Enter a Digitized Collection of 38,000 Pamphlets & Periodicals From the French Revolution

“What other solution but revolution?” asks Jonah Walters of the conditions for most of the population in late-18th century France. The majority lived in abject poverty; “the economic subjugation in the countryside was profound.” The urban workers—or sans-culottes—fared little better. “The clergy and nobility,” on the other hand, “comprising about 1.6 percent of the population, were doing just fine—most nobles lived in extreme opulence.” This outline sketches the barest context for the resentment that fueled the violence of the French Revolution and the thousands of executions eventually carried out by the Revolutionary Tribunal.

Lawyer and orator Georges Danton, who had argued forcefully for the killing of Louis XVI, proposed the Tribunal, in fact, as a means of stemming terror. “I shall go so far as to say,” he declared, “that if a tribunal had been in existence” in the years between 1789 and 1793, “the people, who have been so often and so cruelly rebuked for the actions of these days, would not have covered them with blood.” He advocated that the tribunal “be terrible in order that the people may be spared the necessity of being terrible.” The following year, Danton himself was beheaded, accused of leniency and self-indulgence.

Like his contemporaries Robespierre and Marat, Danton’s story illustrates the revolutionaries’ eloquent idealism and their commitment to the execution of royalists, counterrevolutionaries, and thousands of accused criminals as a means of remaking the nation and fully destroying the Ancien Régime. Kingston University’s Marisa Linton sums up the political crisis:

The French went almost overnight from being an absolute monarchy to a political system in which the will of the people replaced that of the king. In the absence of traditions of parliamentary rule, the French fell back on universalist abstract principles and Enlightenment rhetoric which were to prove increasingly divisive and leave no space for legitimate opposition. In this climate, all political rivals had the potential to be denounced as conspirators against popular sovereignty.

As in the American Revolution a few years earlier, these debates took place in public via speeches, periodicals, and pamphlets, which were printed by the tens of thousands. Chicago’s Newberry Library French Revolution Collection houses on the Internet Archive “more than 30,000” such pamphlets and “more than 23,000 issues of 180 periodicals published between 1780 and 1810…. The collection represents the opinions of all the factions that opposed and defended the monarchy during the turbulent period between 1789 and 1799 and also contains innumerable ephemeral publications of the early Republic.”

Much of the impressive Newberry collection, “among the most comprehensive in the world,” has been digitized and made freely available via the French Revolution Pamphlets Digital Initiative. Additionally, the Newberry has an open project for translating these pamphlets into English “in order to broaden access, aid classroom instruction, and support scholarship.” The overwhelming majority of the materials are, of course, in French, but some few are also in Latin and other languages.

The pamphlet at the top is one of several translated by the students of DePaul University Professor Pascale-Anne Brault. This document announces the verdict of the Revolutionary Court against Jean-Baptiste Carrier, a former deputy of the National Convention who stood accused of horrific atrocities in the commission of his duties, including “drowning men, women, children” and “assassinating a large number of people and burning towns, where men and women had their throats cut and girls were raped.” The judgment claims that “Nero was less bloodthirsty” than Carrier and his accomplices.

Further up, we see the first page of a pamphlet written by René Louis Delagueulle, a member of the National Convention, detailing plans for “a Republican Education of the People.” Delagueulle begins his proposal with a set of justifications, among them the need for full employment. “This measure equally obliges all citizens to learn,” he writes, “at a set age, an art, a trade or a profession capable of procuring them the means of subsistence. We have decreed equality: we wish it not to be an empty name, that it remain illusory & without reality; for in a democratic & popular Republic, the law of equality is the only law that can bring about common happiness.”

Just above, see a pamphlet titled “The Declaration of the Rights of Women,” penned in 1792 by an anonymous collective of female French citizens writing under the pseudonym Philaletes (Greek for “lover of truth”). The pamphlet consists of seventeen articles enumerating the rights of free speech for French women. “Women are born, live, and die with the right to speak,” states the first article. “They are equal in their ambition in this regard.” The document ends with a “Dedication Epistle to Female Citizens,” which begins, “for too long the Assemblée Nationale has made you wait for the declaration of your rights; it is essential and urgent that they be proclaimed.”

These fascinating documents represent just a tiny sampling of the thousands of pamphlets available, though most of them remain to be translated into English. You can volunteer to help with the translation initiative here. And enter the enormous archive of nearly 40,000 pamphlets, organized by year, subject, creator, collection, and language, here.

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

The Causes & Prevalence of Suicide Explained by Two Videos from Alain de Botton’s School of Life

“Suicide,” writes Albert Camus in “The Myth of Sisyphus,” has never been dealt with except as a social phenomenon.” And yet, as Alain de Botton argues in his School of Life video above, at least when it comes to media and government priorities, contemporary societies prefer to hardly deal with the problem at all, even though it claims the lives of some 800,000 people every year. “It remains entirely strange,” says De Botton, “that through the media we should hear so much about killers and so little about those who take their own lives.”

Given that so much mass media seems to specialize in producing a fear of others, perhaps this is not so strange after all. However, when it comes to the allocation of government resources, most “in the wealthy nations tend overwhelmingly to direct their efforts to dealing with poverty, illness, and aging,” and devote little to the problem of suicide. This may be due to social stigma. “Suicide is the supreme reminder of our intense psychological vulnerability,” and in highly religious societies, like the United States, it carries an added stigmatization as a “sin.”

Nonetheless, “given that more people die by suicide than are collectively murdered, die in traffic accidents, or are killed by animals,” it should stand to reason that we would expend more effort on finding out why. Perhaps over and above philosophy and the social sciences, De Botton argues that literature alerts us to the importance of several qualities that make our lives matter, including “love, self acceptance, meaning, hope, status, pride, forgiveness.” Such intangibles have no price or value in the competitive marketplaces that increasingly dominate our lives.

The trivialization of psychological needs leads to another common feature of suicide—the “element of surprise.” The suicide of those we know, or thought we knew, nearly always comes as a shock, which De Botton takes as “evidence of an unwitting neglect of one another (and of ourselves).” It does not serve us at all to live in denial of suffering or push despair to the margins of thought. “We should always be mindful,” Arthur Schopenhauer wrote in 1818, “of the fact that no man is ever very far from the state in which he would readily want to seize a sword or poison in order to bring his existence to an end.”

Schopenhauer’s grim universalizing statement, however, does not accord with the vast differences in suicide rates across societies. Certain countries, like Kuwait, have rates close to zero, or 0.1 in 100,000. By contrast, China has the highest rate of all, at 25.6 in 100,000. One significant difference, De Botton argues, has to do with the “interpretation and acceptance of difficulty,” including “a greater acceptance of failure, a higher role for forgiveness,” and “a status system that honors intrinsic value over achievement.”

The difference in suicide rates between nations does not have anything to do, however, with wealth. “One of the most surprising aspects of suicide,” De Botton observes in the video above, is that rates tend to rise “markedly the richer and more developed a society becomes,” a phenomenon that might appear to “negate the whole purpose of economic growth”—that is, if we assume the purpose is the maximization of human well-being. The suicide rate of an “undeveloped country like the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” he notes, “is a fraction of the rate of a developed country like South Korea.”

De Botton does not address the problem of inequality within wealthy societies. The United States, for example, the wealthiest country in recorded history, also has the greatest degree of economic inequality in history. Here, suicide rates have risen an astonishing 25% overall and over 30% in half of the states since 1999. De Botton’s cultural explanation for widely varying suicide rates between different kinds of societies may help us understand that alarming increase.

Paraphrasing the work of sociologist Emile Durkheim, he tells us that “the crucial factor behind people’s decision to end their lives is not really wealth or poverty…. It’s the extent to which the surrounding culture ascribes responsibility for failure to individuals” rather than to external factors beyond our control. Ideologies of individualism and meritocracy create grossly exaggerated beliefs about our ability to influence events in our favor, and grossly exaggerate the shame and stigma heaped upon us when we cannot do so.

This makes high-profile celebrity suicides seem to us the ultimate conundrum, since such people appear, at least superficially, to have it "all": wealth, power, talent, status, and acclaim. But the celebrity culture that elevates some people beyond the reach of ordinary mortals can also be profoundly isolating, creating illusions of happiness rather than genuine fulfillment. We can never truly know what private griefs and personal feelings of failure and sorrow other people live with. Tending to our emotional needs, in spite of societal pressures and narratives, is critical for suicide prevention and can greatly deepen our care and compassion for ourselves and those around us.

Suicide is one of the top 10 causes of death in the U.S. right now. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for help and support.

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

How Dr. Martens’ Boots Are Made

In recent months, we've highlighted how Dr. Martens, the iconic boot maker, has tried to reinvent itself by creating more artistically inspired boots, some actually adorning the artwork of William Blake, Hieronymus Bosch, and traditional Japanese artists. These aren't your grandfather's Doc Martens, to be sure.

But however different Docs may now look on the outside, they haven't changed much on the inside. Just watch the video above, which takes you on a tour of "Dr. Martens' only UK factory on Cobbs Lane in Wollaston, Northamptonshire." The factory "employs 50 workers that make about 100,000 pairs of boots per year," all in the company's tried and true way....

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Optical Scanning Technology Lets Researchers Recover Lost Indigenous Languages from Old Wax Cylinder Recordings

In an 1878 North American Review description of his new invention, the phonograph, which transcribed sound on wax-covered metal cylinders, Thomas Edison suggested a number of possible uses: “Letter writing and all kinds of dictation without the aid of a stenographer,” “Phonographic books” for the blind, “the teaching of elocution,” and, of course, “Reproduction of music.” He did not, visionary though he was, conceive of one extraordinary use to which wax cylinders might be put—the recovery or reconstruction of extinct and endangered indigenous languages and cultures in California.

And yet, 140 years after Edison’s invention, this may be the most culturally significant use of the wax cylinder to date. “Among the thousands of wax cylinders” at UC Berkeley’s Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, writes Hyperallergic’s Allison Meier, “are songs and spoken-word recordings in 78 indigenous languages of California. Some of these languages, recorded between 1900 and 1938, no longer have living speakers.”

Such is the case with Yahi, a language spoken by a man called “Ishi,” who was supposedly the last surviving member of his culture when anthropologist Alfred Kroeber met him in 1911. Kroeber recorded nearly 6 hours of Ishi’s speech on 148 wax cylinders, many of which are now badly degraded.

“The existing versions” of these artifacts “sound terrible,” says Berkeley linguist Andrew Garrett in the National Science Foundation video at the top, but through digital reconstruction much of this rare audio can be restored. Garrett describes the project—supported jointly by the NSF and NEH—as a “digital repatriation of cultural heritage.” Using an optical scanning technique, scientists can recover data from these fragile materials without further damaging them. You can see audio preservationist Carl Haber describe the advanced methods above.

The project represents a scientific breakthrough and also a stark reminder of the genocide and humiliation of indigenous people in the American west. When he was found, “starving, disoriented and separated from his tribe,” writes Jessica Jimenez at The Daily Californian, Ishi was “believed to be the last Yahi man in existence because of the Three Knolls Massacre in 1866, in which the entire Yahi tribe was thought to have been slaughtered.” (According to another Berkeley scholar his story may be more complicated.) He was “put on display at the museum, where outsiders could watch him make arrows and describe aspects of Yahi culture.” He never revealed his name (“Ishi” means “man”) and died of tuberculosis in 1916.

The wax cylinders will allow scholars to recover other languages, stories, and songs from peoples destroyed or decimated by the 19th century “Indian Wars.” Between 1900 and 1940, Kroeber and his colleagues recorded “Native Californians from many regions and cultures,” the Berkeley project page explains, “speaking and singing; reciting histories, narratives and prayers, listing names for places and objects among many other things, all in a wide variety of languages. Many of the languages recorded on the cylinders have transformed, fallen out of use, or are no longer spoken at all, making this collection a unique and invaluable resource for linguists and contemporary community members hoping to learn about or revitalize languages, or retrieve important piece of cultural heritage.”

via Hyperallergic

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

Visualizing Dante’s Hell: See Maps & Drawings of Dante’s Inferno from the Renaissance Through Today

The light was departing. The brown air drew down
     all the earth’s creatures, calling them to rest
     from their day-roving, as I, one man alone,

prepared myself to face the double war
     of the journey and the pity, which memory
     shall here set down, nor hesitate, nor err.

Reading Dante’s Inferno, and Divine Comedy generally, can seem a daunting task, what with the book’s wealth of allusion to 14th century Florentine politics and medieval Catholic theology. Much depends upon a good translation. Maybe it’s fitting that the proverb about translators as traitors comes from Italian. The first Dante that came my way—the unabridged Carlyle-Okey-Wicksteed English translation—renders the poet’s terza rima in leaden prose, which may well be a literary betrayal.

Gone is the rhyme scheme, self-contained stanzas, and poetic compression, replaced by wordiness, antiquated diction, and needless density. I labored through the text and did not much enjoy it. I’m far from an expert by any stretch, but was much relieved to later discover John Ciardi’s more faithful English rendering, which immediately impresses upon the senses and the memory, as in the description above in the first stanzas of Canto II.

The sole advantage, perhaps, of the translation I first encountered lies in its use of illustrations, maps, and diagrams. While readers can follow the poem’s vivid action without visual aids, these lend to the text a kind of imaginative materiality: saying yes, of course, this is a real place—see, it’s right here! We can suspend our disbelief, perhaps, in Catholic doctrine and, doubly, in Dante’s weirdly officious, comically bureaucratic, scheme of hell.

Indeed, readers of Dante have been inspired to map his Inferno for almost as long as they have been inspired to translate it into other languages—and we might consider these maps more-or-less-faithful visual translations of the Inferno’s descriptions. One of the first maps of Dante’s hell (top) appeared in Sandro Botticelli’s series of ninety illustrations, which the Renaissance great and fellow Florentine made on commission for Lorenzo de’Medici in the 1480s and 90s.

Botticelli’s “Chart of Hell,” writes Deborah Parker, “has long been lauded as one of the most compelling visual representations… a panoptic display of the descent made by Dante and Virgil through the ‘abysmal valley of pain.’” Below it, we see one of Antonio Manetti’s 1506 woodcut illustrations, a series of cross-sections and detailed views. Maps continued to proliferate: see printmaker Antonio Maretti’s 1529 diagram further up, Joannes Stradanus’ 1587 version, above, and, below, a 1612 illustration below by Jacques Callot.

Dante’s hell lends itself to any number of visual treatments, from the purely schematic to the broadly imaginative and interpretive. Michelangelo Caetani’s 1855 cross-section chart, below, lacks the illustrative detail of other maps, but its use of color and highly organized labeling system makes it far more legible that Callot’s beautiful but busy drawing above.

Though we are within our rights as readers to see Dante’s hell as purely metaphorical, there are historical reasons beyond religious belief for why more literal maps became popular in the 15th century, “including,” writes Atlas Obscura, “the general popularity of cartography at the time and the Renaissance obsession with proportions and measurement.”

Even after hundreds of years of cultural shifts and upheavals, the Inferno and its humorous and horrific scenes of torture still retain a fascination for modern readers and for illustrators like Daniel Heald, whose 1994 map, above, while lacking Botticelli’s gilded brilliance, presents us with a clear visual guide through that perplexing valley of pain, which remains—in the right translation or, doubtless, in its original language—a pleasure for readers who are willing to descend into its circular depths. Or, short of that, we can take a digital train and escalators into an 8-bit video game version.

See more maps of Dante’s Inferno here, here, and here.

via Atlas Obscura

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

James Hill Plays Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” on the Ukulele: Watch One Musician Become a Complete Band

James Hill, an award-winning ukulele player and songwriter from Canada, has been called a "ukulele wunderkind," and an artist who "gives the ukulele its dignity back without ever taking himself too seriously." The video above puts Hill's lighter side and wunderkind talents on full display.

Performing live for a crowd in California, Hill and his "imaginary band" perform an enchanting version of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." With just a uke, Hill plays the bass line, percussion, and piano parts. Put it all together, and you have a fascinating one-man ukulele performance. But wait until you see what he can do with a uke, chopsticks and comb...

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“Back in Black,” “Stairway to Heaven,” “Welcome to the Jungle,” and Other Classic Rock Songs Played on Traditional Japanese Instruments

Name any classic rock band — or maybe any band, period — and you can rest assured that their biggest, most obsessive fan lives in Japan. Though it possesses a native musical culture of its own, with a rich history and a distinctive set of aesthetic sensibilities, that country has also cultivated great enthusiasm for the music of other lands. Just as 21st-century Japan continues to produce masters of such traditional instruments as the stringed koto, the bamboo shakuhachi flute, and the taiko drum, it also continues to produce increasingly all-knowing, all-collecting followers of bands like AC/DC, Guns N' Roses, and Led Zeppelin.

Seldom have those currents of Japan's music world had a venue to reliably meet — or at least it hadn't before the advent of NHK Blends. Produced by NHK World, the international channel of Japanese national broadcaster NHK, the show offers performances of well-known Western songs, usually rock and pop hits, interpreted with traditional Japanese instruments played in traditional settings by musicians in traditional dress.

Here we've embedded NHK Blends' renditions of "Back in Black," "Stairway to Heaven," and "Welcome to the Jungle," and on their videos page you can find many more: Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal" and "Beat It," Toto's "Africa," and the Beatles' "Let It Be."

Those all rank among NHK Blends' most popular videos, having racked up hundreds of thousands and even millions of views. This suggests that, no matter how many countless times we hear these songs on the car radio, at the gym, or while grocery-shopping, a sufficiently radical re-interpretation can still breathe new life into them. Some performances pull off extra dimensions of cultural transposition: the NHK Blends version of "Misirlou," for instance, takes a traditional piece of music from the Eastern Mediterranean and interprets it for the kokyo, a stringed instrument that originally came to Japan from China. Or rather, it interprets French guitarist Jean-Pierre Danel's interpretation of "surf guitar" king Dick Dale's famous version from 1961. Close your eyes and you can very nearly imagine the samurai picture Quentin Tarantino somehow hasn't yet made.

See the full list of songs here.

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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.

Watch Anthony Bourdain’s Free Show, Raw Craft Where He Visits Craftsmen Making Guitars, Tattoos, Motorcycles & More (RIP)

Why has food become such an object of interest in recent years? One possible explanation is that it represents one of the last pursuits still essentially untouchable by digital culture: for all you can write about and photograph food for the internet, you can't actually experience it there. Food, in other words, means physicality, dexterity, sensibility, and hand-craftsmanship in a concrete, visceral way that, in the 21st, century, has come to seem increasingly scarce. But another, shorter explanation sums the phenomenon up, just as plausibly, in two words: Anthony Bourdain.

Ever since he first entered the public eye at the end of the 1990s, late chef-writer-traveler-television host taught a reading, and later viewing public to appreciate not just food but all that goes into food: the ingredients, sure, the intense training and labor, of course, but most of all the many and varied cultural factors that converge on a meal. Bourdain found robust cultures everywhere, those that developed cart-filled streets of cities across the world to the kitchens of the most unassuming-looking restaurants and everywhere in between. He deeply respected not just those dedicated to the making and serving of food, but those dedicated to crafts of all kinds.

Bourdain's natural kinship with all craftsmen and craftswomen made him a natural choice to carry Raw Craft, a web series sponsored by the Balvenie, a popular-premium brand of Scotch whisky. In its fourteen episodes (each of which finds a way to feature a bottle of the Balvenie), Bourdain goes characteristically far and wide to visit the studios and workshops of real people making real suits, shoessaxophones, drums, guitarshandprinted books, furniture, motorcycles, and "traditionally feminine objects." That last may break somewhat from Bourdain's swaggering, masculine-if-not-macho image, but as the series' host he displays a good deal of enthusiasm for the subject of each episode, including the trip to the sponsor's own distillery in Dufftown, Scotland.

Naturally, Bourdain can engage on a whole other level in the episodes about food and food-related objects, such as pastries and hot chocolatekitchen knives, and, in the video at the top of the post, cast-iron skillets. Ever the participatory observer, he finishes that last by preparing steak au poivre with one of the workshop's own skillets on the flame of its own skillet-forging furnace. He takes it a step further, or several, in the episode with Japanese tattoo artist Takashi where, despite "running out of room" on his own much-tattooed skin, he commissions one more: a magnificent blue chrysanthemum on his shoulder, drawn and inked with only the most time-honored tools and techniques.

We even, during one of Bourdain's ink-receiving sessions with Takashi, glimpse a true craftsman-to-craftsman conversational exchange. Bourdain asks Takashi about something he's seen all of the many times he's been on the tattooing table: a junior artist will approach to watch and learn from the way a senior one works. Takashi, who had to go through a minor ordeal just to convince his own master to take him on as an apprentice, confirms both the universality and the importance of the practice: "If you stop learning, you are pretty much done, you know?" Bourdain, who could only have agreed with the sentiment, lived it to the very end. "I'd like it to last as long as I do," he says of his Takashi tattoo — "Which ain't that long," he adds, "but long enough, I hope." But surely no amount of time could ever satisfy a culinary, cultural, and intellectual appetite as prodigious as his.

You can watch the complete series of Raw Craft videos here.

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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.

The Plate Tectonic Evolution of the Earth Over 500 Million Years: Animated Video Takes You from Pangea, to 250 Million Years in the Future

Christopher R. Scotese, a geologist affiliated with Northwestern University, has created an animation showing "the plate tectonic evolution of the Earth from the time of Pangea, 240 million years ago, to the formation of Pangea Proxima, 250 million years in the future." The blurb accompanying the video on Youtube adds:

The animation starts with the modern world then winds it way back to 240 million years ago (Triassic). The animation then reverses direction, allowing us to see how Pangea rifted apart to form the modern continents and ocean basins. When the animation arrives back at the present-day, it continues for another 250 million years until the formation of the next Pangea, "Pangea Proxima".

According to an article published by NASA back in 2000, Scotese's visualization of the future is something of an educated "guesstimate."  "We don't really know the future, obviously," he says. "All we can do is make predictions of how plate motions will continue, what new things might happen, and where it will all end up." You can see his predictions play out above.

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The Ancient Astronomy of Stonehenge Decoded

The summer solstice draws nigh, and many of us will spend it bemoaning the fact that we have yet again failed to make it to Stonehenge to view the sun rising over its massive Heel Stone.

Don’t beat yourself up too badly.

According to Vox’s Senior Editorial Producer Joss Fong, above, it’s likely that the winter solstice was actually a far bigger deal to the Neolithic builders who engineered the site.

While much of it is now in ruins, archeologists, historians, astronomers, and other experts have been able to reconstruct what the ancient monument would have looked like in its heyday. The placement of the massive stones in carefully arranged concentric circles suggest that its feats of astronomy were no accident.

As Fong points out, the builders would not have known that the earth travels around the sun, nor that it tilts on its vertical axis, thus effecting where the sun’s rays will strike throughout the year.

They would, however, have had good cause to monitor any natural phenomena as it related to their agricultural practices.

The summer solstice would have come at the height of their growing season, but if this year’s sunrise celebrants spin 180 degrees, they will be facing in the same direction as those ancient builders would have when they arrived to celebrate the winter solstice with a sunset feast.

These days, the winter solstice attracts a sizable number of tourists, along with neo-druids, neo-pagans, and Wiccans.

Bundle up and join them, take a virtual tour, or at the very least, try your hand at assembling the nifty Aedes-Ars Stonehenge Model Kit Fong glues together like a pro.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her solo show Nurse!, in which one of Shakespeare’s best loved female characters hits the lecture circuit to set the record straight opens June 12 at The Tank in New York City. Follow her @AyunHalliday.





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    Open Culture editor Dan Colman scours the web for the best educational media. He finds the free courses and audio books you need, the language lessons & movies you want, and plenty of enlightenment in between.


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