A Gallery of Fantastical Alchemical Drawings

I once had to tell a ten-year-old that the Harry Potter book series was not a historical literary classic but a recent publishing phenomenon that occurred in my lifetime. She was amazed, but she wasn’t silly for thinking that the books might date from a faraway past. They do, after all, make frequent reference to figures from centuries when alchemy flourished in Europe, and magicians like Paracelsus and Nicholas Flamel (both of whom appear in Potter books and spin-offs) plied their solitary craft, such as it was. Should we call it magic, early science, occult religion, outsider art, or some admixture of the above?

We can call it “black magic,” but the term was not, as the Christians thought, a reference to the devil, but to the soil of the Nile. “Derived from the Arabic root ‘kimia,’” writes the Public Domain Review, “from the Coptic ‘khem’ (referring to the fertile black soil of the Nile delta), the word ‘alchemy’ alludes to the dark mystery of the primordial or First Matter (the Khem).”

Finding this first substance constitutes “the alchemist’s central goal – along with the discovery of the Stone of Knowledge (The Philosopher’s Stone) and the key to Eternal Youth.”

In the description above, we can see the roots of Rowling’s fictions and the origins of many a world-shaping modern myth. Alchemists study and change matter to produce certain effects – just as early scientists did – and it may surprise us to learn just how fervently some well-known early scientists, most especially Isaac Newton, pursued the alchemical course. But the essence of alchemy was imagination, and the artists who depicted alchemical rituals, magical creatures, mystical symbols, etc. had no shortage of it, as we see in the images here, drawn from Wellcome Images and the Manley Palmer Hall collection at the Internet Archive.

The images are strange, surreal, cryptic, and seem to reference no known reality. They are the inspiration for centuries of occult art and esoteric literature. But each one also had practical intent — to illustrate mysterious, often secretive processes for discovering the foundations of the universe, and profiting from them. If these techniques look nothing like our modern methods for doing the same, that’s for good reason, but it doesn’t mean that alchemy has nothing to do with science. It is, rather, science’s weird distant ancestor. See more alchemical images at the Public Domain Review.

via Public Domain Review

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

400,000+ Sound Recordings Made Before 1923 Have Entered the Public Domain

A century ago, the United States was deep into the Jazz Age. No writer is more closely associated with that heady era than F. Scott Fitzgerald, who (in addition to coining the verb to cocktail) took it upon himself to popularize its name. In 1922 he even titled a short story collection Tales from the Jazz Age, which entered the public domain not long ago. You may be more familiar with another work of Fitzgerald’s that followed Tales from the Jazz Age into freedom just last year: a novel called The Great Gatsby. But only this year have the actual sounds of the Jazz Age come into the public domain as well, thanks to the Music Modernization Act passed by U.S. Congress in 2018.

“According to the act, all sound recordings prior to 1923 will have their copyrights expire in the US on January 1, 2022,” says the Public Domain Review. This straightens out a tangled legal framework that previously wouldn’t have allowed the release of pre-1923 sound recordings until the distant year of 2067.

And so all of us now have free use of every sound recording from a more than 60-year period  that “comprises a rich and varied playlist: experimental first dabblings, vaudeville, Broadway hits, ragtime, and the beginnings of popular jazz. Included will be the works of Scott Joplin, Thomas Edison’s experiments, the emotive warblings of Adelina Patti and the first recording of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”

If you’d like to have a listen to all this, the Public Domain Review recommends starting with its own audio collection, a search for all pre-1923 recordings on Internet Archive, and two projects from the Library of Congress: the National Jukebox and the Citizen DJ project, the latter of which “has plans to do something special with the pre-1923 recordings once they enter the public domain.” You might also have a look at the Association for Recorded Sound Collections’ list of ten notable pre-1923 recordings, which highlights such proto-jazz records as “Crazy Blues” and “Dixieland Jass Band One-Step” (along with the wholly non-jazz work of Enrico Caruso and Pablo Casals).

According to Alexis Rossi at the Internet Archive Blog, the sound recordings just liberated by the Music Modernization act come to about 400,000 in total. Among them you’ll find “early jazz classics like ‘Don’t Care Blues’ by Mamie Smith and her Jazz Hounds, ‘Ory’s Creole Trombone’ by Kid Ory’s Sunshine Orchestra, and ‘Jazzin’ Babies Blues’ by Ethel Waters.” Rossi also highlights the novelty songs such as Billy Murray’s 1914 rendition of “Fido is a Hot Dog Now,” “which seems to be about a dog who is definitely going to hell.” The Jazz Age soon to come would exhibit a more raucous but also more refined sensibility: as Fitzgerald wrote in 1931, with the era he defined (and that defined him) already past, “It was an age of miracles, it was an age of art, it was an age of excess, and it was an age of satire.”

via Mefi

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Read 800+ Thanksgiving Books Free at the Internet Archive

On Thanksgiving Day, Americans make the (sometimes arduous) effort to gather for an enormous traditional meal and for many, a now equally traditional viewing of televised football. But even when stretched to their maximum length, these activities occupy only so many hours. What to do with the rest of the day? You might consider heading over to the Internet Archive and filling it with some holiday-appropriate reading. Last year that site’s librarian Brewster Kahle tweeted a suggestion to “check out 700 Thanksgiving books! (from delightful to dated to a little weird)” in their online collection, a collection that has since risen to more than 800 digitized volumes.

There, especially if you sort by popularity, you’ll find a wealth of Thanksgiving-themed children’s books, from Wendi Silvano’s Turkey Trouble and Mark Fearing’s The Great Thanksgiving Escape to Charles Schulz’s A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and Norman Bridwell’s Clifford’s Thanksgiving Visit (whose titular big red dog features at this very moment in his own major motion picture).

But there are also selections for grown-up readers. Take, for example, Laurie Collier Hillstrom’s The Thanksgiving Book: a Companion to the Holiday Covering its History, Lore, Traditions, Foods, and Symbols, Including Primary Sources, Poems, Prayers, Songs, Hymns, and Recipes: Supplemented by a Chronology, Bibliography with Web Sites, and Index — the length of whose title belies its publication in not the 19th century, but 2008.

Or perhaps you’d prefer to accompany the digestion of your Thanksgiving feast with a holiday-appropriate work of fiction. In that case your choices include Thanksgiving Night by literary examiner of modern family life Richard Bausch; Thankless in Death by murderous-thriller powerhouse J.D. Robb (alter-ego of prolific romance novelist Nora Roberts); and even Truman Capote’s “The Thanksgiving Visitor,” collected in one volume along with his stories “A Christmas Memory” and “One Christmas.” That last book will give you a head start on the rest of the holiday season to come, wherever in the world you may live. And if that happens to be Canada, you can give your kids a head start on next year’s Canadian Thanksgiving while you’re at it. Enter the collection here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A 110-Year-Old Book Illustrated with Photos of Kittens & Cats Taught Kids How to Read


Unlike our 21st-century cat memes and other such online feline-based entertainments, children’s author Eulalie Osgood Grover’s 1911 work, Kittens and Cats: A First Reader was intended to educate.

Its related poems will almost certainly strike those of us whose understanding of feline attitude has been shaped by LOLCatsGrumpy Cat, the existential Henri, Talking Kitty Cat’s acerbic Sylvester, and the mordant 1970s TV spokescat Morris as sweet to the point of sickly. But it boasts six hundred vocabulary words, a rhyme structure that promotes reading aloud, and a note to teachers with suggestions for classroom activities.

Grover explained how her feline cast of characters would win over even the most reluctant reader, inspiring “much the same delight to the little reader of juvenile fiction, as do adventure and romance to the grown-up reader”:

In one respect kittens take precedence over dolls. They are alive. They must be treated kindly. They will not bear the abuse and neglect given to many beautiful dolls. They demand attention and companionship, and they return a real devotion in return for kindness and care. Therefore we love them and especially do our children love them and delight in stories of them.

The loosely structured story concerns a grand party thrown by the Queen of the Cats. Following some breathless preparations, the guests take turns introducing themselves to her majesty, though unlike T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939), there’s not much that could be cobbled into a hit musical.

Grover fleshes out the narrative with callbacks to a number of cat-rich nursery rhymes — Hickory Dickory DockThree Little KittensHey Diddle DiddleAs I Was Going to St. IvesDing Dong Bell

One lace-bonneted character is reminiscent of Tom Kitten’s mother, Mrs. Tabitha Twitchit, and her unsuccessful attempts to wrangle her rambunctious offspring into clothing fit for “fine company,” though the wit falls somewhat short of Beatrix Potter’s.

Headgear abounds, as do restrictive buntings that must’ve been a great help when dealing with uncooperative models and long exposures.

Although the photographer is uncredited, the images are likely the work of Harry Whittier Frees, a “pioneer of the anthropomorphic kitten photograph genre” as per the New York Daily News. In his introduction to his far more ambitiously posed 1915 work, The Little Folks of Animal Land, Frees alluded to his process:

The difficulties of posing kittens and puppies for pictures of this kind have been overcome only by the exercise of great patience and invariable kindness. My little models receive no especial training, and after their daily performance before the camera they enjoy nothing more than a good frolic about the studio.

That’s a pleasant thought, though historian and postcard collector Mary L. Weigley tells a somewhat different tale in an article for Pennsylvania Heritage, describing how only 3/10 of his negatives could be published, and his work was so “challenging, time-consuming and nerve-wracking” that he took 9 months out of every year to recuperate.


Download a free copy of Eulalie Osgood Grover’s Kittens and Cats here.

via Public Domain Review

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

How the Internet Archive Has Digitized More than 250,000 78 R.P.M. Records: See the Painstaking Process Up-Close

In the history of recorded music, no medium has demonstrated quite the staying power of the phonograph record. Hearing those words, most of us envision a twelve-inch disc designed to play at 33 13 revolutions per minute, the kind still manufactured today. But like every other form of technology, that familiar vinyl LP didn’t appear ex nihilo: on its introduction in 1948, it was the latest in a series of phonograph records of different sizes and speeds. The first dominant record format spun at 78 r.p.m., a speed standardized in the mid-1920s, though the discs themselves (made of rubber, shellac, or other pre-vinyl materials) had been in production since the end of the 19th century and remained in production until the 1950s.

The half-century of the “78” adds up to quite a lot of music, most of which has long been inaccessible to non-antiquarians. Enter the historically minded technologists of the Internet Archive, who since 2016 have been working with media preservation company George Blood LP to digitize, preserve, and make available, as of this writing, more than 250,000 such records.

The process involves much more than playing them all into a computer, due not least to the toll the past century or so has taken on the discs’ surfaces. “Each record is cleaned on a machine that sprays distilled water onto its surface,” writes The Verge’s Kait Sanchez. “A little vacuum arm then sucks up the water, along with whatever dirt and nastiness has built up in the record’s grooves.”

“The discs are then photographed, and the photos are referenced to pull info from the discs’ labels and add it to the archive’s database by hand.” There follows the actual digitization, which records each disc with four styli at once: since 78s never had standardized groove sizes, “recordings taken with various stylus tips will each sound slightly different,” but for any record in the George Blood Collection the listener can choose which of the four they’d prefer to listen through. You can see each step of the process in the video at the top of the post, part of a Twitter thread recently posted by the Internet Archive. There the Archive notes that, “after scanning 250,000 sides, we’ve found 80% of these 78s were produced by the ‘Big Five’ labels” — Columbia, RCA Victor, Decca, Capitol and Mercury — “but along the way, we’ve uncovered 1700 other music labels and some pretty beautiful picture discs.”

You can look at — and more to the point, listen to — everything in the the George Blood Collection here, which is a subset of the Internet Archive’s larger collection of digitized 78 records as well as the cylinders that 78s wholly displaced as a consumer format. As the Internet Archive’s Twitter thread reminds us, “from 1898-1950, this was THE way music was recorded & shared.” In other words, if your parents were listening to music in that period — or maybe your grandparents, great-grandparents, or great-great grandparents — 78s were their MP3s, their Spotify, their Youtube. We descend as listeners from enthusiastic buyers of 78s, and now, thanks to the Internet Archive and its collaborators, we can enjoy a large and ever-increasing proportion of their entire world of recorded music for free.

via The Verge

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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 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.

The Internet Archive is Saving Classic Flash Animations & Games from Extinction: Explore Them Online

Flash is finally dead, and the world… does not mourn. Because the announcement of its end actually came three years ago, “like a guillotine in a crowded town square,” writes Rhett Jones at Gizmodo. It was a slow execution, but it was just. So useful in Web 1.0 days for making animations, games, and serious presentations, Flash had become a vulnerability, a viral carrier that couldn’t be patched fast enough to keep the hackers out. “Adobe’s Flash died many deaths, but we can truly throw some dirt on its grave and say our final goodbyes because it’s getting the preservation treatment.” Like the animated GIF, Flash animations have their own online library.

All those lovely Flash memes—the dancing badgers and the snake, peanut butter and jelly time—will be saved for perplexed future generations, who will use them to decipher the runes of early 2000’s internet-speak. However silly they may seem now, there’s no denying that these artifacts were once central constituents of pop culture.

Flash was much more than a distraction or frustrating browser crasher. It provided a “gateway,” Jason Scott writes at the Internet Archive blog, “for many young creators to fashion near-professional-level games and animation, giving them the first steps to a later career.” (Even if it was a career making “advergames.”)

A single person working in their home could hack together a convincing program, upload it to a huge clearinghouse like Newgrounds, and get feedback on their work. Some creators even made entire series of games, each improving on the last, until they became full professional releases on consoles and PCs.

Always true to its purpose, the Internet Archive has devised a way to store and play Flash animations using emulators created by Ruffle and the BlueMaxima Flashpoint Project, who have already archived tens of thousands of Flash games. All those adorable Homestar Runner cartoons? Saved from extinction, which would have been their fate, since “without a Flash player, flash animations don’t work.” This may seem obvious, but it bears some explanation. Where image, sound, and video files can be converted to other formats to make them accessible to modern players, Flash animations can only exist in a world with Flash. They are like Edison’s wax cylinders, without the charming three-dimensions.

Scott goes into more depth on the rise and fall of Flash, a history that begins in 1993 with Flash’s predecessor, SmartSketch, which became FutureWave, which became Flash when it was purchased by Macromedia, then by Adobe. By 2005, it started to become unstable, and couldn’t evolve along with new protocols. HTML5 arrived in 2014 to issue the “final death-blow,” kind of…. Will Flash be missed? It’s doubtful. But “like any container, Flash itself is not as much of a loss as all the art and creativity it held.” The Archive currently hosts over 1,500 Flash animations from those turn-of-the-millennium internet days, and there are many more to come. Enter the Archive’s Flash collection here.

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

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