The interesting story behind Dorothea Lange's famous "Migrant Mother" photo

In the 1930s photographer Dorothea Lange was hired by the U.S. government’s Farm Security Administration (FSA) to take photos of farm workers affected by the Great Depression. She took this photo of Florence Owens Thompson with her children in 1936 in Nipomo, California and titled it "Migrant Mother."

“I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet," Lange said years later in an interview. "I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction... She and her children had been living on frozen vegetables from the field and wild birds the children caught. The pea crop had frozen; there was no work. Yet they could not move on, for she had just sold the tires from the car to buy food.”

According to Moma, however, "Thompson later contested Lange’s account. When a reporter interviewed her in the 1970s, she insisted that she and Lange did not speak to each other, nor did she sell the tires of her car. Thompson said that Lange had either confused her for another farmer or embellished what she had understood of her situation in order to make a better story."

Image: Dorothea Lange. Public Domain Read the rest

Baking bread from dormant, 4,500-year-old yeast extracted from Egyptian bread-making ceramics

Seamus Blackley, "father of the Xbox," worked with Egyptologist Serena Love and microbiologist Richard Bowman to extract yeast from 4,500-year-old Egyptian bread-making and beer-making potter held in the collection of Harvard's Peabody Museum; though nearly all of the samples are being cultured for analysis and addition to a microorganism library, Blackley cultured one sample to use in a dough-starter for a baking project. Read the rest

Medieval people bathed

Some medieval mystics did not bathe as part of a self-scourging ritual, and some medieval sources warned against "excessive" bathing (by which they meant, "patronizing co-ed bathhouses where orgies took place" not "avoiding getting clean"), and some non-medieval, 16th and 18th century doctors warned that bathing was bad for you, but they weren't medieval. Medieval people bathed. Read the rest

Oakland's iconic "Mid-century Monster" rescued

If you know Oakland, you know about the big, free-form sculpture that lives on the shores of Lake Merritt in Oakland. You probably also know that it's been behind a chain-link fence in disrepair for several years. But for a long time, it was not just a piece of art to appreciate but a usable play structure for children to climb in and on. Now, a local group of its fans have ensured the now-iconic "Monster" will live on.

In 1968, for their "Dance to the Music" album, Sly & the Family Stone posed on the "Monster."

The "Mid-Century Monster," as it's now called, was created in 1952. Oakland Parks Superintendent William Penn Mott, Jr., who had founded Children's Fairyland just two years earlier, asked local art professor Bob Winston to create the 40-foot, chartreuse sculpture.

The "Monster" in the 1950s, photo via Martha Ellen Wright

Many years later, however, the "Monster" fell into such disrepair that the city fenced it off and forgot about it. In 2015, an effort was launched by Lake Merritt's Mid-Century Monster Fan Club, led by Kyle Milligan and Susan Casentini, to bring it back to its former glory.

This is what the sculpture looked like just four years ago — blanched, broken, and behind a fence. image via Lake Merritt's Mid-Century Monster Fan Club

Earlier this year, the restoration was complete, and on Sunday, July 28, from 11 to 3 the club will be hosting a free party to celebrate at the site. The public is invited. Read the rest

For Sale: Offshore fortress and gun tower built in 1851

This incredible offshore fortress and defense gun tower at Pembroke Dock, South West Wales, UK is for sale. Read the rest

The snail cosmology of medieval manuscripts

We're no strangers to the delights of the rude drawings that monks doodled in the margins of medieval manuscripts around here (1, 2, 3), but University of Bonn medievialist Erik Wade's epic Twitter thread on the astonishing variety of snail-doodles is genuinely next-level. Read the rest

Read: Trump's grandfather's letter, in which he begs not to be deported

In 1905, Friedrich "Bone Spurs" Trump -- grandfather of Donald -- dodged the Bavarian draft and was ordered deported by Luitpold, the prince regent of Bavaria. Friedrich Trump sent Luitpold a letter groveling and begging not to be deported. Prince Luitpold deported him anyway. Read the rest

The new £50 notes will feature Alan Turing (whilst HMG proposes bans on Turing complete computers AND working crypto)

The Bank of England has unveiled its new £50 notes, which had been earmarked to honour a distinguished British scientist, and which will feature Alan Turing, the WWII hero who discovered many of the foundational insights to both modern computing and cryptography, and whose work with the codebreakers of Bletchley Park are widely believed to have shortened WWII by many years and saved millions of lives. Read the rest

The real reason people in old photos are almost never smiling

I always thought that the reason people look so grim in antique photos is because it would have been exhausting to hold a smile for long exposures that I imagined were required by ye olde cameras. Nope! From the always-informative Smithsonian magazine:

...Exposures from the early days of commercial photography only lasted about 5 to 15 seconds. The real reason is that, in the mid-19th century, photography was so expensive and uncommon that people knew this photograph might be the only one they’d ever have made. Rather than flash a grin, they often opted to look thoughtful and serious, a carry-over from the more formal conventions of painted portraiture, explains Ann Shumard, senior curator of photographs at the National Portrait Gallery.

According to Shumard, it wasn't until Eastman-Kodak founder George Eastman's 1888 invention of the mass market portable camera that informal snapshots of smiling people became common.

"Why Don’t People Smile in Old Photographs? And More Questions From Our Readers" (Smithsonian)

image: Eugene Pelletan portrait c.1855 by Gaspard-Félix Tournachon Read the rest

Help climate scientists by transcribing weather data from old ships' logs

The Old Weather project is a crowdsourced effort to gather data on historic climate patterns by transcribing entries from old, logbooks, some typed and some handwritten. The project is jointly run by NOAA and the Smithsonian. (via Kottke) Read the rest

Florida school principal unsure if Holocaust happened now certain to lose job

When asked how his school taught The Holocaust, Spanish River High School principal William Latson said that "I can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event" and that “you have your thoughts, but we are a public school and not all of our parents have the same beliefs.”

After a year of anger in Boca Raton, Florida, Latson was finally removed from the job, reports CBS News.

The school district did not initially punish Latson for his comments. Instead, he received counseling and was encouraged to expand his school's Holocaust curriculum, according to CBS West Palm Beach affiliate WPEC-TV. The district said Latson also visited the U.S. Holocaust Museum to increase his "personal knowledge" of the genocide. But the district announced Monday that Latson would be immediately reassigned because "his leadership has become a major distraction for the school community." ... The district said Latson had "made a grave error in judgment in the verbiage" of his email to the parent.

Read the rest

The Panama Canal: The world's most interesting ditch

For more than a century, the Panama Canal has helped move shit by ship around the world. It's acted as a pinch point in international diplomacy, made vast sums of money off of the vessels that pass through it and, is so important to some shipping routes that many cargo vessels are designed specifically to fit within the canal's locks. This video breaks down the canal's importance and history into easily digestible facts that may bore folks at a party, but absolutely fascinated me.

Image via YouTube Read the rest

At military parade, Trump celebrates rebels' occupation of airports during American Revolution

Here's Trump at his rained-out, sparsely-attended, $92m military parade:

During his hour-long speech at the grounds of Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., Trump stayed largely off politics. Trump praised the Americans’ military efforts in the war against Great Britain. “Our army manned the air, it rammed the ramparts, it took over the airports, it did everything it had to do, and at Fort McHenry, under the rockets’ red glare, it had nothing but victory,” he said.

It's so perfectly mad that fact-checkers struggle to correct every element of wrongness in a single line. "Planes were not used in warfare until the 20th century", for example, allows the incorrect suggestion that there were airports (or indeed functional aircraft) in the 1770s.

In 1784, French inventor Jean-Pierre Blanchard fitted a propeller to a hot air balloon, creating the first aircraft that went places; the first successful fixed-wing airplane was the Wright Brothers' Flyer, flown in 1903. Read the rest

The Sony Walkman is 40 years old

It was 40 years ago today.

On July 1 of 1979, Sony first began to sell the TPS-L2, first known as the Soundabout and soon rechristened the Walkman. This original Walkman wasn’t the first portable tape player, but it was the first that didn’t have a record function. Portable cassette recorders had mostly been used by reporters; this one, with its newly designed lightweight headphones, was specifically intended for music. It changed the world.

Photo: Dave Jones (CC BY 2.0) Read the rest

UK comedy legend Blackadder to return for long-awaited fifth season

Blackadder is the ultimate UK black comedy: a killer team of comic actors, well-couched in historical and contemporary culture, accessible to children and adults in different ways, intellectually sharp yet emotionally honest, and excruciatingly dense: there are only four six-episode seasons and a handful of specials to go around. You could binge it in a day and still get eight hours' sleep.

Thirty years after Blackadder went fourth, a fifth season is reportedly on its way.

Speaking in a recent newspaper interview, co-writer Richard Curtis said: "The thing about Blackadder was, it was a young man's show criticising older people, saying how stupid those in authority were. So I did once think, 'If we ever did anything again, it should be Blackadder as a teacher in a university, about how much we hate young people'."

The Sun's source commented: "It will be in the modern day. Blackadder will be a lot older, of course, so they've come up with the ageing university lecturer idea. Curtis and Atkinson have discussed guest appearances from stars such as Tom Hardy and Russell Brand."

Blackadder started in 1983, with the critically acclaimed fourth series airing in 1989. The one-off special Blackadder Back & Forth was made in 2000. Richard Curtis has been working on the film Yesterday, whilst co-writer Ben Elton has been working on a return to stand-up, and writing BBC sitcom Upstart Crow.

The conceit of Blackadder is that each season/special features a descendant of the original, in progressively straightened circumstances (Prince, Lord, Knight, Royal Butler, Shopkeeper, Officer), so having reached modern times, the idea of Blackadder V became one of the most infamous glittering mirages of UK pop culture. Read the rest

The ENIAC Programmers: how women invented modern programming and were then written out of the history books

Kathy Kleiman, founder of the ENIAC Programmers Project, writes about the buried history of the pivotal role played by women in the creation of modern computing, a history that is generally recounted as consisting of men making heroic technical and intellectual leaps while women did some mostly simple, mechanical work around the periphery. Read the rest

Ta-Nehisi Coates makes the case for reparations to Congress

It's been five years since Ta-Nehisi Coates's groundbreaking The Case for Reparations ran in The Atlantic; yesterday, Coates appeared before Congress to celebrate Juneteenth with a barn-burning statement that starts as a response to Mitch McConnell's dismissal of racial injustice in America, but quickly becomes more than that -- a Coatesian masterclass in understanding race, America, history and the present moment. Read the rest

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