Category Archives: History

The Men Who Chased Shipwrecks

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The Gibson family in Cornwall have maintained a tradition for over a hundred years that whenever a ship is wrecked off the coast, one of them is there to document it.

The family tradition—documenting shipwrecks, obsessively and artistically—started with John, a fisherman-turned-professional-photographer, who learned about the new technology in Penzance in 1860. Gibson trained his two sons, Alexander and Herbert, as apprentice photographers. The Gibsons, armed with their cameras, soon made a habit of traipsing out to every accident in the area as it occurred, capturing haunting scenes in the process.

To get news of the wrecks, and share the results of their work, the family took advantage of another new technology: the telegraph. The sea surrounding their home in the Isles of Scilly was treacherous, and mariners made headlines when they sunk their ships after encountering storms or Cornwall’s notorious cliffs. The Gibsons speedily dispatched both themselves and their images with the help of newly installed telegraph wires.

The Men Who Chased Shipwrecks   [TheAtlantic]

Colourised Historic Photographs

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On TwisterSifter, a great set of historic black and white photographs which have been colourised. Above is a shot of unemployed lumber workers in the 1930’s.

Historic Black and White Photos Colourised   [TwisterSifter]

Histomap

The Histomap, created in 1931 by John B. Sparks, attempts to distill all of human history up to that point into a single image:

The chart emphasizes domination, using color to show how the power of various “peoples” (a quasi-racial understanding of the nature of human groups, quite popular at the time) evolved throughout history.

You can click on the Histomap for a larger version.

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Stasi Style

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Foreign Policy magazine is carrying a rather funny set of photographs gleaned from Stasi (East German secret police) records. They were originally intended as tools to aid agents in remaining inconspicuous in public while carrying out their duties:

A portly man wearing a cranberry-colored cardigan stands uncomfortably still, his hands clasped together over the paunch of his belly. Behind tinted sunglasses his downcast gaze is awkward, avoidant. But wait, there he is again … or is he? This man in the next frame — possibly, obviously the same man — in a long shaggy brown coat and Ushanka style faux-fur cap, is wearing the same sunglasses but now there’s a dark swipe of a mustache under his nose that wasn’t there before.

There are others just like him posing in self-conscious stance with impassive expressions — a tourist impossibly conspicuous in bright red pants, outfitted with not one but two cameras; a somber-faced woman in casual jeans and a forgettable black leather jacket is later “transformed” donning a lush winter coat, her hair tucked under a fur cap, gold earrings dangling. These men and women were trained to blend in; they were trained to infiltrate, observe, and inform. They were Stasi agents, part of the East German secret police.

Stasi Style!   [ForeignPolicy]

Third Reich Mythologizing in Colour

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Life Magazine has a fascinating gallery of colour photographs of Nazi myth-making, taken by one of Hitler’s personal photographers, Hugo Jaeger:

In this gallery, LIFE.com takes a long, hard look at the aesthetics of the Reich’s propaganda machinery, from the single swastika to the epic torchlit celebrations during Hitler’s 50th birthday. Here are the almost inconceivably vast Nuremberg rallies, where individuals are subsumed into one Fuhrer-worshiping organism. Here are the gargantuan Nazi banners, towering above a sea of faces that fade into insignificance. Here are thousands of tanned, near-naked youth, re-enacting a manufactured, cobbled-together and thoroughly mythical past when “Aryans” gamboled beneath a Teutonic sun.

Precious Books

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In the Middle Ages, books were so valuable that monks would often inscribe curses against people who would steal or damage them. Not a bad idea, really. Here’s a great example:

This book belongs to S. Maximin at his monastery of Micy, which abbat Peter caused to be written, and with his own labour corrected and punctuated, and on Holy Thursday dedicated to God and S. Maximin on the altar of S. Stephen, with this imprecation that he who should take it away from thence by what device soever, with the intention of not restoring it, should incur damnation with the traitor Judas, with Annas, Caiaphas, and Pilate. Amen.

Or this one:

May whoever destroys this title, or by gift or sale or loan or exchange or theft or by any other device knowingly alienates this book from the aforesaid Christ Church, incur in this life the malediction of Jesus Christ and of the most glorious Virgin His Mother, and of Blessed Thomas, Martyr. Should however it please Christ, who is patron of Christ Church, may his soul be saved in the Day of Judgment.

In 1212, it was decreed that curses inscribed in books were not valid, and monks were forbidden from the practice, since “to lend is enumerated among the principal works of mercy”.

Text Hexes   [Futility Closet]

Historical Figures Today

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On The Telegraph, a series of famous historical figures are re-imagined. The project was commissioned by the historical TV channel Yesterday, and gives a sense of how these people would have appeared if they were alive today. Pictured above is King Henry VIII:

Renowned for being vain and lavish, King Henry has been given white veneers and hair plugs to hide his balding head.

Known to flaunt his wealth, is now out of his voluminous puffed sleeve velvet gown and in a tailored designer black suit, wearing a sparkling diamond ring and designer watch.

Instead of the cotton shirt fastened up to the chin he now sports an unbuttoned shirt Simon Cowell style and is very much the modern day lady killer.

An avid sportsman and known for being conceited he has been slimmed down. Henry’s vanity would have ensured he would have retained the naturally muscly, rugby-player type figure he had in his youth.

Known for having spent a lot of time outdoors riding, hunting, and playing tennis, Henry VIII has also been given a tan.

Henry has exchanged his uncomfortable flat footed shoes for modern shoes with a heel.

Historical Figures for the 21st Century   [TheTelegraph]

WWII Propaganda from Persia

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If you look closely, you can see that the man sleeping on the couch has the face of Adolf Hitler, while the two snakes about his shoulders have the faces of Mussolini and Tojo. His body and clothing, however, evoke the evil ruler Zahhāk, from Ferdowsi’s Shahname, the Persian national epic. In the image above, the evil ruler is dreaming of three kings who are coming to kill him – Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin.

The piece is part of a larger series created by a British graphic designer who incorporated traditional Persian themes in an effort to win the support of the Iranian people.

The British and Soviet forces invaded Iran from the north and south between August 25 and September 8, 1941. The reason for the invasion was that after the German offensive against the Soviet Union in June, they felt threatened the Iranian petroleum resources in their management, and they also intended to transmit war material from the Persian Gulf via rail to the Soviet Union. Although Iran was neutral, the Shah had basically done the inter-war modernization of the country with German help, and he refused to expel the German advisors on British request. After the peace treaty the British deposed him and expelled him to Egypt, and raised on the throne his son Reza Pahlavi, who represented the Anglo-American policy, and declared war on Germany. Subsequently, in November 1943 opened the Tehran conference with the participation of the three above kings, with the aim of coordinating the common war efforts and to open the second, western front.

The easy defeat of the Persian army and the humiliation of the occupation hit very hard the country’s public opinion. This was acerbated by the fact that the massive British buying-up of food for the troops caused a severe famine in the occupied zone, and that, on the principle of “divide and conquer”, both occupying forces excited the ethnic minorities living under their power against the Persian rule. All this is described in detail in Simin Daneshvar’s Savushun (1969), the key novel of 20th-century Iran.

It is understandable therefore, that on the occasion of the Tehran conference the British saw it opportune to present the purpose of their arrival in an easily perceptible visual form to the Persian people.

Additional historical context and images here:

Book of Kings   [Poemas del Rio Wang]

Ancient Computers

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PC World has a great article about ancient computers still being used today. For example, Sparkler Filters of Conroe, Texas, uses an IBM 402 from 1948 for all of their accounting and billing tasks:

Of course, before the data goes into the 402, it must first be encoded into stacks of cards. A large IBM 029 key-punch machine–which resembles a monstrous typewriter built into a desk–handles that task.

Carl Kracklauer, whose father founded Sparkler Filters in 1927, usually types the data onto the punch cards. The company sticks with the 402 because it’s a known entity: Staffers know how to use it, and they have over 60 years of company accounting records formatted for the device.

The key punch isn’t the only massive accessory in Sparkler’s arsenal. The 402 also links to an IBM 514 Reproducing Punch, which has been broken for three years. When it works properly, the 514 spits out punched “summary cards,” which typically contain the output of the 402’s operation (such as sum totals) for later reuse. Sparkler stores all of its punched data cards–thousands and thousands of them–in stacks of boxes.

The company also possesses dozens of 402 programs in the form of IBM plugboards. Computer programming in the 1940s commonly involved arranging hundreds of individual wires in a way that would likely drive a modern software engineer insane. In the 402’s case, a spaghetti-like pattern of wires attached to hundreds of connectors on each plugboard determines the operation of the machine, and different plugboards can be pulled out and replaced as if they were interchangeable software disks. So you might insert one plugboard for handling, say, accounts receivable, and a different one for inventory management.

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It: Ancient Computers in the World Today   [PCWorld]

Children Playing on the Beach

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This photograph was taken in 1947 at Omaha Beach, Normandy.

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