Recreations of pornographic Middle Ages badges [NSFTT]

"Whether these badges were worn to celebrate the misrule of carnival days, attract good sexual luck, or merely amuse and titillate their owners, they show us a whole new side of medieval culture."

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How Dali and Halsman made "In Voluptas Mors"


One of the most iconic images of Salvador Dali's career was the photo of a skull composed from the artfully arranged bodies of nude models.

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UK psyops created N. Irish Satanic Panic during the Troubles

During the 1970s, when Northern Ireland was gripped by near-civil-war, British military intelligence staged the evidence of "black masses" in order to create a Satanism panic among the "superstitious" Irish to discredit the paramilitaries.

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How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World

Steven Johnson blends the history of science with keen social observation to tell the story of how our modern world came about—and where it’s headed. Cory Doctorow reviews How We Got to Now, also a six-part PBS/BBC series, which ties together a lifetime of work

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Great ideas that changed the world, and the people they rode in on

To inaugurate the publication of his brilliant new book How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World (also a PBS/BBC TV series), Steven Johnson has written about the difficult balance between reporting on the history of world-changing ideas and the inventors credited with their creation

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Steven Johnson: the flashbulb and urban poverty

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Over at Medium, Steven Johnson, author of How We Got To Now, writes about how the 19th century invention of flash photography shined a light on poverty.

"Flash Forward: How We Got To Know"

Medievalists on Disney's middle ages

A fascinating new scholarly essay collection, The Disney Middle Ages: A Fairy-Tale and Fantasy Past, looks at Disney's portrayal of the middle ages and reflects on how these are inextricably linked to other Disney settings, from Tomorrowland to Frontierland, and how the "Americanized" medieval narrative has played out over the decades.

John McChesney-Young sent me a great review of the book by Yale historian Paul Freedman, which is in the current issue of The Medieval Review (but not yet in its online archive):

Fantasyland is the home of neo-medieval stories, especially of princesses and their accoutrements; it has been gendered female. Adventureland, Frontierland and Tomorrowland incline towards a male audience, or at least they did in their heyday. Changing public perceptions have meant that the Old West as a setting for the making of rugged American character runs up against an appreciation of the fate of Native Americans, while with the fading allure of pre-internet "Gee Whiz" technology, Tomorrowland has been partially reinvented as "Retroland," a kind of self-mocking "Jetsons" take on what we once thought the future would look like (p. 69).

Fantasyland remains the core of the Disney imagination, and it is lightly dusted with medieval fairy-sparkle. It can't really call to mind even a first-order artificial nineteenth-century romantic Middle Ages, because that would interfere with the goal of presenting Disney's modern world as "the happiest place on earth," a happiness that is more goal-oriented and, one might say, middle-class values-centered than escapist or expressive of discontent with the present. The pastness of Disney's fantasies is tempered and in effect denied by anti-elitist, can-do characters. Amy Foster in "Futuristic Medievalism" shows how the medieval past is shaped by American anti-elitism and the promise of technology. Unidentified Flying Oddball was a 1979 reworking of Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court in which a NASA engineer is transported to Camelot. Not only does he amaze the court with his scientific knowledge and gadgetry, his "regular guy" nature is paramount. He treats peasants, servants and King Arthur alike, for example. Bob Gossedge, in an essay devoted to the 1963 animation of The Sword in the Stone, points out that young "Wart," the future King Arthur, is the only principal character in that film with an American accent. Merlin, in a cultivated English voice, instructs Wart that he needs to get "these medieval ideas out of your head--clear the way for new ideas: knowledge of man's fabulous discoveries in the centuries ahead" (pp. 127-128). One sees similarities in the all-American rendering of underdog heroes like Zorro in the 1957-1959 television series or Remy in Ratatouille (2007). Disney's principal characters tend to be resourceful Americans (whatever their putative nationality) stuck in a past that is attractively fantastic, but irritatingly hierarchical and behind-the-times.

Disney's egalitarianism is about universal opportunity, not economic equality. It amounts to what Foster (p. 164) refers to as "sentimental populism" based on Horatio Alger, not Marx. Anyone can be a princess, anyone can cook (in the non-medieval Ratatouille). The mistreated Snow White and Cinderella are eventually exalted and not only does "happily ever after happen every day," but it happens to anyone receptive to the Disney message or "magic."

The Disney Middle Ages: A Fairy-Tale and Fantasy Past [Pugh and Aronstein, eds]

(Thanks, John!)

Monster Manual: bestiaries from 16th Century/1977/2014

Robert sez, "Dungeons & Dragons, now celebrating its 40th anniversary, is about to release its new Monster Manual -- the original Monster Manual was a watershed moment in human history, part of a history that includes a 16th century bestiary, the Augsburg Book of Miracles; bestiaries reveal our profoundly human desire for an enchanted, magical world."

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Wrecked "ghost ships" off San Francisco

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Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and independent shipwreck divers exploring the Golden Gate strait discovered two sunken ships from 1863 and 1910, with several hundreds more "forgotten ghost ships" likely still undiscovered in the area.

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Photographs: Native Americans of the early 1900s

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In the early 20th century, ethnologist Edward S. Curtis made 10,000 wax cylinder recordings of Native American language and music and took 40,000 photographs of people from more than 80 tribes, such as these.

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Science fiction's Islamic roots


From Ibn Tufail's 12th century Hayy Ibn Yaqzan to Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain's 1905 feminist masterpiece Sultana's Dream, the Islamic world produced some of the earliest proto-sf, which IO9's Charlie Jane Anders rounds up in an excellent post.

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The Economist defends America's enslavement of Africans


When The Economist reviewed The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, its anonymous reviewer condemned it, sticking up for America's legacy of slavery as a means of wealth creation, saying "Mr Baptist has not written an objective history of slavery; almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains -- this is not history; it is advocacy."

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Half the remains of slain Vikings in England are female

In Warriors and women: the sex ratio of Norse migrants to eastern England up to 900 AD, published in 2011 in Early Medieval Europe 19/3, Medievalists from the University of Western Australia survey the remains of fallen Vikings found in eastern England that had been assumed to be male, partly because some were buried with sword and shield.

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An Exclusive Inside Look at Denver’s Dinosaur Hotel

Ethan Gilsdorf reports on the most awesome hotel in the country. Meet Stanley the Stegosaurus and friends!

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Confronting Lovecraft's racism


Award-winning horror writer David Nickle has been repeatedly frustrated in his attempts to have a frank and serious discussion of HP Lovecraft's undeniable racism; people want to hand-wave it as being a product of Lovecraft's times, but it is inseparable from Lovecraft's fiction.

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