What Is Postmodern Architecture?: An Introduction in Three Videos

Mod­ern archi­tec­ture died in St Louis, Mis­souri on July 15, 1972, at 3:32pm (or there­abouts).” This oft-quot­ed pro­nounce­ment by cul­tur­al and archi­tec­tur­al the­o­rist Charles Jencks refers to the demo­li­tion of the Wen­dell O. Pruitt Homes and William Igoe Apart­ments. The fate of that short-lived pub­lic hous­ing com­plex, bet­ter and more infa­mous­ly known as Pruitt-Igoe, still holds rhetor­i­cal val­ue in Amer­i­ca in argu­ments against the sup­posed social-engi­neer­ing ambi­tions made con­crete (often lit­er­al­ly) in large-scale post­war mod­ernist build­ings. Though the true sto­ry is more com­pli­cat­ed, the fact remains that, when­ev­er we pin­point it, mod­ern archi­tec­ture was wide­ly regard­ed as “dead.” What would come after it?

Why, post­mod­ernism, of course. Jencks did more than his part to define mod­ernism’s any­thing-goes suc­ces­sor move­ment with The Lan­guage of Post-Mod­ern Archi­tec­ture, in which he tells the tale of Pruitt-Igoe, which was then rel­a­tive­ly recent his­to­ry.

The first edi­tion came out in 1977, ear­ly days indeed in the life of post­mod­ernism, which in a video from His­toric Eng­land archi­tec­tur­al his­to­ri­an Elain Har­wood calls “the style of the nine­teen-eight­ies.” Its riots of delib­er­ate­ly incon­gru­ous shape and col­or, as well as its heaped-up unsub­tle cul­tur­al and his­tor­i­cal ref­er­ences, suit­ed that unbri­dled decade as per­fect­ly as did the ele­gant­ly gar­ish fur­ni­ture of the Mem­phis group.

In recent years, how­ev­er, the build­ings left behind by post­mod­ernism have got more than a few of us ask­ing ques­tions — ques­tions like, “Are they inten­tion­al­ly weird and tacky, or just designed with no taste?” That’s how Youtu­ber Bet­ty Chen puts it in the ARTic­u­la­tions video just above, before launch­ing into an inves­ti­ga­tion of post­mod­ern archi­tec­ture’s ori­gin, pur­pose, and place in the built envi­ron­ment today. In her telling, the style was born in the ear­ly nine­teen-six­ties, when archi­tect Robert Ven­turi designed a rule-break­ing house for his moth­er in Philadel­phia, decid­ing “to dis­tort the pure order of the mod­ernist box by rein­tro­duc­ing dis­pro­por­tion­al arrange­ments of clas­si­cal ele­ments such as four-pane win­dows, arch­es, the ped­i­ment, and the dec­o­ra­tive dado.”

An impor­tant the­o­rist of post­mod­ernism as well as a prac­ti­tion­er (usu­al­ly work­ing in both roles with his wife and col­lab­o­ra­tor Denise Scott Brown), Ven­turi con­vert­ed arch-mod­ernist Lud­wig Mies van der Rohe’s dec­la­ra­tion that “less is more” into what would become, in effect, post­mod­ernism’s brief man­i­festo: “Less is a bore.” Ven­turi described him­self as choos­ing “messy vital­i­ty over obvi­ous uni­ty,” and the same could be said of a range of his col­leagues in the eight­ies and nineties: Frank Gehry, Michael Graves, and Charles Moore in Amer­i­ca; Also Rossi, Ricar­do Bofill, and Bernard Tschu­mi in Europe; Minoru Takeya­ma, Ken­go Kuma, and Ara­ta Isoza­ki in Japan.

Post­mod­ern archi­tec­ture flow­ered espe­cial­ly in Britain: “The irrev­er­ence came from Amer­i­ca, the clas­si­cism from Europe,” says Har­wood. “What British archi­tects did was weave those two ele­ments togeth­er.” As one of those archi­tects, Sir Ter­ry Far­rell, tells His­toric Eng­land, “the pre­ced­ing era had been earnest and anony­mous”; after inter­na­tion­al mod­ernism, the time had come to re-intro­duce per­son­al­i­ty, and in a flam­boy­ant man­ner. His col­league Piers Gough remem­bers feel­ing, in the mid-six­ties, a cer­tain envy for pop art — “they were doing col­or, they were doing pop­u­lar imagery, they had pret­ti­er girl­friends” — that inspired them to “ran­sack pop­u­lar imagery in archi­tec­ture.” This project posed cer­tain prac­ti­cal dif­fi­cul­ties of its own: “You can design a build­ing to look like a soup can, but the prob­lem real­ly comes when you put the win­dows in it.”

Ren­o­va­tions to many an aging post­mod­ern build­ing have proven dif­fi­cult to jus­ti­fy, giv­en that “irrev­er­ence and exag­ger­a­tion are out,” as Brock Keel­ing writes in a recent Bloomberg piece. “Sig­nif­i­cant post­mod­ern build­ings like the Abrams House in Pitts­burgh and the Muse­um of Con­tem­po­rary Art in San Diego have already been demol­ished,” and oth­ers are endan­gered: “Fans of the James R. Thomp­son Cen­ter — Hel­mut Jahn’s 1985 civic build­ing, not­ed for its sliced-off dome facade and 17-sto­ry atri­um with blue-and-salmon trim — fear it will deboned in prepa­ra­tion for Google’s new Chica­go head­quar­ters.” The true archi­tec­tur­al post­mod­ernism enthu­si­ast also appre­ci­ates much hum­bler works, such as Jef­frey Daniels’ Los Ange­les Ken­tucky Fried Chick­en fran­chise that unin­ten­tion­al­ly evokes of both a chick­en and a chick­en buck­et. Long may it stand.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Why Do Peo­ple Hate Mod­ern Archi­tec­ture?: A Video Essay

Meet the Mem­phis Group, the Bob Dylan-Inspired Design­ers of David Bowie’s Favorite Fur­ni­ture

Why Peo­ple Hate Bru­tal­ist Build­ings on Amer­i­can Col­lege Cam­pus­es

Every­thing You Ever Want­ed to Know About the Beau­ty of Bru­tal­ist Archi­tec­ture: An Intro­duc­tion in Six Videos

How the Rad­i­cal Build­ings of the Bauhaus Rev­o­lu­tion­ized Archi­tec­ture: A Short Intro­duc­tion

An Intro­duc­tion to Post­mod­ernist Thinkers & Themes: Watch Primers on Fou­cault, Niet­zsche, Der­ri­da, Deleuze & 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 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.

Watch an Auroratone, a Psychedelic 1940s Film, Featuring Bing Crosby, That Helped WWII Vets Overcome PTSD & Other Mental Health Conditions

As Lisa Simp­son once mem­o­rably remarked, “I can see the music.”

Pret­ty much any­one can these days.

Just switch on your device’s audio visu­al­iz­er.

That wasn’t the case in the 1940s, when psy­chol­o­gist Cecil A. Stokes used chem­istry and polar­ized light to invent sooth­ing abstract music videos, a sort of cin­e­mat­ic synes­the­sia exper­i­ment such as can be seen above, in his only known sur­viv­ing Auro­ra­tone.

(The name was sug­gest­ed by Stokes’ acquain­tance, geol­o­gist, Arc­tic explor­er and Catholic priest, Bernard R. Hub­bard, who found the result rem­i­nis­cent of the Auro­ra Bore­alis.)

The trip­py visu­als may strike you as a bit of an odd fit with Bing Cros­by’s cov­er of the sen­ti­men­tal crowd­pleas­er “Oh Promise Me,” but trau­ma­tized WWII vets felt dif­fer­ent­ly.

Army psy­chol­o­gists Her­bert E. Rubin and Elias Katz’s research showed that Auro­ra­tone films had a ther­a­peu­tic effect on their patients, includ­ing deep relax­ation and emo­tion­al release.

The music sure­ly con­tributed to this pos­i­tive out­come. Oth­er Auro­ra­tone films fea­tured “Moon­light Sonata,” “Clair de Lune,” and an organ solo of “I Dream of Jean­nie with the Light Brown Hair.”

Drs. Rubin and Katz report­ed that patients reli­ably wept dur­ing Auro­ra­tones set to “The Lost Chord,” “Ave Maria,” and “Home on the Range” — anoth­er Cros­by num­ber.

In fact, Cros­by, always a cham­pi­on of tech­nol­o­gy, con­tributed record­ings for a full third of the fif­teen known Auro­ra­tones free of charge and foot­ed the bill for over­seas ship­ping so the films could be shown to sol­diers on active duty and med­ical leave.

Technophile Cros­by was well posi­tioned to under­stand Stokes’ patent­ed process and appa­ra­tus for pro­duc­ing musi­cal rhythm in col­oraka Auro­ra­tones — but those of us with a shaki­er grasp of STEM will appre­ci­ate light artist John Sonderegger’s expla­na­tion of the process, as quot­ed in film­mak­er and media con­ser­va­tor Wal­ter Fors­berg’s his­to­ry of Auro­ra­tones for INCITE Jour­nal of Exper­i­men­tal Media:

[Stokes’] pro­ce­dure was to cut a tape record­ed melody into short seg­ments and splice the result­ing pieces into tape loops. The audio sig­nal from the first loop was sent to a radio trans­mit­ter. The radio waves from the radio trans­mit­ter were con­fined to a tube and focused up through a glass slide on which he had placed a chem­i­cal mix­ture. The radio waves would inter­act with the solu­tion and trig­ger the for­ma­tion of the crys­tals. In this way each slide would devel­op a shape inter­pre­tive of the loop of music it had been exposed to. Each loop, in sequence, would be con­vert­ed to a slide. Even­tu­al­ly a set of slides would be com­plet­ed that was the nat­ur­al inter­pre­ta­tion of the com­plete musi­cal melody.

Vets suf­fer­ing from PTSD were not the only ones to embrace these unlike­ly exper­i­men­tal films.

Patients diag­nosed with oth­er men­tal dis­or­ders, youth­ful offend­ers, indi­vid­u­als plagued by chron­ic migraines, and devel­op­men­tal­ly delayed ele­men­tary school­ers also ben­e­fit­ed from Auro­ra­tones’ sooth­ing effects.

The gen­er­al pub­lic got a taste of the films in depart­ment store screen­ings hyped as “the near­est thing to the Auro­ra Bore­alis ever shown”, where the soporif­ic effect of the col­or pat­terns were tout­ed as hav­ing been cre­at­ed “by MOTHER NATURE HERSELF.”

Auro­ra­tones were also shown in church by can­ny Chris­t­ian lead­ers eager to deploy any bells and whis­tles that might hold a mod­ern flock’s atten­tion.

The Guggen­heim Muse­um’s brass was vast­ly less impressed by the Auro­ra­tone Foun­da­tion of America’s attempts to enlist their sup­port for this “new tech­nique using non-objec­tive art and musi­cal com­po­si­tions as a means of stim­u­lat­ing the human emo­tions in a man­ner so as to be of val­ue to neu­ro-psy­chi­a­trists and psy­chol­o­gists, as well as to teach­ers and stu­dents of both objec­tive and non-objec­tive art.”

Co-founder Hilla Rebay, an abstract artist her­self, wrote a let­ter in which she advised Stokes to “learn what is dec­o­ra­tion, acci­dent, intel­lec­tu­al con­fu­sion, pat­tern, sym­me­try… in art there is con­ceived law only –nev­er an acci­dent.”

A plan for pro­ject­ing Auro­ra­tones in mater­ni­ty wards to “do away with the pains of child-birth” appears to have been a sim­i­lar non-starter.

While only one Auro­ra­tone is known to have sur­vived — and its dis­cov­ery by Robert Martens, cura­tor of Grandpa’s Pic­ture Par­ty, is a fas­ci­nat­ing tale unto itself — you can try cob­bling togeth­er a 21st-cen­tu­ry DIY approx­i­ma­tion by plug­ging any of the below tunes into your pre­ferred music play­ing soft­ware and turn­ing on the visu­al­iz­er:

  • Amer­i­can Prayer by Gin­ny Simms
  • Ave Maria, sung by Bing Cros­by with organ accom­pa­ni­ment by Edward Dun­st­edter
  • Clair de Lune, played by Andre Kosta­lan­etz and his orches­tra
  • Going My Way, sung by Bing Cros­by with organ accom­pa­ni­ment by Edward Dun­st­edter
  • Home on the Range, sung by Bing Cros­by with organ accom­pa­ni­ment by Edward Dun­st­edter
  • Moon­light Sonata, played by Miss April Ayres

via Boing Boing / INCITE

Relat­ed Con­tent 

How the 1968 Psy­che­del­ic Film Head Destroyed the Mon­kees & Became a Cult Clas­sic

Short Film “Syd Barrett’s First Trip” Reveals the Pink Floyd Founder’s Psy­che­del­ic Exper­i­men­ta­tion (1967)

The Psy­che­del­ic Ani­mat­ed Video for Kraftwerk’s “Auto­bahn” (1979)

– 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.

Prisencolinensinainciusol, the Catchy Italian Pop Song That Sounded Like It Had English Lyrics, But Was Actually Gibberish (1972)

Yes­ter­day a friend and I were stand­ing on a New York City side­walk, wait­ing for the light, when Stayin’ Alive began issu­ing at top vol­ume from a near­by car.

Pavlov­ian con­di­tion­ing kicked in imme­di­ate­ly.  We’d been singing along with the Bee Gees for near­ly a minute before real­iz­ing that nei­ther of us knew the lyrics. Like, at all.

Ital­ian actor and musi­cian Adri­ano Celen­tano’s cult clas­sic, Prisen­co­l­i­nensi­nain­ciu­sol, inspires a sim­i­lar response.

The dif­fer­ence being that should I ever need to prep for karaoke, Stayin’ Alive’s lyrics are wide­ly avail­able online, where­as Prisen­co­l­i­nensi­nain­ciu­sol’s lyrics are kind of anyone’s guess…nonsense in any lan­guage.

Celen­tano impro­vised this gib­ber­ish in 1972 in an attempt to recre­ate how Amer­i­can rock and roll lyrics sound like to non-Eng­lish-speak­ing Ital­ian fans like him­self.

As he told NPR’s All Things Con­sid­ered through a trans­la­tor dur­ing a 2012 inter­view:

Ever since I start­ed singing, I was very influ­enced by Amer­i­can music and every­thing Amer­i­cans did. So at a cer­tain point, because I like Amer­i­can slang — which, for a singer, is much eas­i­er to sing than Ital­ian — I thought that I would write a song which would only have as its theme the inabil­i­ty to communicate…I sang it with an angry tone because the theme was impor­tant. It was an anger born out of res­ig­na­tion. I brought to light the fact that peo­ple don’t com­mu­ni­cate.

And yet, his 1974 appear­ance in the above sketch on the Ital­ian vari­ety series For­mu­la Due spurs strangers to make stabs at com­mu­ni­ca­tion by shar­ing their best guess tran­scrip­tions of Prisen­co­l­i­nensi­nain­ciu­sol’s lyrics in YouTube com­ments, 51 years after the song’s orig­i­nal release.

A sam­pling, anchored by the cho­rus’ icon­ic and unmis­take­able “all right:”


My eyes lie, sense­less.
I guess I’m throw­ing piz­za.

And the cold wind sailor,
freez­ing cold and icy in Tuc­son



My eyes are way so sen­si­tive
And it gets so cold, it’s freez­ing

You’re the cold, main, the same one
Please let’s call ’em ‘n’ dance with my shoes off
All right



My eyes smile sense­less but it doesn’t go with diesel all right.



I don’t know why but I want a maid to say I want pair of ice blue shoes with eyes…awight.


Prisen­co­l­i­nensi­nain­ciu­sol’s loop­ing, throb­bing beat is wild­ly catchy and immi­nent­ly dance­able, as evi­denced by Celentano’s per­for­mance on For­mu­la Due and that of the black clad dancers back­ing him up dur­ing an appear­ance on Mil­lelu­ci, anoth­er mid-70s Ital­ian vari­ety show, below.

The atten­tion gen­er­at­ed by these vari­ety show seg­ments — both lip synched — sent Prisen­co­l­i­nensi­nain­ciu­sol up the charts in Italy, Bel­gium, Ger­many, France, the Nether­lands, the UK,  and even the Unit­ed States.

Its mix of dis­co, hip hop and funk has proved sur­pris­ing­ly durable, inspir­ing remix­es and cov­ers, includ­ing the one that served as philoso­pher Slavoj Žižek’s Euro­vi­sion Song Con­test entry.

Prisen­co­l­i­nensi­nain­ciu­sol has net­ted a whole new gen­er­a­tion of fans by crop­ping up on Ted Las­so, Far­go, a com­mer­cial for spiced rum, and seem­ing­ly innu­mer­able Tik­Toks.

We’ll prob­a­bly nev­er get a firm grasp on the lyrics, despite Ital­ian tele­vi­sion host Pao­lo Bono­lis’ puck­ish 2005 attempt to goad befud­dled native Eng­lish speak­er Will Smith into deci­pher­ing them.

No mat­ter.

Celentano’s supreme­ly con­fi­dent deliv­ery of those indeli­ble non­sense syl­la­bles is what counts, accord­ing to a YouTube view­er from Slove­nia with fond mem­o­ries of play­ing in a rock band as a teen in the 1960’s:

This is exact­ly how we non-Eng­lish-speak­ers sung the then hit songs. You learned some begin­ning parts of lyrics so that the audi­ence rec­og­nized the song. They heard it at Radio Lux­em­bourg. From here on it was exact­ly the same style — out­side the cho­rus of course. Adri­ano Celen­tano was always been a leg­end for us back in Slove­nia.

h/t Erik B.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Sto­ry of Lorem Ipsum: How Scram­bled Text by Cicero Became the Stan­dard For Type­set­ters Every­where

Hear All of Finnegans Wake Read Aloud: A 35 Hour Read­ing

Watch La Lin­ea, the Pop­u­lar 1970s Ital­ian Ani­ma­tions Drawn with a Sin­gle Line

– 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 Evolution of Bugs Bunny’s Appearance Over His Eight Decade Career

Bugs Bun­ny is a quick-think­ing, fast-talk­ing, was­cal­ly force of nature, and a preter­nat­u­ral­ly gift­ed phys­i­cal come­di­an, too.

But unlike such last­ing greats as Char­lie Chapin and Buster Keaton, it took him a while to find his icon­ic look.

His first appear­ance, as “Hap­py Rab­bit” in the 1938 black and white the­atri­cal short, Porky’s Hare Hunt, might remind you of those year­book pho­tos of celebri­ties before they were famous.

In a video essay con­sid­er­ing how Bugs Bunny’s look has evolved over his eight-decade career, ani­ma­tion fan Dave Lee of the pop­u­lar YouTube series Dave Lee Down Under breaks down some ear­ly char­ac­ter­is­tics, from an unde­fined, small body and oval-shaped head to white fur and a fluffy cot­ton ball of a tail.

His voice was also a work in progress, more Woody Wood­peck­er than the hybrid Brook­lyn-Bronx patois that would make him, and voice actor Mel Blanc, famous.

The fol­low­ing year, the rab­bit who would become Bugs Bun­ny returned in Prest‑o Change‑o, a Mer­ry Melodies Tech­ni­col­or short direct­ed by Chuck Jones.

A few months lat­er char­ac­ter design­er (and for­mer Dis­ney ani­ma­tor) Char­lie Thor­son sub­ject­ed him to a pret­ty notice­able makeover for Hare-um Scare-um, anoth­er rab­bit hunt­ing-themed romp.

The two-toned grey and white coat, oval muz­zle, and mis­chie­vous buck-toothed grin are much more aligned with the Bugs most of us grew up watch­ing.  

His pear-shaped bod’, long neck, high-rumped stance, and pon­toon feet allowed for a much greater range of motion.

A nota­tion on the mod­el sheet allud­ing to direc­tor Ben Hard­away’s nick­name — “Bugs” — gives some hint as to how the world’s most pop­u­lar car­toon char­ac­ter came by his stage name.

For 1940’s Elmer’s Can­did Cam­era, the pink-muz­zled Bugs dropped the yel­low gloves Thors­en had giv­en him and affect­ed some black ear tips.

Tex Avery, who was in line to direct the pair in the Acad­e­my Award-nom­i­nat­ed short A Wild Hare, found this look objec­tion­ably cute.

He tasked ani­ma­tor Bob Givens with giv­ing the rab­bit, now offi­cial­ly known as Bugs Bun­ny, an edgi­er appear­ance.

Ani­ma­tion his­to­ri­an Michael Bar­ri­er writes:

In the Givens design, Bugs was no longer defined by Thor­son­’s tan­gle of curves. His head was now oval, rather than round. In that respect, Bugs recalled the white rab­bit in Porky’s Hare Hunt, but Given­s’s design pre­served so many of Thor­son­’s refinements—whiskers, a more nat­u­ral­is­tic nose—and intro­duced so many others—cheek ruffs, less promi­nent teeth—that there was very lit­tle sim­i­lar­i­ty between the new ver­sion of Bugs and the Hare Hunt rab­bit. 

Bar­ri­er also details a num­ber of sim­i­lar­i­ties between the tit­u­lar rab­bit char­ac­ter from Disney’s 1935 Sil­ly Sym­phonies short, The Tor­toise and the Hare, and for­mer Dis­ney employ­ee Givens’ design.  

While Avery boast­ed to car­toon his­to­ri­an Milt Gray in 1977 that “the con­struc­tion was almost iden­ti­cal”, adding, “It’s a won­der I was­n’t sued,” Givens insist­ed in an inter­view with the Ani­ma­tion Guild’s oral his­to­ry project that Bugs wasn’t a Max Hare rip off. ( “I was there. I ought to know.”)

What­ev­er par­al­lels may exist between Givens’ Bugs and Disney’s Hare, YouTu­ber Lee sees A Wild Hare as the moment when Bugs Bunny’s char­ac­ter coa­lesced as “more of a lov­able prankster than a mali­cious deviant,” non­cha­lant­ly chomp­ing a car­rot like Clark Gable in It Hap­pened One Night, and turn­ing a bit of region­al Texas teen slang — “What’s up, Doc?”- into one of the most immor­tal catch phras­es in enter­tain­ment his­to­ry.

A star was born, so much so that four direc­tors — Jones, Avery, Friz Fre­leng and Bob Clam­pett — were enlist­ed to keep up with the demand for Bugs Bun­ny vehi­cles. 

This mul­ti-pronged approach led to some visu­al incon­sis­ten­cies, that were even­tu­al­ly checked by the cre­ation of defin­i­tive mod­el sheets, drawn by Bob McKim­son, who ani­mat­ed the Clam­pett-direct­ed shorts. 

His­to­ri­an Bar­ri­er takes stock:

Bugs’s cheeks were broad­er, his chin stronger, his teeth a lit­tle more promi­nent, his eyes larg­er and slant­ed a lit­tle out­ward instead of in. The most expres­sive ele­ments of the rab­bit’s face had all been strength­ened …but because the tri­an­gu­lar shape of Bugs’s head had been sub­tly accen­tu­at­ed, Bugs was, if any­thing, futher removed from cute­ness than ever before. McKim­son’s mod­el sheet must be giv­en some of the cred­it for the marked improve­ment in Bugs’s looks in all the direc­tors’ car­toons start­ing in 1943. Not that every­one drew Bugs to match the mod­el sheet, but the awk­ward­ness and uncer­tain­ty of the ear­ly for­ties were gone; it was if every­one had sud­den­ly fig­ured out what Bugs real­ly looked like.

Now one of the most rec­og­niz­able stars on earth, Bugs remained unmis­tak­ably him­self while spoof­ing Charles Dick­ens, Alfred Hitch­cock and Wag­n­er; held his own in live action appear­ances with such heavy hit­ters as Doris Day and Michael Jor­dan; and had a mem­o­rable cameo in the 1988 fea­ture Who Framed Roger Rab­bit, after pro­duc­ers agreed to a deal that guar­an­teed him the same amount of screen time as his far squar­er rival, Mick­ey Mouse. 

This mil­len­ni­um got off to a rock­i­er start, owing to an over-reliance on low bud­get, sim­pli­fied flash ani­ma­tion, and the tru­ly exe­crable trend of shows that reimag­ine clas­sic char­ac­ters as cloy­ing tod­dlers. 

In 2011, on the strength of her 2‑minute ani­mat­ed short I Like Pan­das, an ini­tial­ly reluc­tant 24-year-old Jes­si­ca Borut­s­ki was asked to “fresh­en up” Bugs’ look for The Looney Tunes Show, a series of longer for­mat car­toons which required its cast to per­form such 21st-cen­tu­ry activ­i­ties as tex­ting:

I made their heads a bit big­ger because I did­n’t like [how] in the ’60s, ’70s Bugs Bun­ny’s head start­ed to get real­ly small and his body real­ly long. He start­ed to look like a weird guy in a bun­ny suit.

Lee’s Evo­lu­tion of Bugs Bun­ny- 80 Years Explained was released in 2019. 

He has­n’t stopped evolv­ing. Giz­mod­o’s Sabi­na Graves “sat down with the cre­ative teams shep­herd­ing Warn­er Bros.’ clas­sic Looney Tunes char­ac­ters into new and reimag­ined car­toons” at San Diego Com­ic-Con 2022: 

In a push led by Looney Tunes Car­toons’ Alex Kirwan—who spear­heads the franchise’s cur­rent slate of shorts on HBO Max—the beloved ani­ma­tion icons will soon expand into even more con­tent. There’s the upcom­ing Tiny Toons Loooniver­si­ty revival, a Hal­loween spe­cial, Cartoonito’s Bugs Bun­ny Builders for kids, and two fea­ture-length ani­mat­ed movies on the way—and we have a feel­ing that’s not all, folks!

…to quote Bugs, “I knew I shoul­da tak­en that left turn at Albu­querque!

Relat­ed Con­tent

How to Draw Bugs Bun­ny: A Primer by Leg­endary Ani­ma­tor Chuck Jones

The Strange Day When Bugs Bun­ny Saved the Life of Mel Blanc

The Proof That Mel Blanc–the Voice Behind Bugs Bun­ny, Daffy Duck & Porky Pig–Was a Genius

Kill the Wab­bit!: How the 1957 Bugs Bun­ny Car­toon, “What’s Opera, Doc?,” Inspired Today’s Opera Singers to First Get Into Opera

- 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.

130+ Photographs of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Masterpiece Fallingwater

We’ve fea­tured a vari­ety of build­ings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright here on Open Cul­ture, from his per­son­al home and stu­dio Tal­iesin and the Impe­r­i­al Hotel in Tokyo, to a gas sta­tion and a dog­house. But if any sin­gle struc­ture explains his endur­ing rep­u­ta­tion as a genius of Amer­i­can archi­tec­ture, and per­haps the genius of Amer­i­can archi­tec­ture, it must be the house called Falling­wa­ter.

Designed in 1935 for Pitts­burgh depart­ment-store mag­nate Edgar J. Kauf­mann and his wife Lil­iane, it sits atop an active water­fall — not below it as Kauf­mann had orig­i­nal­ly request­ed, to name just one of the dis­agree­ments that arose between client and archi­tect through­out the process.

In the event, Wright had his way as far as the posi­tion­ing of the house on the site, as with much else about the project — and so much the bet­ter for its stature in the his­to­ry of archi­tec­ture, which has only risen since com­ple­tion 85 years ago.

Inspired by the Kauf­man­n’s love of the out­doors, as well as his own appre­ci­a­tion for Japan­ese archi­tec­ture, Wright employed tech­niques to inte­grate Falling­wa­ter’s spaces with one anoth­er, as well as with the sur­round­ing nature. Time mag­a­zine wast­ed no time, as it were, declar­ing the result Wright’s “most beau­ti­ful job”; more recent­ly, it’s received high praise from no less a mas­ter Japan­ese archi­tect than Tadao Ando.

When he vis­it­ed Falling­wa­ter, Ando expe­ri­enced first-hand a use of space sim­i­lar to that which he knew from the built envi­ron­ment of his home­land, and also how the house lets in the sounds of nature. Though such a pil­grim­age can great­ly expand one’s appre­ci­a­tion of the house, rare is the view­er who fails to be enrap­tured by pic­tures alone.

Near­ly as astute in the realm of pub­lic­i­ty as in that of archi­tec­ture, Wright would have known that Falling­wa­ter had to pho­to­graph well, a qual­i­ty vivid­ly on dis­play in this archive of 137 high-res­o­lu­tion images at the Library of Con­gress. From it, you can down­load col­or and black-and-white pho­tos of the house­’s exte­ri­or and inte­ri­or as well as its plans, which — so the sto­ry goes — Wright orig­i­nal­ly drew up in just two hours after months of inac­tion. Falling­wa­ter thus stands as not just con­crete proof of once-brazen archi­tec­tur­al notions, but also vin­di­ca­tion for pro­cras­ti­na­tors every­where.

Relat­ed con­tent:

An Ani­mat­ed Tour of Falling­wa­ter, One of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Finest Cre­ations

12 Famous Frank Lloyd Wright Hous­es Offer Vir­tu­al Tours: Hol­ly­hock House, Tal­iesin West, Falling­wa­ter & More

What It’s Like to Work in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Icon­ic Office Build­ing

What Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unusu­al Win­dows Tell Us About His Archi­tec­tur­al Genius

The Unre­al­ized Projects of Frank Lloyd Wright Get Brought to Life with 3D Dig­i­tal Recon­struc­tions

1,300 Pho­tos of Famous Mod­ern Amer­i­can Homes Now Online, Cour­tesy of USC

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.

Astronomers Create a Digital Atlas of Over 380,000 Galaxies

In the observ­able uni­verse, there are esti­mat­ed to be between 200 bil­lion to two tril­lion galax­ies. By com­par­i­son to these super-Sagan­ian num­bers, the 383,620 galax­ies cap­tured by the Siena Galaxy Atlas may seem like small pota­toes. But the SGA actu­al­ly rep­re­sents a land­mark achieve­ment among dig­i­tal astron­o­my cat­a­logs: as Saman­tha Hill writes in Astron­o­my, it draws its data from three Dark Ener­gy Spec­tro­scop­ic Instru­ment Lega­cy Sur­veys, which togeth­er con­sti­tute “one of the largest sur­veys ever con­duct­ed.” Com­ing to 7,637 down­load­able pages, it “presents a new pos­si­ble nam­ing con­ven­tion for the galax­ies, and cap­tures images of the objects in opti­cal and infrared wave­lengths. Each of the target’s data set includes a whole slew of oth­er infor­ma­tion includ­ing its size and mor­phol­o­gy.”

Though pub­licly acces­si­ble online, the for­mi­da­bly tech­ni­cal SGA may present the non-astronomer with a some­what steep learn­ing curve. One way to approach the archive through some of the espe­cial­ly impres­sive galax­ies it cap­tures is to orga­nize the list below its search fil­ters accord­ing to size. The images that result are not, of course, pho­tographs of the kind any of us could take by point­ing a cam­era up at the night sky, no mat­ter how pricey the cam­era. Rather, they’re the results, processed into visu­al leg­i­bil­i­ty, of enor­mous amounts of data col­lect­ed by advanced tele­scope and satel­lite.

To get more tech­ni­cal, the SGA is also “the first cos­mic atlas to fea­ture the light pro­files of galax­ies  —  a curve that describes how the bright­ness of the galaxy changes from its bright­est point, usu­al­ly at the cen­ter, to its dimmest, com­mon­ly at its edge.”

So writes Space.com’s Robert Lea, who also explains more about the SGA’s use­ful­ness to sci­en­tif­ic pro­fes­sion­als. It “rep­re­sents peak accu­ra­cy, promis­ing to be a gold mine of galac­tic infor­ma­tion for sci­en­tists aim­ing to inves­ti­gate every­thing from the births and evo­lu­tions of galax­ies to the dis­tri­b­u­tion of dark mat­ter and prop­a­ga­tion of grav­i­ta­tion­al waves through space.” Its data could also help astronomers “find the sources of grav­i­ta­tion­al wave sig­nals detect­ed on Earth, because these faint rip­ples in the very fab­ric of space and time wash over our plan­et after trav­el­ing for mil­lions of light years.” Even if you’re under­tak­ing no such search­es of your own, a trip through the SGA can still enhance your appre­ci­a­tion of how much human­i­ty has come to learn about these “near­by” galax­ies — and how much remains to be learned about all those that lie beyond. Enter the archive here.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Atlas of Space: Behold Bril­liant Maps of Con­stel­la­tions, Aster­oids, Plan­ets & “Every­thing in the Solar Sys­tem Big­ger Than 10km”

When Galax­ies Col­lide

What Would It Be Like to Fly Through the Uni­verse?

10,000 Galax­ies in 3D

Lux Aeter­na: A Jour­ney of Light, From Dis­tant Galax­ies to Small Drops of Water

NASA Releas­es a Mas­sive Online Archive: 140,000 Pho­tos, Videos & Audio Files Free to Search and Down­load

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.

Marie Curie’s Research Papers Are Still Radioactive a Century Later

Image by The Well­come Trust

When research­ing a famous his­tor­i­cal fig­ure, access to their work and mate­ri­als usu­al­ly proves to be one of the biggest obsta­cles. But things are much more dif­fi­cult for those writ­ing about the life of Marie Curie, the sci­en­tist who, along her with hus­band Pierre, dis­cov­ered polo­ni­um and radi­um and birthed the idea of par­ti­cle physics. Her note­books, her cloth­ing, her fur­ni­ture (not to men­tion her lab), pret­ty much every­thing sur­viv­ing from her Parisian sub­ur­ban house, is radioac­tive, and will be for 1,500 years or more.

If you want to look at her man­u­scripts, you have to sign a lia­bil­i­ty waiv­er at France’s Bib­lio­theque Nationale, and then you can access the notes sealed in a lead-lined box. The Curies didn’t know about the dan­gers of radioac­tive mate­ri­als, though they did know about radioac­tiv­i­ty. Their research attempt­ed to find out which sub­stances were radioac­tive and why, and so many dan­ger­ous elements–thorium, ura­ni­um, plutonium–were just sit­ting there in their home lab­o­ra­to­ry, glow­ing at night, which Curie thought beau­ti­ful, “like faint, fairy lights,” she wrote in her auto­bi­og­ra­phy. Marie Curie car­ried these glow­ing objects around in her pock­ets. She and her hus­band wore stan­dard lab cloth­ing, noth­ing more.

Marie Curie died at age 66 in 1934, from aplas­tic ane­mia, attrib­uted to her radioac­tive research. The house, how­ev­er, con­tin­ued to be used up until 1978 by the Insti­tute of Nuclear Physics of the Paris Fac­ul­ty of Sci­ence and the Curie Foun­da­tion. After that it was kept under sur­veil­lance, author­i­ties final­ly now aware of the dan­gers inside. When many peo­ple in the neigh­bor­hood noticed high can­cer rates among them, as report­ed in Le Parisien, they blamed the Curie’s home.

The lab­o­ra­to­ry and the build­ing were decon­t­a­m­i­nat­ed in 1991, a year after the Curie estate began allow­ing access to Curie’s notes and mate­ri­als, which had been removed from the house. A flood of biogra­phies appeared soon after: Marie Curie: A Life by Susan Quinn in 1995, Pierre Curie by Anna Hur­wic in 1998, Curie: Le rêve sci­en­tifique by Loïc Bar­bo in 1999, Marie Curie et son lab­o­ra­toire by Soraya Boudia in 2001, Obses­sive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie by Bar­bara Gold­smith in 2005, and Radioac­tive: Marie and Pierre Curie, a Tale of Love and Fall­out by Lau­ren Red­niss in 2011.

Still, pass­ing away at 66 is not too shab­by when one has changed the world in the name of sci­ence. Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize (1903), the only woman to win it again (1911), the first woman to become a pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Paris, and the first woman to be entombed (on her own mer­its) at the Pan­théon in Paris. And she man­aged many of her break­throughs after the pass­ing of her hus­band Pierre in 1906–who slipped and fell in the rain on a busy Paris street and was run over by the wheels of a horse-drawn cart.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2015.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to the Life & Work of Marie Curie, the First Female Nobel Lau­re­ate

Marie Curie’s Ph.D. The­sis on Radioactivity–Which Made Her the First Woman in France to Receive a Doc­tor­al Degree in Physics

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to the Life & Work of Marie Curie, the First Female Nobel Lau­re­ate

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

Bertrand Russell: The Everyday Benefit of Philosophy Is That It Helps You Live with Uncertainty

On the strength of a few quo­ta­tions and the pop­u­lar lec­ture Why I am Not a Chris­t­ian, philoso­pher Bertrand Rus­sell has been char­ac­ter­ized as a so-called “pos­i­tive athe­ist,” a phrase that implies a high degree of cer­tain­ty. While it is true that Rus­sell saw “no rea­son to believe any of the dog­mas of tra­di­tion­al the­ol­o­gy” — he saw them, in fact, as pos­i­tive­ly harm­ful — it would be mis­lead­ing to sug­gest that he reject­ed all forms of meta­physics, mys­ti­cism, and imag­i­na­tive, even poet­ic, spec­u­la­tion.

Rus­sell saw a way to great­ness in the search for ulti­mate truth, by means of both hard sci­ence and pure spec­u­la­tion. In an essay enti­tled “Mys­ti­cism and Log­ic,” for exam­ple, Rus­sell con­trasts two “great men,” Enlight­en­ment philoso­pher David Hume, whose “sci­en­tif­ic impulse reigns quite unchecked,” and poet William Blake, in whom “a strong hos­til­i­ty to sci­ence co-exists with pro­found mys­tic insight.”

It’s inter­est­ing that Rus­sell choos­es Blake for an exam­ple. One of his oft-quot­ed apho­risms cribs a line from anoth­er mys­ti­cal poet, William But­ler Yeats, who wrote in “The Sec­ond Com­ing” (1920), “The best lack all con­vic­tion, while the worst / Are full of pas­sion­ate inten­si­ty.” Russell’s ver­sion of this, from his 1933 essay “The Tri­umph of Stu­pid­i­ty,” is a bit clunki­er rhetor­i­cal­ly speak­ing:

“The fun­da­men­tal cause of the trou­ble is that in the mod­ern world the stu­pid are cock­sure while the intel­li­gent are full of doubt.”

The quote has been sig­nif­i­cant­ly altered and stream­lined over time, it seems, yet it still serves as a kind of mot­to for the skep­ti­cal phi­los­o­phy Rus­sell advo­cat­ed, one he would par­tial­ly define in the 1960 inter­view above as a way to “keep us mod­est­ly aware of how much that seems like knowl­edge isn’t knowl­edge.” On the oth­er hand, phi­los­o­phy push­es ret­i­cent intel­lec­tu­als to “enlarge” their “imag­i­na­tive purview of the world into the hypo­thet­i­cal realm,” allow­ing “spec­u­la­tions about mat­ters where exact knowl­edge is not pos­si­ble.”

Where the quo­ta­tion above seems to pose an insol­u­ble problem—similar to the cog­ni­tive bias known as the “Dun­ning-Kruger Effect”—it seems in Russell’s esti­ma­tion a false dilem­ma. At the 9:15 mark, in answer to a direct ques­tion posed by inter­view­er Woodrow Wyatt about the “prac­ti­cal use of your sort of phi­los­o­phy to a man who wants to know how to con­duct him­self,” Rus­sell replies:

I think nobody should be cer­tain of any­thing. If you’re cer­tain, you’re cer­tain­ly wrong because noth­ing deserves cer­tain­ty. So one ought to hold all one’s beliefs with a cer­tain ele­ment of doubt, and one ought to be able to act vig­or­ous­ly in spite of the doubt…. One has in prac­ti­cal life to act upon prob­a­bil­i­ties, and what I should look to phi­los­o­phy to do is to encour­age peo­ple to act with vig­or with­out com­plete cer­tain­ty.

Russell’s dis­cus­sion of the uses of phi­los­o­phy puts me in mind of anoth­er con­cept devised by a poet: John Keats’ “neg­a­tive capa­bil­i­ty,” or what Maria Popo­va calls “the art of remain­ing in doubt…. The will­ing­ness to embrace uncer­tain­ty, live with mys­tery, and make peace with ambi­gu­i­ty.” Per­haps Rus­sell would not char­ac­ter­ize it this way. He was, as you’ll see above, not much giv­en to poet­ic exam­ples. And indeed, Russell’s method relies a great deal more on log­ic and prob­a­bil­i­ty the­o­ry than Keats’. And yet the prin­ci­ple is strik­ing­ly sim­i­lar.

For Rus­sell, cer­tain­ty sti­fles progress, and an inabil­i­ty to take imag­i­na­tive risks con­signs us to inac­tion. A mid­dle way is required to live “vig­or­ous­ly,” that of phi­los­o­phy, which requires both the math­e­mat­ic and the poet­ic. In “Mys­ti­cism and Log­ic,” Rus­sell sums up his posi­tion suc­cinct­ly: “The great­est men who have been philoso­phers have felt the need of sci­ence and of mys­ti­cism: the attempt to har­monise the two was what made their life, and what always must, for all its ardu­ous uncer­tain­ty, make phi­los­o­phy, to some minds, a greater thing than either sci­ence or reli­gion.”

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2015.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

What If We’re Wrong?: An Ani­mat­ed Video Chal­lenges Our Most Deeply Held Beliefs–With the Help of a Lud­wig Wittgen­stein Thought Exper­i­ment

Bertrand Russell’s Mes­sage to Peo­ple Liv­ing in the Year 2959: “Love is Wise, Hatred is Fool­ish”

Noam Chom­sky Defines The Real Respon­si­bil­i­ty of Intel­lec­tu­als: “To Speak the Truth and to Expose Lies” (1967)

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

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Advice for Time Traveling to Medieval Europe: How to Staying Healthy & Safe, and Avoiding Charges of Witchcraft

Gen­er­a­tions of for­eign tourists in Europe have heard advice about trav­el­ing in groups, hag­gling prices, avoid­ing pick­pock­ets, and being able to com­mu­ni­cate in, if not the local lan­guage, then at least the lin­gua fran­ca. It turns out that very sim­i­lar guid­ance applies to time trav­el in Europe, or at least specif­i­cal­ly to the region of Eng­land, France, Ger­many, and north­ern Italy in the cen­tral Mid­dle Ages, rough­ly between the years 1000 and 1400. In the new video above, his­to­ry Youtu­ber Pre­mod­ernist pro­vides an hour’s worth of advice to the mod­ern prepar­ing to trav­el back in time to medieval Europe — begin­ning with the dec­la­ra­tion that “you will very like­ly get sick.”

The gas­troin­testi­nal dis­tress posed by the “native bio­me” of medieval Euro­pean food and drink is one thing; the threat of rob­bery or worse by its rov­ing packs of out­laws is quite anoth­er. “Crime is ram­pant” where you’re going, so “car­ry a dag­ger” and “learn how to use it.” In soci­eties of the Mid­dle Ages, peo­ple could only pro­tect them­selves by being “enmeshed in social webs with each oth­er. No one was an indi­vid­ual.” And so, as a trav­el­er, you must — to put it in Dun­geons-and-Drag­ons terms — belong to some leg­i­ble class. Though you’ll have no choice but to present your­self as hav­ing come from a dis­tant land, you can feel free to pick one of two guis­es that will suit your obvi­ous for­eign­ness: “you’re either a mer­chant or a pil­grim.”

Unlike mod­ern-day Europe, through which you trav­el for weeks bare­ly speak­ing to any­one, the Europe of the Mid­dle Ages offers numer­ous oppor­tu­ni­ties for con­ver­sa­tion, whether you want them or not. With­out any media as we know it today, medievals had to “make their own enter­tain­ment by talk­ing to each oth­er,” and if they could talk to a stranger from an exot­ic land, so much the more enter­tain­ing. But hav­ing none of our rel­a­tive­ly nov­el ideas that “every­body’s on an equal foot­ing, that every­body’s equal to each oth­er, nobody’s bet­ter or worse than any­body else, nobody gets any spe­cial treat­ment,” they’ll guess your social rank and treat you accord­ing­ly; you, in turn, would do well to act the part.

Imag­in­ing them­selves in medieval Europe, many of our con­tem­po­raries say things like, “If I go there, they’ll hang me as a witch, or they’ll burn me at the stake as a witch, because I’m wear­ing mod­ern clothes and because I talk fun­ny.” But that fear (not untaint­ed, per­haps, by a cer­tain self-regard) is unfound­ed, since medievals “were not scared of peo­ple just because they were dif­fer­ent. They were scared of peo­ple who were dif­fer­ent in a way that chal­lenged the social order or threat­ened social chaos.” Their world­view put reli­gious affil­i­a­tion above all, with­out con­sid­er­a­tion for even the most hot­ly debat­ed twen­ty-first-cen­tu­ry polit­i­cal or racial bat­tle lines. But then, as we nev­er need­ed time trav­el to under­stand, the past is a for­eign coun­try; they do things dif­fer­ent­ly there.

Relat­ed con­tent:

A Free Yale Course on Medieval His­to­ry: 700 Years in 22 Lec­tures

Peo­ple in the Mid­dle Ages Slept Not Once But Twice Each Night: How This Lost Prac­tice Was Redis­cov­ered

How to Make a Medieval Man­u­script: An Intro­duc­tion in 7 Videos

What Sex Was Like in Medieval Times?: His­to­ri­ans Look at How Peo­ple Got It On in the Dark Ages

Behold a 21st-Cen­tu­ry Medieval Cas­tle Being Built with Only Tools & Mate­ri­als from the Mid­dle Ages

A Con­cise Break­down of How Time Trav­el Works in Pop­u­lar Movies, Books & TV Shows

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.


Explore the Florentine Codex: A Brilliant 16th Century Manuscript Documenting Aztec Culture Is Now Digitized & Available Online

The Span­ish con­quista of the Amer­i­c­as hap­pened long enough ago — and left behind a spot­ty enough body of his­tor­i­cal records — that we tend to per­ceive it as much through sim­pli­fi­ca­tions, exag­ger­a­tions, and dis­tor­tions as we do through facts. What we now call Mex­i­co under­went “essen­tial­ly an inter­nal con­flict between dif­fer­ent indige­nous groups who saw the arrival of strangers as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to resist hav­ing to pay trib­ute to the Aztec Empire,” says Uni­ver­si­dad Nacional Autóno­ma de Mex­i­co his­to­ry pro­fes­sor Berenice Alcán­tara Rojas. “When the Spaniards ini­tial­ly attacked the Mex­i­ca cap­i­tal, they were swift­ly dri­ven out.”

“Only when aid­ed by var­i­ous groups of Indige­nous allies, as well as by the spread of a ter­ri­ble small­pox epi­dem­ic, did they man­age to force the ruler Cuauhte­moc and oth­er Mex­i­ca lead­ers to capit­u­late,” Rojas con­tin­ues, draw­ing upon details pro­vid­ed in the ver­sion of the events laid out in the Flo­ren­tine Codex.

That ency­clo­pe­dic series of twelve 16th-cen­tu­ry illus­trat­ed man­u­scripts lav­ish­ly doc­u­ments the known soci­ety and nature of that land at the time — and has now, near­ly 450 years lat­er, been acknowl­edged as “the most reli­able source of infor­ma­tion about Mex­i­ca cul­ture, the Aztec Empire, and the con­quest of Mex­i­co.”

“In 1547, Bernardi­no de Sahagún, a Span­ish Fran­cis­can fri­ar who com­mit­ted most of his life to work­ing close­ly with the Indige­nous peo­ples of Mex­i­co, began col­lect­ing infor­ma­tion about cen­tral Mex­i­can Nahua cul­ture, life, peo­ple, his­to­ry, astron­o­my, flo­ra, fau­na, and the Nahu­atl lan­guage, among oth­er top­ics,” says the Get­ty Research Insti­tute. “Nahua elders, gram­mar­i­ans, scribes, and artists worked with Sahagún to com­pile a three-vol­ume, 12-book, 2500-page illus­trat­ed man­u­script, mod­el­ing its con­tent on Euro­pean ency­clo­pe­dias, espe­cial­ly Pliny the Elder’s Nat­ur­al His­to­ry,” all of which has been dig­i­tized, trans­lat­ed, and made avail­able at the Get­ty’s web site.

A thor­ough­ly mul­ti­cul­tur­al project avant la let­tre, the Flo­ren­tine Codex (named for the Medici fam­i­ly library in Flo­rence, where it was sent upon its com­ple­tion) has only just become acces­si­ble to a wide online read­er­ship. Though it’s “been dig­i­tal­ly avail­able via the World Dig­i­tal Library since 2012, for most users it remained impen­e­tra­ble because read­ing it requires knowl­edge of six­teenth-cen­tu­ry Nahu­atl and Span­ish, and of pre-His­pan­ic and ear­ly mod­ern Euro­pean art tra­di­tions.” By offer­ing search­able text in mod­ern ver­sions of both those lan­guages as well as Eng­lish — to say noth­ing of its brows­able sec­tions orga­nized by peo­ple, ani­mals, deities, and even by Nahu­atl terms like coy­ote and tor­tilla — the Dig­i­tal Flo­ren­tine Codex re-illu­mi­nates an entire civ­i­liza­tion.

via Hyper­al­ler­gic

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Codex Quet­za­le­catzin, an Extreme­ly Rare Col­ored Mesoamer­i­can Man­u­script, Now Dig­i­tized and Put Online

Native Lands: An Inter­ac­tive Map Reveals the Indige­nous Lands on Which Mod­ern Nations Were Built

Explore the Codex Zouche-Nut­tall: A Rare, Accor­dion-Fold­ed Pre-Columbian Man­u­script

How the Ancient Mayans Used Choco­late as Mon­ey

Peru­vian Schol­ar Writes & Defends the First The­sis Writ­ten in Quechua, the Main Lan­guage of the Incan Empire

How the Inca Used Intri­cate­ly-Knot­ted Cords, Called Khipu, to Write Their His­to­ries, Send Mes­sages & Keep Records

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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