Harvard Removes the Human Skin Binding from a Book in Its Collection Since 1934

In June of 2014, Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty’s Houghton Library put up a blog post titled “Caveat Lecter,” announc­ing “good news for fans of anthro­po­der­mic bib­liop­e­gy, bib­lio­ma­ni­acs, and can­ni­bals alike.” The occa­sion was the sci­en­tif­ic deter­mi­na­tion that a book in the Houghton’s col­lec­tion long rumored to have been bound in human skin — the task of whose retrieval once served, they say, as a haz­ing rit­u­al for stu­dent employ­ees — was, indeed, “with­out a doubt bound in human skin.” What a dif­fer­ence a decade makes: not only has the blog post been delet­ed, the book itself has been tak­en out of from cir­cu­la­tion in order to have the now-offend­ing bind­ing removed.

“Har­vard Library has removed human skin from the bind­ing of a copy of Arsène Houssaye’s book Des des­tinées de l’âme (1880s),” declares a stren­u­ous­ly apolo­getic state­ment issued by the uni­ver­si­ty. “The volume’s first own­er, French physi­cian and bib­lio­phile Dr. Ludovic Bouland (1839–1933), bound the book with skin he took with­out con­sent from the body of a deceased female patient in a hos­pi­tal where he worked.” Hav­ing been in the col­lec­tion since 1934, the book was first placed there by John B. Stet­son, Jr., “an Amer­i­can diplo­mat, busi­ness­man, and Har­vard alum­nus” (not to men­tion an heir to the for­tune gen­er­at­ed by the epony­mous hat).

“Bouland knew that Hous­saye had writ­ten the book while griev­ing his wife’s death,” writes Mike Jay in the New York Review of Books, “and felt that this was an appro­pri­ate bind­ing for it — ‘a book on the human soul mer­its that it be giv­en human cloth­ing.’ ” He also “includ­ed a note stat­ing that “this book is bound in human skin parch­ment on which no orna­ment has been stamped to pre­serve its ele­gance.” This copy of Des des­tinées de l’âme isn’t the only book rumored — or, with the pep­tide mass fin­ger­print­ing (PMF) tech­nol­o­gy devel­oped over the past decade, con­firmed — to have been bound in human skin. “The old­est reput­ed exam­ples are three 13th-cen­tu­ry Bibles held at the Bib­lio­thèque Nationale in France, write the New York Times’ Jen­nifer Schuessler and Julia Jacobs.

Jay also men­tions the espe­cial­ly vivid exam­ple of “an 1892 French edi­tion of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Gold Bug, adorned with a skull emblem, is gen­uine human skin: Poe en peau humaine.” In gen­er­al, Schuessler and Jacobs note, the largest num­ber of human skin-bound books “date from the Vic­to­ri­an era, the hey­day of anatom­i­cal col­lect­ing, when doc­tors some­times had med­ical trea­tis­es and oth­er texts bound in skin from patients or cadav­ers.” Now that this prac­tice has been retroac­tive­ly judged to be not just deeply dis­turb­ing but offi­cial­ly prob­lem­at­ic (to use the vogue term of recent years) it’s up to the anthro­po­der­mic-bib­liop­e­gy enthu­si­asts out there to deter­mine whether to put the items in their own col­lec­tions to the PMF test — or to leave a bit of macabre mys­tery in the world of anti­quar­i­an book-col­lect­ing.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Old Books Bound in Human Skin Found in Har­vard Libraries (and Else­where in Boston)

When Medieval Man­u­scripts Were Recy­cled & Used to Make the First Print­ed Books

Behold the Codex Gigas (aka “Devil’s Bible”), the Largest Medieval Man­u­script in the World

A Mes­mer­iz­ing Look at the Mak­ing of a Late Medieval Book from Start to Fin­ish

3,500 Occult Man­u­scripts Will Be Dig­i­tized & Made Freely Avail­able Online, Thanks to Da Vin­ci Code Author Dan Brown

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. 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.

A Free Digital Archive of Graphic Design: A Curated Collection of Design Treasures from the Internet Archive

We’ve got a thing for cre­ative prob­lem solvers here at Open Cul­ture.

We also love a good com­mu­ni­ty-spir­it­ed project.

Graph­ic design­er Valery Mari­er ticks both box­es with archives.design, a free graph­ic design archive that was born of her frus­tra­tions with online research at a time when Covid restric­tions shut­tered libraries and archives.

The non-prof­it dig­i­tal library Inter­net Archive is rich in inter­est­ing mate­r­i­al, but its lack of cura­tion can often leave the user feel­ing like they’re sort­ing through the world’s most dis­or­ga­nized junk shop, root­ing for hid­den trea­sure.

Mari­er was also dis­cour­aged by “a com­bi­na­tion of con­fus­ing boolean oper­a­tors and an absolute hodge­podge of dif­fer­ent meta­da­ta tags and cat­e­go­ry names:

I fig­ured that if I was hav­ing these prob­lems, then there were like­ly oth­er folks who were as well. So I decid­ed to put my design skills to good use and work on a solu­tion. The biggest issues that I felt need­ed to be solved were the user expe­ri­ence, and the con­tent cura­tion. For the archive’s cura­tion, I opt­ed to curate each item man­u­al­ly. While I could have like­ly fig­ured out a way to curate these items using an auto­mat­ed script, I feel that there is an inher­ent val­ue to human cura­tion. When a col­lec­tion is curat­ed by a com­put­er it can seem con­fus­ing and arbi­trary. Where­as with human cura­tion there is often a delib­er­ate con­nec­tion between each object in the col­lec­tion. For the nav­i­ga­tion I want­ed to ensure that it was sim­ple enough that any­one could under­stand it and oper­ate it. So instead of hav­ing a ton of com­plex oper­a­tors, I instead decid­ed to orga­nize them by their aspect in design.

Graph­ic design nerds, rejoice!

Mari­er deter­mines which of the finds should make the cut by con­sid­er­ing rel­e­vance and image qual­i­ty.

A quick peek sug­gests graph­ic design­ers are not the only ones who stand to ben­e­fit from this labor of love.

Edu­ca­tors, his­to­ri­ans, and activists will be reward­ed with a sup­ple­ment to the Guardian from Feb­ru­ary 1970, which pro­vid­ed an overview of the Black Pan­ther Par­ty in their own words. There’s a ton of infor­ma­tion and his­to­ry packed into these 8 pages, from its for­ma­tion and its 10-point pro­gram, to an inter­view with then-incar­cer­at­ed par­ty chair­man Bob­by Seale.

The IBM Ergonom­ics Hand­book from 1989 address­es an ever­green top­ic. Office man­agers, phys­i­cal ther­a­pists, and dig­i­tal nomads should take note. Its rec­om­men­da­tions on con­fig­ur­ing the work space for max­i­mum effi­cien­cy, pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and employ­ee com­fort are sol­id. It’s not this hand­some lit­tle yel­low and blue employ­ee manual’s fault that ref­er­ences to now-obso­lete tech­nol­o­gy ren­der it a bit quaint:

Think of two fair­ly recent inno­va­tions in our lives — the push but­ton tele­phone and the pock­et cal­cu­la­tor. Both have a stan­dard key set lay­out, but not the same lay­out.

Mari­er elect­ed to let each pick be rep­re­sent­ed by its cov­ers, fig­ur­ing “what bet­ter way to browse designed objects than by how they look.”

We agree, though we’re wor­ried about where this might leave 1924’s Posters & Their Design­ers. How can its staid blue cov­er com­pete against its sexy neigh­bors in the posters cat­e­go­ry?

Small busi­ness own­ers, set dressers and pub­lic domain fans should give Posters & Their Design­ers a chance. Behind that dis­creet blue cov­er are a wide assort­ment of stun­ning ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry posters, includ­ing some full col­or repro­duc­tions.

While not specif­i­cal­ly typog­ra­phy relat­ed, Mari­er wise­ly gives this resource a typog­ra­phy tag. Hand let­ter­ing loy­al­ists and font fanat­ics will find much to admire.

We hope to pique your inter­est with a few more of our favorite cov­ers, below. Begin your explo­rations of archives.design here.

via Eye on Design/Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent 

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

Down­load 2,000 Mag­nif­i­cent Turn-of-the-Cen­tu­ry Art Posters, Cour­tesy of the New York Pub­lic Library

40 Years of Saul Bass’ Ground­break­ing Title Sequences in One Com­pi­la­tion

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


Watch Joni Mitchell Perform George Gershwin’s “Summertime”

“I’ve been a painter all my life. I’ve been a musi­cian most of my life. If you can paint with a brush, you can paint with words.” — Joni Mitchell

There’s been a lot of love for Joni Mitchell cir­cu­lat­ing of late, the sort of heart­felt out­pour­ing that typ­i­cal­ly accom­pa­nies news of an artist’s death.

For­tu­nate­ly, the beloved singer-song­writer has shown her­self to be very much alive, despite a 2015 brain aneurysm that ini­tial­ly left her unable to speak, walk, or play music.

As she quipped in a recent inter­view with Librar­i­an of Con­gress Car­la Hay­den, “I’m hard to dis­cour­age and hard to kill.”

How won­der­ful, then to be so ful­ly alive as a wind­fall of tes­ti­mo­ni­als roll in, describ­ing the per­son­al sig­nif­i­cance of her work, from the famous friends fet­ing her last month with a con­cert of her own com­po­si­tions as she was award­ed the Library of Con­gress Gersh­win Prize for Pop­u­lar Song to ordi­nary cit­i­zens with fond mem­o­ries of singing “The Cir­cle Game” at camp.

Mitchell says that song, which you can hear her singing above, along with last month’s all-star line up, “kind of became like Old Mac­Don­ald Had a Farm” owing to its camp­fire pop­u­lar­i­ty, though she resist­ed Hayden’s invi­ta­tion to explain its time­less appeal:

I don’t know. Why was Old Mac­Don­ald Had a Farm so time­less?

This 79-year-old legend’s grow­ing ten­den­cy to goof her way through inter­views is endear­ing, but the Gersh­win Prize is seri­ous busi­ness, intend­ed to “cel­e­brate the work of an artist whose career reflects the influ­ence, impact and achieve­ment in pro­mot­ing song as a vehi­cle of musi­cal expres­sion and cul­tur­al under­stand­ing.”

Per­former Cyn­di Lau­per reflect­ed that Mitchell’s influ­ence is not con­fined to the realm of music:

When I was grow­ing up the land­scape of music was most­ly men. There were a few women — far and few from me — and Joni Mitchell was the first artist who real­ly spoke about what it was like to be a woman nav­i­gat­ing in a male world … You taught me that I could be a mul­ti­me­dia artist if I want­ed, because you paint­ed and you wrote and you played and that’s what I want­ed and I thought, “Well, if you could do it, maybe I can do it too.”

Mitchell trained as a com­mer­cial artist. Her paint­ings and self-por­traits are fea­tured on the cov­ers of sev­en­teen albums. When Hay­den asked whether she pri­mar­i­ly con­ceives of her­self as a musi­cian or  artist, Mitchell went with artist, “because it’s more gen­er­al.”

I think that, you know, my songs are kind of, they’re not folk music, they’re not chat. They’re kind of art songs and they embody clas­si­cal things and jazzy things and folky things, you know, long line poet­ry. So yeah, I forged my iden­ti­ty very ear­ly as an artist. I’ve always thought of myself as an artist, but not specif­i­cal­ly as a musi­cian. You know, in some ways I’m just not a nor­mal musi­cian because I play in open tun­ings. I nev­er learned the neck of my gui­tar well enough to jam with oth­er peo­ple. I can jam if I lead, but I can’t real­ly fol­low.

She believes her paint­ing prac­tice enrich­es her song­writ­ing, much as crop rota­tion helps a field to remain fer­tile.

Not every artist switch­es lanes so effort­less­ly.

When Geor­gia O’Keeffe — who once told ART­news she’d choose to be rein­car­nat­ed as a “blond sopra­no who could sing high, clear notes with­out fear” — con­fid­ed that she would have liked to be a musi­cian as well as an artist, “but you can’t do both”, Mitchell claims to have respond­ed, “Yeah, you can. You just have to give up TV.”

Song­writ­ers George and Ira Gersh­win, name­sakes of the Prize for Pop­u­lar Song, were clos­er to Mitchell in terms of cre­ative omniv­o­rous­ness. Their self-por­traits hang in the Nation­al Por­trait Gallery and the Library of Con­gress’ Gersh­win room.

Mitchell was thrilled when Library staff pre­sent­ed her with a copy of the hand­writ­ten orig­i­nal score for her favorite George Gersh­win tune, “Sum­mer­time,” which she record­ed for Her­bie Hancock’s 1998 album, Gershwin’s World, sev­en years after an Inter­view mag­a­zine piece in which she referred to her voice as “mid­dle-aged now…like an old cel­lo.”

Twen­ty-five years lat­er, singing “Sum­mer­time” at the end of the con­cert in her hon­or, that cel­lo’s tones are seasoned…and even more mel­low.

I love the melody of (Sum­mer­time) and I like the sim­plic­i­ty of it. And I don’t know, I just I real­ly get a kick out of singing it.

Stream Joni Mitchell: The Library of Con­gress Gersh­win Prize, an all-star con­cert fea­tur­ing Bran­di Carlile, Annie Lennox, James Tay­lor, Her­bie Han­cock, Cyn­di Lau­per, and oth­er lumi­nar­ies, includ­ing the Lady of the Canyon her­self, for free on PBS through April 28.

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

The Oakland Public Library Puts Online a Collection of Items Forgotten in Library Books: Love Notes, Doodles & More

Librar­i­ans are cham­pi­ons of orga­ni­za­tion, and among its best prac­ti­tion­ers.

Books are shelved accord­ing to the Dewey Dec­i­mal sys­tem.

Cat­e­gories are assigned using Library of Con­gress Rule Inter­pre­ta­tions, Library of Con­gress Sub­ject Head­ings, and Library of Con­gress Clas­si­fi­ca­tion.

And Sharon McKel­lar, the Teen Ser­vices Depart­ment Head at the Oak­land Pub­lic Library, col­lects ephemera she and oth­er staffers find in books returned to the OPL’s 18 loca­tions.

It’s an impulse many share. 

Even­tu­al­ly, she began scan­ning them to share on her employ­er’s web­site, inspired by Found Mag­a­zine, a crowd­sourced col­lec­tion of found let­ters, birth­day cards, kids’ home­work, to-do lists, hand­writ­ten poems, doo­dles, dirty pic­tures, etc.

As Found’s cre­ators, Davy Roth­bart and Jason Bit­ner, write on the magazine’s web­site:

We cer­tain­ly didn’t invent the idea of found stuff being cool. Every time we vis­it our friends in oth­er towns, someone’s always got some kind of unbe­liev­able dis­cov­ered note or pho­to on their fridge. We decid­ed to make a bunch of projects so that every­one can check out all the strange, hilar­i­ous and heart­break­ing things peo­ple have picked up and passed our way.

McKel­lar told NPR that her project “lets us be a lit­tle bit nosy. In a very anony­mous way, it’s like read­ing peo­ple’s secret diaries a lit­tle bit but with­out know­ing who they are.”

The finds, which she stores in a box under her desk pri­or to scan­ning and post­ing, are push­ing 600, with more arriv­ing all the time.

Search­able cat­e­gories include notes, cre­ative writ­ing, art, and pho­tos.

One arti­fact, the scat­o­log­i­cal one-of-a-kind zine Mr Men #48, excerpt­ed above, spans four cat­e­gories, includ­ing kids, a high­ly fer­tile source of both humor and heart­break.

There’s a dis­tinct­ly dif­fer­ent vibe to the items that chil­dren forge for them­selves or each oth­er, as opposed to work cre­at­ed for school, or as presents for the adults in their lives.

McKel­lar admits to hav­ing a sweet spot for their inad­ver­tent con­tri­bu­tions, which com­prise the bulk of the col­lec­tion.

She also cat­a­logues the throw­away fly­ers, tick­et stubs and lists that adult read­ers use to mark their place in a book, but when it comes to place­hold­ers with more obvi­ous poten­tial for sen­ti­men­tal val­ue, she finds her­self won­der­ing if a library patron has acci­den­tal­ly lost track of a pre­cious object:

Does the per­son miss that item? Do they regret hav­ing lost it or were they care­less with it because they actu­al­ly did­n’t share those deep and pro­found feel­ings with the per­son who wrote [it]?

Actu­al book­marks are not exempt…

Future plans include a pos­si­ble writ­ing con­test for short sto­ries inspired by items in the col­lec­tion.

Browse the Found in a Library Book col­lec­tion here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Pub­lic Library Receipt Shows How Much Mon­ey You’ve Saved by Bor­row­ing Books, Instead of Buy­ing Them

Free Col­or­ing Books from World-Class Libraries & Muse­ums: Down­load & Col­or Hun­dreds of Free Images

The New York Pub­lic Library Cre­ates a List of 125 Books That They Love

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

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

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How the Bril­liant Col­ors of Medieval Illu­mi­nat­ed Man­u­scripts Were Made with Alche­my

Videos Recre­ate Isaac Newton’s Neat Alche­my Exper­i­ments: Watch Sil­ver Get Turned Into Gold

Isaac Newton’s Recipe for the Myth­i­cal ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ Is Being Dig­i­tized & Put Online (Along with His Oth­er Alche­my Man­u­scripts)

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

Browse a Huge Collection of Prison Newspapers: 1800–2020

“By the end of the eigh­teenth and the begin­ning of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, the gloomy fes­ti­val of pun­ish­ment was dying out… Pun­ish­ment, then, will tend to become the most hid­den part of the penal process.” — Michel Fou­cault

The study of crime in the late 1800s began with racist pseu­do­science like cran­iom­e­try and phrenol­o­gy, both of which have made a dis­turb­ing come­back in recent years. In his 1876 book, Crim­i­nal Man, the “father of crim­i­nol­o­gy,” Cesare Lom­brosco, defined “the crim­i­nal” as “an atavis­tic being who repro­duces in his per­son the fero­cious instincts of prim­i­tive human­i­ty and the infe­ri­or of ani­mals.” Lom­brosco believed that cer­tain cra­nial and facial fea­tures cor­re­spond to a “love of orgies and the irre­sistible crav­ing for evil for its own sake, the desire not only to extin­guish life in the vic­tim, but to muti­late the corpse, tear its flesh, and drink its blood.” That such descrip­tions pre­ced­ed Bram Stok­er’s Drac­u­la by sev­er­al years may be no coin­ci­dence at all.

No such thing as a nat­ur­al crim­i­nal type exists, but this has not stopped 19th cen­tu­ry prej­u­dices from embed­ding them­selves in law enforce­ment, the prison sys­tem and the cul­ture at large in the Unit­ed States. Out­side of the most sen­sa­tion­al­ist cas­es, how­ev­er, we rarely hear from incar­cer­at­ed peo­ple them­selves, though they’ve had plen­ty say about their human­i­ty in print since the turn of the 19th cen­tu­ry, when the first prison news­pa­per, For­lorn Hope, was pub­lished in New York City on March 24, 1800.

“In the inter­ven­ing 200 years,” notes JSTOR, “over 500 prison news­pa­pers have been pub­lished from U.S. pris­ons.” A new col­lec­tion, Amer­i­can Prison News­pa­pers: 1800–2020 — Voic­es from the Inside, “will bring togeth­er hun­dreds of these peri­od­i­cals from across the coun­try into one col­lec­tion that will rep­re­sent penal insti­tu­tions of all kinds, with spe­cial atten­tion paid to women-only insti­tu­tions.”

The U.S. incar­cer­ates “over 2 mil­lion as of 2019” — and has pro­duced some of the world’s most mov­ing jail and prison lit­er­a­ture, from Thore­au’s “Civ­il Dis­obe­di­ence” to Mar­tin Luther King, Jr.‘s “Let­ter from a Birm­ing­ham Jail.” The news­pa­pers in this col­lec­tion do not often fea­ture a sim­i­lar lev­el of lit­er­ary bravu­ra, but many show a high degree of pro­fes­sion­al­ism and artis­tic qual­i­ty. “Next to the fad­ed, home-spun pages of The Hour Glass, pub­lished at the Farm for Women in Con­necti­cut in the 1930s,” writes JSTOR Dai­ly’s Kate McQueen, “read­ers will find pol­ished sta­ples of the 1970s like news­pa­per The Ken­tucky Inter-Prison Press and Ari­zona State Pris­on’s mag­a­zine La Roca.”

Many, if not most, of these pub­li­ca­tions were pub­lished with offi­cial sanc­tion, and these “cov­er sim­i­lar ground. They report on prison pro­gram­ing, pro­file locals of inter­est, and offer com­men­tary on top­ics like parole and edu­ca­tion” under the watch­ful gaze of the war­den, whose pho­to­graph might appear on the mast­head. “Incar­cer­at­ed jour­nal­ists walk a tightrope between over­sight by admin­is­tra­tions — even cen­sor­ship — and seek­ing to report accu­rate­ly on their expe­ri­ences inside,” the col­lec­tion points out. Prison news­pa­pers gave inmates oppor­tu­ni­ties to share cre­ative work and hone new­ly acquired lit­er­a­cy, lit­er­ary, and legal skills. Those peri­od­i­cals that cir­cu­lat­ed under­ground with­out the author­i­ties’ per­mis­sion had no need to equiv­o­cate about their pol­i­tics. Wash­ing­ton State Pen­i­ten­tiary’s Anar­chist Black Drag­on, for exam­ple, took a fierce­ly rad­i­cal stance on every page. Nowhere on the mast­head will one find the names of cor­rec­tion­al offi­cers, or even a list of edi­tors and con­trib­u­tors, or even a mast­head.

Whether offi­cial, unof­fi­cial, or occu­py­ing a grey area, prison peri­od­i­cals all hoped in some degree to “poke holes in the wall,” as Tom Run­y­on, edi­tor of Iowa State Pen­i­ten­tiary’s Pre­sidio wrote — reach­ing audi­ences out­side the prison to refute crim­i­no­log­i­cal think­ing. Ari­zona State Pris­on’s The Desert Press, led its Jan­u­ary 1934 issue with the press­ing head­line “Are Con­victs Peo­ple?” (like­ly after Alice Duer Miller’s satir­i­cal 1904 “book of rhymes for suf­frage times,” Are Women Peo­ple?)  Lawrence Snow, edi­tor of Ken­tucky State Pen­i­ten­tiary’s Cas­tle on the Cum­ber­land, picked up the ques­tion with more for­mal­i­ty in a 1964 col­umn, ask­ing, “How shall [a prison pub­li­ca­tion] go about its prin­ci­pal job of con­vinc­ing the casu­al read­er that con­victs, although they have divorced them­selves tem­porar­i­ly from soci­ety, still belong to the human race?” Giv­en that the Unit­ed States impris­ons more peo­ple than any oth­er nation in the world, the ques­tion seems more per­ti­nent — urgent even — than ever before. Enter the Amer­i­can Prison News­pa­pers col­lec­tion here.

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

On the Pow­er of Teach­ing Phi­los­o­phy in Pris­ons

Pris­ons Around the U.S. Are Ban­ning and Restrict­ing Access to Books

Bertrand Russell’s Prison Let­ters Are Now Dig­i­tized & Put Online (1918 – 1961)

Pat­ti Smith Reads from Oscar Wilde’s De Pro­fundis, the Love Let­ter He Wrote From Prison (1897)

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

Harvard’s Digital Giza Project Lets You Access the Largest Online Archive on the Egyptian Pyramids (Including a 3D Giza Tour)

Noth­ing excites the imag­i­na­tion of young his­to­ry-and-sci­ence-mind­ed kids like the Egypt­ian pyra­mids, which is maybe why so many peo­ple grow up into ama­teur Egyp­tol­o­gists with very strong opin­ions about the pyra­mids. For such peo­ple, access to the high­est qual­i­ty infor­ma­tion seems crit­i­cal for their online debates. For pro­fes­sion­al aca­d­e­mics and seri­ous stu­dents of ancient Egypt such access is crit­i­cal to doing their work prop­er­ly. All lovers and stu­dents of ancient Egypt will find what they need, freely avail­able, at Har­vard University’s Dig­i­tal Giza Project.

“Chil­dren and spe­cial­ized schol­ars alike may study the mate­r­i­al cul­ture of this ancient civ­i­liza­tion from afar,” Harvard’s Meta­l­ab writes, “often with greater access than could be achieved in per­son.” The project opened at Har­vard in 2011 after spend­ing its first eleven years at the Muse­um of Fine Arts, Boston with the goal of “dig­i­tiz­ing and post­ing for free online all of the archae­o­log­i­cal doc­u­men­ta­tion from the Har­vard University—Boston Muse­um of Fine Arts Expe­di­tion to Giza, Egypt (about 1904–1947),” notes the about page.

The Dig­i­tal Giza Project was born from a need to cen­tral­ize research and arti­facts that have been scat­tered all over the globe. “Doc­u­ments and images are held in far­away archives,” the Har­vard Gazette points out, “arti­facts and oth­er relics of ancient Egypt have been dis­persed, stolen, or destroyed, and tombs and mon­u­ments have been dis­man­tled, weath­er-worn, or locked away behind pas­sages filled in when an exca­va­tion clos­es.” Oth­er obsta­cles to research include the expense of trav­el and, more recent­ly, the impos­si­bil­i­ty of vis­it­ing far-off sites.

Expand­ing far beyond the scope of the orig­i­nal expe­di­tions, the project has part­nered with “many oth­er insti­tu­tions around the world with Giza-relat­ed col­lec­tions” to com­pile its search­able library of down­load­able PDF books and jour­nal arti­cles. Kids, adult enthu­si­asts, and spe­cial­ists will all appre­ci­ate Giza 3D, a recon­struc­tion with guid­ed tours of all the major arche­o­log­i­cal sites at the pyra­mids, from tombs to tem­ples to the Great Sphinx, as well as links to images and arche­o­log­i­cal details about each of the var­i­ous finds with­in.

For a pre­view of the mul­ti­me­dia expe­ri­ence on offer at the Dig­i­tal Giza Project, see the videos here from project’s YouTube chan­nel. Each short video pro­vides a wealth of infor­ma­tion; young learn­ers and those just get­ting start­ed in their Egyp­tol­ogy stud­ies can find lessons, glos­saries, an overview of the peo­ple and places of Giza, and more at the Giza @ School page. What­ev­er your age, occu­pa­tion, or lev­el of com­mit­ment, if you’re inter­est­ed in learn­ing more about the pyra­mids at Giza, you need to book­mark Dig­i­tal Giza. Start here.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Who Built the Egypt­ian Pyra­mids & How Did They Do It?: New Arche­o­log­i­cal Evi­dence Busts Ancient Myths

A 3,000-Year-Old Painter’s Palette from Ancient Egypt, with Traces of the Orig­i­nal Col­ors Still In It

What Ancient Egypt­ian Sound­ed Like & How We Know It

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

More in this category... »
Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.