Is America Declining Like Ancient Rome?

Pur­sued to any depth, the ques­tion of whether the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca counts as an empire becomes dif­fi­cult to address with clar­i­ty. On one hand, the coun­try has exert­ed a strong cul­tur­al influ­ence on most of the world for the bet­ter part of a cen­tu­ry, a phe­nom­e­non not unre­lat­ed to the mil­i­tary pres­ence that extends far beyond its bor­ders. (In Korea, where I live, I once met a for­mer KATUSA, the branch of the Kore­an Army sec­ond­ed to the US Army, who told me he’d joined because he “want­ed to see what it was like to be a mod­ern Roman sol­dier.”) On the oth­er hand, we can’t quite say that it rules the known world — at least, not in the way that the Roman Empire did twen­ty cen­turies ago.

Yet the temp­ta­tion to draw par­al­lels between Amer­i­ca and Rome remains irre­sistible, not least when it comes to the sub­ject of impe­r­i­al decline. In this video from Told in Stone, his­to­ri­an Gar­rett Ryan eval­u­ates “the idea that mod­ern Amer­i­ca is des­tined to decline and fall like ancient Rome.” The argu­ments for this motion tend to involve “an increas­ing­ly unset­tled inter­na­tion­al land­scape” and  “domes­tic divi­sion,” lead­ing to the dis­so­lu­tion of Pax Amer­i­cana — the suc­ces­sor of Pax Bri­tan­ni­ca, which itself suc­ceed­ed Pax Romana. Amer­i­cans, Ryan explains, “have a sense that Rome is in their polit­i­cal DNA. The con­sti­tu­tion, after all, rep­re­sents an attempt to cre­ate a new and per­fect­ed Roman Repub­lic. Anx­i­eties about Roman-style decline have been present since the begin­ning.”

Rome and Amer­i­ca: each “was the great­est pow­er of its time,” each “had a strong legal sys­tem and a soci­ety that left room for social advance­ment,” and each “pro­fessed to be guid­ed by Chris­t­ian prin­ci­ples.” Their polit­i­cal, eco­nom­ic, tech­no­log­i­cal con­di­tions could hard­ly be more dif­fer­ent, of course, but when observers “say that Amer­i­ca is falling like Rome, the under­ly­ing assump­tion is not that Amer­i­ca is specif­i­cal­ly like Rome; it’s that all empires, ancient and mod­ern, fol­low a sim­i­lar course from great­ness to grave.” The Roman Empire fell because “Ger­man­ic tribes over­came its fron­tier defens­es,” because “a series of ruinous civ­il wars sapped its strength,” because “it had lost the loy­al­ty of provin­cial elites,” and for many oth­er rea­sons besides — few of which are like­ly to play major parts in a notion­al Amer­i­can col­lapse.

But the fact that “the decline of Rome has no pre­cise par­al­lels in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry does not mean that it has no lessons to offer mod­ern Amer­i­ca.” To learn those lessons, we could do worse than to turn to eigh­teenth-cen­tu­ry his­to­ri­an Edward Gib­bon, whose The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is the sub­ject of the School of Life video above. “The immense sto­ry that Gib­bon tells us moves from one dis­as­ter to anoth­er, cen­tu­ry after cen­tu­ry,” says nar­ra­tor Alain de Bot­ton: failed reforms, insti­tu­tion­al cor­rup­tion, break­downs in civ­il-mil­i­tary rela­tions, plagues, poor har­vests, eco­nom­ic col­lapse. And yet the Renais­sance, the Enlight­en­ment, and the arrival of moder­ni­ty, as we know it, all lay ahead. “You aren’t going to like what comes after Amer­i­ca,” Leonard Cohen once wrote, but maybe our descen­dants will like what comes a mil­len­ni­um or so after Amer­i­ca.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Splen­did Book Design of the 1946 Edi­tion of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

The Rise & Fall of Roman Civ­i­liza­tion: Every Year Shown in a Time­lapse Map Ani­ma­tion (753 BC ‑1479 AD)

Howard Zinn’s “What the Class­room Didn’t Teach Me About the Amer­i­can Empire”: An Illus­trat­ed Video Nar­rat­ed by Vig­go Mortensen

When Iggy Pop Pub­lished an Essay, “Cae­sar Lives,” in an Aca­d­e­m­ic Jour­nal about His Love for Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1995)

Do You Think About Ancient Rome Every Day? Then Browse a Wealth of Videos, Maps & Pho­tos That Explore the Roman Empire

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 Song From the 1500’s That Blows Rick Beato Away: An Introduction to John Dowland’s Entrancing Music

In 2006, Sting released an album called Songs from the Labyrinth, a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Bosn­ian lutenist Edin Kara­ma­zov con­sist­ing most­ly of com­po­si­tions by Renais­sance com­pos­er John Dow­land. This was regard­ed by some as rather eccen­tric, but to lis­ten­ers famil­iar with the ear­ly music revival that had already been going on for a few decades, it would have been almost too obvi­ous a choice. For Dow­land had long since been redis­cov­ered as one of the late six­teenth and ear­ly sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry’s musi­cal super­stars, thanks in part to the record­ings of clas­si­cal gui­tarist and lutenist Julian Bream.

“When I was a kid, I went to the pub­lic library in Fair­port, New York, where I’m from, and I got this Julian Bream record,” says music pro­duc­er and pop­u­lar Youtu­ber Rick Beato (pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture) in the video above. Beato describes Bream as “one of the great­est clas­si­cal gui­tarists who ever lived” and cred­its him with hav­ing “pop­u­lar­ized the clas­si­cal gui­tar and the lute and renais­sance music.” The par­tic­u­lar Bream record­ing that impressed the young Beato was of a John Dow­land com­po­si­tion made exot­ic by dis­tance in time called “The Earl of Essex Gal­liard,” a per­for­mance of which you can watch on Youtube.

Half a cen­tu­ry lat­er, Beat­o’s enjoy­ment for this piece seems undi­min­ished — and indeed, so much in evi­dence that this prac­ti­cal­ly turns into a reac­tion video. Lis­ten­ing gets him rem­i­nisc­ing about his ear­ly Dow­land expe­ri­ences: “I would put on this Julian Bream record of him play­ing lute, just solo lute, and I would sit there and I would putt” — his father hav­ing been golf enthu­si­ast enough to have installed a small indoor putting green — and “imag­ine liv­ing back in the fif­teen-hun­dreds, what it would be like.” These pre­tend time-trav­el ses­sions matured into a gen­uine inter­est in ear­ly music, one he pur­sued at the New Eng­land Con­ser­va­to­ry of Music and beyond.

What a delight it would have been for him, then, to find that Sting had laid down his own ver­sion of “The Earl of Essex Gal­liard,” some­times oth­er­wise known as “Can She Excuse My Wrongs.” In one espe­cial­ly strik­ing sec­tion, Sting takes “the sopra­no-alto-tenor-bass part” and records the whole thing using only lay­ers of his own voice: “there’s four Stings here,” Beato says, refer­ring to the rel­e­vant dig­i­tal­ly manip­u­lat­ed scene in the music video, “but there’s actu­al­ly more than four voic­es.” Songs from the Labyrinth may only have been a mod­est­ly suc­cess­ful album by Sting’s stan­dards, but it has no doubt turned more than a few mid­dle-of-the-road pop fans onto the beau­ty of Eng­lish Renais­sance music. If Beat­o’s enthu­si­asm has also turned a few clas­sic-rock addicts into John Dow­land con­nois­seurs, so much the bet­ter.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The His­to­ry of the Gui­tar: See the Evo­lu­tion of the Gui­tar in 7 Instru­ments

Bach Played Beau­ti­ful­ly on the Baroque Lute, by Pre­em­i­nent Lutenist Evan­geli­na Mas­car­di

Watch All of Vivaldi’s Four Sea­sons Per­formed on Orig­i­nal Baroque Instru­ments

Hear Clas­sic Rock Songs Played on a Baroque Lute: “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” “While My Gui­tar Gen­tly Weeps,” “White Room” & More

Renais­sance Knives Had Music Engraved on the Blades; Now Hear the Songs Per­formed by Mod­ern Singers

What Makes This Song Great?: Pro­duc­er Rick Beato Breaks Down the Great­ness of Clas­sic Rock Songs in His New Video Series

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.

Hear the Evolution of Mozart’s Music, Composed from Ages 5 to 35

More than a quar­ter of a mil­len­ni­um after he com­posed his first pieces of music, dif­fer­ent lis­ten­ers will eval­u­ate dif­fer­ent­ly the spe­cif­ic nature of Wolf­gang Amadeus Mozart’s genius. But one can hard­ly fail to be impressed by the fact that he wrote those works when he was five years old (or, as some schol­ars have it, four years old). It’s not unknown, even today, for pre­co­cious, musi­cal­ly inclined chil­dren of that age to sit down and put togeth­er sim­ple melodies, or even rea­son­ably com­plete songs. But how many of them can write some­thing like Mozart’s “Min­uet in G Major”?

The video above, which traces the evo­lu­tion of Mozart’s music, begins with that piece — nat­u­ral­ly enough, since it’s his ear­li­est known work, and thus hon­ored with the Köchel cat­a­logue num­ber of KV 1. There­after we hear music com­posed by Mozart at var­i­ous ages of child­hood, youth, ado­les­cence, and adult­hood, accom­pa­nied by a piano roll graph­ic that illus­trates its increas­ing com­plex­i­ty.

And as with com­plex­i­ty, so with famil­iar­i­ty: even lis­ten­ers who know lit­tle of Mozart’s work will sense the emer­gence of a dis­tinc­tive style, and even those who’ve bare­ly heard of Mozart will rec­og­nize “Piano Sonata No. 16 in C major” when it comes on.

Mozart com­posed that piece when he was 32 years old. It’s also known as the “Sonata facile” or “Sonata sem­plice,” despite its dis­tinct lack of eas­i­ness for novice (or even inter­me­di­ate) piano play­ers. It’s now cat­a­loged as KV 545, which puts it toward the end of Mozart’s oeu­vre, and indeed his life. Three years lat­er, the evo­lu­tion­ary lis­ten­ing jour­ney of this video arrives at the “Requiem in D minor,” which we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture for its exten­sive cin­e­mat­ic use to evoke evil, lone­li­ness, des­per­a­tion, and reck­on­ing. The piece, KV 626, con­tains Mozart’s last notes; the unan­swer­able but nev­er­the­less irre­sistible ques­tion remains of whether they’re some­how implied in his first ones.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Hear All of Mozart in a Free 127-Hour Playlist

Hear the Pieces Mozart Com­posed When He Was Only Five Years Old

Read an 18th-Cen­tu­ry Eye­wit­ness Account of 8‑Year-Old Mozart’s Extra­or­di­nary Musi­cal Skills

Mozart’s Diary Where He Com­posed His Final Mas­ter­pieces Is Now Dig­i­tized and Avail­able Online

What Movies Teach Us About Mozart: Explor­ing the Cin­e­mat­ic Uses of His Famous Lac­rimosa

See Mozart Played on Mozart’s Own Fortepi­ano, the Instru­ment That Most Authen­ti­cal­ly Cap­tures the Sound of His Music

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 Oldest Known Photographs of India (1863–1870)

After about a cen­tu­ry of indi­rect com­pa­ny rule, India became a full-fledged British colony in 1858. The con­se­quences of this polit­i­cal devel­op­ment remain a mat­ter of heat­ed debate today, but one thing is cer­tain: it made India into a nat­ur­al des­ti­na­tion for enter­pris­ing Britons. Take the aspir­ing cler­gy­man turned Not­ting­ham bank employ­ee Samuel Bourne, who made his name as an ama­teur pho­tog­ra­ph­er with his pic­tures of the Lake Dis­trict in the late eigh­teen-fifties. When those works met with a good recep­tion at the Lon­don Inter­na­tion­al Exhi­bi­tion of 1862, Bourne real­ized that he’d found his true méti­er; soon there­after, he quit the bank and set sail for Cal­cut­ta to prac­tice it.

It was in the city of Shim­la that Bourne estab­lished a prop­er pho­to stu­dio, first with his fel­low pho­tog­ra­ph­er William Howard, then with anoth­er named Charles Shep­herd. (Bourne & Shep­herd, as it was even­tu­al­ly named, remained in busi­ness until 2016.) Bourne trav­eled exten­sive­ly in India, tak­ing the pic­tures you can see col­lect­ed in the video above, but it was his “three suc­ces­sive pho­to­graph­ic expe­di­tions to the Himalayas” that secured his place in the his­to­ry of pho­tog­ra­phy.

In the last of these, “Bourne enlist­ed a team of eighty porters who drove a live food sup­ply of sheep and goats and car­ried box­es of chem­i­cals, glass plates, and a portable dark­room tent,” says the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art. When he crossed the Manirung Pass “at an ele­va­tion of 18,600 feet, Bourne suc­ceed­ed in tak­ing three views before the sky cloud­ed over, set­ting a record for pho­tog­ra­phy at high alti­tudes.”

Though he spent only six years in India, Bourne man­aged to take 2,200 high-qual­i­ty pic­tures in that time, some of the old­est — and indeed, some of the finest — pho­tographs of India and its near­by region known today.

In addi­tion to views of the Himalayas, he cap­tured no few archi­tec­tur­al won­ders: the Taj Mahal and the Ram­nathi tem­ple, of course, but also Raj-era cre­ations like what was then known as the Gov­ern­ment House in Cal­cut­ta (see below).

Colo­nial rule has been over for near­ly eighty years now, and in that time India has grown rich­er in every sense, not least visu­al­ly. It hard­ly takes an eye as keen as Bourne’s to rec­og­nize in it one of the world’s great civ­i­liza­tions, but a Bourne of the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry prob­a­bly needs some­thing more than a cam­era phone to do it jus­tice.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The First Pho­to­graph Ever Tak­en (1826)

Some of the Old­est Pho­tos You Will Ever See: Dis­cov­er Pho­tographs of Greece, Egypt, Turkey & Oth­er Mediter­ranean Lands (1840s)

The Old­est Known Pho­tographs of Rome (1841–1871)

The Ear­li­est Sur­viv­ing Pho­tos of Iran: Pho­tos from 1850s-60s Cap­ture Every­thing from Grand Palaces to the Ruins of Perse­po­lis

Behold the Pho­tographs of John Thom­son, the First West­ern Pho­tog­ra­ph­er to Trav­el Wide­ly Through Chi­na (1870s)

Around the World in 1896: 40 Min­utes of Real Footage Lets You Vis­it Paris, New York, Venice, Rome, Budapest & More

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 Evolution of Animation, 1833–2017: From the Phenakistiscope to Pixar

This year has giv­en us occa­sion to revis­it the 1928 Dis­ney car­toon Steam­boat Willie, what with its entry — and thus, that of an ear­ly ver­sion of a cer­tain Mick­ey Mouse — into the pub­lic domain. Though it may look com­par­a­tive­ly prim­i­tive today, that eight-minute black-and-white film actu­al­ly rep­re­sents a great many advance­ments in the art and tech­nol­o­gy of ani­ma­tion since its incep­tion. You can get a sense of that entire process, just about, from the video above, “The Evo­lu­tion of Ani­ma­tion 1833–2017,” which ends up at The LEGO Bat­man Movie but begins with the hum­ble phenakistis­cope.

First intro­duced to the pub­lic in 1833, the phenakistis­cope is an illus­trat­ed disc that, when spun, cre­ates the illu­sion of motion. Essen­tial­ly a nov­el­ty designed to cre­ate an opti­cal illu­sion (the Greek roots of its name being phenakizein, or “deceiv­ing,” and óps, or “eye”), it seems to have attained great pop­u­lar­i­ty as a chil­dren’s toy in the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, and it lat­er became capa­ble of pro­jec­tion and gained util­i­ty in sci­en­tif­ic research. Pio­neer­ing motion pho­tog­ra­ph­er Ead­weard Muy­bridge’s Zooprax­is­cope, now immor­tal­ized in cin­e­ma his­to­ry as a pre­de­ces­sor of the movie pro­jec­tor, was based on the phenakistis­cope.

The first moments of “The Evo­lu­tion of Ani­ma­tion” include a cou­ple of phenakistis­copes, but soon the com­pi­la­tion moves on to clips star­ring some­what bet­ter-known fig­ures from the ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry like Lit­tle Nemo and Ger­tie the Dinosaur. But it’s only after Steam­boat Willie that ani­ma­tion under­goes its real cre­ative explo­sion, bring­ing to whim­si­cal and hyper­ki­net­ic life not just human char­ac­ters but a host of ani­mals, trees, and non-liv­ing objects besides. After releas­ing the mon­u­men­tal Snow White in 1937, Dis­ney dom­i­nat­ed the form both tech­no­log­i­cal­ly and artis­ti­cal­ly for at least three decades. Though this video does con­tain plen­ty of Dis­ney, it also includes the work of oth­er stu­dios that have explored quite dif­fer­ent areas of the vast field of pos­si­bil­i­ty in ani­ma­tion.

Take, for exam­ple, the psy­che­del­ic Bea­t­les movie Yel­low Sub­ma­rine, the French-Czech sur­re­al­ist sci­ence-fic­tion fable Fan­tas­tic Plan­et, the stop-motion between-hol­i­days spec­ta­cle of The Night­mare Before Christ­mas, and of course, the depth and refine­ment of Hayao Miyaza­ki’s Stu­dio Ghi­b­li, begin­ning with Nau­si­caä of the Val­ley of the Wind (which came before the for­ma­tion of the stu­dio itself). From the mid-nineties — with cer­tain notable excep­tions, like Wal­lace & Gromit: The Movie and Char­lie Kauf­man’s Anom­aL­isa — com­put­er-gen­er­at­ed 3D ani­ma­tion more or less takes over from the tra­di­tion­al vari­eties. This has pro­duced a num­ber of fea­tures wide­ly con­sid­ered mas­ter­pieces, most of them from the now-Dis­ney-owned Pixar. But after expe­ri­enc­ing the his­to­ry of the form in minia­ture, it’s tempt­ing to hope that the next stage of the ani­ma­tion’s evo­lu­tion will involve the redis­cov­ery of its past.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Behold the World’s Old­est Ani­ma­tion Made on a Vase in Iran 5,200 Years Ago

Ger­tie the Dinosaur: The Moth­er of all Car­toon Char­ac­ters (1914)

Ear­ly Japan­ese Ani­ma­tions: The Ori­gins of Ani­me (1917–1931)

The Ani­ma­tions That Changed Cin­e­ma: The Ground­break­ing Lega­cies of Prince Achmed, Aki­ra, The Iron Giant & More

The Beau­ti­ful Anar­chy of the Ear­li­est Ani­mat­ed Car­toons: Explore an Archive with 200+ Ear­ly Ani­ma­tions

Ead­weard Muybridge’s Motion Pho­tog­ra­phy Exper­i­ments from the 1870s Pre­sent­ed in 93 Ani­mat­ed Gifs

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.

Around The World in 1896: See Colorized & Upscaled Footage of Egypt, Venice, Istanbul, New York City, London & More

The YouTube chan­nel Lost in Time has tak­en footage from the leg­endary Lumière broth­ers, orig­i­nal­ly shot in 1896, then upscaled and col­orized it, giv­ing us a chance to see a dis­tant world through a mod­ern lens. Near­ing the end of the 19th cen­tu­ry, the film pio­neers (and their employ­ees) vis­it­ed dif­fer­ent parts of the world and cap­tured footage of life in Barcelona, Jerusalem, Venice, Moscow, Istan­bul, Kyoto and oth­er loca­tions. For view­ers, unac­cus­tomed to see­ing mov­ing films, let alone far-flung parts of the world, it must have been a sight to behold. Below, you can see the dif­fer­ent places fea­tured in the footage, along with time­stamps. To see what the orig­i­nal black & white footage looked like, vis­it this post in our archive.

00:00 Intro
00:12 France
01:50 New York City, Unit­ed States
02:38 Jerusalem
04:25 Gene­va, Switzer­land
04:53 Viet­nam
05:12 Mar­tinique
05:22 Paris, France
07:56 Madrid, Spain
08:07 Barcelona, Spain
08:43 Venice, Italy
09:00 Lon­don, Unit­ed King­dom
09:49 Ger­many
10:17 Dublin, Ire­land
11:00 Moscow, Rus­sia
11:24 Lyon, France
14:56 Giza, Egypt
15:36 Istan­bul, Turkey
15:58 Kyoto, Tokyo
16:20 Mar­seille, France
16:35 La Cio­tat, France

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Around the World in 1896: 40 Min­utes of Real Footage Lets You Vis­it Paris, New York, Venice, Rome, Budapest & More

The Ear­li­est Known Motion Pic­ture, 1888’s Round­hay Gar­den Scene, Restored with Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence

Restored Footage of 1896 Snow­ball Fight Makes It Seem Like the Fun Hap­pened Yes­ter­day


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Laurence Fishburne Reads a Former Slave’s Incredible Letter to His Old Master (1865)

Lawrence Fish­burne brings a degree of grav­i­ty to his roles offered by few oth­er liv­ing actors. That has secured his place in pop cul­ture as Mor­pheus from The Matrix, for exam­ple. But he could even mar­shal it ear­ly in his career, as evi­denced by his role as Apoc­a­lypse Now’s “Mr. Clean,” which he took on at just four­teen years old. But it was a much more recent per­for­mance he gave for Let­ters Live, which you can see in the video above, that clear­ly brings out the qual­i­ties that have made him a beloved and endur­ing fig­ure onscreen: not just his moral seri­ous­ness, but this sense of humor as well.

“To my old mas­ter,” Fish­burne begins, get­ting a laugh right away. The let­ter in ques­tion, pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture, was orig­i­nal­ly writ­ten in 1865 by a man named Jour­don Ander­son, who had escaped a life of slav­ery in Ten­nessee with his wife the pre­vi­ous year. Hav­ing since fall­en on hard times, that for­mer mas­ter had writ­ten to Ander­son and asked him to come back to work on the plan­ta­tion. “I have often felt uneasy about you,” Ander­son writes. “I thought the Yan­kees would’ve hung you before this for har­bor­ing Rebs that they found at your house,” among oth­er crimes he recalls.

Hav­ing set him­self and his fam­i­ly up in Ohio, Ander­son could hard­ly have felt tempt­ed to go down South again. “I want to know par­tic­u­lar­ly what the good chance is you pro­pose to give me,” he writes. “I am doing tol­er­a­bly well here. I get $25 a month, with vict­uals and cloth­ing, have a com­fort­able home for Mandy — the folks call her Mrs. Ander­son — and the chil­dren, Mil­lie, Jane, and Grundy, go to school and are learn­ing well.” But “if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will bet­ter be able to decide whether it will be to my advan­tage to move back again.”

Fish­burne deliv­ers these lines with a thick lay­er of irony, as Ander­son no doubt intend­ed. “Mandy says she would be afraid to go back with­out some proof that you were dis­posed to treat us kind­ly and just­ly, and we have con­clud­ed to test your sin­cer­i­ty by ask­ing you to send us our wages for the time that we served you.” When Fish­burne says that, he prac­ti­cal­ly gets a stand­ing ova­tion, and indeed, the let­ter met with a favor­able recep­tion in its day as well — not from Colonel P. H. Ander­son him­self, but from the read­ers of the news­pa­pers in which it was reprint­ed. In the end, Jour­don Ander­son kept his free­dom, and got fame last­ing more than a cen­tu­ry after his death to go with it.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Hear the Voic­es of Amer­i­cans Born in Slav­ery: The Library of Con­gress Fea­tures 23 Audio Inter­views with For­mer­ly Enslaved Peo­ple (1932–75)

What the Text­books Don’t Tell Us About The Atlantic Slave Trade: An Ani­mat­ed Video Fills In His­tor­i­cal Gaps

The Names of 1.8 Mil­lion Eman­ci­pat­ed Slaves Are Now Search­able in the World’s Largest Genealog­i­cal Data­base, Help­ing African Amer­i­cans Find Lost Ances­tors

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

The Atlantic Slave Trade Visu­al­ized in Two Min­utes: 10 Mil­lion Lives, 20,000 Voy­ages, Over 315 Years

“Ask a Slave” by Azie Dungey Sets the His­tor­i­cal Record Straight in a New Web Series

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 Day in Tokyo: A 1968 Film Captures a City Reborn 23 Years After Its Destruction

Dur­ing World War II, Tokyo sus­tained heavy dam­age, espe­cial­ly with the bomb­ings con­duct­ed by the U.S. mil­i­tary in March 1945. Known as Oper­a­tion Meet­ing­house, US air raids destroyed 16 square miles in cen­tral Tokyo, leav­ing 100,000 civil­ians dead and one mil­lion home­less. Tokyo did­n’t recov­er quick­ly. It took until the 1950s for recon­struc­tion to real­ly gain momen­tum. But gain momen­tum it did. By 1964, Tokyo found itself large­ly rebuilt, mod­ern­ized, and ready to host the Olympics. That brings us to the 1968 film above, A Day in Tokyo, cre­at­ed by the Japan Nation­al Tourism Orga­ni­za­tion (JNTO) to pro­mote tourism in the rebuilt city.

The web­site Japan­ese Nos­tal­gic Car sets the scene:

The year 1968 was a spe­cial time for Japan. It was emerg­ing as a mod­ern coun­try. The Tokyo Olympics had just been held a few years pri­or. Bul­let trains, high-speed express­ways, and col­or tele­vi­sion broad­casts were spread­ing through­out the land. The year before saw the Toy­ota 2000GT and Maz­da Cos­mo Sport, Japan’s con­tem­po­rary sports cars, debut. It must have been incred­i­bly excit­ing.

In the 23-minute film above, you can revis­it this moment of trans­for­ma­tion and renew­al, when Tokyo—as the film’s nar­ra­tor put it—combined the best of new and old. Here, in the “con­stant meta­bol­ic cycle of destruc­tion and cre­ation, Tokyo pro­gress­es at a dizzy­ing pace.” And it’s a sight to behold. Enjoy.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Watch Life on the Streets of Tokyo in Footage Record­ed in 1913: Caught Between the Tra­di­tion­al and the Mod­ern

A Vir­tu­al Tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Lost Japan­ese Mas­ter­piece, the Impe­r­i­al Hotel in Tokyo

Behold the Unique Beau­ty of Japan’s Artis­tic Man­hole Cov­ers

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.