Is America Declining Like Ancient Rome?

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

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

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

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

Relat­ed con­tent:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goethe’s Theory of Colors: The 1810 Treatise That Inspired Kandinsky & Early Abstract Painting

I doubt I need to list for you the many titles of the 18th cen­tu­ry Ger­man savant and poly­math Johann Wolf­gang von Goethe, but allow me to add one or two that were new to me, at least: col­or the­o­rist (or phe­nom­e­nol­o­gist of col­or) and prog­en­i­tor of abstract expres­sion­ism. As a fas­ci­nat­ing Book­tryst post informs us, Goethe’s book on col­or, Zur Far­ben­lehre (The­o­ry of Col­ors), writ­ten in 1810, dis­put­ed the New­ton­ian view of the sub­ject and for­mu­lat­ed a psy­cho­log­i­cal and philo­soph­i­cal account of the way we actu­al­ly expe­ri­ence col­or as a phe­nom­e­non. In his account, Goethe describes how he came by his views:

Along with the rest of the world, I was con­vinced that all the col­ors are con­tained in the light; no one had ever told me any­thing dif­fer­ent, and I had nev­er found the least cause to doubt it, because I had no fur­ther inter­est in the sub­ject.

But how I was aston­ished, as I looked at a white wall through the prism, that it stayed white! That only where it came upon some dark­ened area, it showed some col­or, then at last, around the win­dow sill all the col­ors shone… It did­n’t take long before I knew here was some­thing sig­nif­i­cant about col­or to be brought forth, and I spoke as through an instinct out loud, that the New­ton­ian teach­ings were false.

Schopen­hauer would lat­er write that “[Goethe] deliv­ered in full mea­sure what was promised by the title of his excel­lent work: data toward a the­o­ry of colour. They are impor­tant, com­plete, and sig­nif­i­cant data, rich mate­r­i­al for a future the­o­ry of colour.” It was a the­o­ry, Schopen­hauer admits, that does not “[fur­nish] us with a real expla­na­tion of the essen­tial nature of colour, but real­ly pos­tu­lates it as a phe­nom­e­non, and mere­ly tells us how it orig­i­nates, not what it is.”

Anoth­er lat­er philo­soph­i­cal inter­preter of Goethe, Lud­wig Wittgen­stein—a thinker great­ly inter­est­ed in visu­al perception—also saw Goethe’s work as oper­at­ing very dif­fer­ent­ly than New­ton’s optics—not as a sci­en­tif­ic the­o­ry but rather as an intu­itive schema. Wittgen­stein remarked that Goethe’s work “is real­ly not a the­o­ry at all. Noth­ing can be pre­dict­ed by means of it. It is, rather, a vague schemat­ic out­line, of the sort we find in [William] James’s psy­chol­o­gy. There is no exper­i­men­tum cru­cis for Goethe’s the­o­ry of colour.”

Yet a third lat­er Ger­man genius, Wern­er Heisen­berg, com­ment­ed on the influ­ence of Zur Far­ben­lehre, writ­ing that “Goethe’s colour the­o­ry has in many ways borne fruit in art, phys­i­ol­o­gy and aes­thet­ics. But vic­to­ry, and hence influ­ence on the research of the fol­low­ing cen­tu­ry, has been New­ton’s.”


I’m not fit to eval­u­ate the rel­a­tive mer­its of Goethe’s the­o­ry, or lack there­of, ver­sus New­ton’s rig­or­ous work on optics. Whole books have been writ­ten on the sub­ject. But what­ev­er his inten­tions, Goethe’s work has been well-received as a psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly accu­rate account that has also, through his text and many illus­tra­tions you see here, had sig­nif­i­cant influ­ence on twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry painters also great­ly con­cerned with the psy­chol­o­gy of col­or, most notably Wass­i­ly Kandin­sky, who pro­duced his own “schemat­ic out­line” of the psy­cho­log­i­cal effects of col­or titled Con­cern­ing the Spir­i­tu­al in Art, a clas­sic of mod­ernist aes­thet­ic the­o­ry. As is usu­al­ly the case with Goethe, the influ­ence of this sin­gle work is wider and deep­er than he prob­a­bly ever fore­saw.

You can find an afford­able ver­sion of Goethe’s The­o­ry of Col­ors on Ama­zon. Or find scans of the book at

Note: This post orig­i­nal­ly appeared on our site in 2013. We have updat­ed the post with new images and links.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Book of Colour Con­cepts: A New 800-Page Cel­e­bra­tion of Col­or The­o­ry, Includ­ing Works by New­ton, Goethe, and Hilma af Klint

A 900-Page Pre-Pan­tone Guide to Col­or from 1692: A Com­plete Dig­i­tal Scan

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to Goethe, Germany’s “Renais­sance Man”

Har­ry Clarke’s 1926 Illus­tra­tions of Goethe’s Faust: Art That Inspired the Psy­che­del­ic 60s

Watch Goethe’s Haunt­ing Poem, “Der Erlkönig,” Pre­sent­ed in an Art­ful Sand Ani­ma­tion

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

Learn the Korean Language with Hundreds of Episodes of Let’s Speak Korean Free Online

What with the rise of Kore­an pop cul­ture over the past decade or so — the viral­i­ty of Psy’s “Gang­nam Style,” BTS’ rise on the Bill­board chart, Bong Joon-ho’s Acad­e­my Award for Par­a­site, and the world­wide Net­flix phe­nom­e­non that was Squid Game — the Kore­an lan­guage is now avid­ly stud­ied around the world. Back in the nineties, few in Korea would have imag­ined that pos­si­ble, and few­er still in the West. I vivid­ly remem­ber the first day of an extracur­ric­u­lar com­put­er-pro­gram­ming class I took in high school, whose instruc­tor began his lec­ture by say­ing, “Look, cod­ing is hard. I don’t expect you to learn it in two weeks any more than I’d expect you to learn Kore­an in two weeks.” Sure, I thought. But who would want to learn Kore­an?

Fast-for­ward 25 years, and — irony of ironies — here I am liv­ing in Seoul. Not only do I now speak Kore­an (with con­sid­er­able room for improve­ment, mind you), I pub­lished a book in Kore­an last month. In the seem­ing­ly unend­ing round of news­pa­per, radio, and tele­vi­sion inter­views I’ve sub­se­quent­ly had to give about it, I’ve often been asked how I man­aged to learn the lan­guage. There is, of course, no one per­fect­ly effec­tive strat­e­gy, no mat­ter what sub­ject you’re study­ing, but I do feel as if I received a lot of help ear­ly on by binge-watch­ing a show called Let’s Speak Kore­an. Orig­i­nal­ly aired on Ari­rang, Kore­a’s Eng­lish-lan­guage tele­vi­sion net­work, it soon made its way to Youtube, where you can watch hun­dreds of episodes that start teach­ing the Kore­an lan­guage from the very basics onward.

The most recent Let’s Speak Kore­an series, which ran for five sea­sons in the mid-two-thou­sands, is avail­able in this set of playlists. You can also watch ear­li­er ver­sions of the show made in 1999 and 1997, each of which has its own teach­ing style employ­ing dif­fer­ent gram­mat­i­cal forms and sam­ple dia­logues — as well as hosts and for­eign par­tic­i­pants in the roles of the stu­dents. I feel per­ma­nent­ly cast in the role of the stu­dent in my real Kore­an life, despite resid­ing here for the bet­ter part of a decade now, speak­ing Kore­an (and indeed writ­ing in it) on a dai­ly basis. It’s been a jour­ney, and like any attempt to mas­ter a lan­guage, the end is nev­er in sight. But at least I can look back at Let’s Speak Kore­an and fond­ly remem­ber that there was a time when I did­n’t know 은/는 from 이/가, 하면 된다 from 해도 된다,  or ‑거든 from ‑더라고. (Admit­ted­ly, I still have trou­ble with those last.)

Relat­ed con­tent:

Learn 48 Lan­guages Online for Free: Span­ish, Chi­nese, Eng­lish & More

Watch More than 400 Clas­sic Kore­an Films Free Online Thanks to the Kore­an Film Archive

How a Kore­an Pot­ter Found a “Beau­ti­ful Life” Through His Art: A Short, Life-Affirm­ing Doc­u­men­tary

How Kore­an Things Are Made: Watch Mes­mer­iz­ing Videos Show­ing the Mak­ing of Tra­di­tion­al Clothes, Teapots, Bud­dhist Instru­ments & More

The Writ­ing Sys­tems of the World Explained, from the Latin Alpha­bet to the Abugi­das of India

Let’s Learn Japan­ese: Two Clas­sic Video Series to Get You Start­ed in the Lan­guage

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.

Gertrude Stein Gets a Snarky Rejection Letter from a Publisher (1912)


Gertrude Stein con­sid­ered her­self an exper­i­men­tal writer and wrote what The Poet­ry Foun­da­tion calls “dense poems and fic­tions, often devoid of plot or dia­logue,” with the result being that “com­mer­cial pub­lish­ers slight­ed her exper­i­men­tal writ­ings and crit­ics dis­missed them as incom­pre­hen­si­ble.” Take, for exam­ple, what hap­pened when Stein sent a man­u­script to Alfred C. Fifield, a Lon­don-based pub­lish­er, and received a rejec­tion let­ter mock­ing her prose in return. Accord­ing to Let­ters of Note, the man­u­script in ques­tion was pub­lished many years lat­er as her mod­ernist nov­el, The Mak­ing of Amer­i­cans: Being a His­to­ry of a Fam­i­ly’s Progress (1925). You can hear Stein read­ing a selec­tion from the nov­el below.

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!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Gertrude Stein Sends a “Review” of The Great Gats­by to F. Scott Fitzger­ald (1925)

No Women Need Apply: A Dis­heart­en­ing 1938 Rejec­tion Let­ter from Dis­ney Ani­ma­tion

Alice B. Tok­las Reads Her Famous Recipe for Hashish Fudge (1963)

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

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

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

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

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

Relat­ed con­tent:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Beautiful Art of Making Japanese Calligraphy Ink Out of Soot & Glue

Found­ed in 1577, Kobaien remains Japan’s old­est man­u­fac­tur­er of sumi ink sticks. Made of soot and ani­mal glue, the ink stick—when ground against an ink­stone, with a lit­tle water added—produces a beau­ti­ful black ink used by Japan­ese cal­lig­ra­phers. And, often, a 200-gram ink stick from Kobaien can cost over $1,000.

How can soot and ani­mal glue com­mand such a high price? As the Busi­ness Insid­er video above shows, there’s a fine art to mak­ing each ingredient—an art honed over the cen­turies. Watch­ing the arti­sans make the soot alone, you imme­di­ate­ly appre­ci­ate the com­plex­i­ty beneath the appar­ent sim­plic­i­ty. When you’re done watch­ing how the ink gets made, you’ll undoubt­ed­ly want to watch the arti­sans mak­ing cal­lig­ra­phy brush­es, an art form that has its own fas­ci­nat­ing his­to­ry. Enjoy!

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Down­load 215,000 Japan­ese Wood­block Prints by Mas­ters Span­ning the Tradition’s 350-Year His­to­ry

Learn Cal­lig­ra­phy from Lloyd Reynolds, the Teacher of Steve Jobs’ Own Famous­ly Inspir­ing Cal­lig­ra­phy Teacher

The Mod­el Book of Cal­lig­ra­phy (1561–1596): A Stun­ning­ly Detailed Illu­mi­nat­ed Man­u­script Cre­at­ed over Three Decades

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

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

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

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

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

Relat­ed con­tent:

Hear All of Mozart in a Free 127-Hour Playlist

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

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

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

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

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

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

Radiohead’s “Creep” Sung by a 1,600-Person Choir in Australia

Every­body can sing. Maybe not well. But why should that stop you? That’s the basic phi­los­o­phy of Pub  Choir, an orga­ni­za­tion based in Bris­bane, Aus­tralia. At each Pub Choir event, a con­duc­tor “arranges a pop­u­lar song and teach­es it to the audi­ence in three-part har­mo­ny.” Then, the evening cul­mi­nates with a per­for­mance that gets filmed and shared on social media. Any­one (18+) is wel­come to attend.

Above, you can watch a Pub­Choir per­for­mance, with 1600 choir mem­bers singing a mov­ing ver­sion of Radio­head­’s “Creep.” On their YouTube chan­nel, you can also find Pub Choir per­for­mances of Cold­play’s “Yel­low,” Toto’s “Africa,” and The Bee Gees “How Deep Is Your Love.”

Find oth­er choir per­for­mances in the Relat­eds below.

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent

A Big Choir Sings Pat­ti Smith’s “Because the Night”

A Choir with 1,000 Singers Pays Trib­ute to Sinéad O’Connor & Per­forms “Noth­ing Com­pares 2 U”

Watch David Byrne Lead a Mas­sive Choir in Singing David Bowie’s “Heroes”

Pat­ti Smith Sings “Peo­ple Have the Pow­er” with a Choir of 250 Fel­low Singers

The Oldest Known Photographs of India (1863–1870)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relat­ed con­tent:

The First Pho­to­graph Ever Tak­en (1826)

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

The Old­est Known Pho­tographs of Rome (1841–1871)

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

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

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

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

3,000 Illustrations of Shakespeare’s Complete Works from Victorian England, Presented in a Digital Archive


“We can say of Shake­speare,” wrote T.S. Eliot—in what may sound like the most back­hand­ed of com­pli­ments from one writer to another—“that nev­er has a man turned so lit­tle knowl­edge to such great account.” Eliot, it’s true, was not over­awed by the Shake­speare­an canon; he pro­nounced Ham­let “most cer­tain­ly an artis­tic fail­ure,” though he did love Cori­olanus. What­ev­er we make of his ambiva­lent, con­trar­i­an opin­ions of the most famous author in the Eng­lish lan­guage, we can cred­it Eliot for keen obser­va­tion: Shakespeare’s uni­verse, which can seem so sprawl­ing­ly vast, is actu­al­ly sur­pris­ing­ly spare giv­en the kinds of things it most­ly con­tains.

Ophelia ckham18

This is due in large part to the visu­al lim­i­ta­tions of the stage, but per­haps it also points toward an author who made great works of art from hum­ble mate­ri­als. Look, for exam­ple, at a search cloud of the Bard’s plays.

You’ll find one the front page of the Vic­to­ri­an Illus­trat­ed Shake­speare Archive, cre­at­ed by Michael John Good­man, an inde­pen­dent researcher, writer, edu­ca­tor, cura­tor and image-mak­er. The cloud on the left fea­tures a galaxy com­posed main­ly of ele­men­tal and arche­typ­al beings: “Ani­mals,” “Cas­tles and Palaces,” “Crowns,” “Flo­ra and Fau­na,” “Swords,” “Spears,” “Trees,” “Water,” “Woods,” “Death.” One thinks of the Zodi­ac or Tarot.

Roman Forum ckcor4

This par­tic­u­lar search cloud, how­ev­er, does not rep­re­sent the most promi­nent terms in the text, but rather the most promi­nent images in four col­lec­tions of illus­trat­ed Shake­speare plays from the Vic­to­ri­an peri­od. Goodman’s site hosts over 3000 of these illus­tra­tions, tak­en from four major UK edi­tions of Shake­speare’s Com­plete Works pub­lished in the mid-19th cen­tu­ry. The first, pub­lished by edi­tor Charles Knight, appeared in sev­er­al vol­umes between 1838 and 1841, illus­trat­ed with con­ser­v­a­tive engrav­ings by var­i­ous artists. Knight’s edi­tion intro­duced the trend of spelling Shakespeare’s name as “Shakspere,” as you can see in the title page to the “Come­dies, Vol­ume I,” at the top of the post. Fur­ther down, see two rep­re­sen­ta­tive illus­tra­tions from the plays, the first of Ham­let’s Ophe­lia and sec­ond Cori­olanus’ Roman Forum, above.

Tempest kmtemp41

Part of a wave of “ear­ly Vic­to­ri­an pop­ulism” in Shake­speare pub­lish­ing, Knight’s edi­tion is joined by one from Ken­ny Mead­ows, who con­tributed some very dif­fer­ent illus­tra­tions to an 1854 edi­tion. Just above, see a Goya-like illus­tra­tion from The Tem­pest. Lat­er came an edi­tion illus­trat­ed by H.C. Selous in 1864, which returned to the for­mal, faith­ful real­ism of the Knight edi­tion (see a ren­der­ing of Hen­ry V, below), and includes pho­tograu­vure plates of famed actors of the time in cos­tume and an appen­dix of “Spe­cial Wood Engraved Illus­tra­tions by Var­i­ous Artists.”

Henry V hcseloushv4

The final edi­tion whose illus­tra­tions Good­man has dig­i­tized and cat­a­logued on his site fea­tures engrav­ings by artist John Gilbert. Also pub­lished in 1864, the Gilbert may be the most expres­sive of the four, retain­ing real­ist pro­por­tions and mise-en-scène, yet also ren­der­ing the char­ac­ters with a psy­cho­log­i­cal real­ism that is at times unsettling—as in his fierce por­trait of Lear, below. Gilbert’s illus­tra­tion of The Tam­ing of the Shrew’s Kathe­ri­na and Petru­chio, fur­ther down, shows his skill for cre­at­ing believ­able indi­vid­u­als, rather than broad arche­types. The same skill for which the play­wright has so often been giv­en cred­it.


But Shake­speare worked both with rich, indi­vid­ual char­ac­ter stud­ies and broad­er, arche­typ­al, mate­r­i­al: psy­cho­log­i­cal real­ism and mytho­log­i­cal clas­si­cism. What I think these illus­trat­ed edi­tions show us is that Shake­speare, who­ev­er he (or she) may have been, did indeed have a keen sense of what Eliot called the “objec­tive cor­rel­a­tive,” able to com­mu­ni­cate com­plex emo­tions through “a skill­ful accu­mu­la­tion of imag­ined sen­so­ry impres­sions” that have impressed us as much on the can­vas, stage, and screen as they do on the page. The emo­tion­al expres­sive­ness of Shakespeare’s plays comes to us not only through elo­quent verse speech­es, but through images of both the stark­ly ele­men­tal and the unique­ly per­son­al.

Taming Of jgtos81

Spend some time with the illus­trat­ed edi­tions on Goodman’s site, and you will devel­op an appre­ci­a­tion for how the plays com­mu­ni­cate dif­fer­ent­ly to the dif­fer­ent artists. In addi­tion to the search clouds, the site has a head­er at the top for each of the four edi­tions. Click on the name and you will see front and back mat­ter and title pages. In the pull-down menus, you can access each indi­vid­ual play’s dig­i­tized illus­tra­tions by type—“Histories,” “Come­dies,” and “Tragedies.” All of the con­tent on the site, Good­man writes, “is free through a CC license: users can share on social media, remix, research, cre­ate and just do what­ev­er they want real­ly!”

Update: This post orig­i­nal­ly appeared on our site in 2016. Since then, Good­man has been reg­u­lar­ly updat­ing the Vic­to­ri­an Illus­trat­ed Shake­speare Archive with more edi­tions, giv­ing it more rich­ness and depth. These edi­tions include “one pub­lished by John Tallis, which fea­tures famous actors of the time in char­ac­ter.” This also includes “the first ever com­pre­hen­sive full-colour treat­ment of Shakespeare’s plays with the John Mur­doch edi­tion.” The archive, Good­man tells us, “now con­tains ten edi­tions of Shakespeare’s plays and is fair­ly com­pre­hen­sive in how peo­ple were expe­ri­enc­ing Shake­speare, visu­al­ly, in book form in the 19th Cen­tu­ry.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Take a Vir­tu­al Tour of Shakespeare’s Globe The­atre in Lon­don

Watch Very First Film Adap­ta­tions of Shakespeare’s Plays: King John, The Tem­pest, Richard III & More (1899–1936)

Read All of Shakespeare’s Plays Free Online, Cour­tesy of the Fol­ger Shake­speare Library

Fol­ger Shake­speare Library Puts 80,000 Images of Lit­er­ary Art Online, and They’re All Free to Use

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relat­ed con­tent:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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