What Did Etruscan Sound Like? An Animated Video Pronounces the Ancient Language That We Still Don’t Fully Understand

Readers of Open Culture no doubt have more pronounced polyglot tendencies than average web-surfers, and perhaps even toward relatively unlikely languages, but let us ask this: how many Etruscan speakers do you know? You've probably heard that name, which refers to the civilization that existed in ancient Italy between roughly the eleventh and third century BC and in roughly the era of modern-day Tuscany. The Etruscans had their own language, but it didn't survive their civilization's assimilation into the Roman Republic in complete enough shape for us to understand it today. But even if we can't understand texts composed in Etruscan, we've at least determined what spoken Etruscan sounded like.

The animated NativLang video above tells the story of the Etruscan language's rediscovery, from its appearance on the linen wrappings of a mummy in a sarcophagus purchased by a European in the mid-1800s; to the determination that many of the letters European languages use descended from it (first passed down from the Phoenicians and then to the Greeks); to the frustrated search for an "Etruscan Rosetta Stone."



It also breaks down several Etruscan words : creice, meaning "Greece"; ruma, meaning "Rome"; and phersu, meaning "mask," but which "lives on right at the heart of our English vocabulary as person." Along the way, the video's narrator provides examples of quite a few Etruscan sounds and how we now know they were pronounced.

Linguists have figured all this out with a relative paucity of sources, making each and every artifact inscribed with Etruscan writing invaluable to their quest for full comprehension: the Cippus Perusinus, for example, a legal contract literally etched in stone, or the aforementioned mummy wrappings, the meaning of which remains obscure. "We don't know how this text got to Egypt. But thanks to all this work, we can tell it's a kind of ritual calendar, and sometimes we can follow whole threads of text." The narrator pronounces a few of them, and "it's almost like, if you close your eyes, I could take you right back to the days of fluent Etruscan. But ask how to say a simple yes or no, and we're lost again."

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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.

The Who and Jimmy Fallon Sing “Won’t Get Fooled Again” with Classroom Instruments

Don't miss the very end. And don't miss The Who on tour this summer...

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When The New York Times Got Duped into Publishing “The Lexicon of Grunge” in 1992–Words Like “Lamestain,” “Wack Slacks,” “Harsh Realm” & More

What if everything you thought you knew about grunge was a lie? Maybe you’ve suspected all along! But even if you were there, or somewhere, in that time of abysmally low internet literacy and connectivity, when every traditional media outlet was flannel, floppy hair, mopey half-protests, festivals, Seattle.... When you could save $6-$13 on “women’s grunge” and “$5 on kids’ grunge too!” at major department store chains...

But we may still remember grunge as a movement—with charismatic leaders and tragic heroes. A movement to reclaim serious, heavy, emotional hair rock from the profoundly unserious hair bands of the 80s. The first wave of Pacific Northwest bands to emerge with Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam were earnest and well-meaning and “primal,” says Bruce Pavitt, co-founder of the legendary Seattle record label Sub Pop.

Sub Pop midwifed the scene by signing so many of the bands that made it big, cultivating the sound and look of dirty, angry backwoodsmen with guitars. "Grunge Made Blue-Collar Culture Cool," wrote Steven Kurutz in The New York Times Style Section just a few days ago, an implicit acknowledgment that the mostly-white and largely male scene sold a particular image of blue-collar that resonated, says Pavitt, because it represented an "'American archetype."

Pavitt and co-founder Jonathan Poneman were diehard fans of the music but they were no starry-eyed idealists—they understood exactly how to sell the region’s quirks to a national and international media. “It could have happened anywhere,” Poneman has said, “but there was a lucky set of coincidences. [Photographer] Charles Peterson was here to document the scene, [producer] Jack Endino was here to record the scene. Bruce and I were here to exploit the scene.”

But what was the scene? Was it “Grunge”? What is “Grunge”? How do you pronounce “Grunge”? What do “Grunge” people eat? After being peppered with one too many questions when the shockwave of Nirvana’s major label debut Nevermind hit in 1992, Poneman referred a reporter to a former Sub Pop employee, Megan Jasper, then working as a sales rep for Caroline records. The reporter, Rick Marin, was calling from The New York Times’ Style Section, asking for help compiling a grunge lexicon. What kinds of things do “Grunge” people say?

“By then,” writes Alan Siegel at The Ringer, “only outsiders earnestly used the term ‘grunge’ as a noun.” It was, says Charles Cross, former editor of alternative paper The Rocket, “an overhyped, inflated word that doesn’t have actual meaning in Seattle.” As for grunge slang, such a thing “didn’t exist.” The only thing to do, Jasper decided, was “react by trying to make fun of it,” she says. She had done the very same thing months earlier, when British magazine Sky made the same request. “I gave them a bunch of fake shit.”

As she says in the interview clip at the top, she asked Marin to toss out normal words and she would give him “grunge” equivalents. “I kept escalating the craziness of the translations because anyone in their right mind would go, ‘Oh, come on, this is bullshit.’… but it never  happened because he was concentrating so hard on getting the information right.” Thus, the grunge lexicon below, published in The New York Times in 1992. ("All subcultures speak in code," goes the caption. This one would be appearing in malls nationwide.)

  • bloated, big bag of bloatation – drunk
  • bound-and-hagged – staying home on Friday or Saturday night
  • cob nobbler – loser
  • dish – desirable guy
  • fuzz – heavy wool sweaters
  • harsh realm – bummer
  • kickers – heavy boots
  • lamestain – uncool person
  • plats – platform shoes
  • rock on – a happy goodbye
  • score – great
  • swingin' on the flippity-flop – hanging out
  • tom-tom club – uncool outsiders
  • wack slacks – old ripped jeans

It’s unlikely Marin every traveled to Seattle and tried to bond with fellow kids, or he would not have published Jasper’s hoax glossary in an article otherwise critical of the mainstreaming of grunge. Marin compared the phenomenon to “the mass-marketing of disco, punk and hip-hop. Now with the grunging of America, it’s happening again. Pop will eat itself, the axiom goes.” It's a thorough, well-sourced piece that quotes many of the scene's founders, including Poneman, never suspecting they might be having a laugh.

The fake news grunge lexicon was a huge hit in Seattle, where Jasper was celebrated by her friends and family. “I got a very nice pat on the back,” she says. People clipped the lexicon to their shirts at shows. Indie label C/Z records then printed t-shirts. “Lamestain” appeared on one. “Harsh Realm” on another. Mudhoney spread around Jasper’s slang in a Melody Maker interview with straight faces. It should have been debunked immediately “but this was 1992,” writes Siegel, “Snopes wasn’t around yet. Hell, The New York Times was still four years away from launching a website.”

Then, writer and reporter Thomas Frank called Jasper and asked, “there’s no way this is real, right?” Immediately, she responded, “Of course it’s not real.” Frank published the scoop in 1993; the Times smeared him as a hoaxer to discredit the revelation. The Baffler faxed the Times this note: “When The Newspaper of Record goes searching for the Next Big Thing and the Next Big Thing piddles on its leg, we think that’s funny.” These days, we might expect a Twitter war.

No one Siegel interviews seems to have been particularly upset about the whole thing. Marin’s “eyebrow is totally raised” throughout his piece, says his former editor Penelope Green. (Marin himself declined to be interviewed.) But the story has far less to do with one credulous reporter working a deadline and more to do with his argument—grunge had been rapidly packaged and sold, and by The Times, no less! But maybe its image was sort of a joke to begin with, one that now gets such straight-faced, reverent, sealed-behind-glass-cases treatment that you have to laugh.

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

Critical Thinking: A Free Course

In the playlist above, Gregory Sadler presents a 24-lecture course on "Critical Thinking"--something the world could always use more of. Presented at Fayetteville State University, the course features lectures on topics like Deductive and Inductive Arguments, Fallacies, Rhetorical Devices, Appeals to Authority and much more. The textbook used (and referenced) in the course was Moore and Parker's Critical Thinking. The individual lectures are as follows:

  1. Issues, Claims, Arguments
  2. Arguments and Non-Arguments
  3. Value Judgements 
  4. Deductive and Inductive Arguments with Implicit Premises
  5. Complex Arguments, Unstated Premises
  6. Deductive and Inductive Arguments 1
  7. Deductive and Inductive Arguments 2
  8. Deductive and Inductive Arguments 3
  9. Fallacies of Composition and Division
  10. Information Sources
  11. Experts and Appeal to Authority
  12. Critical Thinking and Advertising
  13. Rhetorical Devices 1
  14. Rhetorical Devices 2
  15. Rhetorical Devices 3
  16. Fallacies 1
  17. Fallacies 2
  18. Fallacies 3
  19. Fallacies 4
  20. Fallacies 5
  21. Fallacies 6
  22. Inductive Arguments 1
  23. Inductive Arguments 2
  24. Inductive Arguments 3

Also find the complete playlist of lectures on YouTube here. Sadler's YouTube channel features other courses and a wealth of philosophy lectures.

"Critical Thinking" has been added to our list of Free Philosophy Courses, a subset of our collection, 1,300 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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.

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Hunter S. Thompson’s Ballsy Job Application Letter (1958)

Image by RS79 , via Wikimedia Commons

In 1958, Hunter S. Thompson applied for a job with the Vancouver Sun. He was fresh out of the Air Force and struggling to make a living in New York City, though from the tone of the letter you wouldn’t know it.

People who are experts in such things say that good cover letters should match the employer’s needs with the applicant's abilities, should be tailored specifically to the job in question and should show some personality. By those yardsticks, Thompson’s letter to the Vancouver Sun is a model to be followed. He lays out his eagerness to work: "I can work 25 hours a day if necessary, live on any reasonable salary." Any HR manager would be tickled with lines like that. He succinctly describes his work experience: "most of my experience has been in sports writing, but I can write everything from warmongering propaganda to learned book reviews." And for any other fault you might find with the letter, it definitely doesn't lack in personality.



Yet the letter somehow failed to charm his would-be employer; Thompson never moved to Vancouver. Perhaps they were given pause by Thompson's steady stream of insults directed towards his former editor -- "It was as if the Marquis De Sade had suddenly found himself working for Billy Graham" -- and towards journalism in general: "It's a damned shame that a field as potentially dynamic and vital as journalism should be overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity." Or perhaps it was his intentionally off-putting arrogance, "I'd rather offend you now than after I started working for you." In any case, it's a hoot to read. More people should write job application letters like this.

Read the full letter below.

Vancouver Sun
TO JACK SCOTT, VANCOUVER SUN
October 1, 1958 57 Perry Street New York City

Sir,
I got a hell of a kick reading the piece Time magazine did this week on The Sun. In addition to wishing you the best of luck, I'd also like to offer my services.

Since I haven't seen a copy of the "new" Sun yet, I'll have to make this a tentative offer. I stepped into a dung-hole the last time I took a job with a paper I didn't know anything about (see enclosed clippings) and I'm not quite ready to go charging up another blind alley.

By the time you get this letter, I'll have gotten hold of some of the recent issues of The Sun. Unless it looks totally worthless, I'll let my offer stand. And don't think that my arrogance is unintentional: it's just that I'd rather offend you now than after I started working for you.

I didn't make myself clear to the last man I worked for until after I took the job. It was as if the Marquis de Sade had suddenly found himself working for Billy Graham. The man despised me, of course, and I had nothing but contempt for him and everything he stood for. If you asked him, he'd tell you that I'm "not very likable, (that I) hate people, (that I) just want to be left alone, and (that I) feel too superior to mingle with the average person." (That's a direct quote from a memo he sent to the publisher.)

Nothing beats having good references.

Of course if you asked some of the other people I've worked for, you'd get a different set of answers. If you're interested enough to answer this letter, I'll be glad to furnish you with a list of references -- including the lad I work for now.

The enclosed clippings should give you a rough idea of who I am. It's a year old, however, and I've changed a bit since it was written. I've taken some writing courses from Columbia in my spare time, learned a hell of a lot about the newspaper business, and developed a healthy contempt for journalism as a profession.

As far as I'm concerned, it's a damned shame that a field as potentially dynamic and vital as journalism should be overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity. If this is what you're trying to get The Sun away from, then I think I'd like to work for you.

Most of my experience has been in sports writing, but I can write everything from warmongering propaganda to learned book reviews.

I can work 25 hours a day if necessary, live on any reasonable salary, and don't give a black damn for job security, office politics, or adverse public relations.
I would rather be on the dole than work for a paper I was ashamed of.
It's a long way from here to British Columbia, but I think I'd enjoy the trip.

If you think you can use me, drop me a line.

If not, good luck anyway.

Sincerely,

Hunter S. Thompson

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in April 2015.

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of badgers and even more pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

The Writing System of the Cryptic Voynich Manuscript Explained: British Researcher May Have Finally Cracked the Code

Humanity will remember the name of James Joyce for generations to come, not least because, as he once wrote about his best-known novel Ulysses, "I've put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that's the only way of insuring one's immortality." If Joyce was right, then the author of the mysterious Voynich manuscript (about which you can see an animated introduction here) has set a kind of standard for immortality. Filled with odd, not especially explanatory illustrations and written in a script not seen anywhere else, the early 15th-century text has perplexed scholars for at least 400 or so years of its existence.

But recent years have seen a few claims of having cracked the Voynich manuscript's code: one effort made use of artificial intelligence, another concludes that the text was written in phonetic Old Turkish, and the latest declares the Voynich manuscript to have been composed in "the only known example of proto-Romance language." University of Bristol Research Associate Gerard Cheshire, the man behind this new decoding, describes that language as "ancestral to today’s Romance languages including Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian, Romanian, Catalan and Galician. The language used was ubiquitous in the Mediterranean during the Medieval period, but it was seldom written in official or important documents because Latin was the language of royalty, church and government."



And what, pray tell, is the Voynich manuscript actually about? Cheshire has revealed little about its content thus far, though he has described the text as "compiled by Dominican nuns as a source of reference for Maria of Castile, Queen of Aragon." Though he has claimed to determine the nature of its unusual language — one without punctuation but with "diphthong, triphthongs, quadriphthongs and even quintiphthongs for the abbreviation of phonetic components" — deciphering its more than 200 pages of content stands as another task altogether. In the meantime, you can read his paper "The Language and Writing System of MS408 (Voynich) Explained," originally published in the journal Romance Studies.

Although Cheshire's discovery has produced headlines like the Express' "Voynich Manuscript SOLVED: World’s Most Mysterious Book Deciphered After 600 Years," others include Ars Techhnica's "No, Someone Hasn't Cracked the Code of the Mysterious Voynich Manuscript." That article quotes Lisa Fagin Davis, executive director of the Medieval Academy of America (and vocal Voynich-translation skeptic), criticizing the foundation of Cheshire's claim: "He starts with a theory about what a particular series of glyphs might mean, usually because of the word's proximity to an image that he believes he can interpret. He then investigates any number of medieval Romance-language dictionaries until he finds a word that seems to suit his theory. Then he argues that because he has found a Romance-language word that fits his hypothesis, his hypothesis must be right."

Fagin Davis adds that Cheshire's "'translations' from what is essentially gibberish, an amalgam of multiple languages, are themselves aspirational rather than being actual translations," and that "the fundamental underlying argument — that there is such a thing as one 'proto-Romance language' — is completely unsubstantiated and at odds with paleolinguistics." Fagin Davis' criticism doesn't even stop there, and if she's right, Cheshire's approach will be unlikely to produce a coherent translation of the entire text. And so, at least for the moment, the Voynich manuscript's life as a mystery continues, keeping busy not just professors but enthusiasts, technologists, Research Associates, and many others besides.

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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 Complete Digitization of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Codex Atlanticus, the Largest Existing Collection of His Drawings & Writings

No historical figure better fits the definition of “Renaissance man” than Leonardo da Vinci, but that term has become so overused as to become misleading. We use it to express mild surprise that one person could use both their left and right hemispheres equally well. But in Leonardo’s day, people did not think of themselves having two brains, and the worlds of art and science were not so far apart as they are now.

That Leonardo was able to combine fine arts and fine engineering may not have been overly surprising to his contemporaries, though he was an extraordinarily brilliant example of the phenomenon. The more we learn about him, the more we see how closely related the two pursuits were in his mind.



He approached everything he did as a technician. The uncanny effects he achieved in painting were the result, as in so much Renaissance art, of mathematical precision, careful study, and firsthand observation.

His artistic projects were also experiments. Some of them failed, as most experiments do, and some he abandoned, as he did so many scientific projects. No matter what, he never undertook anything, whether mechanical, anatomical, or artistic, without careful planning and design, as his copious notebooks testify. As more and more of those notebooks have become available online, both Renaissance scholars and laypeople alike have learned considerably more about how Leonardo’s mind worked.

First, there was the Codex Arundel, digitized by the British Library and made freely available. It is, writes Jonathan Jones at The Guardian, “the living record of a universal mind”—but also, specifically, the mind of a “technophile.” Then, the Victoria and Albert National Art Library announced the digitization of Codex Forster, which contains some of Leonardo’s earliest notebooks. Now The Visual Agency has released a complete digitization of Leonardo’s Codex Atlanticus, a huge collection of the artist, engineer, and inventor’s finely-illustrated notes.

(Note: If you speak English, make sure you click the "EN" button at the bottom right hand corner of the site. Also see "How to Read" at the top of the site.)

“No other collection counts more original papers written by Leonardo,” notes Google. The Codex Atlanticus “consists of 1119 papers, most of them drawn or written on both sides.” Its name has “nothing to do with the Atlantic Ocean, or with some esoteric, mysterious content hidden in its pages.” The 12-volume collection acquired its title because the drawings and writings were bound with the same sized paper that was used for making atlases. Gathered in the 16th century by sculptor Pompeo Leoni, the papers descended from Leonardo’s close student Giovan Francesco Melzi, who was entrusted with them after his teacher’s death.

The history of the Codex itself makes for a fascinating narrative, much of which you can learn at Google’s Ten Key Facts slideshow. The notebooks span Leonardo’s career, from 1478, when he was “still working in his native Tuscany, to 1519, when he died in France.” The collection was taken from Milan by Napoleon and brought to France, where it remained in the Louvre until 1815, when the Congress of Vienna ruled that all artworks stolen by the former Emperor be returned. (The emissary tasked with returning the Codex could not decipher Leonardo’s mirror writing and took it for Chinese.)

The Codex contains not only engineering diagrams, anatomy studies, and artistic sketches, but also fables written by Leonardo, inspired by Florentine literature. And it features Leonardo’s famed “CV,” a letter he wrote to the Duke of Milan describing in nine points his qualifications for the post of military engineer. In point four, he writes, “I still have very convenient bombing methods that are easy to transport; they launch stones and similar such in a tempest full of smoke to frighten the enemy, causing great damage and confusion.”

As if in illustration, elsewhere in the Codex, the drawing above appears, “one of the most celebrated” of the collection." It was “shown to traveling foreigners visiting the Ambrosiana [the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan, where the Codex resides] since the 18th century, usually arousing much amazement.” It is still amazing, especially if we consider the possibility that its artistry might have been something of a byproduct for its creator, whose primary motivation seems to have been solving technical problems—in the most elegant ways imaginable.

See the complete digitization of Leonardo’s Codex Atlanticus here. And again, click "EN" for English at the bottom of the site, and then "How to Read" at the top of the site.

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

When Dracula Author Bram Stoker Wrote a Gushing Fan Letter to Walt Whitman (1870)

Every artist starts out as a fan, and in general we see the marks of early fandom on their mature work. The best, after all—as figures from Igor Stravinsky to William Faulkner have remarked—steal without compunction, taking what they like from their heroes and making it their own. But what exactly, we might wonder, did Dracula author Bram Stoker steal from his literary hero, Walt Whitman? I leave it to you to read the 1897 Gothic novel that spawned innumerable undead franchises and fandoms next to Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, the book that most inspired Stoker when it made its British debut in 1868.

First published in 1855, then rewritten over the rest of Whitman’s life, the book of poetry boldly celebrated the same pleasure and sensuality that Stoker’s novel made so dangerous. But Dracula was the work of a 50-year old writer. When Stoker first read Whitman, he was only 22, wide-eyed and romantic, and “grown from a sickly boy into a brawny athlete,” writes Meredith Hindley at the National Endowment for the Humanities magazine.

Whitman—himself a champion of robust masculine health (he once penned a manual called “Manly Health & Training”)—so appealed to the young Irish writer’s deep sensibilities that he wrote the older poet a gushing letter two years later in 1870.

Stoker’s fan letter certainly shows the Whitmanian influence, “a long stream of sentiment cascading through various emotions,” as Brain Pickings’ Maria Popova describes it, including “surging confidence bordering on hubris, delicate self-doubt, absolute artist-to-artist adoration.” Whitman, flattered and charmed, wrote a reply, but only after four years, during which Stoker sat on his letter, ashamed to mail it. “For four years, it haunted his desk, part muse and part goblin.” When he finally gathered the courage in 1876 to rewrite the emotional letter and put it in the mail, he was rewarded with the kind of praise that must have absolutely thrilled him.

“You did so well to write to me,” Whitman replied, “so unconventionally, so fresh, so manly, and affectionately too.” Thus began a literary friendship that lasted until Whitman’s death in 1892 and seems to have been as welcome to Whitman as to his biggest fan. A stroke had nearly incapacitated the poet in 1873 and sapped his health and strength for the last two decades of his life, leaving him, as he wrote, with a physique “entirely shatter’d—doubtless permanently—from paralysis and other ailments.” But “I am up and dress’d,” he added, “and get out every day a little, live here quite lonesome, but hearty, and good spirits.”

One also wonders if Stoker would have received such a warm response if he had mailed his original letter unchanged. The “previously unsent effusion,” notes Popova, “opens with an abrupt directness unguarded even by a form of address.” Put another way, it’s blunt, melodramatic, and overly familiar to the point of rudeness: “If you are the man I take you to be,” he begins, “you will like to get this letter. If you are not I don’t care whether you like it or not and only ask that you put it in to the fire without reading any farther.” Contrast this with the revised communication, which begins with the respectful salutation, “My dear Mr. Whitman,” and continues in relatively formal, though still highly spirited, vein.

Stoker had mellowed and matured, but he never left behind his adoration for Whitman and Leaves of Grass. When he eloquently sums up the effect reading the book and its original 1855 preface had on him—he echoes the feelings of millions of fans throughout the ages who have found a voice that speaks to them from far away of feelings they know intimately but cannot express at home:

Be assured of this Walt Whitman—that a man of less than half your own age, reared a conservative in a conservative country, and who has always heard your name cried down by the great mass of people who mention it, here felt his heat leap towards you across the Atlantic and his soul swelling at the words or rather the thoughts.

Read Stoker’s original and revised letters and Whitman’s brief, touching response at Brain Pickings.

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

Creative Commons Officially Launches a Search Engine That Indexes 300+ Million Public Domain Images

Heads up: Creative Commons has officially launched CC Search, a search engine that indexes over 300 million images from 19 image collections, "including cultural works from museums (the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cleveland Museum of Art), graphic designs and art works (Behance, DeviantArt), photos from Flickr, and an initial set of CC0 3D designs from Thingiverse." All of the indexed images are in the public domain and released under Creative Commons licenses--meaning the images are generally free to use in a non-commercial setting.

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Paris, New York & Havana Come to Life in Colorized Films Shot Between 1890 and 1931

Cities have long provided a rich environment for photography, at least to photographers not interested exclusively in nature. But only with the advent of the motion picture camera did the subject of cities find a photographic form that truly suited it. Hence the popularity in the 1920s of "city symphony" films, each of which sought to capture and present the real life of a different bustling industrial metropolis. But while city symphonies certainly hold up as works of art, they do make modern-day viewers wonder: what would all these capitals look like if I could gaze backward in time, looking not through the jittery, colorless medium of early motion-picture film, but with my own eyes?

Youtuber Ignacio López-Francos offers a step closer to the answer in the form of these four videos, each of which takes historical footage of a city, then corrects its speed and adds color to make it more lifelike.



At the top of the post we have "a collection of high quality remastered prints from the dawn of film taken in Belle Époque-era Paris, France from 1896-1900." Shot by the Lumière company (which was founded by Auguste and Louis Lumière, inventors of the projected motion picture), the sights captured by the film include the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Tuileries Garden, the then-new Eiffel Tower, and the now-soon-to-be-rehabilitated but then-intact Notre Dame cathedral.

The Paris footage was colorized using DeOldify, "a deep learning-based project for colorizing and restoring old images." So was the footage just above, which shows New York City in 1911 as shot by the Swedish company Svenska Biografteatern and released publicly by the Museum of Modern Art. "Produced only three years before the outbreak of World War I, the everyday life of the city recorded here — street traffic, people going about their business — has a casual, almost pastoral quality that differs from the modernist perspective of later city-symphony films," say the accompanying notes. "Take note of the surprising and remarkably timeless expression of boredom exhibited by a young girl filmed as she was chauffeured along Broadway in the front seat of a convertible limousine."

Shot twenty years later, these clips of New York's Theater District have also undergone the DeOldify treatment, which gets the bright lights (and numerous ballyhooing signs) of the big city a little closer to the stunning quality they must have had on a new arrival in the 1930s. The streets of Havana were seemingly quieter during that same decade, at least if the colorized footage below is to be believed. But then, the history of tourism in Cuba remembers the 1930s as something of a dull stretch after the high-living 1920s that came before, during the United States' days of Prohibition — let alone the even more daiquiri- and mojito-soaked 1950s that would come later, speaking of eras one dreams of seeing for oneself.

via Twisted Sifter

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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.





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