kids," Café Zoetrope’s general manager told Literary Hub, “We point to the machine and say, ‘No, but you have a story—you can read.’”

Those without access to a Short Edition story vending machine can get a feel for the experience digitally on the company’s website.

Scroll down to the dice icon, specify your preferred tone and a reading time between 1 and 5 minutes.

Or throw caution to the wind by hitting the search button sans specification, as I did to become the 3232nd reader of "Drowned," a one-minute true crime story by Cléa Barreyre, translated from the French by Wendy Cross.

French speakers can also submit their writing. The vending machines’ stories are drawn from Short Edition’s online community, a trove of some 100,000 short stories by nearly 10,000 authors. Registering for a free account will allow you to read stories, after which you can toggle over to the French site to post your content through the orange author space portal at the top right of the page. The FAQ and Google Translate should come in handy here. The editors are currently reviewing submissions of comics, poems, and micro fiction for the Summer Grand Prix du Court, though again—only in French, for now. 

Short Edition hopes to start considering other languages for vending machine content inclusion soon, beginning with English. For now, all stories being dispensed have been translated from the original French by British literary professionals.

Bon courage!

via Literary Hub

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, April 23 for the third installment of her literary-themed variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Gustave Flaubert Tells His Mother Why Serious Writers Shouldn’t Bother with Day Jobs (1850)

We are what we do — or in other words, we are what we choose to spend our time doing. By this logic, a "musician" who spends one quarter of his time with his instruments and three quarters with Excel, though he counts as no less a human being for it, should by rights call himself a maker of spreadsheets rather than a maker of music. This view may sound stark, but it has its adherents, some of them successful and respected artists. We can rest assured that no less a creator than Gustave Flaubert, for instance, would surely have accepted it, if we take seriously the words of a letter he wrote to his mother in February of 1850.

Though he'd completed several books at the time, the then 28-year-old Flaubert had yet to make it as a man of letters. He did, however, do a fair bit of traveling at that time in his life, composing this particular piece of correspondence during a sojourn in the Middle East. It seems that even halfway across the world, he couldn't escape his mother's entreaties to find proper employment, if only "un petite place" that would grant him slightly more social respectability and financial stability. Finally fed up, he clarified his position on the matter of day jobs once and for all:

Now I come to something that you seem to enjoy reverting to and that I utterly fail to understand. You are never at a loss of things to torment yourself about. What is the sense of this: that I must have a job — "a small job," you say. First of all, what job? I defy you to find me one, to specify in what field, or what it would be like. Frankly, and without deluding yourself, is there a single one that I am capable of filling? You add: "One that wouldn't take up much of your time and wouldn't prevent you from doing other things." There's the delusion! That's what Bouilhet told himself when he took up medicine, what I told myself when I began law, which nearly brought about my death from suppressed rage. When one does something, one must do it wholly and well. Those bastard existences where you sell suet all day and write poetry at night are made for mediocre minds — like those horses equally good for saddle and carriage — the worst kind, that can neither jump a ditch nor pull a plow.

In short, it seems to me that one takes a job for money, for honors, or as an escape from idleness. Now you'll grant me, darling, (1) that I keep busy enough not to have to go out looking for something to do; and (2) if it's a question of honors, my vanity is such that I'm incapable of feeling myself honored by anything: a position, however high it might be (and that isn't the kind you speak of) will never give me the satisfaction that I derive from my self-respect when I have accomplished something well in my own way; and finally, if it's for money, any jobs or job that I could have would bring in too little to make much difference to my income. Weigh all these considerations: don't knock your head against a hollow idea. Is there any position in which I'd be closer to you, more yours? And isn't not to be bored one of the principal goals of life?

The letter may well have convinced her: according to a footnote included in The Letters of Gustave Flaubert: 1830-1857, "there seem to have been no further suggestions" that he secure a steady paycheck. Could Flaubert's mother have had an inkling that her son would become, well, Flaubert? At that point he hadn't even begun writing Madame Bovary, a project that would begin upon his return to France. Its inspiration came in part from the early version of The Temptation of Saint Anthony he'd completed before embarking on his travels, which his friends Maxime Du Camp and Louis Bouilhet (the reluctant medical student mentioned in the letter) suggested he toss in the fire, telling him to write about the stuff of everyday life instead.

Not all of us, of course, can work the same way Flaubert did, with his days spent in revision of each page and his obsessive lifelong hunt for le mot juste: not for nothing do we call him "the martyr of style." But whatever we create and however we create it, we ignore the words Flaubert wrote to his mother at our peril. The earning of money has its place, but the idea that any old day job can be easily held down without damage to our real life's work shades all too easily into self-delusion. We must remember that "when one does something, one must do it wholly and well," a sentiment made infinitely more powerful by the fact that Flaubert didn't just articulate it, he lived it — and now occupies one of the highest places in the pantheon of the novel as a result.

h/t Tom H.

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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.

Applause Fills the Air as Stephen Hawking Gets Laid to Rest in Cambridge, England

Earlier today, they laid Stephen Hawking to rest in a private funeral held at University Church of St. Mary the Great in Cambridge, England. Although the funeral itself was attended by only 500 guests, the streets of Cambridge swelled with onlookers who broke into applause as the coffin holding the physicist made its way into the church, leaving us with some proof that there's still something right in a world tilting toward the wrong, that we can still appreciate someone who overcame so much, and left us with even more.

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The Models for “American Gothic” Pose in Front of the Iconic Painting (1942)

Grant Wood's "American Gothic" now hangs at the Art Institute of Chicago. And on the museum's website you'll find a little background information introducing you to the iconic 1930 painting:

The impetus for the painting came while Wood was visiting the small town of Eldon in his native Iowa. There he spotted a little wood farmhouse, with a single oversized window, made in a style called Carpenter Gothic. [See it here.] “I imagined American Gothic people with their faces stretched out long to go with this American Gothic house,” he said. He used his sister and his dentist as models for a farmer and his daughter, dressing them as if they were “tintypes from my old family album.” The highly detailed, polished style and the rigid frontality of the two figures were inspired by Flemish Renaissance art, which Wood studied during his travels to Europe between 1920 and 1926. After returning to settle in Iowa, he became increasingly appreciative of midwestern traditions and culture, which he celebrated in works such as this. American Gothic, often understood as a satirical comment on the midwestern character, quickly became one of America’s most famous paintings and is now firmly entrenched in the nation’s popular culture. Yet Wood intended it to be a positive statement about rural American values, an image of reassurance at a time of great dislocation and disillusionment. The man and woman, in their solid and well-crafted world, with all their strengths and weaknesses, represent survivors.

Above, you can see Wood's sister and dentist--otherwise known as Nan Wood Graham and Dr. B.H. McKeeby--posing in front of "American Gothic" in 1942. That's when the painting first went on display in its hometown, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It's a fairly meta moment. Graham and McKeeby look downright dour in the picture, just as in the painting.

Grant Wood died of pancreatic cancer in '42, and his sister eventually moved to Northern California, where she became the caretaker of his legacy. She did, after all, owe him a debt. "Grant made a personality out of me," she said. "I would have had a very drab life without [American Gothic]."

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

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

via Artsy/Kottke

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Pre-Flight Safety Demonstration Gets Performed as a Modern Dance: A Creative Video from a Taiwanese Airline

Taiwanese airline EVA Air’s pre-flight safety video is a genuine oddity in a field littered with creative interpretations.

Ten years ago, airlines were straightforward about complying with the International Civil Aviation Organization, the Federal Aviation Administration, and other governing bodies’ requirements.  These instructions were serious business. Children and other first time travelers paid strict attention to information about tray tables, exits, and inflatable life vests that jaded frequent flyers ignored, confident that most take offs and landings tend to go according to plan, and the overwhelming number of planes tend stay in the air for the duration of one's flight.




What about the ones that don't though? There are times when a too-cool-for-school business traveler seated next to an emergency exit could spell disaster for everyone onboard.

Virgin America’s 2007 animated safety video, below, was the first to recapture passengers' attention, with a blasé narrative style that poked fun at the standard tropes:

For the .0001% of you who have never operated a seatbelt before, it works like this…

The cocky tone was dialed down for more critical information, like how to assist the child in the seat next to you when the yellow oxygen masks drop from the overhead compartment. (Imagine the mayhem if indie animator Bill Plympton had been in the pilot’s seat for this one…)

The irreverent approach was a hit. The FAA took note, encouraging creativity in a 2010 Advisory Circular:

Every airline passenger should be motivated to focus on the safety information in the passenger briefing; however, motivating people, even when their own personal safety is involved, is not easy. One way to increase passenger motivation is to make the safety information briefings and cards as interesting and attractive as possible.

For a while EVA Air, an innovator whose fleet includes several Hello Kitty Jets, played it safe by sticking to crowd pleasing schtick. Its 2012 CGI safety demo video, below, must’ve played particularly well with the Hello Kitty demographic.

...looks a bit 2012, no?

A few months ago, EVA took things in a direction few industry professionals could’ve predicted: modern dance, performed with utmost sincerity.

Choreographer Bulareyaung Pagarlava, a member of Taiwan’s indigenous Paiwan community, and a small crew of dancers spent three months translating the familiar directives into a vocabulary of symbolic gestures. See the results at the top of the post.

You’ll find none of the stock characters who populate other airlines’ videos here—no sneaky smokers, no concerned moms, no sleepy businesspeople. There’s barely a suggestion of a cabin.

Unfettered by seats or overhead bins, the brightly clad, barefoot dancers leap and roll as they interact with 3D projections, behavior that would certainly summon a flight attendant if performed on an actual plane.

Does it work?

The answer may depend on whether or not the plane on which you’re traveling takes a sudden nose dive.

In “No Joking,” an essay about airport security, University of Ottawa professor Mark B. Salter writes that it is “difficult to motivate passengers to contemplate their own mortality.” The fashion for jokiness in safety videos “naturalizes areas of anxiety,” a mental trick of which Freud was well aware.

What then are we to make of the EVA Air dancer at the 4:35 minute mark, who appears to be falling backward through the night sky?

Would you show a jet's worth of travelers the modern dance equivalent of Airplane 1975, Fearless, or Snakes on a Plane before they taxi down the runway?

Mercifully, the narrator steps in to remind passengers that smoking is prohibited, before the digitally projected dark waters can swallow the writhing soloist up.

There’s also some question as to whether the video adequately addresses the question of tray table operation.

Readers, what do you think? Does this new video make you feel secure about taking flight?

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

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