Plan Your Trip Across the Roads of the Roman Empire, Using Modern Web Mapping Technology

At the moment, I happen to be planning some time in France, with a side trip to Belgium included. Modern intra-European train travel makes arranging the latter quite convenient: Thalys, the high-speed rail service connecting those two countries, can get you from Paris to Brussels in about an hour and half. This stands in contrast to the time of the Roman Empire, which despite its political power lacked high-speed rail, and indeed lacked rail of any kind. But it did have an expansive network of roads, some of which you can still walk today, imagining what it would have been like to travel Europe two millennia ago. And now, using the website OmnesViae, you can get historically accurate directions as well.

Big Think’s Frank Jacobs describes OmnesViae as “the online route planner the Romans never knew they needed.” It “leans heavily on the Tabula Peutingeriana” — also known as the Peutinger Map, and previously featured here on Open Culture — “the closest thing we have to a genuine itinerarium (‘road map’) of the Roman Empire.”

Though not quite geographically accurate, it does offer a detailed view of which cities in the empire were connected and how. “Geolocating thousands of points from Peutinger, OmnesViae reformats the roads and destinations on the scroll onto a more familiarly landscaped map. The shortest route between two (ancient) points is calculated using the distances traveled over Roman rather than modern roads, also taking into account the rivers and mountains the network must cross.”

You can use OmnesViae just like any other way-finding application, except you enter your origin and destination into fields labeled “ab” and “ad” rather than “from” and “to.” And though “for some cities current day names are understood,” as the instructions note, it works better — and feels so much more authentic — if you type in cities like “Roma” and “Londinio.” The resulting journey between those two great capitals looks arduous indeed, passing at least three mountainous areas, thirteen rivers, and countless smaller settlements. And according to OmnesViae, no roads led to Brussels: the closest an ancient traveler could get to the location of the modern-day seat of the European Union was the Walloon village of Liberchies — which, as the birthplace of Django Reinhardt, remains an important stop for the jazz-loving traveler of Europe today.

via Big Think

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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 Culinary Videos Series Shows Every Conceivable Way to Cook Eggs, Potatoes, Pizza, Bacon & More

So you think you know your way around a potato, eh?

No doubt you excel at boiling, mashing, roasting, baking and twice baking …

You may make a mean potato chip or pomme frite

Perhaps you’ve perfected some tricks with a microwave or air fryer.

But before you’re puffed too full of bragging rights, have you ever thought to subject this humble root vegetable to a blow torch, an iron, a dishwasher, a juicer or a gasoline powered generator plugged into a giant dimmer switch?


Congratulations on having avoided some truly dreadful methods for preparing a potato, judging by the results of some of Bon Appétit Contributing Editor Amiel Stanek’s more outré, tongue-in-cheek experiments, above.

Wait, maybe there aren’t really 63 ways to cook potatoes?

The preparation we’re legitimately eager to try is pickling, for spuds Stanek declares “very sweet, salty, acidic”, a welcome addition to a cheese board or a crudité plate.

And there’s an argument to be made for turning a waffle iron into a dual purpose device by making hash browns in it.

Stanek fares less well, piping pre-mashed potatoes into a Rollie ® Eggmaster, “a weird, made-for-TV device that is made expressly for cooking eggs:”

Ewww, no, why is it like that? This is disgusting!!!

If you’re wondering how that Rollie ® does with its intended ingredient, Stanek’s got an answer for you:

Oh no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, oh my god, it looks like it’s in a condom. This is the most disgusting egg thing we have made all day…it tastes like bad seafood. I don’t know why, it tastes plastic-y. This is horrible!

Meanwhile, those in long term relationships with partners holding different views on the best way to scramble, fry or poach an egg may find themselves feeling vindicated by this episode.

Either that or horribly betrayed.

Other than potatoes and eggs, the only episode of the 10 in the Almost Every series not exclusively geared toward cooking flesh is the one devoted to pizza, which at 32 methods, ties with chicken breast. (Only whole chicken, at 24 methods, has fewer options.)

Vegans will likely feel unimpressed, in addition to left out, given that there’s nearly that many suggested hacks for melting plant-based cheese.

Perhaps a visit to Moonburger, a meatless Hudson Valley chain where Stanek is Culinary Consultant and the shakes are dairy free is in order?

Those craving ever more offbeat attacks, however, will find themselves entertained by Stanek’s efforts involving an Easy-Bake Oven (yeah, nope, not good at all),  a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Pizza Machine (the whole cheese sitch looks a little bit demented…bummer, dude), and a crust that’s baked around a silicone cone, then filled with a “molten, dangerous slurry” of sauce and cheese (this thing looks demonic to me, like an animal horn meant for a Satanic ritual…)

If that’s not our cue to seek out a restaurant with a wood burning oven, perhaps it’s a signal we should order out.

Watch a complete playlist of Bon Appétit’s Almost Every here.

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– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Five Graphs That Changed the World: See Groundbreaking Data Visualizations by Florence Nightingale, W. E. B. DuBois & Beyond

Almost two and a half centuries after its first publication, Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations is much better known as simply The Wealth of Nations. Had he written it today, the text itself, which runs between a formidable 500-700 pages in most editions, would also be considerably shorter. It’s not just that writers in Smith’s day went in for length per se (though many now read as if they did), but that graphs hadn’t been invented yet. Much of what he’d discovered about the nature of economics could have been expressed more concisely — and much more clearly — in pictures rather than words.

As it happens, the kind of informational graphs we know best today would be invented by Smith’s fellow Scot William Playfair in 1786, just a decade after The Wealth of Nations came out. “Data visualization is everywhere today, but when Playfair first created them over 200 years ago, using shapes to represent numbers was largely sneered at,” says Adam Rutherford in the Royal Society video above.

“How could drawings truly represent solid scientific data? But now, data visualization has become an art form of its own.” There follow “five graphs that changed the world,” beginning with the map of water pumps that physician John Snow used to determine the cause of a cholera epidemic in 1850s London, previously featured here on Open Culture.

We’ve also posted W. E. B. Du Bois’ “handmade charts showcasing the educational, social, and business accomplishments of black Americans in the 35 years since slavery had been officially abolished.” The other world-changing graphs here include Florence Nightingale’s “coxcomb” that showed how unsanitary hospital conditions killed more soldiers during the Crimean War than did actual fighting; the so-called Kallikak Family Tree, a fraudulent visual case for removing the “feeble-minded” from society; and Ed Hawkins’ more recent red-and-blue “warming stripes” designed to present the effects of climate change to a non-scientific audience. Using just blocks of color, with neither numbers nor text, Hawkins’ bold graph harks back to an earlier golden era of data visualization: after Playfair, but before PowerPoint.

via Aeon

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

Pussy Riot Sends a Powerful Message to Vladimir Putin: “You Have Already Lost. You Know It.”

Speaking at TED, Nadya Tolokonnikova, founding member of Pussy Riot, has a powerful message for Russians today: Resisting the authority of Vladimir Putin is an option. It’s a choice. Of that, Tolokonnikova has already provided ample proof. For more than a decade, the members of Pussy Riot have staged high-profile protests in Russia … and paid the price, with time served in prison. As she puts it, “Courage is an ability to act in the face of fear. And some of us have chosen to live courageously.” That example is what makes her a threat:

The reason why I became a threat to the system, not because of any actual physical power that I have, but because courage is contagious. And any act of speaking the truth can cause incalculable transformations in social consciousness. And we all have this power. It’s a moral act to use this power. You may or may not achieve the results that you wanted, but there is eternal beauty in trying to find truth, in risking everything you’ve got for what’s right…

As always, she saves choice words for Putin: “Vladimir Vladimirovich, the Kremlin walls became your prison walls. You have already lost. You know it. That’s why you’re so afraid. You lost in spirit.” Now we just need Russians at home, and Ukrainians on the battlefield, to make the implicit explicit.

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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!

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Download Free Coloring Books from Nearly 100 Museums & Libraries

We here at Open Culture heartily endorse the practice of viewing art, whether in a physical museum, in the pages of a book, or online. For some, however, it tends to have one serious shortcoming: all the colors are already filled in. If you’re itching to use your own colored pencils, crayons, watercolors, or other tools of choice on drawings, paintings, and a variety of other works besides in the possession of well-known art institutions, these past few months are a time of year to savor thanks to the initiative Color Our Collections.

Each February, Color Our Collections releases its latest round of coloring books free online, assembled from contributions by the likes of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Eton College, the New York Botanical Garden, the Toronto Public Library, and the University of California, San Francisco.

“Launched by The New York Academy of Medicine Library in 2016,” says its about page, it hosts an “annual coloring festival on social media during which libraries, museums, archives and other cultural institutions around the world share free coloring content featuring images from their collections.”

The de-colored pictures you see here offer just a taste of all you can find in this year’s Color Our Collections crop. Some of the participating institutions provide colorable selections from across their holdings, some stick to a certain theme, and some contribute actual volumes, digitized whole or created for the occasion. Take, for instance, the Ol’ Medical Colouring Book from Queen’s University Library, which promises hours of fun with pages like “anterior view of the skeletal system,” “ventral view of the brain,” and “urinary system shown on the female form.”

These are some distance from the bunnies and buttercups we colored in as children; so are the vigorous nineteen-thirties motorcycle advertisements assembled by the Harley-Davidson Archive, or the architectural and archaeological drawings from the Médiathèque de Châteaudun. But Color Our Collections 2023 also contains a good deal of kid-directed material as well, including Princeton University Library’s lively package of animal images from issues of Kodomo no Kuni, or The Land of Children — a magazine directed toward the kids of Japan a century ago, but then, some childhood pleasures know no cultural or temporal bounds. Enter the archive of 2023 coloring books here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

Harry Belafonte (RIP), James Baldwin, Marlon Brando & Sidney Poitier Talk About Civil Rights, 1963

Note: Yesterday Harry Belafonte, the civil rights activist, singer and actor, passed away at age 96. In his memory, we’re bringing back a post from our archive, one that features Belafonte and other legends discussing the March on Washington, back in August, 1963. The film above is now made available by the US National Archives.

On the day of the historic “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” (August 28, 1963), known today as The Great March on Washington, CBS aired a 30-minute roundtable discussion featuring Harry Belafonte, James Baldwin, Marlon Brando, Charlton Heston, Joseph L. Mankiewicz and Sidney Poitier.

The whole segment is fascinating, even and perhaps especially because the speakers pursue their sometimes divergent agendas (Heston speaks optimistically about peaceful dissent, Brando hopes the Civil Rights movement may lead to reparations for Native Americans, while Belafonte warns ominously that the United States has now reached a “point of no return”). But it may be Joseph Mankiewicz, the sharp-witted writer/director of All About Eve, who provides one of the discussion’s pithiest lines: “Freedom, true freedom,” he says, “is not given by governments; it is taken by the people.”

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newsletter, please find it here.

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!

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Urine Wheels in Medieval Manuscripts: Discover the Curious Diagnostic Tool Used by Medieval Doctors

If you went to the doctor in late medieval Europe hoping to get a health complaint checked out, you could be sure of one thing: you’d have to hand over a urine sample. Though it dates back at least as far as the fourth millennium BC, the practice of uroscopy, as it’s called, seems to have been regarded as a near-universal diagnostic tool by the thirteenth century. At, you can read excerpts of the then-definitive text On Urines, written about that time by French royal physician Gilles de Corbeil.

When a skilled physician examines a patient’s urine, de Corbeil explains, “health or illness, strength or debility, deficiency, excess, or balance, are determined with certainty.” Urine “darkened by a black cloudiness, and muddied with sediment, if produced on a critical day of an illness, and accompanied by poor hearing and insomnia, portends a flux of blood from the nose”; depending on other factors, “the patient will die or recover.”

Urine that looks livid near the surface could indicate a variety of conditions: “a mild form of hemitriteus fever; falling sickness; ascites; synochal fever; the rupture of a vein; catarrh, strangury; an ailment of the womb; a flux; a defect of the lungs; pain in the joints; consumptive phithisis; the extinction of natural heat.”

White urine could be a signal of everything from dropsy to lipothymia to hemorrhoids; wine-colored urine “means danger to health when it accompanies a continued fever; it is less to be feared if there is no fever.”

We may feel tempted, 800 years later, to discard all of this as pre-scientific nonsense. But compared with other diagnostic methods in the Middle Ages, uroscopy had a decent track record. “Urine was a particularly useful tool for diagnosing leprosy,” writes the Public Domain Review’s Katherine Harvey, “because the immediate physiological cause was thought to be a malfunctioning liver — an organ which was central to the digestive process, and thus any problems would be visible in the urine.” Indeed, “new forms of urine analysis have developed from these ancient traditions, and our present-day medical landscape is awash with urine samples.”

That’s certainly a vivid image, and so are the “urine wheels” that accompany Harvey’s piece: elaborate illustrations designed to help doctors identify the particular hue of a given sample, each one colored with the best pigmentation techniques of the time. But “there was no standardization,” notes Atlas Obscura’s Sarah Laskow, “and while some book publishers created detailed coloring instructions, the artisans who did the work didn’t always conform to those specifications.” As much prestige as these volumes surely exuded on the bookshelf, it was as true then as it is now that you become a good doctor not by reading manuals, but by getting your hands dirty.

via The Public Domain Review

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

Stephen King Recommends 96 Books for Aspiring Writers to Read

Image by The USO, via Flickr Commons

I first discovered Stephen King at age 11, indirectly through a babysitter who would plop me down in front of daytime soaps and disappear. Bored with One Life to Live, I read the stacks of mass-market paperbacks my absentee guardian left around—romances, mysteries, thrillers, and yes, horror. It all seemed of a piece. King’s novels sure looked like those other lurid, pulpy books, and at least his early works mostly fit a certain formula, making them perfectly adaptable to Hollywood films. Yet for many years now, as he’s ranged from horror to broader subjects, King’s cultural stock has risen far above his genre peers. He’s become a “serious” writer and even, with his 2000 book On Writing—part memoir, part “textbook”—something of a writer’s writer, moving from the supermarket rack to the pages of The Paris Review

Few contemporary writers have challenged the somewhat arbitrary division between literary and so-called genre fiction so much as Stephen King, whose status provokes word wars like this debate at the Los Angeles Review of Books. Whatever adjectives critics throw at him, King plows ahead, turning out book after book, refining his craft, happily sharing his insights, and reading whatever he likes. As evidence of his disregard for academic canons, we have his reading list for writers, which he attached as an appendix to On Writing. Best-selling genre writers like Nelson DeMille, Thomas Harris, and needs-no-introduction J.K. Rowling sit comfortably next to lit-class staples like Dickens, Faulkner, and Conrad. King recommends contemporary realist writers like Richard Bausch, John Irving, and Annie Proulx alongside the occasional postmodernist or “difficult” writer like Don DeLillo or Cormac McCarthy. He includes several non-fiction books as well.

King prefaces the list with a disclaimer: “I’m not Oprah and this isn’t my book club. These are the ones that worked for me, that’s all.” Below, we’ve excerpted twenty good reads he recommends for budding writers. These are books, King writes, that directly inspired him: “In some way or other, I suspect each book in the list had an influence on the books I wrote.” To the writer, he says, “a good many of these might show you some new ways of  doing your work.” And for the reader? “They’re apt to entertain you. They certainly entertained me.”

10. Richard Bausch, In the Night Season
12. Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky
13. T. Coraghessan Boyle, The Tortilla Curtain
17. Michael Chabon, Werewolves in Their Youth
28. Roddy Doyle, The Woman Who Walked into Doors
31. Alex Garland, The Beach
42. Peter Hoeg, Smilla’s Sense of Snow
49. Mary Karr, The Liar’s Club
53. Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible
54. Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air
58. Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories
62. Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes
66. Ian McEwan, The Cement Garden
67. Larry McMurtry, Dead Man’s Walk
70. Joyce Carol Oates, Zombie
71. Tim O’Brien, In the Lake of the Woods
73. Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient
84. Richard Russo, Mohawk
86. Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy
93. Anne Tyler, A Patchwork Planet

Like much of King’s own work, many of these books suggest a spectrum, not a chasm, between the literary and the commercial, and many of their writers have found success with screen adaptations and Barnes & Noble displays as well as widespread critical acclaim. For the full range of King’s selections, see the entire list of 96 books at Aerogramme Writers’ Studio.

You can also find another list of 82 books recommended by King here.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in 2014.

Related Content:

Stephen King Creates a List of 82 Books for Aspiring Writers (to Supplement an Earlier List of 96 Recommend Books)

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

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