The Letterform Archive Launches a New Online Archive of Graphic Design, Featuring 9,000 Hi-Fi Images

An online design museum made by and for designers? The concept seems obvious, but has taken decades in internet years for the reality to fully emerge in the Letterform Archive. Now that it has, we can see why. Good design may look simple, but no one should be fooled into thinking it’s easy. “After years of development and months of feedback,” write the creators of the Letterform Archive online design museum, “we’re opening up the Online Archive to everyone. This project is a labor of love from everyone on our staff, and many generous volunteers, and we hope it provides a source of beautiful distraction and inspiration to all who love letters.”

That’s letters as in fonts, not epistles, and there are thousands of them in the archive. But there are also thousands of photographs, lithographs, silkscreens, etc. representing the height of modern simplicity. This and other unifying threads run through the collection of the Letterform Archive, which offers “unprecedented access… with nearly 1,500 objects and 9,000 hi-fi images.”




You’ll find in the Archive the sleek elegance of 1960s Olivetti catalogs, the iconic militancy of Emory Douglas’ designs for The Black Panther newspaper, and the eerily stark militancy of the “SILENCE=DEATH” t-shirt from the 1980s AIDS crisis.

The site was built around the ideal of “radical accessibility,” with the aim of capturing “a sense of what it’s like to visit the Archive” (which lives permanently in San Francisco). But the focus is not on the casual onlooker — Letterform Archive online caters specifically to graphic designers, which makes its interface even simpler, more elegant, and easier to use for everyone, coincidentally (or not).

The graphic design focus also means there are functions specific to the discipline that designers won’t find in other online image libraries: “we encourage you to use the search filters: click on each category to explore disciplines like lettering, and formats like type specimens, or combine filters like decades and countries to narrow your view to a specific time and place.”

From the radical typography of Dada to the radical 60s zine scene to the sleek designs (and Neins) found in a 1987 Apple Logo Standards pamphlet, the museum has something for everyone interested in recent graphic design history and typology. But it’s not all sleek simplicity. There are also rare artifacts of elaborately intricate design, like the Persian Yusef and Zulaikha manuscript, below, dating from between 1880 and 1910. You’ll find dozens more such treasures in the Letterform Archive here.

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

The Archive of Healing Is Now Online: UCLA’s Digital Database Provides Access to Thousands of Traditional & Alternative Healing Methods

Photo by Katherine Hanlon on Unsplash

Folk medicine is, or should be, antithetical to capitalism, meaning it should not be possible to trademark, copyright, or otherwise own and sell plants and natural remedies to which everyone has access. The entire reason such practices developed over the course of millennia was to help communities of close affiliation survive and thrive, not to foster market competition between companies and individuals. The impulse to profit from suffering has distorted what we think of as healing, such that a strictly allopathic, or “Western,” approach to medicine relies on ethics of exclusion, exploitation, and outright harm.

What we tend to think of as modern medicine, the Archive of Healing writes, “is object-oriented (pharmaceuticals, technologically driven) and structured by historical injustice against women and people of color.” The Archive, a new digital project from the University of California, Los Angeles, offers “one of the most comprehensive databases of medicinal folklore in the world,” Valentina Di Liscia writes at Hyperallergic. “The interactive, searchable website boasts hundreds of thousands of entries describing cures, rituals, and healing methods spanning more than 200 years and seven continents.”




In countries like the United States, where healthcare is treated as a scarce commodity millions of people cannot afford, access to knowledge about effective, age-old natural wisdom has become critical. There may be no treatments for COVID-19 in the database, but there are likely traditional remedies, rituals, practices, treatments, ointments, etc. for just about every other illness one might encounter. The archive was curated over a period of more than thirty years by “a team of researchers at UCLA, working under the direction of Dr. Wayland Hand and then Dr. Michael Owen Jones,” the site notes in its brief history.

The material from the collection, which was originally called the “archive of traditional medicine,” came from “data on healing from over 3,200 publications, six university archives, as well as first-hand and second-hand information from anthropological and folkloric fieldnotes.” In 2016, when Dr. Delgado Shorter took over as director of the program, he “reorganized it with an eye to social sharing and allowing for users to submit new data and comment on existing data,” notes UCLA’s School of the Arts and Architecture in an interview with Shorter, who describes the project’s aims thus:

The whole goal here is to democratize what we think of as healing and knowledge about healing and take it across cultures in a way that’s respectful and gives attention to intellectual property rights.

This may seem like a delicate balancing act, between the scholarly, the folkloric, and the realms of rights, remuneration, and social power. The Archive strikes it with an ambitious set of tenets you can read here, including an emphasis on offering traditional and Indigenous healing practices “outside of often expensive allopathic and pharmaceutical approaches, and not as alternatives but as complementary modalities.”

The archive states as one of its theoretical bases that health should be treated “as a social goal with social methods that affirm relationality and kinship.” Those wishing to get involved with the Archive as partners or advisory board members can learn how at their About page, which also features the following disclaimer: “Statements made on this website have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The information contained herein is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.” Use the information wisely, at your own risk, in other words.

To use the Archive of Healing, you will need to register with the site first.

via Hyperallergic

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

Alexander Calder’s Archive Goes Online: Explore 1400 Works of Art by the Modernist Sculptor

Like all great artists, Alexander Calder left his medium quite unlike he found it. Nearly 45 years after his death, Calder’s expansion of the realm of sculpture in new directions of form, color, and engineering remains a subject of voluminous discussion, including critic Jed Perl’s Calder: The Conquest of Time and Calder: The Conquest of Space, a two-part biography published in full last year. More recently, a wealth of material has come available that enables us to conduct Calderian investigations of our own: the Calder Foundation’s online research archive, which as Hyperallergic’s Valentina Di Liscia reports includes “over 1,300 Calder works across different media.”

But wait, there’s more: the archive also offers “1,000 photographs and archival documents,” “48 historic and recent texts by the artist, his contemporaries, and present-day scholars,” and “over 40 microsites exploring Calder’s exhibition history.” (This in addition to the Calder Foundation’s Vimeo channel, where you’ll find the films seen here.)




Pace Gallery, which represents Calder, highlights the “new interactive map feature called ‘Calder Around the World,’ which allows viewers to find public installations of his monumental sculpture in 20 states domestically and 21 countries internationally, including museums with important Calder holdings and permanent and temporary exhibitions dedicated to the artist.”

As that map reveals, much of Calder’s work currently resides in his homeland of the United States of America, primarily in the northeast where he spent most of his life, but also the California in which he did some growing up — not to mention the Paris where he lived for a time and met fellow artists like Marcel Duchamp and Fernand Léger, information about whom also appears in the online archive. You may locate a Calder near you, even if you live in another region of the world, entirely: living in Seoul as I do, I now see I’ll have to pay a visit to 1963’s Le Cèpe and 1971’s Grand Crinkly. Though this ever-more-extensive Calder Archive can help us understand this most optimistic of all Modernists, there’s nothing quite like being in the presence of one of his sculptures.

via Hyperallergic

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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.

How the Internet Archive Digitizes 3,500 Books a Day–the Hard Way, One Page at a Time

Does turning the pages of an old book excite you? How about 3 million pages? That’s how many pages Eliza Zhang has scanned over her ten years with the Internet Archive, using Scribe, a specialized scanning machine invented by Archive engineers over 15 years ago. “Listening to 70s and 80s R&B while she works,” Wendy Hanamura writes at the Internet Archive blog, “Eliza spends a little time each day reading the dozens of books she handles. The most challenging part of her job? ‘Working with very old, fragile books.”

The fragile state and wide variety of the millions of books scanned by Zhang and the seventy-or-so other Scribe operators explains why this work has not been automated. “Clean, dry human hands are the best way to turn pages,” says Andrea Mills, one of the leaders of the digitization team. “Our goal is to handle the book once and to care for the original as we work with it.”

Raising the glass with a foot pedal, adjusting the two cameras, and shooting the page images are just the beginning of Eliza’s work. Some books, like the Bureau of Land Management publication featured in the video, have myriad fold-outs. Eliza must insert a slip of paper to remind her to go back and shoot each fold-out page, while at the same time inputting the page numbers into the item record. The job requires keen concentration.

If this experienced digitizer accidentally skips a page, or if an image is blurry, the publishing software created by our engineers will send her a message to return to the Scribe and scan it again.

It’s not a job for the easily bored; “It takes concentration and a love of books,” says Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle. The painstaking process allows digitizers to preserve valuable books online while maintaining the integrity of physical copies. “We do not disbind the books,” says Kahle, a method that has allowed them to partner with hundreds of institutions around the world, digitizing 28 million texts over two decades. Many of those books are rare and valuable, and many have been deemed of little or no value. “Increasingly,” writes the Archive’s Chris Freeland, “the Archive is preserving many books that would otherwise be lost to history or the trash bin.”

In one example, Freeland cites The dictionary of costume, “one of the millions of titles that reached the end of its publishing lifecycle in the 20th century.” It is also a work cited in Wikipedia, a key source for “students of all ages… in our connected world.” The Internet Archive has preserved the only copy of the book available online, making sure Wikipedia editors can verify the citation and researchers can use the book in perpetuity. If looking up the definition of “petticoat” in an out-of-print reference work seems trivial, consider that the Archive digitizes about 3,500 books every day in its 18 digitization centers. (The dictionary of costume was identified as the Archive’s 2 millionth “modern book.”)

Libraries “have been vital in times of crisis,” writes Alistair Black, emeritus professor of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois, and “the coronavirus pandemic may prove to be a challenge that dwarfs the many episodes of anxiety and crisis through which the public library has lived in the past.” A huge part of our combined global crises involves access to reliable information, and book scanners at the Internet Archive are key agents in preserving knowledge. The collections they digitize “are critical to educating an informed populace at a time of massive disinformation and misinformation,” says Kahle. When asked what she liked best about her job, Zhang replied, “Everything! I find everything interesting…. Every collection is important to me.”

The Internet Archive offers over 20,000,000 freely downloadable books and texts. Enter the collection here.

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

4,000 Priceless Scrolls, Texts & Papers From the University of Tokyo Have Been Digitized & Put Online

The phrase “opening of Japan” is a euphemism that has outlived its purpose, serving to cloud rather than explain how a country closed to outsiders suddenly, in the mid-19th century, became a major influence in art and design worldwide. Negotiations were carried out at gunpoint. In 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry presented the Japanese with two white flags to raise when they were ready to surrender. (The Japanese called Perry’s fleet the “black ships of evil men.”) In one of innumerable historical ironies, we have this ugliness to thank for the explosion of Impressionist art (van Gogh was obsessed with Japanese prints and owned a large collection) as well as much of the beauty of Art Nouveau and modernist architecture at the turn of the century.

We may know versions of this already, but we probably don’t know it from a Japanese point of view. “As our global society grows ever more connected,” writes Katie Barrett at the Internet Archive blog, “it can be easy to assume that all of human history is just one click away. Yet language barriers and physical access still present major obstacles to deeper knowledge and understanding of other cultures.”




Unless we can read Japanese, our understanding of its history will always be informed by specialist scholars and translators. Now, at least, thanks to cooperation between the University of Tokyo General Library and the Internet Archive, we can access thousands more primary sources previously unavailable to “outsiders.”

“Since June 2020,” notes Barrett, “our Collections team has worked in tandem with library staff to ingest thousands of digital files from the General Library’s servers, mapping the metadata for over 4,000 priceless scrolls, texts, and papers.” This material has been digitized over decades by Japanese scholars and “showcases hundreds of years of rich Japanese history expressed through prose, poetry, and artwork.” It will be primarily the artwork that concerns non-Japanese speakers, as it primarily concerned 19th-century Europeans and Americans who first encountered the country’s cultural products. Artwork like the humorous print above. Barrett provides context: 

In one satirical illustration, thought to date from shortly after the 1855 Edo earthquake, courtesans and others from the demimonde, who suffered greatly in the disaster, are shown beating the giant catfish that was believed to cause earthquakes. The men in the upper left-hand corner represent the construction trades; they are trying to stop the attack on the fish, as rebuilding from earthquakes was a profitable business for them.

There are many such depictions of “seismic destruction” in ukiyo-e prints dating from the same period and the later Mino-Owari earthquake of 1891: “They are a sobering reminder of the role that natural disasters have played in Japanese life.” 

You can see many more digitized artifacts, such as the charming book of Japanese ephemera above, at the Internet Archive’s University of Tokyo collection. Among the 4180 items currently available, you’ll also find many European prints and engravings held in the library’s 25 collections. All of this material “can be used freely without prior permission,” writes the University of Tokyo Library. “Among the highlights,” Barrett writes, “are manuscripts and annotated books from the personal collection of the novelist Mori Ōgai (1862–1922), an early manuscript of the Tale of Genji, [below] and a unique collection of Chinese legal records from the Ming Dynasty.” Enter the collection here.

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

A New Database Will Document Every Slave House in the U.S.: Discover the “Saving Slave Houses Project”

In central North Carolina, not far from where I live, sits the Franklinton Center at Bricks, a 224-acre educational campus and conference center built on the remains of a historic “Agricultural, Industrial, and Normal School,” then junior college, for the descendants of enslaved people. These schools were themselves built on the land of a former cotton plantation, on former territory of the Tuscarora Nation. The campus acts as a palimpsest of Southern U.S. history. Each successive generation on the site after the Civil War has built memorials alongside modern institutions of learning and activism. The model is rare. As historian Damian Pargas of Leiden University tells Atlas Obscura’s Sabrina Imbler, “slavery is largely invisible in the [current] Southern landscape, and therefore easy to ignore or forget.”

Even at the Franklinton Center, the remnants of the slave past consist only of a whipping post, the focus of a remembrance area on the campus, and an antebellum slave cemetery a short distance away. All traces of slave quarters and houses have been wiped away. Where they remain in the U.S., writes Imbler, such buildings often “bear no visible trace of their past; many have been converted into garages, offices, or sometimes—unnervingly—bed-and-breakfasts. In some cases the structures have fallen into ruin or vanished entirely, leaving behind a depression in the ground.” Since 2012, Jobie Hill, a preservation architect, has tried to change that with her project Saving Slave Houses.

Hill is determined to build a first-of-its-kind database that honors and preserves these spaces in more than memory, and to unite the houses with the stories of people who once inhabited them. As she sees it, such a repository is long overdue. “There has never been a national survey of slave houses, except for the one I’m trying to do,” Hill says.

Houses, says Hill, in her TEDx talk above, “can tell us a lot about the people that lived there…. Each slave house has a valuable story to tell.” A slave house, Hill writes, on the project’s site, “was a place where enslaved people found strength and comfort from one another; but at the same time, it was a place that imposed physical limitations and psychological trauma.”

The project grew out of Hill’s master’s theses in preservation architecture and through an internship for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), “a federal program established in 1933 to employ architects and draftsmen” during the Great Depression, Imbler notes. She has been able to identify slave houses by their small size, location on a property, “and if the building has a fireplace or chimney,” she says, noting that such buildings were rarely included in surveys. She has also cross-referenced surveys with the “largest, best-known collection of interviews from formerly enslaved people: the 1936-1938 WPA Slave Narrative Collection.”

These interviews “paint a grim picture of the cruel and cramped quarters enslaved people were forced to live in.” But slave houses are not only markers of a painful past. “A slave house simultaneously embodies suffering, yet perseverance and strong family bonds,” writes Hill. They are symbols of survival against daunting odds, and like the magnolia tree that marks the remembrance site at the Franklinton Center, they can “serve as a reminder that we too must do more than survive. We must find a way to thrive.” Learn more about Hill’s Saving Slave Houses project here.

via Atlas Obscura

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

The History of American Newspapers Has Been Digitized: Explore 114 Years of Editor & Publisher, “the Bible of the Newspaper Industry”

If you look into the history of the American newspaper, you can’t get too deep before your inevitable encounter with Editor & Publisher. Branded as “the bible of the newspaper industry,” the trade magazine has for 120 years covered its subject from every possible angle. Though newspapers had already been published in the United States for nearly 200 years before the magazine’s founding, its run has been coeval with an especially fascinating, even dramatic period in their history. It was in the 20th century that American newspapers consolidated into the pillars of what looked, for a time, like a mighty “fourth estate”; in this century, they’ve plunged into what Editor & Publisher‘s owner Mike Blinder terms “such a crisis.”

Still, since purchasing the magazine last year, writes Internet Archive Collections Manager Marina Lewis, “Blinder and his wife, Robin, have been able to turn the operation around, doubling its revenues and tripling its audience.” He also gave the Internet Archive permission to upload and make available 114 years of Editor & Publisher issues online for free.




“Going beyond the Internet Archive’s traditional lending system ensures it can be indexed by search engines and made maximally useful to readers and researchers,” writes Lewis. “The ability to research these archived issues has been truly exciting, especially for those looking up historical documents, many with a personal or family connection.”

As the Nieman Journalism Lab’s Joshua Bendon remembers itEditor & Publisher was once “the best (and often only) place to find out about job openings at newspapers.”  With more than a century of its back issues freely available at the Internet Archive, “if you’re at all interested in the 20th-century history of the American newspaper business, you now have access to a robust new resource.” In the archive he finds documentation of “some of the century’s most interesting moments,” at least as far as that business is concerned: The New Yorker‘s 1946 publication of John Hersey’s “Hiroshima,” which it subsequently offered to conventional newspapers (“The piece runs about 30,000 words and no cutting or condensing is to be permitted”); the 1965 hiring of Ben Bradlee by The Washington Post; the 1971 debut of Doonesbury in national newspapers.

Not all of these reflect well on the U.S. newspaper industry. Benton highlights the 1981 exposure of “Jimmy’s World,” a Pulitzer-winning Post story about an eight-year-old heroin addict, as a fabrication — or a piece of “fake news,” as we might say today. That article also quotes a Boston Globe editor as saying “the public faith in the press is minimal at the moment,” a sentiment not unheard these 40 years later. The magazine was also quick to observe the emergence of other forms of media (such as a 1925 test of French inventor Édouard Belin’s experimental “television”) that would later force change upon the newspaper industry’s very nature. And if the current crisis is, as some argue, not destroying the fourth estate but returning it to its roots, there could be few better paths back to an understanding of those roots than through the Editor & Publisher archive.

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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.

The Internet Archive Now Digitizing 1,000,000+ Objects from a Massive Cinema History Library


Major motion pictures need the work of writers, directors, actors, cinematographers, and a slew of other professionals besides. That group also includes researchers, whose role has until recently gone practically uncelebrated outside the industry. In 2015, filmmaker Daniel Raim brought the work of the film researcher to light with Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story, about production designer Harold Michelson and his researcher wife Lillian. “In Raim’s documentary, she talks about working on Fiddler on the Roof and the filmmakers needed to know what a Jewish woman’s undergarments looked like in the 1890s,” writes The Hollywood Reporter‘s Emily Hilton. How could she find such obscure information?

“Michelson sat on a bench at Fairfax and Beverly near a Jewish deli and spoke to women who were about the right age to have been alive in that era.” One of these women “ran home and grabbed a sewing pattern for her to reference. This research inspired the outfits that Τevye’s daughters wear in the number: knee length bloomers with scalloped edges.”




As yet, this pattern hasn’t appeared in the Michelson Cinema Research Library, now hosted online at the Internet Archive. But it may yet, as the project of digitization and uploading has hardly begun: it was just last year that the nonagenarian Lillian Michelson donated to the Archive her formidable collection of research materials, amassed over her long career.

“After nearly six decades serving filmmakers first at Samuel Goldwyn, then the American Film Institute, Zoetrope Studio, Paramount and DreamWorks,” writes the Los Angeles Times‘ Mary McNamara, “the library filled 1,594 boxes: tens of thousands of books, photographs, magazines and a panoply of other visual resources. All of this had been sitting for five years in a storage facility, paid for by friends who could not bear to see it all destroyed.” Now that the digital archival process is underway, you can browse the first 1,300 or so entries at the Internet Archive, which allows users to virtually check out the Michelson Cinema Research Library’s books on subjects ranging from theatrical costumes and vintage cinema lobby cards to places like Japan and Paris to less expected topics like the Amazing Kreskin and the externals of the Catholic Church.

But then, a Hollywood researcher must be prepared to learn about anything, and by all accounts Lillian Michelson was perhaps the greatest of them all. In addition to its comprehensiveness, her library became a hangout of choice for a variety of studio professionals and celebrities including Tom Waits. (“I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s how he found some time to unwind,” says Raim, “just drinking tea there.”) The Internet Archive describes her collection as consisting of “5,000 books, 30,000 photographs, and more than 1,000,000 clippings, scrapbooks and ephemera,” more of which will come online as time goes by. Eventually the site will contain all the materials from which Michelson drew vital knowledge for filmmakers like Roman Polanski, Alfred Hitchcock, and Stanley Kubrick. And if her research materials satisfied those three, they’re more than good enough for us.

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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.

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