Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The World Digital Library

Just when I'm the most irritated with our local rag because of its skimpy, highly-localized news reportage, they do me proud by including an article (albeit from the Washington Post) on the newly-available educational marvel, the World Digital Library, which aims to make "available on the Internet, free of charge and in multilingual format, significant primary materials from countries and cultures around the world."

The site is beautifully designed, highly accessible, and a true marvel of modern digital technology. The opening page consists of a world map divided into nine regions: North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, Central and South Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, Oceania and the Pacific, Europe, Middle East and North Africa, and Africa. Linked to each section (illustrated by a thumbnail of a representative work) is a list of the number of items currently available.

Even at this early stage, the offerings are marvellous: maps, journals, books, photographs, etc. Click on the link and a further list of offerings by country, by period, by topic, by medium, and by institution appears, with further thumbnails of the available works. Click on these and enter a world of enough zoomable images to keep any would-scholar or lover of curiosities busy for years. And the collection will keep growing.

Altogether I've offered six images that I think will provide a peek into what's available, and will not strain international copyright law (this post, after all, amounts to news coverage, and a review of a new online presence). If anyone finds me in error, please let me know. Quoted material is from the description accompanying each image.

"Sketch Map of Africa with a Comparative Overview of the Journeys of Dr. Barth and Dr. Livingstone." This thumbnail does very little to indicate the intriguing nature of this map, which "compares the voyages of the British explorer David Livingstone (1813-73), who traveled down the Zambezi River in 1851-56, and the German Heinrich Barth (1821-65) who, between 1850 and 1855, explored much of western Africa and the Sahara." It was created by August Petermann, and printed by C. Hellfarth in 1857.

A photograph of Victoral Falls, from around 1890-1925. From the Frank and Frances Carpenter Collection at the Library of Congress.

A map of Peking, from 1914. "This detailed map of Beijing by the Cartographic Division of the Royal Prussian Ordnance Society is based on surveys carried out by the Expeditionary Corps in 1900-01," and was a product of the German East-Asian Expedtionary Corps 1900 attempt to put down the Boxer Rebellion.

A page from Dharma Wonder Boy, author unknown, "an early 18th-century example of Nara-ehon, the illustrated manuscripts or hand-printed scrolls and books produced in Japan from the Muromachi (1333-1573) through the mid-Edo (1615-1868) periods. The Hōmyō dōji is originally an East Indian story with roots in Buddhism. Like many such stories, it begins with the characteristic phrase, 'Once upon a time in the land of the Buddha...'"

Map of the Three Arabias by French royal geographer Nicolas Sanson d'Abbeville, 17th century. Engraved by Jan Somer, 1654. " . . . based on the medieaval work of the 12th-century Arab cartographer Al Idrisi (1099-1164), whose work Geographia Nubiensis was first translated into French only in 1619.

The pièce de résistance (the image that opens the post), is from the Description of Egypt: Antiquities, Volume One (Plates): Or, Collection of Observations and Research Conducted in Egypt During the Expedition of the French Army. Second Edition (1920). When Napoleon was still planning to conquer the world, he sent his artists and engineers forth in Egypt to observe and record everything they saw. The result was one of the most remarkable works ever assembled, and the edition featured here is from the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

The educational possibilities of this single website are enough to reassure me that not everything about the internet is going to the birds. My students in art and design history, in myth, and in visual anthropology can all find myriad uses for the materials contained herein. It warms the cockles of my little Borg heart to know that this incredibly powerful technology is being used, at least in this case, for the enrichment and betterment of human kind. Now, if you don't mind, I'll get back to fooling around in it.

Monday, April 6, 2009

'Possum Saga

I've been neglecting the Cabinet in favor of the Farm lately, but thought that I'd get one last post in before I take a forced hiatus (see the Farm for that particular saga). The topic is actually related, tangentially, to my reasons for taking time off, but I digress.

Last week my dogs uncovered a nest of baby opossums in our woodpile. I always know there's something naughty afoot (and some't nasty in the woodpile) when Woody doesn't come running the minute I step out the back door. He was lounging out back in the Accidental Garden, intrigued by something, so I went back to investigate.

There he sat, pleased as punch, licking what turned out to be a joey, as they're called, according to my source on the 'possum kingdom (that's sort of a pun; there's a lake by that name south of here). I thought the poor little guy was dead, so confiscated him and got ready to bury him when I noticed that he was still moving. I took him into the house and cleaned him up, and he got a lot more active. Then I noticed that Woody was still back at the woodpile, so I looked again, and there was another one snuggled down into a nest, of sorts, so I replaced the cleaned-up baby back with his/her brother/sister and took the dogs in. Later, I went back and tried to dog-proof the nest enough to give mom a chance to come back and get her kids, and when I let the dogs out again, Woody found another one, making its way through the tall grass that's now filling the open space in that part of the yard.

I picked that one up and put him/her back in the nest, and kept the dogs in for the rest of the day. By bedtime, though, it was clear that the nest had been abandoned, so I went out to get the nestlings and keep them warm for the night. The day had been chilly, though, and one was now cold and stiff--not playing 'possum at all. So I buried him and put the other two in a basket of old tennis socks and put that in the bathtub to keep the house critters away. I gave them some fluids through an eyedropper, but didn't feed them anything, and everybody hit the sack.

The next morning I began to search for 'possum rehab folks on the internet and was directed to the Texas Parks and Wildlife department, where a nice man gave me the number of a woman here in town, but the number was out of service, so I called back--and bingo: The Living Materials Center run by Jim Dunlap for the Plano schools. Why didn't I think of that? Years ago, I lived practically across the street from the facility, and used to lead little kids through the Outdoor Learning Center portion of the property. They were happy to take them, so I made a detour on my way down to work and deposited the little critters and their tennis socks with people who will take care of them.

On the way back to the highway, however, I had a bit of an angina attack (related to the cardiac procedure I'm having done tomorrow) and briefly stopped paying attention to the speedometer. Of course, that one lapse had some consequences: my first ever, in forty years of driving, speeding ticket. The officer was apparently not at all impressed with my 'possum sob story, and because I'm undoubtedly going to be in the hospital when my court date arrives, I won't even be able to plead my case before a judge. So, little miss animal-rescue person who drives below the speed limit on highways and still does everything the nuns told her to do will now have a blot on her otherwise stainless record.

Still, little brother and sister opossum will have a better life, and I'll get over my self pity. They're really interesting animals, and one of the few marsupials native to this area--so they make a nice subject for a Cabinet entry. I founds some lovely photos through Wikimedia Commons, and have a shot of my little pair, so if you've ever wanted to know something about a creature most folks in this part of the world associate with stew, now you have it.

Here are some resources in case you run into a nest: The National Opossum Association (with their very helpful page on orphans), the NatureWorks page on Virginia Opossums (the brand we have around here), and the very complete page from Wikipedia.

Image credits: The post-opener is a lovely winter photo of a 'possum by Wikimedia user Cody.Pope. The closing image is a drawing of Virginia oposums, Didelphis virginiana, from the "small" edition (1927) of Brehms Tierleben (Life of Animals) by by Alfred Edmund Brehm. It was uploaded by a fan of the book, "Petwoe," to Wikimedia Commons. The other photo is mine of the babies in their little basket hotel.