The Codex Quetzalecatzin, an Extremely Rare Colored Mesoamerican Manuscript, Now Digitized and Put Online

To para­phrase Don­ald Rums­feld, there are known knowns in the art world, and there are unknown knowns. The Codex Quet­za­le­catzin, a rare col­ored Mesoamer­i­can man­u­script, recent­ly went from a unknown known (a French col­lec­tor owned it, and before them William Ran­dolph Hearst, and many oth­ers, for sev­er­al cen­turies) to a known known (the French col­lec­tor donat­ed it to the Library of Con­gress).

Bet­ter still, the Library has scanned the illus­trat­ed document–essentially a map of Mex­i­co City and Puebla, drawn up for both Span­ish col­o­niz­ers and indige­nous peo­ple to lay claim to the land–in super hi-res for the pub­lic and schol­ars world­wide to pore over. It dates from between 1570 and 1595.

Accord­ing to John Hessler of the Library’s Worlds Revealed blog, the map depicts the land owned by the de Leon fam­i­ly.

As is typ­i­cal for an Aztec, or Nahu­atl, codex of this ear­ly date, it relates the extent of land own­er­ship and prop­er­ties of a fam­i­ly line known as “de Leon,” most of the mem­bers of which are depict­ed on the man­u­script. With Nahu­atl styl­ized graph­ics and hiero­glyphs, it illus­trates the family’s geneal­o­gy and their descent from Lord-11 Quet­za­le­catzin, who in 1480, was the major polit­i­cal leader of the region. It is from him the Codex derives one of its many names.

The map is one of 450 sur­viv­ing pic­to­r­i­al man­u­scripts of the Mesoamer­i­can peri­od, and con­tains nat­ur­al pig­ments such as Maya blue and cochineal red (made from insects).

If it wasn’t so tied in to bloody Span­ish colo­nial­ism, you could say the Codex looks like a video game map, a la Leg­end of Zel­da. But instead it shows a region in tran­si­tion, between the old order and a new world pop­u­lat­ed by Catholic church­es, and is all the more fas­ci­nat­ing.

Click here to find the dig­i­tized ver­sion of the Codex Quet­za­le­catzin at the Library of Con­gress.

via LoC

Relat­ed Con­tent:

An Intro­duc­tion to the Codex Seraphini­anus, the Strangest Book Ever Pub­lished

Leonar­do da Vinci’s Vision­ary Note­books Now Online: Browse 570 Dig­i­tized Pages

Hear The Epic of Gil­gamesh Read in its Orig­i­nal Ancient Lan­guage, Akka­di­an

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

An Espresso Maker Made in Le Corbusier’s Brutalist Architectural Style: Raw Concrete on the Outside, High-End Parts on the Inside

From the 1950s through the 1970s, Bru­tal­ist archi­tec­ture flour­ished in North Amer­i­ca and Europe (both West and East) and many coun­tries beyond. Made out of raw con­crete, Bru­tal­ist buildings–usually munic­i­pal build­ings, cam­pus­es, and hous­ing projects–have an almost unfin­ished look to them. The first and most famous exam­ple of this archi­tec­tur­al style is the Unité d’habi­ta­tion, the hous­ing com­plex built by Le Cor­busier in Mar­seille between 1947 and 1952.

Though Bru­tal­ism has since fall­en out of fash­ion, it might be poised for a come­back, espe­cial­ly if this new espres­so machine is any indi­ca­tion. After a suc­cess­ful Kick­starter cam­paign this sum­mer (rais­ing $145k), the Nor­we­gian-Cal­i­forn­ian design firm Mon­taag Prod­ucts is putting the fin­ish­ing touch­es on a bru­tal­ist espres­so mak­er.

They want­ed to design a machine made out of “com­plete­ly hon­est mate­ri­als.” Hence the raw con­crete. Inside the espres­so mak­er, how­ev­er, they’ve used mate­ri­als typ­i­cal­ly found inside $1300 Ital­ian machines, accord­ing to Food & Wine. You can pre-order the machine at Indiegogo for $799. It should be ready in March (or there­abouts).

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, 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. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Wake Up & Smell the Cof­fee: The New All-in-One Cof­fee-Mak­er/Alarm Clock is Final­ly Here!

Cof­fee Entre­pre­neur Rena­to Bialet­ti Gets Buried in the Espres­so Mak­er He Made Famous

Life and Death of an Espres­so Shot: Choose Your Sound­track

Physics & Caf­feine: Stop Motion Film Uses a Cup of Cof­fee to Explain Key Con­cepts in Physics

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What Books Did Wunderkind Philosopher J.S. Mill Read Between Ages 3 and 7?: Plato’s Apology (in Ancient Greek), Cervantes’ Don Quixote & Much More

I left much of my read­ing of C.S. Lewis behind, but one quote of his will stay with me for life: “It is a good rule,” he advised, “after read­ing a new book, nev­er to allow your­self anoth­er new one till you have read an old one in between.” I believe his advice is invalu­able for main­tain­ing a bal­anced per­spec­tive and achiev­ing a healthy crit­i­cal dis­tance from the tumult of the present.

Read­ing works of ancient writ­ers shows us how alike the mores and the crises of the ancients were to ours, and how vast­ly dif­fer­ent. Those sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences can help us eval­u­ate cer­tain cur­rent ortho­dox­ies with greater wis­dom. And that’s not to men­tion count­less his­to­ri­ans, nov­el­ists, poets, play­wrights, crit­ics, and philoso­phers from the past few hun­dred years, or sev­er­al decades, who have much to teach us about where our mod­ern ideas came from and how much they’ve devi­at­ed from their prece­dents.

For exam­ple, 19th cen­tu­ry lib­er­al polit­i­cal philoso­pher John Stu­art Mill is now wide­ly admired by con­ser­v­a­tive and lib­er­tar­i­an writ­ers and aca­d­e­mics as a pro­po­nent of indi­vid­ual eco­nom­ic lib­er­ty, the free mar­ket, and a flat tax. And they are not wrong, he was all of that, in his ear­ly thought. (Mill lat­er sup­port­ed sev­er­al social­ist caus­es.) Many of his oth­er polit­i­cal views might be denounced by quite a few as the excess­es of cam­pus activist left­ism. Adam Gop­nik sum­ma­rizes the Vic­to­ri­an philosopher’s gen­er­ous slate of posi­tions:

Mill believed in com­plete equal­i­ty between the sex­es, not just women’s col­leges and, some­day, female suf­frage but absolute par­i­ty; he believed in equal process for all, the end of slav­ery, votes for the work­ing class­es, and the right to birth con­trol (he was arrest­ed at sev­en­teen for help­ing poor peo­ple obtain con­tra­cep­tion), and in the com­mon intel­li­gence of all the races of mankind. He led the fight for due process for detainees accused of ter­ror­ism; argued for teach­ing Ara­bic, in order not to alien­ate poten­tial native rad­i­cals.…

Can peo­ple to Mill’s left on eco­nom­ics learn some­thing from him? Sure. Can peo­ple to his right on near­ly every­thing else learn a thing or two? It’s worth a shot. Mill cham­pi­oned engag­ing those with whom we dis­agree (he great­ly admired Thomas Car­lyle; the two could­n’t have been more dif­fer­ent in many respects). He also argued vig­or­ous­ly for “’lib­er­ty of the press’ as one of the secu­ri­ties against cor­rupt or tyran­ni­cal gov­ern­ment.” Before nod­ding your head in agree­ment—read Mill’s argu­ments. He might not agree with you.

And what did John Stu­art Mill read? In Chap­ter One of his auto­bi­og­ra­phy, Mill gives a detailed account of his clas­si­cal edu­ca­tion from ages 3–7, dur­ing which time he read “the whole of Herodotus,” “the first six dia­logues of Pla­to,” “part of Lucian,” all in their orig­i­nal Greek, of course, as any young gen­tle­man of the time would. Mil­l’s father, Scot­tish philoso­pher James Mill, inten­tion­al­ly set out to cre­ate a genius with this advanced course of study.

Lapham’s Quar­ter­ly excerpt­ed the pas­sage, and turned the many books Mill men­tions into a list called “Ear­ly Edu­ca­tion.” You can find all of the titles below, includ­ing the ancients men­tioned and over two dozen “mod­ern” works (that is, since the time of the Renais­sance) Mill read as a child in Eng­lish, includ­ing Cer­vantes’ mam­moth Don Quixote. Most of us will have to make do with trans­la­tions of the Greek texts, but take heart, even Mill “learnt no Latin until my eighth year.” The list shows not only Mill’s daunt­ing pre­coc­i­ty, but also how essen­tial clas­si­cal texts were to well-edu­cat­ed Euro­peans of any age.

It also high­lights what kinds of texts were val­ued by Mil­l’s soci­ety, or at least by his father. All of the authors but one are men, all of them are Euro­peans, most of the works are his­to­ries and biogra­phies. Giv­en Mill’s broad views, his own rec­om­mend­ed read­ing list might look dif­fer­ent. Nonethe­less, Mil­l’s account of his extra­or­di­nary ear­ly years gives us a fas­ci­nat­ing look at the rel­a­tive breadth of a lib­er­al edu­ca­tion in 19th cen­tu­ry Britain. What ancient authors did you read as a young stu­dent? Or do you read now, between books, essays, arti­cles, or Twit­ter­storms du jour?


In Greek

Aesop–The Fables

Xenophon–The Anaba­sis, Memo­ri­als of Socrates, The Cry­opadeia 

Herodotus–The His­to­ries

Dio­genes Laer­tius–some of The Lives of Philoso­phers

Lucian–various works

Isocrates–parts of To Demon­i­cus and To Nic­o­cles 

Pla­to--Euthy­phro, Apol­o­gy, Crito, Phae­do, Craty­lus, Theaete­tus


In Eng­lish

William Robert­son–The His­to­ry of Amer­i­ca, The His­to­ry of the Reign of the Emper­or Charles V, The His­to­ry of Scot­land Dur­ing the Reigns of Queen Mary and King James VI

David Hume–The His­to­ry of Eng­land

Edward Gib­bon–The His­to­ry of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Robert Watson–The His­to­ry of the Reign of Philip II, King of Spain

Robert Wat­son and William Thomp­son–The His­to­ry of the Reign of Philip III, King of Spain

Nathaniel Hooke–The Roman His­to­ry, from the Build­ing of Rome to the Ruin of the Com­mon­wealth 

Charles Rollin–The Ancient His­to­ry of the Egyp­tians, Carthagini­ans, Assyr­i­ans, Baby­lo­ni­ans, Medes and Per­sians, Mace­do­nians and Gre­cians

Plutarch–Par­al­lel Lives

Gilbert Bur­net--Bish­op Bur­net’s His­to­ry of His Own Time

The Annu­al Reg­is­ter of World Events, A Review of the Year (1758–1788)

John Mil­lar–An His­tor­i­cal View of the Eng­lish Gov­ern­ment

Johann Lorenz von Mosheim–An Eccle­si­as­ti­cal His­to­ry

Thomas McCrie–The Life of John Knox

William Sewell–The His­to­ry of the Rise, Increase, and Progress of the Chris­t­ian Peo­ple Called Quak­ers 

Thomas Wight and John Rut­ty–A His­to­ry of the Rise and Progress of Peo­ple Called Quak­ers in Ire­land

Philip Beaver–African Mem­o­ran­da

David Collins–An Account of the Eng­lish Colony in New South Wales

George Anson–A Voy­age Round the World

Daniel Defoe–Robin­son Cru­soe

The Ara­bi­an Nights and Ara­bi­an Tales

Miguel de Cer­vantes–Don Quixote

Maria Edge­worth–Pop­u­lar Tales

Hen­ry Brooke–The Fool of Qual­i­ty; or the His­to­ry of Hen­ry, Earl of More­land

via Lapham’s Quar­ter­ly

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Noam Chom­sky Defines What It Means to Be a Tru­ly Edu­cat­ed Per­son

Harold Bloom Cre­ates a Mas­sive List of Works in The “West­ern Canon”: Read Many of the Books Free Online

Intro­duc­tion to Polit­i­cal Phi­los­o­phy: A Free Yale Course

Leo Strauss: 15 Polit­i­cal Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es Online

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

Carl Van Vechten’s 9,000 Portraits of Great 20th Century Cultural Icons: Billie Holiday, Orson Welles, Dizzy Gillespie & Beyond

Image above and below by Carl Van Vecht­en, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Amer­i­cans have long con­sid­ered New York City, at least dur­ing its rel­a­tive­ly inex­pen­sive eras or in its rel­a­tive­ly expen­sive areas, a haven for every type of artist and mem­bers of all sub­cul­tures. The den­si­ty of its pop­u­la­tion, by Amer­i­can stan­dards, also presents its denizens with the oppor­tu­ni­ty to cross between one artis­tic or sub­cul­tur­al realm and anoth­er with ease — or with geo­graph­i­cal ease, any­way. Few New York fig­ures crossed as many such bound­aries as cre­ative­ly in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry as a Cedar Rapids-born writer and pho­tog­ra­ph­er named Carl van Vecht­en.

“When Van Vecht­en first arrived in New York, in 1906, there were few signs that he would ever attempt to appoint him­self bard of Harlem,” writes Kele­fa San­neh in New York­er piece on Van Vecht­en’s life. “He was a self-con­scious­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed exile from the Mid­west, and he was quick­ly hired by the Times as a music and dance crit­ic.” In addi­tion, to his crit­i­cism, “he also pub­lished a series of mis­chie­vous nov­els that were notable main­ly, one crit­ic observed, for their ‘annoy­ing man­ner­isms.’ ” (The crit­ic? Prob­a­bly the author him­self.) And the longer Van Vecht­en lived in New York, “the more inter­est­ed he became in the sights and sounds of Harlem, where rau­cous and inven­tive night clubs were thriv­ing under Pro­hi­bi­tion.”

The white Van Vecht­en wrote a nov­el about black life in Harlem, insist­ing on a title that I doubt I can even type here. It expressed what San­neh calls “his con­vic­tion that Negro cul­ture was the essence of Amer­i­ca,” which went with “his simul­ta­ne­ous fas­ci­na­tion with the avant-garde and the broad­ly pop­u­lar; and his string of sex­u­al rela­tion­ships with men, which were an open secret dur­ing his life. Van Vechten’s tastes were var­ied: his bib­li­og­ra­phy includes an eru­dite cul­tur­al his­to­ry of the house cat, and in his lat­er decades he became an accom­plished por­trait pho­tog­ra­ph­er.” Black, white, or oth­er­wise, near­ly every major fig­ure in the Amer­i­can cul­ture of the day seems to have sat for his cam­era: actors, writ­ers, musi­cians, intel­lec­tu­als, archi­tects, mag­nates, and many oth­er types besides.

Some of the sub­jects of Van Vecht­en’s over 9,000 por­traits, all brows­able online at Yale’s Bei­necke Rare Book and Man­u­script Library, were his friends: Gertrude Stein, and Langston Hugh­es, for instance, both of whom expressed great enthu­si­asm for Van Vecht­en’s writ­ing on black cul­ture. Oth­ers cre­at­ed that black cul­ture, now known as the Harlem Renais­sance: Dizzy Gille­spie, Bil­lie Hol­l­i­day, James Bald­win. Oth­ers made up the cul­ture of glob­al celebri­ty, then only in its infan­cy: Orson Welles, Lotte Ley­na, Lau­rence Olivi­er.

They, and more so Van Vecht­en him­self, knew that to become an icon in the 20th cen­tu­ry, you need­ed to do much more than excel in the human realm: you had to tran­scend it, ascend­ing into that of the image. If you suf­fi­cient­ly fas­ci­nat­ed Van Vecht­en, it seems, he was only too glad to help you on your way there. See thou­sands of his por­traits at this Yale web­site.

Por­traits in order of appear­ance on this page include: Bil­lie Hol­l­i­day, Orson Welles, James Bald­win, Gertrude Stein, and Dizzy Gille­spie. All come cour­tesy of the Van Vecht­en Col­lec­tion at Library of Con­gress.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A 1932 Illus­trat­ed Map of Harlem’s Night Clubs: From the Cot­ton Club to the Savoy Ball­room

Dis­cov­er Langston Hugh­es’ Rent Par­ty Ads & The Harlem Renais­sance Tra­di­tion of Play­ing Gigs to Keep Roofs Over Heads

Andy Warhol’s 85 Polaroid Por­traits: Mick Jag­ger, Yoko Ono, O.J. Simp­son & Many Oth­ers (1970–1987)

200,000 Pho­tos from the George East­man Muse­um, the World’s Old­est Pho­tog­ra­phy Col­lec­tion, Now Avail­able Online

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.

A Map Showing How Much Time It Takes to Learn Foreign Languages: From Easiest to Hardest

Do you want to speak more lan­guages? Sure, as Sal­ly Struthers used to say so often, we all do. But the require­ments of attain­ing pro­fi­cien­cy in any for­eign tongue, no doubt unlike those cor­re­spon­dence cours­es pitched by that All in the Fam­i­ly star turned day­time TV icon, can seem frus­trat­ing­ly demand­ing and unclear. But thanks to the research efforts of the For­eign Ser­vice Insti­tute, the cen­ter of for­eign-lan­guage train­ing for the Unit­ed States gov­ern­ment for the past 70 years, you can get a sense of how much time it takes, as a native or native-lev­el Eng­lish speak­er, to mas­ter any of a host of lan­guages spo­ken all across the world.

The map above visu­al­izes the lan­guages of Europe (at least those deemed diplo­mat­i­cal­ly impor­tant enough to be taught at the FSI), col­or­ing them accord­ing the aver­age time com­mit­ment they require of an Eng­lish speak­er. In pink, we have the Eng­lish-speak­ing coun­tries. The red coun­tries speak Cat­e­go­ry I lan­guages, those most close­ly relat­ed to Eng­lish and thus learn­able in 575 to 600 hours of study: the tra­di­tion­al high-school for­eign lan­guages of Span­ish and French, for instance, or the less com­mon­ly taught but just about as eas­i­ly learn­able Por­tuguese and Ital­ian. If you’d like a lit­tle more chal­lenge, why not try your hand at Ger­man, whose 750 hours of study puts it in Cat­e­go­ry II — quite lit­er­al­ly, a cat­e­go­ry of its own?

In total, the FSI ranks lan­guages into six cat­e­gories of dif­fi­cul­ty, includ­ing Eng­lish’s Cat­e­go­ry 0. The high­er up the scale you go, the less rec­og­niz­able the lan­guages might look to an Eng­lish-speak­ing monoglot. Cat­e­go­ry III con­tains no Euro­pean lan­guages at all (though it does con­tain Indone­sian, wide­ly regard­ed as one of the objec­tive­ly eas­i­est lan­guages to learn). Cat­e­go­ry IV offers a huge vari­ety of lan­guages from Amhar­ic to Czech to Nepali to Taga­log, each demand­ing 44 weeks (or 1100 hours) of study. Then, at the very sum­mit of the lin­guis­tic moun­tain, we find the switched-up gram­mar, high­ly unfa­mil­iar scripts, and poten­tial­ly mys­ti­fy­ing cul­tur­al assump­tions of Cat­e­go­ry V, “lan­guages which are excep­tion­al­ly dif­fi­cult for native Eng­lish speak­ers.”

To that most for­mi­da­ble group belong Ara­bic, Chi­nese both Man­darin and Can­tonese, Kore­an, and — this with an aster­isk mean­ing “usu­al­ly more dif­fi­cult than oth­er lan­guages in the same cat­e­go­ry” — Japan­ese. Now if, like me, you con­sid­er study­ing for­eign lan­guages one of your main pur­suits, you know that pos­sess­ing a gen­uine inter­est in a lan­guage — in its mechan­ics, in its ongo­ing evo­lu­tion, in the cul­tures that cre­at­ed it and the cul­tures it in turn cre­ates — can do won­ders to get you through even the most aggra­vat­ing dif­fi­cul­ties on the long jour­ney to com­mand­ing it. Then again, I’m also a native Eng­lish speak­er who chose to move to Korea, where I study not just the Category‑V Kore­an but the Category‑V* Japan­ese through Kore­an; you might want to take with a grain of salt the words, in any lan­guage, of so obvi­ous a masochist.

You’ll find the full For­eign Ser­vice Insti­tute lan­guage dif­fi­cul­ty rank­ing list below. No mat­ter which cat­e­go­ry you’d like to take on, you can get a start at our Free For­eign Lan­guage Lessons col­lec­tion, many of whose mate­ri­als come pro­duced by the FSI itself.

Cat­e­go­ry I: 23–24 weeks (575–600 hours)
Lan­guages close­ly relat­ed to Eng­lish
Cat­e­go­ry II: 30 weeks (750 hours)
Lan­guages sim­i­lar to Eng­lish
Cat­e­go­ry III: 36 weeks (900 hours)
Lan­guages with lin­guis­tic and/or cul­tur­al dif­fer­ences from Eng­lish
Cat­e­go­ry IV: 44 weeks (1100 hours)
Lan­guages with sig­nif­i­cant lin­guis­tic and/or cul­tur­al dif­fer­ences from Eng­lish
Per­sian (Dari, Far­si, Tajik)
Cat­e­go­ry V: 88 weeks (2200 hours)
Lan­guages which are excep­tion­al­ly dif­fi­cult for native Eng­lish speak­ers
Can­tonese (Chi­nese)
Man­darin (Chi­nese)
* Usu­al­ly more dif­fi­cult than oth­er lan­guages in the same cat­e­go­ry.

via Big Think

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Learn 48 Lan­guages Online for Free: Span­ish, Chi­nese, Eng­lish & More

What Are the Most Effec­tive Strate­gies for Learn­ing a For­eign Lan­guage?: Six TED Talks Pro­vide the Answers

215 Hours of Free For­eign Lan­guage Lessons on Spo­ti­fy: French, Chi­nese, Ger­man, Russ­ian & More

The Tree of Lan­guages Illus­trat­ed in a Big, Beau­ti­ful Info­graph­ic

Where Did the Eng­lish Lan­guage Come From?: An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion

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.

Ernst Haeckel’s Sublime Drawings of Flora and Fauna: The Beautiful Scientific Drawings That Influenced Europe’s Art Nouveau Movement (1889)

If you fol­low the ongo­ing beef many pop­u­lar sci­en­tists have with phi­los­o­phy, you’d be for­giv­en for think­ing the two dis­ci­plines have noth­ing to say to each oth­er. That’s a sad­ly false impres­sion, though they have become almost entire­ly sep­a­rate pro­fes­sion­al insti­tu­tions. But dur­ing the first, say, 200 years of mod­ern sci­ence, sci­en­tists were “nat­ur­al philosophers”—often as well versed in log­ic, meta­physics, or the­ol­o­gy as they were in math­e­mat­ics and tax­onomies. And most of them were artists too of one kind or anoth­er. Sci­en­tists had to learn to draw in order to illus­trate their find­ings before mass-pro­duced pho­tog­ra­phy and com­put­er imag­ing could do it for them. Many sci­en­tists have been fine artists indeed, rival­ing the greats, and they’ve made very fine musi­cians as well.

And then there’s Ernst Hein­rich Haeck­el, a Ger­man biol­o­gist and nat­u­ral­ist, philoso­pher and physi­cian, and pro­po­nent of Dar­win­ism who described and named thou­sands of species, mapped them on a genealog­i­cal tree, and “coined sev­er­al sci­en­tif­ic terms com­mon­ly known today,” This is Colos­sal writes, “such as ecol­o­gy, phy­lum, and stem cell.” That’s an impres­sive resume, isn’t it? Oh, and check out his art—his bril­liant­ly col­ored, ele­gant­ly ren­dered, high­ly styl­ized depic­tions of “far flung flo­ra and fau­na,” of microbes and nat­ur­al pat­terns, in designs that inspired the Art Nou­veau move­ment. “Each organ­ism Haeck­el drew has an almost abstract form,” notes Kather­ine Schwab at Fast Co. Design, “as if it’s a whim­si­cal fan­ta­sy he dreamed up rather than a real crea­ture he exam­ined under a micro­scope. His draw­ings of sponges reveal their intense­ly geo­met­ric structure—they look archi­tec­tur­al, like feats of engi­neer­ing.”

Haeck­el pub­lished 100 fab­u­lous prints begin­ning in 1889 in a series of ten books called Kun­st­for­men der Natur (“Art Forms in Nature”), col­lect­ed in two vol­umes in 1904. The aston­ish­ing work was “not just a book of illus­tra­tions but also the sum­ma­tion of his view of the world,” one which embraced the new sci­ence of Dar­win­ian evo­lu­tion whole­heart­ed­ly, writes schol­ar Olaf Brei­d­bach in his 2006 Visions of Nature.

Haeckel’s method was a holis­tic one, in which art, sci­ence, and phi­los­o­phy were com­ple­men­tary approach­es to the same sub­ject. He “sought to secure the atten­tion of those with an inter­est in the beau­ties of nature,” writes pro­fes­sor of zool­o­gy Rain­er Will­mann in a new book from Taschen called The Art and Sci­ence of Ernst Haeck­el­, “and to empha­size, through this rare instance of the inter­play of sci­ence and aes­thet­ics, the prox­im­i­ty of these two realms.”

The gor­geous Taschen book includes 450 of Haeckel’s draw­ings, water­col­ors, and sketch­es, spread across 704 pages, and it’s expen­sive. But you can see all 100 of Haeckel’s orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished prints in zoomable high-res­o­lu­tion scans here. Or pur­chase a one-vol­ume reprint of the orig­i­nal Art Forms in Nature, with its 100 glo­ri­ous prints, through this Dover pub­li­ca­tion, which describes Haeckel’s art as “hav­ing caused the accep­tance of Dar­win­ism in Europe…. Today, although no one is great­ly inter­est­ed in Haeck­el the biol­o­gist-philoso­pher, his work is increas­ing­ly prized for some­thing he him­self would prob­a­bly have con­sid­ered sec­ondary.” It’s a shame his sci­en­tif­ic lega­cy lies neglect­ed, if that’s so, but it sure­ly lives on through his art, which may be just as need­ed now to illus­trate the won­ders of evo­lu­tion­ary biol­o­gy and the nat­ur­al world as it was in Haeckel’s time.

via This is Colos­sal

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Two Mil­lion Won­drous Nature Illus­tra­tions Put Online by The Bio­di­ver­si­ty Her­itage Library

16,000 Pages of Charles Darwin’s Writ­ing on Evo­lu­tion Now Dig­i­tized and Avail­able Online

New Study: Immers­ing Your­self in Art, Music & Nature Might Reduce Inflam­ma­tion & Increase Life Expectan­cy

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

Mister Rogers, Sesame Street & Jim Henson Introduce Kids to the Synthesizer with the Help of Herbie Hancock, Thomas Dolby & Bruce Haack

Does your child have a musi­cal instru­ment? That’s good. Tak­en a few music lessons? Even bet­ter. If they’re so inclined, learn­ing music is one of the best things kids can do for their devel­op­ing brains, whether or not they make a career of the endeav­or. But one doesn’t need clas­si­cal train­ing or jazz chops to make music, or even to become a musi­cian. Those skills have served many an elec­tron­ic musi­cian, sure, but many oth­ers have cre­at­ed mov­ing, com­plex music with inge­nu­ity, fine­ly-tuned ears, tech smarts, and wild­ly exper­i­men­tal atti­tudes.

Then there are elec­tron­ic artists, like Bruce Haack, Her­bie Han­cock, and Thomas Dol­by, who com­bined fine musi­cian­ship with all of the above qual­i­ties and made peo­ple stop and won­der, peo­ple who were not nec­es­sar­i­ly fans of elec­tron­ic music, and who did­n’t know very much about it.

None of these artists felt it beneath them to bring their art fur­ther down to earth, to the lev­el of the kids who watched Mis­ter Rogers’ Neigh­bor­hood or Sesame Street. On the con­trary, they’re nat­ur­al edu­ca­tors, with a performer’s instinct for tim­ing and audi­ence and a geek’s instinct for high­light­ing the coolest tech­ni­cal bits. But leave it to Mis­ter Rogers him­self, above, to cel­e­brate the music and the play­ful­ness of syn­the­sized sound in his mild-man­nered Cole Porter-ish way, to the accom­pa­ni­ment of a good-old fash­ioned piano and one of his mother’s sig­na­ture hand­knit sweaters, in green.

Above, we have the weird wonky Haack, a musi­cal prodi­gy who stud­ied at Juil­liard, and who loved noth­ing more than mak­ing children’s records with his part­ner, children’s dancer Esther Nel­son, and cre­at­ing musi­cal instru­ments from house­hold objects and hand­wired cir­cuit­ry that was acti­vat­ed by human touch. Fred Rogers was so tak­en with Haack’s play­ful­ness that he had the com­pos­er and Nel­son on a long seg­ment of his show. You may or may not know that Haack’s work was inspired by pey­ote and that he record­ed a rock opera called The Elec­tric Lucifer about a war between heav­en and hell, but you’ll prob­a­bly sense there’s more to him than meets the eye. Rogers and the kids are mes­mer­ized (see Part 2 of the seg­ment here.)

Her­bie Hancock’s appear­ance on Sesame Street oper­ates much more on a get to know you lev­el than the gestalt dance ther­a­py per­for­mance art of Haack and Nel­son. He jams out; charms future Fresh Prince of Bel-Air star Tatyana Ali by turn­ing her name into high-pitched cho­rus of voic­es; and explains the many func­tions of his Fairlight CMI, a dig­i­tal syn­the­siz­er born in the same year as the young actress. The tech­nol­o­gy isn’t near­ly as inter­est­ing as Haack’s home­made curios, giv­en that every one of the Fairlight func­tions can be fit into an app these days. The joy lies in watch­ing the kids warm to Han­cock and the then-new tech­nol­o­gy.

When it comes to Thomas Dolby’s appear­ance on the Jim Hen­son Company’s The Ghost of Faffn­er Hall pro­gram, we are in the posi­tion of the child audi­ence. Dol­by, with his pecu­liar Eng­lish inten­si­ty, plays a mad sci­en­tist char­ac­ter who stares into the cam­era as he demon­strates his col­lec­tion of syn­the­siz­ers, ana­log and dig­i­tal, for view­ers. Dolby’s per­for­mance might have been aid­ed by some real kids to play off of, but his “fly in a match­box” exam­ple will eas­i­ly help you and your young ones under­stand the basic prin­ci­ples at work in syn­the­siz­ing sound. These play­ful tuto­ri­als were made for kids in 1968, 83, and 89 respec­tive­ly, and maybe they can still work mag­ic on young 21st cen­tu­ry minds. But, as Fred Rogers says, “grownups like to play too, sure. And if you look and lis­ten care­ful­ly through this world, you’ll find lots of things that are play­ful.” Few grownups have been bet­ter author­i­ties on the sub­ject.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Dis­cov­er­ing Elec­tron­ic Music: 1983 Doc­u­men­tary Offers a Fun & Edu­ca­tion­al Intro­duc­tion to Elec­tron­ic Music

How the Moog Syn­the­siz­er Changed the Sound of Music

The His­to­ry of Elec­tron­ic Music in 476 Tracks (1937–2001)

Two Doc­u­men­taries Intro­duce Delia Der­byshire, the Pio­neer in Elec­tron­ic Music


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

Visit Monte Testaccio, the Ancient Roman Hill Made of 50 Million Crushed Olive Oil Jugs

Image by pat­ri­moni gen­cat, via Flickr Com­mons

It may be one of the more curi­ous man­made garbage piles on our plan­et. Locat­ed in Rome, and dat­ing back to 140 A.D., Monte Tes­tac­cio ris­es 150 feet high. It cov­ers some 220,000 square feet. And it’s made almost entire­ly of 53 mil­lion shat­tered amphorae–that is, Roman jugs used to trans­port olive oil dur­ing ancient times. How did the rem­nants of so many amphorae end up here? The web site Olive Oil Times offers this expla­na­tion:

First­ly, the site of the mound on the east bank of the Tiber is locat­ed near the Hor­rea Gal­bae – a huge com­plex of state con­trolled ware­hous­es for the pub­lic grain sup­ply as well as wine, food and build­ing mate­ri­als. As ships came from abroad bear­ing the olive oil sup­plies, the trans­port amphorae were decant­ed into small­er con­tain­ers and the used ves­sels dis­card­ed near­by.

There’s a rea­son for this: Due to the clay uti­lized to make the amphorae not being lined with a glaze, after trans­porta­tion of olive oil, the amphorae could not be re-used because the oil cre­at­ed a ran­cid odour with­in the fab­ric of the clay.

You might con­sid­er this Roman garbage dump an his­tor­i­cal odd­i­ty. But as they say, one man’s trash is anoth­er man’s trea­sure. And accord­ing to Archae­ol­o­gy (a web­site of the Archae­o­log­i­cal Insti­tute of Amer­i­ca) Monte Tes­tac­cio promis­es to reveal much about the inner-work­ings of the Roman econ­o­my. They write:

As the mod­ern glob­al econ­o­my depends on light sweet crude, so too the ancient Romans depend­ed on oil—olive oil. And for more than 250 years, from at least the first cen­tu­ry A.D., an enor­mous num­ber of amphoras filled with olive oil came by ship from the Roman provinces into the city itself, where they were unloaded, emp­tied, and then tak­en to Monte Tes­tac­cio and thrown away. In the absence of writ­ten records or lit­er­a­ture on the sub­ject, study­ing these amphoras is the best way to answer some of the most vex­ing ques­tions con­cern­ing the Roman economy—How did it oper­ate? How much con­trol did the emper­or exert over it? Which sec­tors were sup­port­ed by the state and which oper­at­ed in a free mar­ket envi­ron­ment or in the pri­vate sec­tor?

For his­to­ri­ans, these are impor­tant ques­tions, and they’re pre­cise­ly the ques­tions being asked by Uni­ver­si­ty of Barcelona pro­fes­sor, José Reme­sa, who notes, “There’s no oth­er place where you can study eco­nom­ic his­to­ry, food pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion, and how the state con­trolled the trans­port of a prod­uct.”

Above get a dis­tant view of Monte Tes­tac­cio. Below get a close up view of the amphorae shards them­selves.

Image by Alex, via Flickr Com­mons

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Old­est Unopened Bot­tle of Wine in the World (Cir­ca 350 AD)

How to Bake Ancient Roman Bread Dat­ing Back to 79 AD: A Video Primer

How Did the Romans Make Con­crete That Lasts Longer Than Mod­ern Con­crete? The Mys­tery Final­ly Solved

Rome Reborn: Take a Vir­tu­al Tour of Ancient Rome, Cir­ca 320 C.E.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.