Download 131,000 Historic Maps from the Huge David Rumsey Map Collection

The world has changed dra­mat­i­cal­ly over the past 500 years, albeit not quite as dra­mat­i­cal­ly as how we see the world. That’s just what’s on dis­play at the David Rum­sey Map Col­lec­tion, whose more than 131,000 his­tor­i­cal maps and relat­ed images are avail­able to browse (or down­load) free online. Since we last fea­tured it here on Open Cul­ture, the col­lec­tion has added at least 40,000 items to its dig­i­tal hold­ings, mak­ing it an even more valu­able resource for not just under­stand­ing how human­i­ty has viewed the world through­out the ages, but how we’ve imag­ined it — and, for that mat­ter, how we’ve imag­ined oth­er worlds from Mars to Nar­nia to Kryp­ton.

“Imag­i­nary maps” is just one of the cat­e­gories through which you can explore the David Rum­sey Map Col­lec­tion. There are also tags for news­pa­per maps, time­lines, city maps, celes­tial maps, data visu­al­iza­tions, chil­dren’s maps, and more vari­eties besides.

If you’d pre­fer a more tra­di­tion­al form of orga­ni­za­tion, you can search for maps of spe­cif­ic geo­graph­i­cal regions: North Amer­i­caSouth Amer­i­caEurope, Asia, Africa, Aus­tralia, Antarc­ti­ca, the Pacif­ic, the Arc­tic, and of course, the world. If it’s the last item you’re inter­est­ed in, apart from the con­sid­er­able two-dimen­sion­al hold­ings, the inter­ac­tive globes con­sti­tute a gallery of their own, and there you can view ones made between the mid-six­teenth cen­tu­ry and just last year from every pos­si­ble angle.

Among the site’s new fea­tures is a “search by text-on-maps” fea­ture, which you can acti­vate by click­ing the “by Text on Maps” but­ton next to the search win­dow at the top of the page. This lets you com­pare and con­trast the ways par­tic­u­lar places have been labeled on the vari­ety of maps in the col­lec­tion: not just prop­er names like Cairo, Madrid, and Yosemite, but also more gen­er­al terms like “gold mine,” “light­house” or “drag­ons.” Arguably, we look at maps more often here in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry than we ever did before, though sel­dom if ever do we depart from whichev­er map­ping app we hap­pen to keep on our phones. It’s worth step­ping back in car­to­graph­i­cal time to remem­ber that there were once as many ways of under­stand­ing the world as there were depic­tions of it.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Oculi Mun­di: A Beau­ti­ful Online Archive of 130 Ancient Maps, Atlases & Globes

40,000 Ear­ly Mod­ern Maps Are Now Freely Avail­able Online (Cour­tesy of the British Library)

Ancient Maps that Changed the World: See World Maps from Ancient Greece, Baby­lon, Rome, and the Islam­ic World

An Archive of 800+ Imag­i­na­tive Pro­pa­gan­da Maps Designed to Shape Opin­ions & Beliefs: Enter Cornell’s Per­sua­sive Maps Col­lec­tion

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.

Download 9,200+ Free Films from the Prelinger Archives: Documentaries, Cartoons & More

Depend­ing on how you reck­on it, the “Amer­i­can cen­tu­ry” has already end­ed, is now draw­ing to its close, or has some life left in it yet. But what­ev­er its bound­aries, that ambigu­ous peri­od has been cul­tur­al­ly defined by one medi­um above all: film, or more broad­ly speak­ing, motion pic­tures. These very words might start a series of clips rolling in your mind, a high­light reel of indus­tri­al devel­op­ments, polit­i­cal speech­es, protest march­es, sports vic­to­ries, NASA mis­sions, and for­eign wars. But that rep­re­sents just a tiny frac­tion of Amer­i­ca on film, much more of which you can eas­i­ly dis­cov­er with a vis­it to the Prelinger Archives.

Rick Prelinger found­ed the Prelinger Archives in 1982 with the mis­sion of pre­serv­ing “ephemer­al films.” Accord­ing to the pro­gram of a 2002 series he intro­duced at the Berke­ley Art Muse­um and Pacif­ic Film Archive a cou­ple of decades lat­er, these are “typ­i­cal­ly edu­ca­tion­al, indus­tri­al, or ama­teur films,” often made to serve a “prag­mat­ic and nar­row pur­pose. It is only by chance that many of them sur­vive.”

These pieces of “throw­away media” — of which the Prelinger Archives now has some 30,000 — include news­reel-type doc­u­men­taries, works of polit­i­cal pro­pa­gan­da, instruc­tion­al pro­duc­tions for use in schools and work­places, and a great many home movies that offer can­did glimpses into every­day Amer­i­can lives.

As any enthu­si­ast of mid-twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can cul­ture would hope, the Prelinger Archives also has its odd­i­ties: take the 1923 Felix the Cat car­toon at the top of the post, over­dubbed with voic­es (and a ref­er­ence to “hip­pies”) in the nine­teen-six­ties. Their free online col­lec­tions at the Inter­net Archive (which con­tains 9,229 films as of this writ­ing) and Youtube, con­tain every­thing from a 1942 pro­file of the art scene in San Fran­cis­co (the Prelinger Archives’ cur­rent home); to “You and Your Fam­i­ly,” the kind of home-life primer that would be ridiculed half a cen­tu­ry lat­er on Mys­tery Sci­ence The­ater 3000; to “While Brave Men Die…,” sure­ly the only pro-Viet­nam War doc­u­men­tary to fea­ture Joan Baez.

If you real­ly want to see the Unit­ed States, as we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly said here on Open Cul­ture, you’ve got to dri­ve across the coun­try. What holds true in life also holds true in film, and the Prelinger Archives’ dig­i­ti­za­tion and upload­ing have made it pos­si­ble to expe­ri­ence the his­to­ry of the great Amer­i­can road trip through the eyes — or the eight-mil­lime­ter cam­eras — of trav­el­ers who took it in the for­ties, fifties, and six­ties, rolling through sites of inter­est from the Grand Canyon and Mount Rush­more to the Corn Palace. If a cul­ture is pre­served most clear­ly through its ephemera, then there’s a whole lot more Amer­i­ca await­ing us in the Prelinger Archives.

Relat­ed con­tent:

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 Getty Makes Nearly 88,000 Art Images Free to Use However You Like

Since the J. Paul Get­ty Muse­um launched its Open Con­tent pro­gram back in 2013, we’ve been fea­tur­ing their efforts to make their vast col­lec­tion of cul­tur­al arti­facts freely acces­si­ble online. They’ve released not just dig­i­tized works of art, but also a great many art his­to­ry texts and art books in gen­er­al. Just this week, they announced an expan­sion of access to their dig­i­tal archive, in that they’ve made near­ly 88,000 images free to down­load on their Open Con­tent data­base under Cre­ative Com­mons Zero (CC0). That means “you can copy, mod­i­fy, dis­trib­ute and per­form the work, even for com­mer­cial pur­pos­es, all with­out ask­ing per­mis­sion.”

The Get­ty sug­gests that you “add a print of your favorite Dutch still life to your gallery wall or cre­ate a show­er cur­tain using the Iris­es by Van Gogh.” But if you search the open con­tent in their archive your­self, you can sure­ly get much more cre­ative than that.

The por­tal’s inter­face lets you search by cre­ation date (with a time­line graph stretch­ing back to the year 6000 BC), medi­um (from agate and alabaster to wood­cut and zinc), object type (includ­ing paint­ings, pho­tographs, and sculp­tures, of course, but also akro­te­ria, horse trap­pings, and tweez­ers), and cul­ture. The selec­tion reflects the wide man­date of the Get­ty’s col­lec­tion, which encom­pass­es as many of the civ­i­liza­tions of the world as it does the eras of human his­to­ry.

In the Get­ty’s open-con­tent archive, you’ll find ancient sculp­ture from Greece, Rome and many oth­er parts of the world besides; a frag­men­tary oinochoe (that is, a wine jug) from third-cen­tu­ry-BC Ptole­ma­ic Egypt; lav­ish­ly illu­mi­nat­ed medieval books of hours (of the kind pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture); works by such inno­v­a­tive French painters as Édouard Manet and Edgar Degas; the stereo­scop­ic pho­tog­ra­phy of Car­leton H. Graves, who in the late nine­teenth and ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry cap­tured places from Den­mark and Pales­tine, to Japan and Korea; the dar­ing abstrac­tions of artists like Hannes Maria Flach, Jaromír Funke, and Fran­cis Bruguière. But what you do with them is, of course, entire­ly up to you. Enter the col­lec­tion here.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Get­ty Dig­i­tal Archive Expands to 135,000 Free Images: Down­load High Res­o­lu­tion Scans of Paint­ings, Sculp­tures, Pho­tographs & Much Much More

A Search Engine for Find­ing Free, Pub­lic Domain Images from World-Class Muse­ums

100,000 Free Art His­to­ry Texts Now Avail­able Online Thanks to the Get­ty Research Por­tal

Down­load Great Works of Art from 40+ Muse­ums World­wide: Explore Artvee, the New Art Search Engine

The Smith­son­ian Puts 4.5 Mil­lion High-Res Images Online and Into the Pub­lic Domain, Mak­ing Them Free to Use

Down­load Over 325 Free Art Books From the Get­ty Muse­um

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 New York Public Library Presents an Archive of 860,000 Historical Images: Download Medieval Manuscripts, Japanese Prints, William Blake Illustrations & More

Back when we last fea­tured the New York Pub­lic Library’s dig­i­tal col­lec­tions in 2016, they con­tained about 160,000 high-res­o­lu­tion images from var­i­ous his­tor­i­cal peri­ods. This seemed like a fair­ly vast archive at the time, but in the years since, that num­ber has grown to more than 860,000. If it was dif­fi­cult to know where to begin explor­ing it sev­en years ago — when it already con­tained such dig­i­tized trea­sures as the Depres­sion-era Farm Secu­ri­ty Admin­is­tra­tion pho­tographs tak­en by Dorothea Lange, Walk­er Evans, and Gor­don Parks, Walt Whit­man’s hand­writ­ten pref­ace to Spec­i­men Days, Thomas Jefferson’s list of books for a pri­vate library, and six­teenth-cen­tu­ry illus­tra­tions for The Tale of Gen­ji — it can hard­ly be eas­i­er now.

Or rather, it can hard­ly be eas­i­er unless you start with the NYPL dig­i­tal col­lec­tions’ pub­lic domain picks, a sec­tion of the site that, as of this writ­ing, orga­nizes thou­sands and thou­sands of its hold­ings into thir­teen brows­able and intrigu­ing cat­e­gories.

These include the FSA pho­tos, but also book illus­tra­tions by William Blake, edi­tions of The Negro Trav­el­er’s Green Book (as pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture), the music and lyrics for Amer­i­can pop­u­lar songs, the papers of Walt Whit­man, and the more than 42,000 stereo­scop­ic prints of the Robert N. Den­nis col­lec­tion, which cap­ture an ear­ly form of 3D views of a fast-devel­op­ing (and, often, now-unrec­og­niz­able) Amer­i­can con­ti­nent.

Enthu­si­asts of New York City itself will no doubt make straight for sec­tions like “chang­ing New York,” “pho­tographs of Ellis Island, 1902–1913,” and “album de la con­struc­tion de la Stat­ue de la Lib­erté.” Soon after after its ded­i­ca­tion in 1886, the Stat­ue of Lib­er­ty came to sym­bol­ize not just a city, and not just a coun­try, but the very con­cept of Amer­i­can civ­i­liza­tion and the grand cul­tur­al exchange it had already begun to con­duct with the rest of the world. 137 years lat­er, you can spend a lit­tle time in the NYPL’s dig­i­tal col­lec­tions and turn up every­thing from illu­mi­nat­ed man­u­scripts from medieval and Renais­sance Europe to Japan­ese wood­block prints to col­or draw­ings of Indi­an life in the eigh­teenth and nine­teenth cen­turies — and you don’t have to be any­where near New York to do so. Enter the NYPL dig­i­tal col­lec­tions here.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Food­ie Alert: New York Pub­lic Library Presents an Archive of 17,000 Restau­rant Menus (1851–2008)

100,000+ Won­der­ful Pieces of The­ater Ephemera Dig­i­tized by The New York Pub­lic Library

The “Weird Objects” in the New York Pub­lic Library’s Col­lec­tions: Vir­ginia Woolf’s Cane, Charles Dick­ens’ Let­ter Open­er, Walt Whitman’s Hair & More

John Cage Unbound: A New Dig­i­tal Archive Pre­sent­ed by The New York Pub­lic Library

Immac­u­late­ly Restored Film Lets You Revis­it Life in New York City in 1911

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 Entire Manuscript Collection of Geoffrey Chaucer Gets Digitized: A New Archive Features 25,000 Images of The Canterbury Tales & Other Illustrated Medieval Manuscripts

Ear­li­er this year, Oxford pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish lit­er­a­ture Mar­i­on Turn­er pub­lished The Wife of Bath: A Biog­ra­phy. Even if you don’t know any­thing about that book’s sub­ject, you’ve almost cer­tain­ly heard of her, and per­haps also of her trav­el­ing com­pan­ions like the Knight, the Sum­mon­er, the Nun’s Priest, and the Canon’s Yeo­man. These are just a few of the pil­grims whose sto­ry­telling con­test struc­tures Geof­frey Chaucer’s four­teenth-cen­tu­ry mag­num opus The Can­ter­bury Tales, whose influ­ence con­tin­ues to rever­ber­ate through Eng­lish lit­er­a­ture, even all these cen­turies after the author’s death. In com­mem­o­ra­tion of the 623rd anniver­sary of that work, the British Library has opened a vast online Chaucer archive.

This archive comes as a cul­mi­na­tion of what the Guardian’s Car­o­line Davies describes as “a two and a half year project to upload 25,000 images of the often elab­o­rate­ly illus­trat­ed medieval man­u­scripts.” Among these arti­facts are “com­plete copies of Chaucer’s poems but also unique sur­vivals, includ­ing frag­men­tary texts found in Mid­dle Eng­lish antholo­gies or inscribed in print­ed edi­tions and incunab­u­la (books print­ed before 1501).”

If you’re look­ing for The Can­ter­bury Tales, you’ll find no few­er than 23 ver­sions of it, the ear­li­est of which “was writ­ten only a few years after Chaucer’s death in rough­ly 1400.” Also dig­i­tized are “rare copies of the 1476 and 1483 edi­tions of the text made by William Cax­ton,” now con­sid­ered “the first sig­nif­i­cant text to be print­ed in Eng­land.”

Four cen­turies lat­er, design­er-writer-social reformer William Mor­ris col­lab­o­rat­ed with cel­e­brat­ed painter Edward Burne-Jones to cre­ate an edi­tion W. B. Yeats once called “the most beau­ti­ful of all print­ed books”: the Kelm­scott Chaucer, pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture, which you can also explore in the British Library’s new archive (as least as soon as its ongo­ing cyber attack-relat­ed issues are resolved). As its wider con­tents reveal, Chaucer was the author of not just The Can­ter­bury Tales but also a vari­ety of oth­er poems, the clas­si­cal-dream-vision sto­ry col­lec­tion The Leg­end of Good Women, an instruc­tion man­u­al for an astro­labe, and trans­la­tions of The Romance of the Rose and The Con­so­la­tion of Phi­los­o­phy. And his Tro­jan epic Troilus and Criseyde may sound famil­iar, thanks to the inspi­ra­tion it gave, more than 200 years lat­er, to a coun­try­man by the name of William Shake­speare.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Behold a Dig­i­ti­za­tion of “The Most Beau­ti­ful of All Print­ed Books,” The Kelm­scott Chaucer

Ter­ry Jones, the Late Mon­ty Python Actor, Helped Turn Chaucer’s Can­ter­bury Tales Into a Free App: Explore It Online

Dis­cov­er the First Illus­trat­ed Book Print­ed in Eng­lish, William Caxton’s Mir­ror of the World (1481)

40,000 Ear­ly Mod­ern Maps Are Now Freely Avail­able Online (Cour­tesy of the British Library)

The British Library Puts Over 1,000,000 Images in the Pub­lic Domain: A Deep­er Dive Into the Col­lec­tion

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 New Online Archive Lets You Read the Whole Earth Catalog and Other Whole Earth Publications, Taking You from 1970 to 2002

Today, if you want to get start­ed in home brew­ing, shop for a syn­the­siz­er, find out what cyber­net­ics is, order non-genet­i­cal­ly-mod­i­fied seeds, start your own mush­room farm, learn how to repair a Volk­swa­gen, sub­scribe to lib­er­tar­i­an pub­li­ca­tions, pur­chase the work of Mar­shall McLuhan, sign up for an out­door excur­sion, read an essay on zen Bud­dhism, com­pare home-birth setups, gath­er home­school­ing mate­ri­als, build a geo­des­ic dome, you go to one place first: the inter­net. Half a cen­tu­ry ago, when the per­son­al com­put­er had only just come into exis­tence, that would­n’t have been an option. But pro­vid­ed you were suf­fi­cient­ly tapped into the coun­ter­cul­ture, you could open up the nine­teen-sev­en­ties equiv­a­lent of the inter­net: The Whole Earth Cat­a­log.

Launched by Stew­art Brand in 1968, the Whole Earth Cat­a­log curat­ed and pre­sent­ed the prod­ucts and ser­vices of a wide vari­ety of busi­ness­es all between the cov­ers of one increas­ing­ly weighty print­ed vol­ume offer­ing what its slo­gan called “access to tools.”

While cer­tain of its sec­tions reflect­ed the most lit­er­al mean­ing of the term “tools” — you could’ve kept a pret­ty robust farm going with all the imple­ments on offer, and no doubt more than a few read­ers tried to do so — the larg­er enter­prise seemed to run on the goal of expand­ing the def­i­n­i­tion of what a tool could be, as well as the range of pos­si­bil­i­ties it could open to its user. Even sub­scribers who nev­er bought a prod­uct could receive an edu­ca­tion from the cat­a­log’s often eccen­tric but always infor­ma­tive descrip­tions of those prod­ucts.

“Behind the infor­ma­tion, the advice, the hints, and the facts, this book is about com­ing to see things as they are, through your own eyes, instead of the hired eyes of some expert or oth­er. It’s about train­ing your­self to trust your­self, and trust­ing your­self to train your­self, until you‘re able to claim your right as a human to be com­pe­tent with your hands.” These words come from writer and doc­u­men­tar­i­an Gur­ney Nor­man’s cap­sule review, in the spring 1970 Whole Earth Cat­a­log, of Joan Ran­son Short­ney’s book, How to Live on Noth­ing (described there­in as “our best-sell­ing book”). But Nor­man could just as well have been describ­ing the Whole Earth Cat­a­log itself, which was all about the abil­i­ty of indi­vid­u­als and small groups, equipped with not just tech­nol­o­gy new and old but also deep reserves of opti­mism and humor, to deter­mine their own des­tiny.

“The Whole Earth Cat­a­log offered a vision for a new social order,” writes the New York­er’s Anna Wiener, “one that eschewed insti­tu­tions in favor of indi­vid­ual empow­er­ment, achieved through the acqui­si­tion of skills and tools. The lat­ter cat­e­go­ry includ­ed agri­cul­tur­al equip­ment, weav­ing kits, mechan­i­cal devices, books like Kib­butz: Ven­ture in Utopia, and dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies and relat­ed the­o­ret­i­cal texts, such as Nor­bert Wiener’s Cyber­net­ics and the Hewlett-Packard 9100A, a pro­gram­ma­ble cal­cu­la­tor.” Oth­er sec­tions might offer Grav­i­ty’s Rain­bow; an Apple II home com­put­er; some­thing called “self-ther­a­peu­tic rub­ber”; and even a hot tub. “Many a new­com­er to Cal­i­for­nia remem­bers for­ev­er the trau­ma of first being invit­ed — at a per­fect­ly ordi­nary par­ty — to strip and enter a steam­ing tub full of strangers,” writes Brand in the Next Whole Earth Cat­a­log of fall 1980, which may sound a bit late in the game for that sort of thing.

But then, the spir­it of the Whole Earth Cat­a­log, first ani­mat­ed by the free-enter­prise-and-free-love nine­teen-six­ties and sev­en­ties, has long out­last­ed its orig­i­nal cul­tur­al moment — and indeed the cat­a­log itself, which ceased pub­li­ca­tion in 1998. But now, thanks to Gray Area and the Inter­net Archive, you can read and down­load many issues of not just the Whole Earth Cat­a­log but also its suc­ces­sor pub­li­ca­tions, from CoEvo­lu­tion Quar­ter­ly to Whole Earth Mag­a­zine, in a new online col­lec­tion span­ning the years 1970 to 2002. To browse it is to enter a coun­ter­cul­tur­al time machine, expe­ri­enc­ing both the pre­pos­ter­ous­ness and the pre­science of the coun­ter­cul­ture as if for the first time. But then, for the vast major­i­ty of its vis­i­tors here in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry — who know that coun­ter­cul­ture only indi­rect­ly, through its wide but dif­fuse influ­ence on every­thing up to and includ­ing the inter­net — it will be the first time. Enter the col­lec­tion here.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Watch Stew­art Brand’s 6‑Part Series How Build­ings Learn, With Music by Bri­an Eno

Earth­rise, Apol­lo 8’s Pho­to of Earth from Space, Turns 50: Down­load the Icon­ic Pho­to­graph from NASA

Bri­an Eno Cre­ates a List of 20 Books That Could Rebuild Civ­i­liza­tion

Down­load the Com­plete Archive of Oz, “the Most Con­tro­ver­sial Mag­a­zine of the 60s,” Fea­tur­ing R. Crumb, Ger­maine Greer & More

Buck­min­ster Fuller Tells the World “Every­thing He Knows” in a 42-Hour Lec­ture Series (1975)

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.

1,500 Paintings & Drawings by Vincent van Gogh Have Been Digitized & Put Online

Every artist explores dimen­sions of space and place, ori­ent­ing them­selves and their works in the world, and ori­ent­ing their audi­ences. Then there are artists like Vin­cent van Gogh, who make space and place a pri­ma­ry sub­ject. In his ear­ly paint­ings of peas­ant homes and fields, his fig­ures’ mus­cu­lar shoul­ders and hands inter­act with stur­dy walls and gnarled trees. Lat­er coun­try scenes—whether curl­ing and del­i­cate, like Wheat­field with a Reaper, or heavy and omi­nous, like Wheat­field with Crows (both below)—give us the sense of the land­scape as a sin­gle liv­ing enti­ty, pul­sat­ing, writhing, blaz­ing in bril­liant yel­lows, reds, greens, and blues.

Van Gogh paint­ed inte­ri­or scenes, such as his famous The Bed­room, at the top (the first of three ver­sions), with an eye toward using col­or as the means of mak­ing space pur­pose­ful: “It’s just sim­ply my bed­room,” he wrote to Paul Gau­guin of the 1888 paint­ing, “only here col­or is to do every­thing… to be sug­ges­tive here of rest or of sleep in gen­er­al. In a word, look­ing at the pic­ture ought to rest the brain, or rather the imag­i­na­tion.”

So tak­en was the painter with the con­cept of using col­or to induce “rest or sleep” in his view­ers’ imag­i­na­tions that when water dam­age threat­ened the “sta­bil­i­ty” of the first paint­ing, Chicago’s Art Insti­tute notes, “he became deter­mined to pre­serve the com­po­si­tion by paint­ing a sec­ond ver­sion while at an asy­lum in Saint-Rémy in 1889,” then demon­strat­ed the deep emo­tion­al res­o­nance this scene had for him by paint­ing a third, small­er ver­sion for his moth­er and sis­ter.

The oppor­tu­ni­ty to see all of Van Gogh’s bed­room paint­ings in one place may have passed us by for now—an exhib­it in Chica­go brought them togeth­er in 2016. But we can see the orig­i­nal bed­room at the yel­low house in Arles in a vir­tu­al space, along with 1,500 more Van Gogh paint­ings and draw­ings, at the Van Gogh Muse­um in Ams­ter­dam’s site. The dig­i­tized col­lec­tion show­cas­es a vast amount of Van Gogh’s work—including not only land­scapes, but also his many por­traits, self-por­traits, draw­ings, city scenes, and still-lifes.

One way to approach these works is through the uni­fy­ing themes above: how does van Gogh use col­or to com­mu­ni­cate space and place, and to what effect? Even in por­traits and still-lifes, his fig­ures com­pete with the ground. The scored and scal­loped paint­ings of walls, floors, and wall­pa­per force our atten­tion past the star­ing eyes of the painter or the fine­ly-ren­dered fruits and shoes, and into the depths and tex­tures of shad­ow and light. We begin to see peo­ple and objects as insep­a­ra­ble from their sur­round­ings.

“Paint­ing is a faith,” Van Gogh once wrote, and it is as if his paint­ings ask us to con­tem­plate the spir­i­tu­al uni­ty of all things; the same ani­mat­ing flame brings every object in his blaz­ing worlds to life. The Van Gogh Muse­um hous­es the largest col­lec­tion of the artist’s work in the world. On their web­site you can read essays about his life and work, plan a vis­it, or shop at the online store. But most impor­tant­ly, you can expe­ri­ence the stun­ning breadth of his art through your screen—no replace­ment for the phys­i­cal spaces of gal­leries, but a wor­thy means nonethe­less of com­muning with Van Gogh’s vision.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2018.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Vin­cent van Gogh Vis­its a Mod­ern Art Gallery & Gets to See His Artis­tic Lega­cy: A Touch­ing Scene from Doc­tor Who

Expe­ri­ence the Van Gogh Muse­um in 4K Res­o­lu­tion: A Video Tour in Sev­en Parts

Vin­cent Van Gogh’s Self Por­traits: Explore & Down­load a Col­lec­tion of 17 Paint­ings Free Online

Vin­cent Van Gogh’s “The Star­ry Night”: Why It’s a Great Paint­ing in 15 Min­utes

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

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The Smithsonian Puts 4.5 Million High-Res Images Online and Into the Public Domain, Making Them Free to Use

That vast repos­i­to­ry of Amer­i­can his­to­ry that is the Smith­son­ian Insti­tu­tion evolved from an orga­ni­za­tion found­ed in 1816 called the Columbian Insti­tute for the Pro­mo­tion of Arts and Sci­ences. Its man­date, the col­lec­tion and dis­sem­i­na­tion of use­ful knowl­edge, now sounds very much of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry — but then, so does its name. Colum­bia, the god­dess-like sym­bol­ic per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca, is sel­dom direct­ly ref­er­enced today, hav­ing been super­seded by Lady Lib­er­ty. Traits of both fig­ures appear in the depic­tion on the nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry fire­man’s hat above, about which you can learn more at Smith­son­ian Open Access, a dig­i­tal archive that now con­tains some 4.5 mil­lion images.

“Any­one can down­load, reuse, and remix these images at any time — for free under the Cre­ative Com­mons Zero (CC0) license,” write My Mod­ern Met’s Jes­si­ca Stew­art and Madeleine Muz­dakis. “A dive into the 3D records shows every­thing from CAD mod­els of the Apol­lo 11 com­mand mod­ule to Hor­a­tio Gree­nough’s 1840 sculp­ture of George Wash­ing­ton.”

The 2D arti­facts of inter­est include “a por­trait of Poc­a­hon­tas in the Nation­al Por­trait Gallery, an image of the 1903 Wright Fly­er from the Nation­al Air and Space Muse­um, and box­ing head­gear worn by Muham­mad Ali from the Nation­al Muse­um of African Amer­i­can His­to­ry and Cul­ture.”

The NMAAHC in par­tic­u­lar has pro­vid­ed a great many items rel­e­vant to twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can cul­ture, like James Bald­win’s inkwell, Chuck Berry’s gui­tar May­bel­lene, Pub­lic Ene­my’s boom­box, and the poster for a 1968 Nina Simone con­cert. The more obscure object just above, a Native Amer­i­can kachi­na fig­ure with the head of Mick­ey Mouse, comes from the Smith­son­ian Amer­i­can Art Muse­um. “When Dis­ney Stu­dios put a mouse hero on the sil­ver screen in the 1930s,” explain the accom­pa­ny­ing notes, “Hopi artists saw in Mick­ey Mouse a cel­e­bra­tion of Tusan Homichi, the leg­endary mouse war­rior who defeat­ed a chick­en-steal­ing hawk” — and were thus them­selves inspired, it seems, to sum up a wide swath of Amer­i­can his­to­ry in a sin­gle object.

More items are being added to Smith­son­ian Open Access all the time, each with its own sto­ry to tell — and all acces­si­ble not just to Amer­i­cans, but inter­net users the world over. In that sense it feels a bit like the Chica­go World’s Fair of 1893, bet­ter known as the World’s Columbian Expo­si­tion, with its mis­sion of reveal­ing Amer­i­ca’s sci­en­tif­ic, tech­no­log­i­cal, and artis­tic genius to the whole of human civ­i­liza­tion. You can see a great many pho­tos and oth­er arti­facts of this land­mark event at Smith­son­ian Open Access, or, if you pre­fer, you can click the “just brows­ing” link and behold all the his­tor­i­cal, cul­tur­al, and for­mal vari­ety avail­able in the Smith­so­ni­an’s dig­i­tal col­lec­tions, where the spir­it of Colum­bia lives on.

via Kot­tke/My Mod­ern Met

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Library of Con­gress Launch­es the Nation­al Screen­ing Room, Putting Online Hun­dreds of His­toric Films

The Smith­son­ian Design Muse­um Dig­i­tizes 200,000 Objects, Giv­ing You Access to 3,000 Years of Design Inno­va­tion & His­to­ry

The Smith­son­ian Presents a Gallery of 6,000+ Rare Rock ‘n Roll Pho­tos on a Crowd­sourced Web Site, and Now a New Book

Why 99% Of Smithsonian’s Spec­i­mens Are Hid­den In High Secu­ri­ty

John Green’s Crash Course in U.S. His­to­ry: From Colo­nial­ism to Oba­ma in 47 Videos

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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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.