Saturday, November 28, 2015


November: The autumn harvest of acorns, on which pigs are feeding
As part of my effort to get back into the habit of posting things I find interesting, I thought it prudent to alert readers to appropriate sites newly discovered. I hope to do this at least twice a year in order to keep up, rather than stashing the "pellets" in some irretrievable file on one of my devices. Only yesterday I'd read the November chapter of Tom Hodgkinson's Brave Old World: A Practical Guide to Husbandry, or the Fine  Art of Looking After Yourself (in print)--in honor of which I chose the opening image--and was reminded of his magazine, The Idler, to which I once subscribed in a digital version. That disappeared from both my Exactly account and my iPad, and I only think about it occasionally. The web page is still active, though, and the contents as eclectic as ever. But this all made me think of the other brain-enhancing offerings available through the digital universe--the ones that make me not altogether sorry about the technological state of the universe. 

Lapham's Quarterly describes itself as "a magazine of history and ideas," but it's rather more than that. I had to stop subscribing to it in print because I'm running out of room on the bookshelf it occupies, but don't know how long I can stay away. Founded eponymously by the American writer Lewis Lapham (who edited Harper's Magazine on and off for some thirty years), on the surface it may seem rather like an intellectual's Reader's Digest. It does present snippets of texts from anywhere and anywhen, arranged topically (this quarter's focus is Fashion); but it also features charts and graphs of interesting phenomena (Abandon All Hope: Punishments meted out to sinners in Dante's "Inferno") and maps (Beaten Paths: Brief Histories of Four Famous Routes). The website is quite complete, and could take weeks to wade through--especially if one wanders off on tangents, as I am prone to do.

An old friend/former spouse recently reminded me that I hadn't included The Public Domain Review in my blog roll--an oversight I will immediately remedy. Billed as "a project of the Open Knowledge Foundation," the Review is a compendium of essays on every imaginable topic (culture & history, art & illustrations, philosophy, science & medicine, &c. &c.) and collections arranged by medium (images, books, film, audio), time (pre-16th century through 20th), and topic. This is where I direct my art history students to gorgeous scans of the Très Riches Heures of the Duc de Berry, the November calendar page of which introduces this post. One of my favorite image collections centers on Colour Wheels, Charts, and Tables Through History, and another on The Maps of Piri Reis (an Ottoman navigator who collected them in his Book of Navigation (the link is to a downloadable scan from the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore); two of the maps appear below.

Map of the island of Bozjah (Tenedos) off the coast of Anatolia 

 Map of the Calabrian coast from Catanzaro to Siquillace

Once again, it would take ages to plumb the depths of this true cabinet of wonders. As soon as I've finished this post, in fact, I'll be back at it, having forgotten about its utter richness.

Fairly recently I've run across two off-beat journals, one from Australia, one from Britain, with some aspects in common and some not so much. Both are interesting and entertaining, and offer lovely editions for the iPad.

Smith Journal has a blog that offers an idea of the eclectic range of its content, which can, indeed be wondrous. It was a little difficult to make it past the cover of the current issue (an Elvis impersonator), but once inside there are articles on the Halley VI research station in Antarctica, Astronaut patches, preserving scientific knowledge in anticipation of the apocalypse, and a tightrope walker. Previous issues have explored the fates of lost explorers, cardboard architecture, and small, rural Australian museums. It also features interesting products, some of which are obtainable outside of down under. The digital edition is easy to navigate and looks lovely. I subscribed to this through the iTunes store rather than Zinio (which is where I get most of my 'zines).

The newest of the lot is Ernest Journal, which combines three media: biannual print journal, blog, and iPad magazine. There's also a Pinterest board, which I'll undoubtedly follow (making two boards I actually look at besides my own). It was mentioned in an article from the online version of the British edition of Country Living (the most important source of house porn in this family), and because digital editions come with links, I was able to connect immediately. I don't think I've been back to the original article in CL yet. This one, too, is obtainable through the iTunes people. On the cover it notes a focus on Curious Histories, Workmanship, Slow Adventure, Timeless Style, and Wild Food.  This may well define what "eclectic" actually means in practice. At any rate, I started with issue 5 and immediately purchased issue 1 as well (at half price). The subscription rate for the digital edition is about 20 USD per year, but worth it.  Contents of issue 5 include the science of terrariums and the history of Diableries (3D stereoscopic photos of devil-related dioramas). I found this latter article especially interesting, having just finished a Coursera MOOC devoted to Victorian Photography.

For those of us who haven't completely abandoned the past, I highly recommend Pretty Nostalgic, not only because it collects interesting things, but because it's actually grounded in a unifying set of principles (centered on spending wisely, wasting less, and appreciating more). Most of the content has to do with the 1940s (primarily war years and rationing), but includes vast amounts of information on how folks lived in the past without insisting that we give up the present. It also unabashedly celebrates Britain and British history. The digital copy is available through iTunes or Exactly. The most recent issue is a Yearbook, packed with pretty pictures, paintings, old printed stuff, curiosities, and articles related to the seasons. Just the thing for the third dank, damp, wretched day in a row, to hold me over until the sun comes out and I can get back to sorting out the garden for winter.

Finally, there's Brain Pickings. On the Google search page it's described as "an inventory of cross-disciplinary interestingness, spanning art, science, design, history, philosophy, and more." It's another serendipitous find, this time from a review of Lisa Randall's new book, Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe in the New York Times, by Maria Popova who edits Brain Pickings. (The link is to her review on the blog.) The Times always posts its authors' credentials, and Popova's included this organization. The articles on the page are interesting and seductive, and many of them are imaginatively illustrated. In fact, there's even a chart of 7 Life-Learnings from 7 Years of Brain Pickings, Illustrated. And by now, you all know how fond I am of charts and maps.

Image notes: all images were acquired from The Public Domain Review, as noted above.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Beginning Again

Over the last few years I've had little time for messing about in blogs, and this one has suffered more than the others. But I "retired" at the end of the Spring Quarter, and am now teaching part-time where I've spent the last twenty years as a full-time faculty member.

What this means is that I'm out of excuses. And because my interests in the oddities of human materialism hasn't abated one single bit, I fully intend to get back to documenting my discoveries in the Cabinet. I keep running into amazing, interesting, troubling, astonishing (enter more adjectives here) things in my often random travels through the 'verse--especially since I've become a full-fledged MOOC junkie. The most recent effort was a course on Sagas and Space sponsored by the University of Zurich through Coursera.  It focused on Norse sagas and the concept of space recorded in them; the material was fascinating and did more to kickstart my aging brainwaves than anything in recent memory. The opening image is a tribute to the experience: a sea monster (a whale being attacted by orcas?) from Olaus Magnus's very early map of the north, the Carta Marina.

I loved the course's structure (it was only eight weeks long) and the fact that I got to learn stuff I never really imagined was out there.  It tied in well with both my interest in William Morris (he translated a number of Icelandic sagas) and in maps, and reminded me why I started writing this blog in the first place. Not only that, it will help me set my students straight about Marvel's version of the Norse cosmology when next I get to teach the Myth class (maybe once a year now).

So now things are really coming together. I've spent the last couple of hours cleaning up the rolls on the sidebar, and have eliminated a couple of categories and several now-defunct blogs.  A few I was reluctant to eliminate altogether, even though they're no longer active, so I created an archive to house them. In future I'll update the lists with some of my new discoveries, but will leave you with this morsel discovered during the Sagas and Space adventure: The Monstrous Sea Pig from Idols of the Cave (recently added to the blog roll).

More sooner, rather than later. 

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons, uploaded by OlofE.