The Medieval City Plan Generator

The Medieval City Plan Generator. It's the free online tool you've always wanted. It doesn't create maps of actual medieval cities--only nice looking maps of imaginary cities, with the ability to add plazas, castles, rivers, city walls, and even shanty towns. Enter the Medieval City Plan Generator here.

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Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

Enter, Explore, and Learn About Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson with a New Augmented-Reality App

More than 350 years after he painted them, the paintings of Rembrandt van Rijn still look real enough to step right into. Now, thanks to a new augmented reality app from the Mauritshuis museum, you can do just that through the screen of your phone, starting with Rembrandt's famed early canvas The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp. "The augmented reality experience, a first for a museum, allows the user to experience the anatomical theatre of 1632 digitally," says the Mauritshuis' press release, "and to observe Dr. Tulp and his fellow physicians, as well as the subject of their examination, the corpse of Aris Kindt."

"I entered it and was surrounded by its enveloping darkness, its piecemeal illuminations," writes Hyperallergic's Seph Rodney on his augmented-reality experience of The Anatomy Lesson. "I walked in front of and sometimes faced each of the characters arrayed around a central figure, a corpse, with its left arm missing its skin below the elbow. One man, rather overdressed in a black doublet with a white shirt collar and white sleeves accenting his head and hands uses a pair of forceps to hold the corpse’s exposed arm muscles and tendons stretched away from the bones beneath."

As Rodney approaches the figure, "a small text box pops out telling me precisely this: that he is gazing at the book to make sense of what the body beneath him is saying in all its vascular and muscular complexity."

Sans text boxes, the scene will sound familiar to Rembrandt enthusiasts, but not even the most enthusiastic of them will have seen it in quite this way before. To build an augmented-reality version of the scene Rembrandt painted 387 years ago, "lookalikes of the main figures in the painting dressed up in seventeenth-century outfits and were then scanned with a 3D scanner made up of 600 reflex cameras. The original theatre in the Waag where Dr. Tulp gave his anatomy lesson in 1632 was then captured with the 3D scanner. These scans were then combined, after which 3D modelers gave the figures and the space the correct colors, textures and light."

You can get a glimpse of the process in the short video at the top of the post, then download the Rembrandt Reality app in either its Google or Apple version and step into The Anatomy Lesson yourself. It may feel somewhat odd at first to simply stroll around the scene of an ongoing dissection of a human body, but in a way, the Mauritshuis' digital opening of this immortal lesson to the world re-emphasizes the true nature of the original scene. When a physician of Tulp's stature dissected a corpse, people from all around — medical professionals and otherwise — would come to watch the spectacle that could last for days. But could even Tulp, then Amsterdam's city anatomist and later the city's mayor, have imagined that this particular spectacle would last 387 years and counting?

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.

How Digital Scans of Notre Dame Can Help Architects Rebuild the Burned Cathedral

“Everyone helplessly watching something beautiful burn is 2019 in a nutshell,” wrote TV critic Ryan McGee on Twitter the day a significant portion of Notre Dame burned to the ground. He might have included 2018 in his metaphor, when Brazil’s National Museum was totally destroyed by fire. Before the Parisian monument caught flame, people watched helplessly as historic black churches burned in the U.S., and while the museum and cathedral fire were not the direct result of evil intent, in all of these events we witnessed the loss of sanctuaries, a word with both a religious meaning and a secular one, as columnist Jarvis DeBerry points out.

Sanctuaries are places where people, priceless artifacts, and knowledge should be “safe and protected,” supposedly institutional bulwarks against disorder and violence. They are both havens and potent symbols—and they are also physical spaces that can be rebuilt, if not replaced.

And 21st-century technology has made their rebuilding a far more collaborative and more precise affair. The reconstruction of churches in Louisiana can be funded through social media. The contents of the National Museum of Brazil can be recollected, virtually at least, through crowdsourcing and digital archives.

And the ravaged wood frame, roof, and spire of Notre Dame can be rebuilt, though never replaced, not only with millions in funding from Apple and fashion’s biggest houses, but with an exact 3D digital scan of the cathedral made in 2015 by Vassar art historian Andrew Tallon, who passed away last year from brain cancer. In the video at the top, see Tallon, then a professor at Vassar, describe his process, one driven by a lifelong passion for Gothic architecture, and especially for Notre Dame. A “former composer, would-be monk, and self-described gearhead,” wrote National Geographic in a 2015 profile of his work, Tallon brought a unique sensibility to the project.

His fascination with the spaces of Gothic cathedrals began with an investigation into their acoustic properties. He developed the idea of using laser scanners to create a digital replica of Notre Dame after studying at Columbia under art historian Stephen Murray, who tried and failed in 2001 to make a laser scan of a cathedral north of Paris. Fourteen years later, the technology finally caught up with the idea, which Tallon also improved on by attempting to reconstruct not only the structure, but also the methods the builders used to build it yet did not record in writing.

By examining how the cathedral moved when its foundations shifted or how it heated up or cooled down, Tallon could reveal “its original design and the choices that the master builder had to make when construction didn't go as planned.” He took scans from “more than 50 locations around the cathedral—collecting more than one billion points of data.” All of the scans were knit together “to make them manageable and beautiful.” They are accurate to the millimeter, and as Wired reports, “architects now hope that Tallon’s scans may provide a map for keeping on track whatever rebuilding will have to take place.”

To learn even more about Tallon’s meticulous process than he reveals in the National Geographic video at the top, read his paper “Divining Proportions in the Information Age” in the open access journal Architectural Histories. We may not typically think of the digital world as much of a sanctuary, and maybe for good reason, but Tallon’s masterwork poignantly shows the importance of using its tools to record, document, and, if necessary, reconstruct the real-life spaces that meet our definitions of the term.

via the MIT Technology Review

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

New Augmented Reality App Celebrates Stories of Women Typically Omitted from U.S. History Textbooks

How do we know if we’ve lived through a major shift toward greater equality? Maybe it’s when history textbooks start telling different stories than the ones they’ve always told about heroes in knee breeches, waistcoats, epaulets, top hats, and beards. Aside from the occasional historical figure in bonnet or bloomers, most texts really have just told “his story.”

In the U.S., at least, studies show that only 11% of the stories in history textbooks are about women. Is this because 50% of the population only contributed to 11% percent of the country’s events? No, even the kids know—like the kids in the video above from a new app called Lessons in Herstory—history mostly features men because “a lot of it was written by men and was mostly all about men.”

Textbook makers, and the school boards who give them marching orders, may stick to their guns, so to speak, but another major shift could render their dictates irrelevant. Smartphone and tablet technology has become so familiar to today’s kids that instead of turning the pages, they “swipe, like, in the history books,” as one of the youngsters puts it.

Students stuck with the old patriarchal pedagogies can easily supplement, enhance, or substitute their education with new media. While there are some serious downsides to this phenomenon, given a distinct lack of quality control online, the internet has also opened up innumerable opportunities for telling the stories of women in history.

Lessons in Herstory, built by an organization called Daughters of the Evolution, takes a unique approach. Instead of supplanting textbooks, it adds to them in an augmented reality smartphone app (currently designed for ios devices) students can point at pictures of historical dudes to pull up stories about a notable women from the same time.

Granted, some of these women, like Harriet Tubman and Sacagawea, had already been granted access to the limited space allotted female figures in grade school textbooks. But a great many other people in the app have not. Featuring a diverse selection of 75 herstorical women, Lessons in Herstory is the product of ad agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners’ chief creative officer Margaret Johnson, who launched it at this year’s SXSW.

The app has pretty limited application at the moment. It works with one textbook, A History of US, Book 5: Liberty for All? 1820-1860, and with a handful of historical photographs on its website. (Many of the women featured made their mark after 1860.) But with plans to expand and with the backing of a large ad agency, who may or may not have their own designs in marketing Lessons in Herstory, it promises to make women’s history more accessible to students who already spend more time staring at screens than pages.

“There’s a saying,” writes Cara Curtis at The Next Web, “’you can’t be what you can’t see.’” Apps like Lessons in Herstory, along with a number of influential books and websites for young people that narrate the past through the lens of women, indigenous people, African-Americans, artists, activists, working people, and so on, show kids that no matter who they are or where they come from, people who looked like them have always made significant contributions to history.

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

The Fantastical Sketchbook of a Medieval Inventor: See Designs for Flamethrowers, Mechanical Camels & More (Circa 1415)

History remembers, and will likely never forget, the name of Renaissance Italian inventor Leonardo da Vinci. But what about the name of Renaissance Italian inventor Johannes de Fontana? Though he came along a couple of generations before Leonardo, Johannes de Fontana, also known as Giovanni Fontana, seems to have had no less fertile an imagination. Where Leonardo came up with everything from musical instruments to hydraulic pumps to war machines to self-supporting bridges, Fontana's inventions include "fire-breathing automatons, pulley-powered angels, and the earliest surviving drawing of a magic lantern device."

Those words come from Portland State University's Bennett Gilbert, who takes a dive into Fontana's notebook of "designs for a variety of fantastic and often impossible inventions" at the Public Domain Review.

Filled some time between the years 1415 and 1420, its 68 drawings meant to entice potential patrons include plans for "mechanical camels for entertaining children, mysterious locks to guard treasure, flame-throwing contraptions to terrorize the defenders of besieged cities, huge fountains, musical instruments, actors’ masks, and many other wonders."

It would seem that Fontana lacked the sense of practicality possessed by his successor Leonardo — and Leonardo dreamed up not just a variety of flying machines but a mechanical knight. That may have to do with the era in which Fontana lived, "more than two hundred years before the discoveries of Newton," a time "of transition from medieval knowledge of the world to that of the Renaissance, which many now regard as the origin of early modern science." And so his designs, many of them liberally decorated with unearthly-looking creatures and bursts of flame, strike us today as at most half plausible and at least half fantastical.

Fontana's drawing style, too, reflects the state of human knowledge in the early fifteenth century: "The towers and rockets, water and fire, nozzles and pipes, pulleys and ropes, gears and grapples, wheels and beams, and grids and spheres that were an engineer’s occupation at the dawn of the Renaissance fill Fontana’s sketchbook. His way of illustrating his ideas, however, is distinctly medieval, lacking perspective and using a limited array of angles for displaying machine works." Yet this makes Fontana's notebook all the more fascinating to 21st-century eyes, and throws into contrast some of his more plausible inventions, such as "a magic lantern device, which transformed the light of fire into emotive display."

Will some bold scholar of the early Renaissance one day argue that Fontana invented motion pictures? But perhaps the man who designed "an awe-inspiring fire-illuminated spectacle, most likely serving as a propaganda machine, for use in war and in peace" wouldn't approve of a medium quite so ordinary. We might say that the most valuable legacy of Johannes de Fontana, more so than any of his inventions themselves, is the glimpse his notebook gives us into the the human imagination in his day, when fact and fantasy intermingled as they will never do again. And in the case of some technologies, we should probably feel relieved that they won't: Fontana's "life support system for patients undergoing gruesome surgeries" may be fascinating, but I can't say I'd be eager to make use of it myself.

See his manuscript online here.

via the Public Domain Review

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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.

NASA Captures First Air-to-Air Images of Supersonic Shockwaves Interacting in Flight

“We never dreamt that it would be this clear, this beautiful.” That's how NASA scientist J.T. Heineck responded when he got his first glimpse of images that captured "the first-ever images of the interaction of shockwaves from two supersonic aircraft in flight."

NASA writes:

The images feature a pair of T-38s from the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, flying in formation at supersonic speeds. The T-38s are flying approximately 30 feet away from each other, with the trailing aircraft flying about 10 feet lower than the leading T-38. With exceptional clarity, the flow of the shock waves from both aircraft is seen, and for the first time, the interaction of the shocks can be seen in flight.

“We’re looking at a supersonic flow, which is why we’re getting these shockwaves,” said Neal Smith, a research engineer with AerospaceComputing Inc. at NASA Ames’ fluid mechanics laboratory.

“What’s interesting is, if you look at the rear T-38, you see these shocks kind of interact in a curve,” he said. “This is because the trailing T-38 is flying in the wake of the leading aircraft, so the shocks are going to be shaped differently. This data is really going to help us advance our understanding of how these shocks interact...”

While NASA has previously used the schlieren photography technique to study shockwaves, the AirBOS 4 flights featured an upgraded version of the previous airborne schlieren systems, allowing researchers to capture three times the amount of data in the same amount of time.

“We’re seeing a level of physical detail here that I don’t think anybody has ever seen before,” said Dan Banks, senior research engineer at NASA Armstrong. “Just looking at the data for the first time, I think things worked out better than we’d imagined. This is a very big step.”

via BoingBoing

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Noam Chomsky Makes His First Power Point Presentation

90 years old, and still going strong...

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