Tag Archives: history

Medieval Book Historian Erik Kwakkel Discovers and Catalogs 800-Year-Old Doodles in Some of the World’s Oldest Books

Medieval Book Historian Erik Kwakkel Discovers and Catalogs 800 Year Old Doodles in Some of the Worlds Oldest Books history books
Doodle by bored medieval school boy. A 15th-century doodle in the lower margin of a manuscript containing Juvenal’s Satires, a popular classical text used to teach young children about morals. Photo: Carpentras, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 368.

For the past few years, medieval book historian Erik Kwakkel has been poring over some of the world’s oldest books and manuscripts at Leiden University, The Netherlands, as part of his ongoing research on pen trials. Pen trials are small sketches, doodles, and practice strokes a medieval scribe would make while testing the ink flow of a pen or quill. They usually involve funny faces, letter strokes, random lines, or geometric shapes and generally appear in the back of the book where a few blank pages could be found. Kwakkel shares via email:

From a book historical perspective pen trials are interesting because a scribe tends to write them in his native hand. Sometimes, when they moved to a different writing culture (another country or religious house) they adapted their writing style accordingly when copying real text—books. The trials, however, are done in the style of the region they were trained in, meaning the individuals give some information about themselves away.

In some sense, these sketches are like fingerprints or signatures, little clues that reveal a bit about these long forgotten scribes who copied texts but who had no real opportunity to express themselves while working. Including additional sketches or even initials in these books was often forbidden.

While many of Kwakkel’s discoveries are standard pen trials, other doodles he finds relate to a human concept as universal as topics discussed in these 13th and 14th century books such as love, morals, or religion. Specifically: boredom. It seems the tedium of reading through a philosophy textbook or law manuscript dates back to the very invention of books. Some of these scribbles were even made hundreds of years after a book’s publication, suggesting no margin is sacred when monotony is concerned.

Medieval Book Historian Erik Kwakkel Discovers and Catalogs 800 Year Old Doodles in Some of the Worlds Oldest Books history books

Medieval Book Historian Erik Kwakkel Discovers and Catalogs 800 Year Old Doodles in Some of the Worlds Oldest Books history books
Medieval smiley face. Conches, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 7 (main text 13th century, doodle 14th or 15th century).

Medieval Book Historian Erik Kwakkel Discovers and Catalogs 800 Year Old Doodles in Some of the Worlds Oldest Books history books
Doodle discovered in a 13th-century law manuscript (Amiens BM 347).

Medieval Book Historian Erik Kwakkel Discovers and Catalogs 800 Year Old Doodles in Some of the Worlds Oldest Books history books
Students with pointy noses. Leiden, University Library, MS BPL 6 C (13th century).

Medieval Book Historian Erik Kwakkel Discovers and Catalogs 800 Year Old Doodles in Some of the Worlds Oldest Books history books
Leiden, Universiteitsbibliotheek, BPL MS 111 I, 14th-century doodle.

Medieval Book Historian Erik Kwakkel Discovers and Catalogs 800 Year Old Doodles in Some of the Worlds Oldest Books history books
Leiden UB VLQ 92

Medieval Book Historian Erik Kwakkel Discovers and Catalogs 800 Year Old Doodles in Some of the Worlds Oldest Books history books
Medieval scribes tested their pens by writing short sentences and drawing doodles. The pen trials above are from Oxford, Bodleian Library, Lat. misc. c. 66 (15th century).

Lucky for us, Kwakkel has left a trail of ancient doodle discoveries all across the web on his Twitter account, his Tumblr, and on his recently established blog medievalbooks. His obsession with margin minutiae has lead to two scholarly publications and also caught the interest of NPR’s ‘How to Do Everything‘ who interviewed him last week. All images courtesy Erik Kwakkel, respective of noted libraries.

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Artist Kevin Weir Creates Ghostly Animated GIFs Using Archival Photos from the Library of Congress

Starting this month Verizon FiOS customers can get upload speeds every bit as fast as their download speeds. Since that means faster, easier sharing of high-res illustrations, designs, and photos, FiOS is sponsoring a series of posts on Colossal to help us commission and share these super hi-res animated GIFs from some of the most amazing artists we could find.

Artist Kevin Weir Creates Ghostly Animated GIFs Using Archival Photos from the Library of Congress history gifs black and white animation

Artist Kevin Weir Creates Ghostly Animated GIFs Using Archival Photos from the Library of Congress history gifs black and white animation

Artist Kevin Weir Creates Ghostly Animated GIFs Using Archival Photos from the Library of Congress history gifs black and white animation

Artist Kevin Weir Creates Ghostly Animated GIFs Using Archival Photos from the Library of Congress history gifs black and white animation

Artist Kevin Weir Creates Ghostly Animated GIFs Using Archival Photos from the Library of Congress history gifs black and white animation

Artist Kevin Weir Creates Ghostly Animated GIFs Using Archival Photos from the Library of Congress history gifs black and white animation

Art director and designer Kevin Weir uses historical black and white photographs forgotten to time as the basis for his quirky—and slightly disturbing—animated GIFs. His path to online GIF superstardom began when he was in high school. He tells us that “my parents’ boss bought me a copy of Photoshop and I decided I wanted to be some kind of designer.” Having mastered the software, he found himself five years later “making black and white GIFs as a way to occupy myself during the downtime of an internship I had during grad school.” He shared the images on his Tumblr, Flux Machine where they quickly went viral.

Weir makes use of photographs he finds in the Library of Congress online archive, and is deeply drawn to what he calls “unknowable places and persons,” images with little connection to present day that he can use as blank canvas for his weird ideas. Perhaps it’s the nature of his imagination, or maybe a result of the medium’s limited frames of animation to communicate anything too serious, but despite the creepiness factor, it’s hard to not to smile at the absurdity of his ideas.

Weir is now an art director at Droga5 in NYC, he also also animates music videos and sassy birds.

Artist Kevin Weir Creates Ghostly Animated GIFs Using Archival Photos from the Library of Congress history gifs black and white animation Artist Kevin Weir Creates Ghostly Animated GIFs Using Archival Photos from the Library of Congress history gifs black and white animation

A 19th Century Telephone Network Covered Stockholm in Thousands of Phone Lines

A 19th Century Telephone Network Covered Stockholm in Thousands of Phone Lines telephones Stockholm history

In the late 19th century, shortly after the patent of the telephone, the race was on to connect everyone to the phone grid. However, due to technical limitations of the earliest phone lines, every telephone required its own physical line strung between a house or business to a phone exchange where the call was manually connected by a live operator. The somewhat quixotic result of so many individual lines was the construction of elaborate and unsightly towers that carried hundreds to thousands of phone lines through the air.

In Stockholm, Sweden, the central telephone exchange was the Telefontornet, a giant tower designed around 1890 that connected some 5,000 lines which sprawled in every direction across the city. Just by looking at historical photos it’s easy to recognize the absurdity and danger of the whole endeavor, especially during the winter months. Everything that could possibly go wrong did. From high winds to ice storms and fires, the network was extremely vulnerable to the elements. Luckily, phone networks evolved so rapidly that by 1913 the Telefontornet was completely decommissioned in favor of much simpler technology. The remaining shell stood as a landmark until it too caught fire in 1953 and was torn down.

If you want to see more, the Tekniska Museet (the Museum of Technology) in Stochkholm has hundreds of photos from this strange period over on Flickr organized into four main galleries: Linjeras och eldsvådor (accidents), Telefonstationer Stockholm, telephone stations in other parts of Sweden, and the Telefontornet.

A 19th Century Telephone Network Covered Stockholm in Thousands of Phone Lines telephones Stockholm history

A 19th Century Telephone Network Covered Stockholm in Thousands of Phone Lines telephones Stockholm history

A 19th Century Telephone Network Covered Stockholm in Thousands of Phone Lines telephones Stockholm history

A 19th Century Telephone Network Covered Stockholm in Thousands of Phone Lines telephones Stockholm history

A 19th Century Telephone Network Covered Stockholm in Thousands of Phone Lines telephones Stockholm history

A 19th Century Telephone Network Covered Stockholm in Thousands of Phone Lines telephones Stockholm history

A 19th Century Telephone Network Covered Stockholm in Thousands of Phone Lines telephones Stockholm history

A 19th Century Telephone Network Covered Stockholm in Thousands of Phone Lines telephones Stockholm history

A 19th Century Telephone Network Covered Stockholm in Thousands of Phone Lines telephones Stockholm history

A 19th Century Telephone Network Covered Stockholm in Thousands of Phone Lines telephones Stockholm history

A 19th Century Telephone Network Covered Stockholm in Thousands of Phone Lines telephones Stockholm history

(via Retronaut, Twisted Sifter, thnx Johnny!)

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By the Silent Line: Photographer Pierre Folk Spent Years Documenting a Vanishing 160-Year-Old Parisian Railway

By the Silent Line: Photographer Pierre Folk Spent Years Documenting a Vanishing 160 Year Old Parisian Railway trains Paris history

By the Silent Line: Photographer Pierre Folk Spent Years Documenting a Vanishing 160 Year Old Parisian Railway trains Paris history

By the Silent Line: Photographer Pierre Folk Spent Years Documenting a Vanishing 160 Year Old Parisian Railway trains Paris history

By the Silent Line: Photographer Pierre Folk Spent Years Documenting a Vanishing 160 Year Old Parisian Railway trains Paris history

By the Silent Line: Photographer Pierre Folk Spent Years Documenting a Vanishing 160 Year Old Parisian Railway trains Paris history

By the Silent Line: Photographer Pierre Folk Spent Years Documenting a Vanishing 160 Year Old Parisian Railway trains Paris history

By the Silent Line: Photographer Pierre Folk Spent Years Documenting a Vanishing 160 Year Old Parisian Railway trains Paris history

By the Silent Line: Photographer Pierre Folk Spent Years Documenting a Vanishing 160 Year Old Parisian Railway trains Paris history

By the Silent Line: Photographer Pierre Folk Spent Years Documenting a Vanishing 160 Year Old Parisian Railway trains Paris history

By the Silent Line: Photographer Pierre Folk Spent Years Documenting a Vanishing 160 Year Old Parisian Railway trains Paris history

The Chemin de fer de Petite Ceinture (French for “little belt railway”) was a 32 km railway that encirled Paris, connecting all the major railway stations within fortified walls during the Industrial Revolution. In service from 1852 to 1934, the line has now been partially abandoned for 80 years.

Several developers and local officials have recently set their sights on the vast swath of unused land, tunnels, and stations as an opportunity for new development. However, some railway enthusiasts and related organizations want the tracks and stations to be preserved indefinitely as part of the cities’ heritage. Others want to turn areas of de Petite Ceinture into parkways similar to the nearby Promenade plantée, a 4.7 km park built on an elevated train track in 1988 that later inspired New York’s famous High Line.

As part of his project “By the Silent Line,” photographer Pierre Folk has been working since 2011 to photograph the 160-year-old railway’s last remnants before any final decisions are made. He stalks the tracks at all times of the year, often returning to the same locations to document nature’s slow reclamation as rusted tracks and crumbling tunnels are swallowed by trees, vines, and grass. This is just a small selection of Folk’s work, you can see many more photos right here.

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Eerie Photos of North Brother Island, the Last Unknown Place in New York City

Eerie Photos of North Brother Island, the Last Unknown Place in New York City New York island history abandoned

Eerie Photos of North Brother Island, the Last Unknown Place in New York City New York island history abandoned

Eerie Photos of North Brother Island, the Last Unknown Place in New York City New York island history abandoned

Eerie Photos of North Brother Island, the Last Unknown Place in New York City New York island history abandoned

Eerie Photos of North Brother Island, the Last Unknown Place in New York City New York island history abandoned

Eerie Photos of North Brother Island, the Last Unknown Place in New York City New York island history abandoned

Eerie Photos of North Brother Island, the Last Unknown Place in New York City New York island history abandoned

Eerie Photos of North Brother Island, the Last Unknown Place in New York City New York island history abandoned

Eerie Photos of North Brother Island, the Last Unknown Place in New York City New York island history abandoned

Eerie Photos of North Brother Island, the Last Unknown Place in New York City New York island history abandoned

Eerie Photos of North Brother Island, the Last Unknown Place in New York City New York island history abandoned

How does an island in New York City’s East River go from being notoriously feared, almost 100 years ago, to being completely forgotten about today? That’s the story behind North Brother Island, the subject of photographer Christopher Payne’s new photo book.

A 10-minute boat ride from the Bronx’s Barretto Point Park, North Brother Island originally housed Riverside Hospital between the 1880s and 1930s. While in operation, the hospital served hundreds of patients who suffered from extremely communicable diseases, including smallpox, typhus, scarlet fever and even leprosy. It was also where “Typhoid Mary” was quarantined, and where she eventually died. In a 1935 profile for the New Yorker, the editor Stanley Walker described the island as “…a dismal spot. Sitting there, one may see, as the best view, the gas tanks on the Bronx shore. Now and then a ferryboat glides past. At night the dirty water of the East River laps against the rocks, making a messy, ghostly noise.”

The island’s facilities have since been decommissioned and the island itself abandoned since 1963. It sank into the depths of our memories until 2008, when Christopher Payne wrote a proposal to photograph and document the island in its current state. The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation agreed, and thus began Payne’s expeditions, which would continue for the next 5 years. His stunning photographs are now available in his new book, “North Brother Island: The Last Unknown Place in New York City.” (via Animal and Slate)

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art Releases 400,000 Images Online for Non-Commercial Use

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Releases 400,000 Images Online for Non Commercial Use photography history black and white
Kinder in einem Feriendorf / Martin Munkacsi / 1929

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has released a vast archive of 400,000 (mostly) hi-resolution digital images online that you can download and use for non-commercial purposes. From a 12-megapixel scan of Rembrandt’s 1660 self-portrait to over 18,000 photos spanning almost two centuries. Here are a few quick gems from the Photography collection, see also: Arms & Armor, Modern and Contemporary Art, and other highlights. (via Kottke)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Releases 400,000 Images Online for Non Commercial Use photography history black and white
Daughters of Jerusalem / Julia Margaret Camero / 1865

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Releases 400,000 Images Online for Non Commercial Use photography history black and white
Head of Man with Hat and Cigar / Leon Levinstein / 1960

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Releases 400,000 Images Online for Non Commercial Use photography history black and white
Isambard Kingdom Brunel Standing Before the Launching Chains of the Great Eastern / Robert Howlett / 1857

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Releases 400,000 Images Online for Non Commercial Use photography history black and white
A Study, No. 1 / Rudolph Eickemeyer / 1901

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Releases 400,000 Images Online for Non Commercial Use photography history black and white
Street Minstrel, Gose / Shinichi Suzuki / 1870s

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Releases 400,000 Images Online for Non Commercial Use photography history black and white
Group of Thirteen Decapitated Soldiers / Unknown / 1910

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Releases 400,000 Images Online for Non Commercial Use photography history black and white
Sincerely Yours, Woodrow Wilson / Arthur S. Mole / 1918

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Releases 400,000 Images Online for Non Commercial Use photography history black and white
A Girl, Carmel / Johan Hagemeyer / 1930.           Unidentified Child Picking Nose / Walker Evans / 1930.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Releases 400,000 Images Online for Non Commercial Use photography history black and white

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271 Years Before Pantone, an Artist Mixed and Described Every Color Imaginable in an 800-Page Book

271 Years Before Pantone, an Artist Mixed and Described Every Color Imaginable in an 800 Page Book watercolor history color books

271 Years Before Pantone, an Artist Mixed and Described Every Color Imaginable in an 800 Page Book watercolor history color books

271 Years Before Pantone, an Artist Mixed and Described Every Color Imaginable in an 800 Page Book watercolor history color books

271 Years Before Pantone, an Artist Mixed and Described Every Color Imaginable in an 800 Page Book watercolor history color books

271 Years Before Pantone, an Artist Mixed and Described Every Color Imaginable in an 800 Page Book watercolor history color books

271 Years Before Pantone, an Artist Mixed and Described Every Color Imaginable in an 800 Page Book watercolor history color books

In 1692 an artist known only as “A. Boogert” sat down to write a book in Dutch about mixing watercolors. Not only would he begin the book with a bit about the use of color in painting, but would go on to explain how to create certain hues and change the tone by adding one, two, or three parts of water. The premise sounds simple enough, but the final product is almost unfathomable in its detail and scope.

Spanning nearly 800 completely handwritten (and painted) pages, Traité des couleurs servant à la peinture à l’eau, was probably the most comprehensive guide to paint and color of its time. According to Medieval book historian Erik Kwakkel who translated part of the introduction, the color book was intended as an educational guide. The irony being there was only a single copy that was probably seen by very few eyes.

It’s hard not to compare the hundreds of pages of color to its contemporary equivalent, the Pantone Color Guide, which wouldn’t be published for the first time until 1963.

The entire book is viewable in high resolution here, and you can read a description of it here (it appears E-Corpus might have crashed for the moment). The book is currently kept at the Bibliothèque Méjanes in Aix-en-Provence, France. (via Erik Kwakkel)

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