Category: History

Download More than 2,500 Images of Vibrant Japanese Woodblock Prints and Drawings From the Library of Congress 

Thanks to the Library of Congress, you can browse and download high-resolution copies of more than 2,500 Japanese woodblock prints and drawings from the library’s online collection. The prints, most of which are dated before the 20th-century, were amassed from a large group of collectors, including notable donors such as President William Howard Taft and Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Despite the diversity of genres and traditions represented by the library’s large collection, the most prolific works are ones created in the tradition of the Japanese art form of Ukiyo-e or Yokohama-e. Ukiyo-e was developed in the city of Edo (now Tokyo) between 1600 and 1868 during a relatively peaceful period. The subject and inspiration for many of the prints includes that of entertainment and leisure, such as scenes from kabuki theater and fashionable restaurants.

The style of Yokohama-e was built on methods of production from Ukiyo-e around the time that American naval officer Matthew Calbraith Perry (1794-1858) led an expedition to Japan in the mid-1850’s. New trade agreements between Japan and the West brought travers to the country, inspiring Japanese artists to capture tourists walking throughout the port city, and borrow images from Western newspapers.

You can see the entire collection of historic works on the Library of Congress’s website. (via Open Culture)

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The Roman Empire’s 250,000 Miles of Roadways Imagined as a Subway Transit Map 

University of Chicago sophomore Sasha Trubetskoy spent a few weeks designing this amazing subway-style transit map of all the roads in the Roman Empire circa 125 AD. As Kottke notes, Rome constructed 250,000 miles of roads starting in 300 BC—over 50,000 miles of which were paved with stone—linking a total of 113 provinces from Spain to modern day Britain to the northern tip of Africa.

Trubetskoy pulled data from numerous sources, but took liberties where the history is fuzzy. “The biggest creative element was choosing which roads and cities to include, and which to exclude,” he shares. “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.”

You can see the map in a bit more detail on his website, and if you donate a few bucks he’ll send you a hi-res PDF fit for printing. (via Kottke)

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A Look Inside Europe’s Most Enchanting Libraries by Photographer Thibaud Poirier 

Trinity College Library, Dublin, 1732

Over the last year, photographer Thibaud Poirier has traveled across Europe to photograph some of the world’s most incredible libraries. The series includes both historic and contemporary libraries with a special emphasis on the varied designs employed by architects. Poirier captured each image when the buildings were closed and empty of people to focus entirely on structure and layout. From his statement about the project:

Like fingerprints, each architect crafted his vision for a new space for this sacred self-exploration. These seemingly minute details are everywhere, from the balance of natural and artificial light to optimise reading yet preserve ancient texts to the selective use of studying tables to either foster community or encourage lonely reflection. The selection of these libraries that span space, time, style and cultures were carefully selected for each one’s unique ambiance and architectural contribution.

So far Poirier has photographed 25 libraries and says he intends to add to the series as time permits. If you liked this, also check out his Berlin Interiors series.

Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, Paris, 1850

Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Salle Labrouste, Paris, 1868

Bibliothèque de l’Hotel de Ville de Paris, Paris, 1890

Grimm Zentrum Library, Berlin, 2009

Stadtbibliothek, Stuttgart, 2011

Bibliothèque de la Sorbonne, Salle Jacqueline de Romilly, Paris, 1897

Biblioteca Joanina, Coimbra, 1728

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Why Knights Fought Snails in the Margins of Medieval Books 

When thinking of a symbolic foe to battle in a medieval book, many creatures come to mind: dragons, wolves, or perhaps rabbits, but the poor defenseless snail? It hardly makes for a powerful image. But it turns out, as with most artwork, the answer is more symbolic than literal. In the 1960s a book historian named Lilian Randall thought the illustrations found in the margins of illuminated books required more attention, leading to the publication of her own book, Images in the Margins of Gothic Manuscripts. In this episode of Vox Almanac, Phil Edwards shares what Randall learned as she investigated the curious snail fights.

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When TV Logos Were Physical Objects 

It goes without saying that nearly everything made with graphic design and video software was once produced using a physical process, from newspapers to TV Logos. But some TV stations and film studios took things even further and designed physical logos that were filmed to create dynamic special effects. Arguably the most famous of which is MGM’s Leo the Lion which first appeared in 1916 and would go on to include 7 different lions over the decades.

Recently, television history buff Andrew Wiseman unearthed this amazing behind-the-scenes shot of the Office de Radiodiffusion Télévision Française logo from the early 1960s that was constructed with an array of strings to provide the identity with a bright shimmer that couldn’t be accomplished with 2D drawings. The logo could also presumably be filmed from different perspectives, though there’s no evidence that was actually done.

Another famous physical TV identity was the BBC’s “globe and mirror” logo in use from 1981 to 1985 that was based on a physical device. After filming the rotating globe against a panoramic mirror, it appears the results were then traced by hand similar to rotoscoping. One of the more elaborate physical TV intro sequences was the 1983 HBO intro that despite giving the impression of being animated or created digitally was in fact built almost entirely with practical effects. You can watch a 10 minute video about how they did it below. (via Quipsologies, Reddit, Andrew Wiseman)

Update: It turns out the BBC Globe ident wasn’t rotoscoped or animated, instead it was recorded live using the Noddy camera system and the color was created by adjusting the contrast. Thanks, Gene!

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How the British Library Digitized One of the World’s Largest Books 

The Klencke Atlas published in 1660 is one of the most famous objects in the British Library's cartographic collection, a towering book that stands nearly 6 feet tall and reaches over seven feet wide when open. For over three centuries the atlas was the largest in existence, surpassed only five years ago by Millennium House's gigantic publication Earth Platinum.

The collection of maps was named after Johannes Klencke (1620-1672), the leader of a collection of Dutch sugar merchants who presented the atlas to Charles II as a hope to gain favorable trade agreements with Britain. The object was subsequently placed amongst the king’s most prized possessions, and stayed tied to royalty for the next 150 years.

“The Klencke atlas is important both in itself, and for its constituent parts,” said Tom Harper, lead curator of antiquarian maps at the British Library in an article about the atlas. “As an object, its scale and conception recalled Renaissance ideas relating to the symbolic power of a book which contained the entire world’s knowledge. It would have provided Charles with intellectual authority, an authority which enforces its intimidating presence even today.”

The Klencke Atlas went on public view in 2010 after considerable restoration, and was digitized by the British Library just last month. It took several hands to transport and mount the ancient work onto an XXXL book stand for high resolution photography, and digitization took several days in order to capture each of the included maps. You can view this online version of the atlas on the British Library’s website, and watch a time-lapse video of the digitization process supported by Daniel Crouch Rare Books. (via Hyperallergic)

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