Read John Hersey's incredible 1946 New Yorker story about the bombing of Hiroshima

Seventy five years ago today, the United States detonated an atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Japan, killing an estimated 140,000 people. A year later, John Hersey, a pioneer of "new journalism," visited the city to report an incredible feature for the New Yorker about the experiences of six people who survived the blast. The US had attempted to cover up the true devastation but Hersey expressed it so the world could know. (It was such a groundbreaking undertaking and achievement that there's a new book, Fallout by Lesley M. M. Blume, to tell the story behind Hersey's story.) From Hersey's "Hiroshima" (1946), available in full at The New Yorker:

The former head of the Nobori-cho Neighborhood Association, to which the Catholic priests belonged, was an energetic man named Yoshida. He had boasted, when he was in charge of the district air-raid defenses, that fire might eat away all of Hiroshima but it would never come to Nobori-cho. The bomb blew down his house, and a joist pinned him by the legs, in full view of the Jesuit mission house across the way and of the people hurrying along the street. In their confusion as they hurried past, Mrs. Nakamura, with her children, and Father Kleinsorge, with Mr. Fukai on his back, hardly saw him; he was just part of the general blur of misery through which they moved. His cries for help brought no response from them; there were so many people shouting for help that they could not hear him separately.

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Stonehenge core sample shows monument was largely quarried only 15 miles from site

The mineral origin of Stonehenge is an ancient mystery now solved, thanks to the solving of more contemporary one: who absconded with core samples from a crumbling standing stone, drilled out in 1959 so it could be reinforced with rebar? Read the rest

History professor and high school textbook author pushing to capitalize the "b" in "Black," and why that matters

History professor Albert Broussard, who also writes a history textbook commonly used in US middle and high schools, is pushing to capitalize the letter "b" in Black in future revisions of the text when referencing Black people. The publisher, McGraw Hill, told CNN that they are "strongly considering it." From CNN:

"I just personally would like to see it capitalized because I think African American and Black are used interchangeably by most people in the population," Broussard said. "If you start children out thinking about Black or White or any group that way, that's how they will think about them for the rest of their lives."

McGraw Hill, Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt are purveyors of the final drafts of history. While it is unclear how many textbooks each company sells each year, more than $209 million worth of K-12 social studies books were sold in the US in 2018, according to data provided to CNN by the Association of American Publishers.

All three education companies are reviewing whether to use Black capitalized in their K-12 textbooks and educational materials, according to comments they provided to CNN[...].

"It is very important, in my opinion, to use Black instead of black. In a very subtle way, black minimizes the importance of being Black. Because Black Americans were ruthlessly and abruptly cut off from their own national and ethnic identities, they don't have the privilege of attaching a homeland, spiritual or otherwise, to their American identity," [Denver Public Schools social studies teacher Gerardo] Muñoz told CNN over email.

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Old footage of Tokyo upscaled using neural networks, colorized and interpolated to 60 frames per second

Denis Shiryaev writes that this footage, filmed in Tokyo between 1913-1915 as "Japan of Today", was upscaled using neural networks.

✔ FPS boosted to 60 frames per second, I have also fixed some playback speed issues; ✔ Faces are enhanced too – I have added to the pipeline of algorithms a neural network which is specially designed for facial restoration. ✔ Image resolution boosted up to 4k – with digital artifacts, but some parts are improved noticeably; ✔ Removed noise and fixed some damaged parts. ✔ Colorized – please, be aware that colorization colors are not real and fake, colorization was made only for the ambiance and do not represent real historical data.

Here's the original edited to correct playback speed:

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The 14th century Black Plague gets the History Hijinks treatment

Blue from Overly Sarcastic Productions dives into how the Black Death spread from the Mongol Empire throughout Europe, giving us newly relevant terms like "quarantine" and "yeet." OK, maybe not the latter, but its use in this video to describe pestilence-filled corpses catapulted into Caffa is in fact, perfect. Read the rest

Weird History looks back at the year 1980

If you were sentient in 1980, this summary of that watershed year will bring back a flood of memories. If you weren't, behold the weird world of 40 years ago. Read the rest

Auction: Edison's lightbulb drawings, Nikola Tesla's patents, and other scientific rarities

Tomorrow the final hammer goes down on an archive of original Nikola Tesla patents, lightbulb design drawings by Thomas Edison, a World War II Enigma Machine, Stephen Hawking’s personal Simpsons figure, and many other science-related curiosities in Christie's "Eureka!" auction.

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NPR examines centuries of policing against racial minorities in America

As part of NPR's Throughline podcast episode on the history of racialized policing in America, they created a brief overview with Harvard historian Khalil Gibran Muhammad. Read the rest

Roman road maps in the style of the London Underground's

Sasha Trubetskoy made a set of maps of Roman roads depicted in the style of Harry Beck's famous London Underground map.

It’s finally done. A subway-style diagram of the major Roman roads, based on the Empire of ca. 125 AD. Creating this required far more research than I had expected—there is not a single consistent source that was particularly good for this. ... The biggest creative element was choosing which roads and cities to include, and which to exclude. There is no way I could include every Roman road, these are only the main ones. I tried to include cities with larger populations, or cities that were provincial capitals around the 2nd century.

Obviously to travel from Petra to Gaza you would take a more or less direct road, rather than going to Damascus and “transferring” to the Via Maris. The way we travel on roads is very different from rail, which is a slight flaw in the concept of the map. But I think it’s still aesthetically pleasing and informative.

There's maps for the empire at its height, and also more detailed local ones for Britain, Hispania, Gaul. All available as posters. Read the rest

Thomas Jefferson portrait recreated with distant descendant

Photographer Drew Gardner created a photo series depicting descendants of historical figures, each posed as their ancestors. Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Napoleon Bonaparte, Charles Dickens... It's surprising how uncanny the resemblances often are. But none are so fascinating as his portrait of Shannon LaNier, the great^6-grandson of Thomas Jefferson.

The recreation was based on the famous portrait of Jefferson by American painter Rembrandt Peale, and Gardner shot his portrait using a Fujifilm GFX 50S and a Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4 lens. LaNier, a black man who descended from Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings, tells Smithsonian that he has complex feelings about being a Jefferson descendant, and he chose to not wear a wig to more faithfully recreate his great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather’s portrait.

“He was a brilliant man who preached equality, but he didn’t practice it,” LaNier tells the magazine. “He owned people. And now I’m here because of it.”

The series was commissioned by the Smithsonian; click through for a making-of video. Read the rest

A Scheme of Heaven is a deep investigation of astrology from a scientist’s perspective

We humans are castaways on an ocean of uncertainty. Since the beginnings of history, our ancestors sought knowledge and understanding about their lives, their relationship with the cosmos, and perhaps take a peek into their future. In such effort—long before the answers of science—earthlings developed a rich variety of divination practices and systems. Many forms of divination survive to this day, and can't be easily dismissed as irrational nonsense, or mere curiosities of a bygone age. On the contrary, divination seems to be essential to culture.

So much so, that perhaps our modern obsessions with predictive algorithms and numerical forecasts are best understood as a continuation of this ancient divinatory impulse. This is the provocative thesis of Alexander Boxer’s fascinating new book, A Scheme of Heaven: The History of Astrology and the Search for Our Destiny in Data

A Scheme of Heaven

 Astrology is indeed the most historically relevant of all divination practices, its aim having been nothing short of a systematic account linking the nature of the heavens to our own human nature. Across civilizations, human beings have proven to be superb stargazers. Entranced by heavenly patterns and periodicities—through sheer naked-eye observation—our ancestors were able to crack with uncanny precision the workings of the cosmos. Exact geometric relationships and precise mathematical elegance spoke of divine design and transcendent beauty.

For a long time, astronomy and astrology were one and the same magical “enterprise.” Alexander Boxer, a data scientist, whose eclectic erudition includes a PhD. in physics from MIT and degrees in the history of science and classics writes:

“Astrology was the ancient world’s most ambitious applied mathematics problem, a grand data-analysis enterprise sustained for centuries by some of history’s most brilliant minds, from Ptolemy to al-Kindi to Kepler.”

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Man with metal detector turns up rare 2,000-year-old Roman artifact

My dad used to enjoy combing the beach (and his backyard) with a metal detector, but unfortunately he never dug up anything like this 2,000-year-old Roman ingot that metal detector hobbyist (metal detective? metal detectorist!) Rob Jones found in a field in Rossett, Wales, UK. The lead object is approximately one-half meter long and weighs 63 kilograms. The Wrexham County Borough Museum & Archives purchased the artifact for an undisclosed price and will put it on display. Once COVID-19 mandates permit, the museum and the University of Chester plan to conduct archaeological research in the area. From the Shropshire Star:

The rare find is particularly significant for archaeologists and historians because of its potentially early date, the location of the find spot, and because of its unique inscription.

"We don’t yet know where this ingot has come from and we will probably never know where it was going to," [said local Finds Officer Susie White.] "However given the find spots of other ingots from Britain of similar date, it may have been destined for continental Europe, perhaps even Rome itself. The object could tell us a great deal about this important period of our past, a period which is still poorly understood in this area of the country.”

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Watch the rise and fall of Blockbuster Video in under four minutes

The first Blockbuster Video location was opened in 1985, in Dallas, Texas, by Sandy and David Cook. David pulled together the scratch for the startup by selling off the assets of one of the subsidiaries of an oil services business that he owned. Once the Cooks saw the insane amount of cash their first store was bringing in, they said buh-bye to the oil industry entirely in order to focus on Please be Kind, Rewind stickers, full-time. Game rentals became a thing for them, in 1987 (after taking Nintendo to court to secure the privilege of being able to rent out their hardware and games). by 2004, there were 9,094 Blockbuster locations, worldwide. Thanks to cable networks offering video-on-demand and streaming and rental services like Netflix and the Apple iTunes Store drinking their milkshake, the number of Blockbuster locations began to decrease. By 2014, the last 300 corporate stores, owned by Blockbuster, had shut down. A few franchisees held out—for a while.

Today, there's only one Blockbuster Video left on the whole damn planet, located in Bend, Oregon. While this video only details Blockbuster's locations within the continental United States, its a hell of a thing to see just how many there were until streaming video took them (almost) all down.

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'Astonishing' giant circle of pits found at Stonehenge

• A 1.2 mile (2km) wide circle of large shafts was found, measuring over 10 meters wide and 5 meters deep.

• The holes surround the ancient settlement of Durrington Walls, 2 miles (3km) from Stonehenge.

• Tests suggest the earthworks are Neolithic, excavated over 4,500 years ago. Read the rest

Juneteenth: "Emancipation is a marker of progress for white Americans, not black ones."

Today is Juneteenth, a holiday celebrating the long-delayed emancipation of enslaved Black people in Texas on June 19, 1865. In the New Yorker, historian and Columbia University journalism professor Jelani Cobb writes that, "Emancipation is a marker of progress for white Americans, not black ones." From the New Yorker:

[...] Juneteenth exists as a counterpoint to the Fourth of July; the latter heralds the arrival of American ideals, the former stresses just how hard it has been to live up to them. This failure was not exclusive to the South. Northern states generally abolished slavery in the decades after the American Revolution, but many slaveholders there, rather than free the people they held in bondage, sold them to traders in the South, or moved to states where the institution was still legal. The black men, women, and children who heard [Major General Gordon] Granger’s pronouncement [of emancipation] a hundred and fifty-five years ago in Galveston were not slaves; they were a barometer of American democracy.

There’s a paradox inherent in the fact that emancipation is celebrated primarily among African-Americans, and that the celebration is rooted in a perception of slavery as something that happened to black people, rather than something that the country committed. The paradox rests on the presumption that the arrival of freedom should be greeted with gratitude, instead of with self-reflection about what allowed it to be deprived in the first place.

Juneteenth and the Meaning of Freedom by Jelani Cobb (The New Yorker)

image: "An early celebration of Emancipation Day (Juneteenth) in 1900 Mrs. Read the rest

Last person collecting a civil war pension dies

Irene Triplett's father fought in the civil war as a young man and remarried as an elderly senior. Triplett, born 1930, inherited his veterans' benefits due to her own disabilities. With her death at 90, the U.S. government closes the books on the last outstanding civil war pension.


Pvt. Triplett married Elida Hall in 1924. She was 34 when Irene was born in 1930; he was 83. Such an age difference wasn’t rare, especially later, during the Great Depression, when Civil War veterans found themselves with both a pension and a growing need for care.

Both mother and daughter suffered from mental disabilities. Irene Triplett recalled a tough childhood in the North Carolina mountains, beaten by teachers at school and parents at home.

“I didn’t care for neither one of them, to tell you the truth about it,” she told The Wall Street Journal in 2014. “I wanted to get away from both of them. I wanted to get me a house and crawl in it all by myself.”

Photo: Screenshot from 2016 interview Read the rest

Jayne Mansfield: Viral Warrior

For much of the first half of the 20th century, another mysterious virus was freaking people the hell out, and no one understood what it was or how it spread. Children got hit the worst. It touched the wealthy and the poor. It paralyzed and even killed. Nothing seemed to stop it, and “Polio season” came back with a vengeance every summer. Public swimming pools were the kiss of death—or at least paralysis—and attending a gathering at a birthday party, a bar mitzvah, or even a playground was a recipe for disaster. Speculation about its source ran rampant: the public considered everything from poisonous gasses from Europe, to horses, to radio waves, to cigarette smoke, to parents tickling their kids too much. Children touched by the virus were deemed pariahs and sent off to hospitals and sanitariums for treatment, while their panicked parents “cleaned” their homes by tossing toys, burning bedding, scrubbing floors and ripping down wallpaper, unsure of where the virus lurked or how long it incubated. Then, in 1953, Jonas Salk created a vaccine that stopped polio in its tracks.

And Jayne Mansfield did her part to promote the March of Dimes immunization program.

My friend Bill Franklin, writer, educator, and publisher, was a Southern California grade-schooler at the time. It was announced to his 5th grade class that the movie star Jayne Mansfield (the infamous headline-grabber, pin-up, and star of the films Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter, The Girl Can’t Help It, Too Hot to Handle, and Promises! Read the rest

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