A Map Shows Where Today’s Countries Would Be Located on Pangea

The supercontinent of Pangea formed some 270 million years ago, during the Early Permian Period, and then began to break up 70 million years later, eventually yielding the continents we inhabit today. Pangea was, of course, a peopleless place. But if you were to drop today's nations on that great land mass, here's what it might look like. (Click here to view it in a much larger, high resolution format.) The map's creator is Massimo Pietrobon, someone who playfully describes himself as "a famous explorer and cartographer of Atlantis," and who has taken on other experiments with maps in the past. When someone claimed that the scale of certain countries wasn't exactly right, Massimo was quick to confess on his blog, "Yes, it's just a trial, it can be better." But it's a creative start.

Note: An earlier version of this post originally appeared on our site in July, 2014.

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The Largest Early Map of the World Gets Assembled for the First Time: See the Huge, Detailed & Fantastical World Map from 1587

We in the early 21st century can call up detailed maps of almost any place on Earth with little more effort than typing its name. Most of us can dimly recall a time when it wasn't quite so easy, but imagine trying to satisfy your geographical curiosity in not just decades but centuries past. For the 16th-century Milanese gentleman scholar Urbano Monte, figuring out what the whole world looked like turned into an enormous project, in terms of both effort and sheer size. In 1587, he created his "planisphere" map as a 60-page manuscript, and only now have researchers assembled it into a single piece, ten feet square, the largest known early map of the world. View it above, or in a larger format here.

"Monte appears to have been quite geo-savvy for his day," writes National Geographic's Greg Miller, noting that "he included recent discoveries of his time, such as the islands of Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America, first sighted by the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1520," as well as an uncommonly detailed Japan based on information gathered from a visit with the first official Japanese delegation to Europe in 1585.

And in accordance with the mapmaking style of the time, he got more fanciful in the less-understood spaces: "Animals roam the land, and his oceans teem with ships and monsters. King Philip II of Spain rides what looks like a floating throne off the coast of South America, a nod to Spanish prominence on the high seas."


"Monte's map reminds us of why historical maps are so important as primary resources," says Stanford University's David Rumsey Map Collection, which holds one of only three extant versions of the map and which conducted the digital project of scanning each of its pages and assembling them into a whole. Not only does its then-unusual (but now long standard in aviation) north polar azimuthal projection show Monte's use of "the advanced scientific ideas of his time," but the "the artistry in drawing and decorating the map embodies design at the highest level; and the view of the world then gives us a deep historical resource with the listing of places, the shape of spaces, and the commentary interwoven into the map."

You can see/download Monte's planisphere in detail at the David Rumsey Map Collection, both as a collection of individual pages and as a fully assembled world map. There you can also read, in PDF form, cartographic historian Dr. Katherine Parker's "A Mind at Work: Urbano Monte's 60-Sheet Manuscript World Map." And to bring this marvel of 16th-century cartography around to a connection with a marvel of 21st-century cartography, they've also taken Monte's planisphere and made it into a three-dimensional model in Google Earth, a mapping tool that Monte could scarcely have imagined — even though, as a close look at his work reveals, he certainly didn't lack imagination.

via Hyperallergic

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

George Orwell Reviews Salvador Dali’s Autobiography: “Dali is a Good Draughtsman and a Disgusting Human Being” (1944)

Images or Orwell and Dali via Wikimedia Commons

Should we hold artists to the same standards of human decency that we expect of everyone else? Should talented people be exempt from ordinary morality? Should artists of questionable character have their work consigned to the trash along with their personal reputations? These questions, for all their timeliness in the present, seemed no less thorny and compelling 74 years ago when George Orwell confronted the strange case of Salvador Dali, an undeniably extraordinary talent, and—Orwell writes in his 1944 essay “Benefit of Clergy”—a “disgusting human being.”

The judgment may seem overly harsh except that any honest person would say the same given the episodes Dali describes in his autobiography, which Orwell finds utterly revolting. "If it were possible for a book to give a physical stink off its pages," he writes, "this one would. The episodes he refers to include, at six years old, Dali kicking his three-year-old sister in the head, “as though it had been a ball,” the artist writes, then running away “with a ‘delirious joy’ induced by this savage act.” They include throwing a boy from a suspension bridge, and, at 29 years old, trampling a young girl “until they had to tear her, bleeding, out of my reach.” And many more such violent and disturbing descriptions.

Dali’s litany of cruelty to humans and animals constitutes what we expect in the early life of serial killers rather than famous artists. Surely he is putting his readers on, wildly exaggerating for the sake of shock value, like the Marquis de Sade's autobiographical fantasies. Orwell allows as much. Yet which of the stories are true, he writes, “and which are imaginary hardly matters: the point is that this is the kind of thing that Dali would have liked to do.” Moreover, Orwell is as repulsed by Dali’s work as he is by the artist’s character, informed as it is by misogyny, a confessed necrophilia and an obsession with excrement and rotting corpses.

But against this has to be set the fact that Dali is a draughtsman of very exceptional gifts. He is also, to judge by the minuteness and the sureness of his drawings, a very hard worker. He is an exhibitionist and a careerist, but he is not a fraud. He has fifty times more talent than most of the people who would denounce his morals and jeer at his paintings. And these two sets of facts, taken together, raise a question which for lack of any basis of agreement seldom gets a real discussion.

Orwell is unwilling to dismiss the value of Dali’s art, and distances himself from those who would do so on moralistic  grounds. “Such people,” he writes, are “unable to admit that what is morally degraded can be aesthetically right,” a “dangerous” position adopted not only by conservatives and religious zealots but by fascists and authoritarians who burn books and lead campaigns against “degenerate” art. “Their impulse is not only to crush every new talent as it appears, but to castrate the past as well.” (“Witness,” he notes, the outcry in America “against Joyce, Proust and Lawrence.") "In an age like our own," writes Orwell, in a particularly jarring sentence, "when the artist is an exceptional person, he must be allowed a certain amount of irresponsibility, just as a pregnant woman is."

At the very same time, Orwell argues, to ignore or excuse Dali’s amorality is itself grossly irresponsible and totally inexcusable. Orwell's is an “understandable” response, writes Jonathan Jones at The Guardian, given that he had fought fascism in Spain and had seen the horror of war, and that Dali, in 1944, “was already flirting with pro-Franco views.” But to fully illustrate his point, Orwell imagines a scenario with a much less controversial figure than Dali: “If Shakespeare returned to the earth to-morrow, and if it were found that his favourite recreation was raping little girls in railway carriages, we should not tell him to go ahead with it on the ground that he might write another King Lear.”

Draw your own parallels to more contemporary figures whose criminal, predatory, or violently abusive acts have been ignored for decades for the sake of their art, or whose work has been tossed out with the toxic bathwater of their behavior. Orwell seeks what he calls a “middle position” between moral condemnation and aesthetic license—a “fascinating and laudable” critical threading of the needle, Jones writes, that avoids the extremes of “conservative philistines who condemn the avant garde, and its promoters who indulge everything that someone like Dali does and refuse to see it in a moral or political context.”

This ethical critique, writes Charlie Finch at Artnet, attacks the assumption in the art world that an appreciation of artists with Dali’s peculiar tastes “is automatically enlightened, progressive.” Such an attitude extends from the artists themselves to the society that nurtures them, and that “allows us to welcome diamond-mine owners who fund biennales, Gazprom billionaires who purchase diamond skulls, and real-estate moguls who dominate temples of modernism.” Again, you may draw your own comparisons.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Massive New Database Will Finally Allow Us to Identify Enslaved Peoples and Their Descendants in the Americas

Throughout the history of the so-called “New World,” people of African descent have faced a yawning chasm where their ancestry should be. People bought and sold to labor on plantations lost not only their names but their connections to their language, tradition, and culture. Very few who descend from this painful legacy know exactly where their ancestors came from. The situation contributes to what Toni Morrison calls the “dehistoricizing allegory” of race, a condition of “foreclosure rather than disclosure.” To compound the loss, most descendants of slaves have been unable to trace their ancestry further back than 1870, the first year in which the Census listed African Americans by name.

But the recent work of several enterprising scholars is helping to disclose the histories of enslaved people in the Americas. For example, The Freedman’s Bureau Project has made 1.5 million documents available to the public, in a searchable database that combines traditional scholarship with digital crowdsourcing.

And now, a just-announced Michigan State University project—supported by a $1.5 million grant from the Mellon Foundation—will seek to “change the way scholars and the public understand African slavery.” Called “Enslaved: The People of the Historic Slave Trade,” the multi-phase endeavor is expected to take 18 months to complete an “online hub,” reports Smithsonian, linking together dozens of databases from all over the world.

“By linking data collections from multiple universities,” writes MSU Today, the resulting website "will allow people to search millions of pieces of slave data to identify enslaved individuals and their descendants from a central source. Users can also run analyses of enslaved populations and create maps, charts and graphics.” The project is headed by MSU’s Dean Rehberger, director of Matrix: The Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at MSU; Ethan Watrall, assistant professor of anthropology; and Walter Hawthorne, professor and chair of MSU’s history department and a specialist in African and African American history.

In addition to publishing several books on the Atlantic slave trade, Hawthorne has worked on previous digital history projects like the website Slave Biographies, which compiles information on the “names, ethnicities, skills, occupations, and illnesses” of enslaved individuals in Maranhão, Brazil and colonial Louisiana. In the video above, you can see him describe this latest project, which coincides with MSU’s “Year of Global Africa,” an 18-month celebration of the university’s many partnerships on the continent and “throughout the African Diaspora.”

Digital history projects like those spearheaded by Hawthorne and other researchers help not only scholars but also the general public develop a much more nuanced understanding of the history of slavery. These tools provide a wealth of information, but they cannot truly capture the emotional and psychological impact of the history. For such an understanding, Morrison said in the first of her 2016 Harvard Norton lectures, “I look to literature for guidance.”

via Smithsonian Magazine

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A YouTube Channel Completely Devoted to Medieval Sacred Music: Hear Gregorian Chant, Byzantine Chant & More

The artists of medieval Europe, at least according to the impression we get in history class, gave far less consideration to the world around them than the world above. Historians argue about how much that general attitude hindered the improvement of the human lot during those ten centuries or so, but even we denizens of the 21st century can feel that the imaginations of the Middle Ages did tap into something resonant — and in the domain of music quite literally resonant, since the sacred songs of that time still create a properly otherworldly sonic atmosphere when they echo through cathedrals.

If you don't happen to live near a cathedral, you can experience something of that atmosphere through your headphones anywhere you happen to be with Callixtus, a channel on the not normally sacred space of Youtube. "Perhaps named in honor of either Pope Callistus or Xanothopoulos Callistus, Patriarch of Constantinople," writes Catholic web site Aleteia's Daniel Esparza, it offers "an impressive collection of sacred music, mostly medieval, including choral works belonging to both Western Christianity and the Eastern tradition."

Callixtus' playlist includes such enduring "hits" of these traditions as the Gregorian chant "Invitatorium: Deum Verum," the Byzantine chant "Δεύτε λαοί" ("Come Ye Peoples"), and the multi-part Medieval Chant of the Templars.

How did this still-haunting style of music come about? According to former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, who laid out these ideas in a popular TED Talk, it evolved alongside the houses of worship themselves, the architecture shaping the music and the music shaping the architecture: "In a gothic cathedral, this kind of music is perfect," says Byrne. "It doesn't change key, the notes are long, there's almost no rhythm whatsoever, and the room flatters the music. It actually improves it." So familiarize yourself with all this sacred music through Callixtus, but as soon as you get the chance, hie thee to a gothic cathedral: no matter your religious sensibilities, it will certainly enrich your aesthetic ones.

via Aleteia and @dark_shark

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The London Time Machine: Interactive Map Lets You Compare Modern London, to the London Shortly After the Great Fire of 1666


From ESRI, the maker of geographic software, comes the London Time Machine, an interactive map that lets you see how London has changed over the past 330+ years, moving from a city left in ruins by the Great Fire of 1666, to the sprawling metropolis that it is today. Here's how ESRI describes the map:

On Sunday the 2nd of September 1666, the Great Fire of London began reducing most of the capital to ashes. Among the devastation and the losses were many maps of the city itself.

The Morgan Map of 1682 was the first to show the whole of the City of London after the fire. Produced by William Morgan and his dedicated team of Surveyors and Cartographers it took 6 years to produce, and displayed a brighter perspective on city life for a population still mourning their loved ones, possessions, and homes.

But how much of this symbolised vision of a hoped-for ideal city remains today? What now lies on the lush green fields to the south of the river Thames? And how have the river's banks been eaten into by the insatiable appetite of urban development? Move the spyglass to find out, and remember to zoom-in to fully interrogate finer details!

Enter the London Time Machine here.

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via Hacker News

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Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Handwritten Syllabus & Final Exam for the Philosophy Course He Taught at Morehouse College (1962)

On his way to sainthood as an avatar of love and justice, Martin Luther King, Jr. lost too much of his complexity. Whether deliberately sanitized or just drawn in broad strokes for easy consumption, the Civil Rights leader we think we know, we may not know well at all. King himself ruefully noted the tendency of his audiences to box him in when he began publically and forcefully to challenge U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and the perpetuation of widespread poverty in the wealthiest country on earth. “I am nevertheless greatly saddened,” he remarked in 1967, “that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment, or my calling.”

As WBUR notes in its introduction to a discussion on King’s political philosophy, the “specifics of his radical politics often go unexamined when celebrating his legacy…. His political and economic ideas are clear in his speeches against the Vietnam War and his call to work toward economic equality.”

His radical stances did not sit well with the FBI, nor with many of his former supporters, but their roots are evident in his most-published work, the 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in which he coined the famous phrase, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

We know of King’s indebtedness to the thought of Mahatma Gandhi and Henry David Thoreau, and of his theological education. He was also steeped in the political philosophy of the West, from Plato to John Stuart Mill. In his graduate work at Boston University and Harvard in the 50s, he read and wrote on Hegel, Kant, Marx, and other philosophers. And as a visiting professor at Morehouse College—one year before his arrest in Birmingham and the composition of his letter—King taught a seminar in “Social Philosophy,” examining the ideas of Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Bentham, and Mill.

At the top of the post, you can see his handwritten syllabus (view in a larger format here), a sweeping survey of the European tradition in political philosophy. Further up (or here in a larger format) see a typewritten exam with seven questions from the reading (students were to answer any five). King not only asked his students to connect these thinkers in the abstract to present concerns for justice, but, in question 3, he specifically asks them to “appraise the Student Movement in its practice of law-breaking in light of Aquinas’ Doctrine of Law” (referring to the Catholic theologian/philosopher’s distinctions between human and natural law).

The syllabus and exam give us a sense of how King situated his own radical politics both within and against a long tradition of philosophical thought. For more on King’s political philosophy, listen to Harvard professors Tommie Shelby and Brandon Terry discuss their new collection of essays—To Shape a New World: Essays on the Political Philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr.—in the WBUR interview above.

via Daily Nous/The King Center

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Enroll in Seven Free Courses From the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA): “Modern Art & Ideas,” “Seeing Through Photographs” & “Fashion as Design” Start Today

If you would like to know more about modern art, but have difficulty wrapping your head around the Futurists, Neo-Impressionists, Abstract Expressionists, and the myriad other -ists and -isms  of this vast subject, perhaps you should untether yourself from timelines.

Modern Art & Ideas, a free online course from the Museum of Modern Art (aka MoMA), shifts the focus away from period and movement, instead grouping works according to four themes: Places & Spaces, Art & Identity, Transforming Everyday Objects, and Art & Society.

It’s an approach that’s worked well for MoMA’s Education Department. (Another upcoming online class, Art & Ideas: Teaching with Themes, is recommended for professional educators looking to develop the pedagogical skills the department employs to get visitors to engage with the art.)

The course, which begins today, is taught by Lisa Mazzola, Assistant Director of the museum’s School and Teacher Programs and a veteran of their previous forays into Massive Open Online Courses.

An early lesson on how artists capture environments considers three works: Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night (1889), Piet Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie (1942-43), and Gordon Matta-Clark’s Bingo. Vintage photos and footage conspire with period music to whisk students to the settings that inspired these works—a bucolic French mental hospital, New York City’s bustling, WWII-era Times Square, and a derelict house in down on its luck Niagara Falls.

Regular readers of Open Culture are likely to have a handle on some of the ways art stars Frida Kahlo and Andy Warhol explored identity, the course's third week theme, but what about Glenn Ligon, a living African American conceptual artist?

Ligon may not have the renown or tote bag appeal of his lessonmates, but his 1993 series, Runaways, is powerful enough to hold its own against Kahlo’s Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair and Warhol’s Gold Marilyn Monroe.

In fact, teachers looking to expand their Black History Month curriculum could spark some lively discussions by showing students the extremely accurate facsimiles of 19th-century runaway slave ads featuring physical descriptions of Ligon, solicited from friends who'd been told they were supplying details for a hypothetical Missing Person poster.

Ligon’s series is also a good starting place for discussing conceptual art with a friend who thinks  conceptual art is best defined as White Cow in a Snowstorm.

Offered on Coursera, the 5-week course requires approximately 2 hours of study and one quiz per week. Enroll here, or browse MoMAs other current offerings also on Coursera:

Note: Open Culture has a partnership with Coursera. If readers enroll in certain Coursera courses, it helps support Open Culture.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

10,000 Classic Movie Posters Getting Digitized & Put Online by the Harry Ransom Center at UT-Austin: Free to Browse & Download

Who hasn’t pinned one of Saul Bass’s elegant film posters on their wall—with either thumbtacks above the dormroom bed or in frame and glass in grown-up environs? Or maybe it’s 70s kitsch you prefer—the art of the grindhouse and sensationalist drive-in exploitation film? Or 20s silent avant-garde, the cool noir of the 30s and 40s, 50s B-grade sci-fi, 60s psychedelia and French new wave, or 80s popcorn flicks…? Whatever kind of cinema grabs your attention probably first grabbed your attention through the design of the movie poster, a genre that gets its due in novelty shops and specialist exhibitions, but often goes unheralded in popular conceptions of art.

Despite its utilitarian and unabashedly commercial function, the movie poster can just as well be a work of art as any other form. Failing that, movie posters are at least always essential archival artifacts, snapshots of the weird collective unconscious of mass culture: from Saul and Elaine Bass’s minimalist poster for West Side Story (1961), “with its bright orange-red background over the title with a silhouette of a fire escape with dancers” to more complex tableaux, like the baldly neo-imperialist Africa Texas Style! (1967), "which features a realistic image of the protagonist on a horse, lassoing a zebra in front of a stampede of wildebeest, elephants, and giraffes.”

These two descriptions only hint at the range of posters archived at the University of Texas Harry Ransom Center—upwards of 10,000 in all, “from when the film industry was just beginning to compete with vaudeville acts in the 1920s to the rise of the modern megaplex and drive-in theaters in the 1970s.” So writes Erin Willard in the Ransom Center’s announcement of the digitization of its massive collection, expected to reach completion in 2019. So far, around 4,000 posters have been photographed and are becoming available online, downloadable in “Large,” “Extra Large,” and “High-Quality” resolutions.

The bulk of the collection comes from the Interstate Theater Circuit—a chain that, at one time, “consisted of almost every movie theater in Texas”—and encompasses not only posters but film stills, lobby cards, and press books from “the 1940s through the 1970s with a particular strength in the films of the 1950s and 60s, including musicals, epics, westerns, sword and sandal, horror, and counter culture films.” Other individual collectors have made sizable donations of their posters to the center, and the result is a tour of the many spectacles available to the mid-century American mind: lurid, violent excesses, maudlin moralizing, bizarre erotic fantasies, dime-store adolescent adventures....

Some of the films are well-known examples from the period; most of them are not, and therein lies the thrill of browsing this online repository, discovering obscure oddities like the 1956 film Barefoot Battalion, in which “teen-age wolf packs become heroes in a nation’s fight for freedom!” The number of quirks and kinks on display offer us a prurient view of a decade too often flatly characterized by its penchant for grey flannel suits. The Mad Men era was a period of institutional repression and rampant sexual harassment, not unlike our own time. It was also a laboratory for a libidinous anarchy that threatened to unleash the pent-up energy and cultural anxiety of millions of frustrated teenagers onto the world at large, as would happen in the decades to come.

What we see in the marketing of films like Five Branded Women (1960) will vary widely depending on our orientations and political sensibilities. Is this cheap exploitation or an empowering precursor to Mad Max: Fury Road? Maybe both. For cultural theorists and film historians, these pulpy advertisements offer windows into the psyches of their audiences and the filmmakers and production companies who gave them what they supposedly wanted. For the ordinary film buff, the Ransom Center collection offers eye candy of all sorts, and if you happen to own a high-quality printer, the chance to hang posters on your wall that you probably won’t see anywhere else. Enter the online collection here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How a Virtual Reality Model of Auschwitz Helped Convict an SS Concentration Camp Guard: A Short Documentary on a High Tech Prosecution

In 2016, Reinhold Hanning, a former SS guard at the Auschwitz concentration camp, was tried and convicted for being an accessory to at least 170,000 deaths. In making their case, prosecutors did something novel--they relied on a virtual reality version of the Auschwitz concentration camp, which helped undermine Hanning's claim that he wasn't aware of what happened inside the camp. The virtual reality headset let viewers see the camp from almost any angle, and established that "Hanning would have seen the atrocities taking place all around him."

The high-tech prosecution of Hanning gets well documented in "Nazi VR," the short documentary above. It comes from MEL Films, and will be added to our collection of online documentaries.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

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