The British Museum Puts 1.9 Million Works of Art Online

Maybe it’s always too soon to make predictions, but historians of the future will likely view the time of COVID-19 as one of unprecedented cultural, social, and economic change on a vast scale. One of those changes, the opening of historic museum collections—photographed and uploaded in high resolution images, and viewable in the kind of fine detail one could never get close enough to see in person—has put an advancing trend into hyperdrive. The British Museum, for example, has just announced a “major revamp” of its digital collection, Vice reports, “making nearly 1.9 million images free to use for anyone under a Creative Commons 4.0 license.”

This addition expands the museum’s online collection to nearly 4.5 million objects—or digital representations of objects. “[Y]ou can zoom in and pan over the Game of Ur, a 5,000-year-old board game played in Mesopotamia, or the sculpture Hoa Hakananai’a from Easter Island.”




The museum is transparent about some “outstanding issues” with the online collection—including minor problems with layout and image order—but due to “extraordinary circumstances” they felt it in the public interest to launch sooner than later. Since access is free and unrestricted, one hopes there’ll be few complaints.

Virtual visitors can get an incredibly detailed view of British Museum items like the 15th century silver and ivory hunting horn from Sierra Leone (top), an object you can’t see in person, not only because the museum is closed but because it isn’t on display. Online exhibits give us the kind of access previously only available to curators. They also take us deeper into art and archaeological history than most in-person visits can.

An encounter with the intricate Sutton Hoo helmet, above, recovered at an Anglo-Saxon burial site, is interesting enough sans context. At the museum site, however, visitors can dive into an entire lesson on the history and meaning of this and other incredible artifacts stumbled upon by a farmer in 1939 who found a ship buried in Suffolk that turned out to be “the most impressive medieval grave to be discovered in Europe.”

The democratic utility of vast online collections like this one cannot be overstated. The struggles of educators and parents these days are very real.“If you’re currently homeschooling your kids,” Lifehacker writes, “you may be interested in the British Museum’s free online learning resources geared towards students ages three to 16+. Want to learn how Egyptian mummies were made? There’s a lesson for that. Maybe you can learn what the Romans ate and drank and enjoy a Roman-themed lunch!” (Doesn’t that sound fun, parent who hasn’t been to the grocery store!) Take a virtual walkthrough of the museum. See the Rosetta Stone in the Egyptian sculpture gallery and the Lewis Chessmen in the Medieval Europe gallery.

Browsing the collection will turn up beautiful, intriguing objects at every turn. If you’ve got a particular piece in mind, the museum provides instructions here for conducting targeted searches. While it can feel like we’re surrounded by scenes of scarcity, it’s some small comfort to know the new normal includes expanded virtual access to the world’s cultural treasures.

via Kottke

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

Bertrand Russell Remembers His Face-to-Face Encounter with Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

When the Bolsheviks seized control of Russia in the October Revolution of 1917, Bertrand Russell saw it as “one of the great heroic events of the world’s history.”

A renowned philosopher and mathematician, Russell was also a committed socialist. As he would write in his 1920 book The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism:

By far the most important aspect of the Russian Revolution is as an attempt to realize Communism. I believe that Communism is necessary to the world, and I believe that the heroism of Russia has fired men’s hopes in a way which was essential to the realization of Communism in the future. Regarded as a splendid attempt, without which ultimate success would have been very improbable, Bolshevism deserves the gratitude and admiration of all the progressive part of mankind.

But despite his early admiration for the “splendid attempt,” Russell found much in Soviet Russia to be concerned about. Specifically, he was appalled by the rigidly doctrinaire mindset of the Bolsheviks — their zeal for quoting Marx like it was Holy gospel — and the cruel tyranny they were willing to impose.




In May of 1920, a few months before finishing The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism, Russell visited Petrograd (Saint Petersburg) and Moscow with a British Labour delegation. As he says in the book:

I went to Russia a Communist; but contact with those who have no doubts has intensified a thousandfold my own doubts, not as to Communism in itself, but as to the wisdom of holding a creed so firmly that for its sake men are willing to inflict widespread misery.

As Russell would later write in the second volume of his autobiography, his time in Soviet Russia was one of “continually increasing nightmare:”

Cruelty, poverty, suspicion, persecution, formed the very air we breathed. Our conversations were continually spied upon. In the middle of the night one would hear shots, and know that idealists were being killed in prison. There was a hypocritical pretence of equality, and everybody was called ‘tovarisch’ [comrade], but it was amazing how differently this word could be pronounced according as the person who was addressed was Lenin or a lazy servant.

Soon after arriving in Moscow, Russell had a one-hour talk with Soviet leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin at his spartan office in the Kremlin. “Lenin’s room is very bare,” writes Russell in The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism; “it contains a big desk, some maps on the walls, two book-cases, and one comfortable chair for visitors in addition to two or three hard chairs. It is obvious that he has no love of luxury or even comfort.”

In the audio clip above, taken from a 1961 interview by John Chandos at Russell’s home in north Wales, the old philosopher relates a pair of observations of what he saw as Lenin’s two defining traits: his rigid orthodoxy, and what Russell would later call his “distinct vein of impish cruelty.”

By the time of the interview, Russell’s early ambivalence toward Soviet communism had hardened into antipathy. “Marx’s doctrine was bad enough, but the developments which it underwent under Lenin and Stalin made it much worse,” he writes in his 1956 essay “Why I am Not a Communist.” “I am completely at a loss to understand how it came about that some people who are both humane and intelligent could find something to admire in the vast slave camp produced by Stalin.”

Lenin died on January 21, 1924 — less than four years after his meeting with Russell. A few days later, Russell published an essay, “Lenin: An Impression,” in The New Leader. And although Russell once again mentions the man’s narrow orthodoxy and ruthlessness, he paints a rather glowing picture of Lenin as a historical figure:

The death of Lenin makes the world poorer by the loss of one of the really great men produced by the war [World War I]. It seems probable that our age will go down to history as that of Lenin and Einstein — the two men who have succeeded in a great work of synthesis in an analytic age, one in thought, the other in action. Lenin appeared to the outraged bourgeoisie of the world as a destroyer, but it was not the work of destruction that made him pre-eminent. Others could have destroyed, but I doubt whether any other living man could have built so well on the new foundations. His mind was orderly and creative: he was a philosophic system-maker in the sphere of practice…. Statesmen of his caliber do not appear in the world more than about once in a century, and few of us are likely to live to see his equal.

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A Michigan Family Makes Everyone Passing Their House Do Monty Python Silly Walks, and Then Puts Recordings on Instagram

Even if you don’t know the Beatles, you know “Love Me Do.” Even if you don’t know the Rolling Stones, you know “Satisfaction.” Even if you don’t know Monty Python, you know “The Ministry of Silly Walks.” Like an AM radio hit, the sketch works on several different aesthetic and intellectual levels while captivating audiences of disparate ages and cultures, all within the span of a few minutes. As a satire of British government bureaucracy it compares, in its way, to Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn’s series Yes Minister, which would debut on the BBC a decade later. As sheer physical comedy, it draws its power, as all those old songs do, from the innate characteristics of its performers. Or rather, from John Cleese, who not only looks the part of a born establishment figure, but stands nearly six and a half feet tall.

Though few of us can sing like Paul McCartney or Mick Jagger, it doesn’t stop us from joining in when their songs come on the radio. By the same token, though few of us possess the sheer leg length to walk as silly as Cleese does, we can all generate our own kind of levity by giving our best. And much of the United States, locked down by the coronavirus pandemic, levity is just what’s needed. Hence the establishment of Yorkshire Silly Walks, which announces itself in no uncertain terms: “YOU HAVE ENTERED THE JURISDICTION OF THE MINISTRY OF SILLY WALKS,” reads its signs. “COMMENCE SILLY WALKING IMMEDIATELY.” All who pass through this territory are captured by a video camera, and some will later find themselves posted to Yorkshire Silly Walks’ Instagram page — as long as they’ve walked with sufficient silliness.

They don’t have to do it for long: the jurisdiction of this Ministry of Silly Walks extends only across the sidewalk in front of a single house in Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan. The home’s Yorkshire Road address will conjure up memories of another beloved sketch in the minds of serious Python fans — a group to which Liz Koto and her family, the house’s occupants, must belong. They’ve posted to Instagram well over 100 videos, each capturing a different silly walk executed by the people of their suburban neighborhood out for a stroll — just about the only thing many Americans can do to get out of the house these days. And they do it more joyfully than Cleese himself, who has spoken of how, like a rock star condemned to play the same hit over and over again, he grew deeply weary of playing the Minister of Silly Walks on stage for Monty Python’s live shows over the decades. After having undergone two hip replacements, he’s surely happy to leave silly-walking to the fans.

View this post on Instagram

Woodstock called, they want their dancers back.

A post shared by Yorkshire Silly Walks (@yorkshire.silly.walks) on

via Laughing Squid

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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.

Soundtrack Composer Craig Wedren (Zoey’s Playlist, Glow, Shrill) Joins Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #41 on TV Musicals

Craig was the front-man of the brainy punk band Shudder to Think from the mid-’80s through the ’90s and has created music for many TV shows and films. He joins your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt due to his involvement with the current NBC musical dramedy Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, which along with Glee, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Nashville, Rise, etc. represents a new era of musicals as mainstream TV.

Why are shows like this being created at this point in our cultural history? These shows all use some narrative explanation for why there’s singing (i.e. the songs are diagetic) instead of just having the characters sing as in a classic musical or a film like The Greatest Showman or La La Land. Most of these also make heavy use of cover tunes and/or parodies in a way that stage musicals usually don’t. And of course there’s often a heavy use of autotune and more star-based casting than is the norm for stage productions.

Some articles to provide an overview of the topic:

Note that Craig doesn’t create the actual songs that the cast members sing for Zoey’s, just the interstitial music, but he’s written heaps of songs and is in a great position to talk with us about everything from Cop Rock to Mama Mia. We also touch on musical episodes in Community and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Bohemian Rhapsody, karaoke in film, Adam Schlesinger, Stop Making Sense (also see David Byrne’s mobile band on Colbert) and a weird Netflix lip-sync drama called Soundtrack,

Listen to Craig talk about his own tunes on Nakedly Examined Music and watch his daily Sabbath Sessions at facebook.com/craigwedrenmusic or on YouTube. Hear the song he wrote for School of Rock.

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

When David Bowie Launched His Own Internet Service Provider: The Rise and Fall of BowieNet (1998)

When we consider the many identities of David Bowie — Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, the Thin White Duke — we often neglect to include his transformation into an internet entrepreneur. In line with Bowie’s reputation for being ahead of his time in all endeavors, it happened several tech booms ago, in the late 1990s. Foreseeing the internet’s potential as a cultural and commercial force, he got ahead of it by launching not just his own web site (which some major artists lacked through the end of the century), but his own internet service provider. For $19.95 a month (£10.00 in the UK), BowieNet offered fans access not just to “high-speed” internet but to “David Bowie, his world, his friends, his fans, including live chats, live video feeds, chat rooms and bulletin boards.”

So announced the initial BowieNet press release published in August 1998, which also promised “live in-studio video feeds,” “text, audio and video messages from Bowie,” “Desktop themes including Bowie screensavers, wallpaper and icons,” and best of all, a “davidbowie e-mail address (your name@davidbowie.com).” While the dial-up of the internet connections of the day wasn’t quite equal to the task of reliably streaming video, many of BowieNet’s approximately 100,000 members still fondly remember the community cultivated on its message boards. “This was in effect a music-centric social network,” writes The Gardian‘s Keith Stuart, “several years before the emergence of sector leaders like Friendster and Myspace.”




Unlike on the the vast social networks that would later develop, the man himself was known to drop in. Under the alias “Sailor,” writes Newsweek‘s Zach Schonfeld, “Bowie would sometimes share updates and recommendations or respond to fan queries.” He might endorse an album (Arcade Fire’s debut Funeral earned a rave), express incredulity at rumors (of, say, his playing a concert with Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson to be beamed into outer space), crack jokes, or tell stories (of, say, the time he and John Lennon sat around calling into radio stations together). As Ars Technica’s interview with BowieNet co-founder Ron Roy confirms, Bowie didn’t just lend the enterprise his brand but was “tremendously involved from day one.” As Roy tells it, Bowie kept BowieNet fresh “by exploring new technologies to keep fans engaged and excited. He always preached [that] it’s about the experience, the new.”

It helped that Bowie wasn’t simply looking to capitalize on the rise of the internet. As the 1999 ZDTV interview at the top of the post reveals, he was already hooked on it himself. “The first thing I do is get e-mails out of the way,” he says, describing the average day in his online life. “I’m e-mail crazy. And then I’ll spend probably about an hour, maybe more, going through my site.” Even in the early days of “the controversial mp3 format,” he showed great enthusiasm for putting his music online. He continued doing so even after technology surpassed BowieNet, which discontinued its internet service in 2006. Now, as the coronavirus pandemic keeps much of the world at home, many high-profile artists have taken to the internet to keep the show going. David Bowie fans know that, were he still with us, he’d have been the first to do it — and do it, no doubt, the most interestingly.

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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.

Scenes of Ezra Pound Wandering Through Venice and Reading from His Famous Pisan Cantos (1967)

Ezra Pound is a problem for Modernist literary studies in the same way Martin Heidegger is for Continental philosophy: it’s impossible to deny the overwhelming influence of either figure—and impossible to deny that both were devoted anti-Semitic fascists from at least the 1930s to the end of their days. Heidegger kept his views mostly hidden in his “Black Notebooks.” Pound, on the other hand, became an enthusiastic mouthpiece. He publicly idolized Benito Mussolini, signed letters with “Heil Hitler,” and broadcast paranoid anti-Semitic hate speech on Italian radio in over a hundred propaganda pieces for the Axis powers during the war.

Pound was to be sentenced for treason in 1945 but was saved by an insanity defense promoted by Ernest Hemingway (who convinced himself Pound must have been insane to say such things.) After a stay in St. Elizabeth’s, Pound recanted, but privately he never changed. If he were a lesser poet, critics and readers might assure themselves they’d never read the likes of him today. But not only is he inseparable from literary history as an influential editor and booster (without Pound, no Eliot’s The Waste Land), but he is rightly recognized as one of the most gifted poets of the 20th century.

“Is it wrong to love a fascist?” asked Ash Sarkar in a take on the Pound problem that lists him among many “problematic faves, along with The Simpsons and Vybz Kartel.” The “vituperative” anti-Semitism of Pound’s later years finds its way into his later Cantos—the massive, unfinished, eclectic, erudite, and deeply obscure series of epic poems he worked on from 1915 to 1962. “Canto XLV,” notes Sarkar, “one of his many attacks on financiers, is suffused with antisemitic language and imagery.”

Canto XVI contains what Mark Ford calls “a characteristic specimen of Pound’s mimicry,” which Mussolini found “entertaining” during their first and only meeting. (“It’s my idea of how a Continental Jew would speak English,” Pound supposedly told Il Duce.) Such moments of racist mockery alternate in the Pisan Cantos—published in 1948 and written during the war—with elegies, economic and political theories, and archaic lines in which many readers hear echoes of blood and soil mythology. We may hear such an echo in Canto LXXXI, from which Pound reads above, over footage of him wandering around Venice.

Allen Ginsberg described Canto LXXXI as “a collage of Pound’s prison mental gossip (thinking to himself in prison, notating down… little nostalgic recollections of pre-World War I.)” There are, however, gestures toward more recent events. He refers to the “friends of Franco” in one line, for example, and Hélène Aji identifies Pound’s reference to Thomas Jefferson as an allusion to Mussolini. How did Pound himself square his nationalism with his cosmopolitan modernism? Literary scholar David Barnes speculates:

The writer would have seen no conflict here. Pound could easily switch from his Hitlerian fantasies to a recommendation of the kind of artists (Joyce, Marinetti) that Führer would have classed as “degenerate.” In his mind, the sharp lines of modernism seem to have been equated or even interchangeable with the totalitarian politics of Nazi Fascism.

Except it wasn’t Nazi Fascism that Pound mostly hawked—though he enthusiastically recommended Mein Kampf. It was the Italian original. Mussolini did not share Hitler’s extreme antipathy for modern artists. He too saw modernism and fascism as interchangeable, as did the many Italian artists he coopted as propagandists. Pound was not especially unique in such circumstances.

It’s not clear when this film footage was shot, but the reading was recorded in Spoleto, Italy during the summer of 1967. You can listen to the full recording above, and hear another version, and dozens more recordings of Pound, at Penn Sound.

via Ubuweb

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

An Unbelievably Detailed, Hand-Drawn Map Lets You Explore the Rich Collections of the Met Museum

Would-be tourists taking time out of their suddenly very less busy lives to pore over New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art map online may convince themselves it’s possible to see every collection in one day. Say, if they got there first thing in the morning, skipped lunch, and moved fast. Sure, Modern and Egyptian art are on opposite sides of opposite wings and there are two floors and a mezzanine, but if you make a plan….

Any New Yorker who runs across such a person should immediately send them John Kerschbaum’s dense, colorful, information- and people-rich, Where’s Waldo-eye view map above. (View it in a larger format here. Once you access the page, click on the graphic to expand it.) Say, “this is what’s it’s really like on any given day.”




A bewildering experience that renders the most careful plan useless in under thirty minutes. Unless you only plan to spend time in a couple galleries, at most, and know how to get there, it’s best not to get your hopes up for a one-day visit. You’ll be dazzled and wowed, for sure, but also suffer from sensory overload if you try to see it all.

Target your favorite periods and world cultures, ford the crowds to reach your destination, have some grub. It will take a while to get back out. The experience can be daunting, but by all means do not let these warnings stop you once there’s finally an all-clear. The Met is “overwhelming, amazing, and down-right unbelieveable, really,” writes one blogger and frequent traveler based in New York City. “If you haven’t been, think of the Louvre, Vatican Museum, or British Museum. The Met is on the scale of those other impressive international collections.”

Kerschbaum captured the scale of the museum’s awe-inspiring hugeness with flattened cartoon scale and perspective. But the map was drawn from life, in way. Upon receiving the commission in 2004 for what became The Family Map, Kerschbaum, a New Yorker himself, “made countless visits to the encyclopedic museum and drew hundreds of sketches,” Atlas Obscura writes.

He was given 50 museum pieces that are always on display to anchor the authentic feel of his highly compressed rendering. “I’d have a floor plan of the museum and a clipboard,” he says, “and I’d make notes of where each item was, either by name or a quick sketch.” (Note that he did this over “countless visits.”) After that preparatory work, he says, in a charming duet with his daughter above, he returned again and again, and “drew and drew and erased and drew and drew and erased and drew some more and drew and drew. Finally it was done.” (See a larger time-lapse gif further up.)

Those who would like to know the Met as Kerschbaum does, in exquisite detail and with a very keen sense of direction, will need to put in some serious time. The artist himself “dedicated not hours, days, or months, but several years to drawing the art, spaces, and people he saw at the Met,” the museum’s blog notes. The Family Map features “hundreds of galleries and thousands of works of art.”

It’s a map the whole family can appreciate, though Kerschbaum’s daughter sounds maybe a little weary of talking about it. But it’s also one that depicts the museum as a massive, wall-to-wall extended family, one that takes some time and effort to get to know. Kerschbaum even knows where all the bathrooms are. “I tell people about the ones that aren’t crowded,” he says proudly. This is, of course, the most useful knowledge of all in a space of such labyrinthine magnitude in what will someday be again one of the most visited cities in the world.

See Kerschbaum’s map up close in a high resolution scan here. When you open the page, click on the image to expand and zoom in.

via Atlas Obscura

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

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