What The Lost Generation Read

Sylvia Beach and Shakespeare and Co Paris 1936

Shakespeare and Company is a legendary bookstore located in the heart of Paris. It was founded by Sylvia Beach in 1919 and during the 1920s and 1930s, was the hub of a generation of legendary “expatriate” writers in Paris, known as “The Lost Generation”. This generation was depicted in the fictional Woody Allen movie “Midnight In Paris”. Shakespeare and Company came to prominence for this set of writers because she published James Joyce’s “Ulysses” in 1922.

Similar to other recent efforts from major museums around the world, Princeton University is taking the full collection of Beach’s Papers and digitizing them, opening up a fascinating window into the operations of Shakespeare and Company that includes the membership rolls of Shakespeare’s lending library. These records detail the books and literature that some of the most legendary authors themselves borrowed from the this iconic bookstore.

Through a large-scale digitization project of the Sylvia Beach papers at Princeton, the Shakespeare and Company Project will “recreate the world of the Lost Generation. The Project details what members of the lending library read and where they lived, and how expatriate life changed between the end of World War I and the German Occupation of France.” During the thirties, Beach began to cater more to French-speaking intellectuals. Among later logbooks we’ll find the names Aimé Césaire, Jacques Lacan, and Simone de Beauvoir. Beach closed the store for good in 1941, the story goes, rather than sell a Nazi officer a copy of Finnegans Wake.

Princeton’s “trove of materials reveals, among other things,” writes Lithub, “the reading preferences of some of the 20th century’s most famous writers,” it’s true. But not only are there many famous names; the library logs also record “less famous but no less interesting figures, too, from a respected French physicist to the woman who started the musicology program at the University of California.” Shakespeare and Company became the place to go for thousands of French and expat patrons in Paris during some of the city’s most legendarily literary years.

Josh Jones, Open Culture

This is such a unique window into the minds of some of the most influential people of that era (and history) and the types of literary work that influenced them. It is as well a view into a diverse cross section of individuals from around the world who were members of the Shakespeare Lending Library, many whom were not as famous. Not only can you see what books and literature they checked out of Shakespeare, but it also details where the thousands of members lived over the years that they were part of the Lending Library membership rolls.

Hemingway with Sylvia Beach (to his right). Photo: Collection Lausat/Keyston-France/Cam

For example, the Ernest Hemingway profile page details where he lived in Paris (three places including 6 rue Férou, 113 rue Notre Dame de Champs, and 69 rue Froidevaux) as well where he lived as Spain, Switzerland and Cuba. It details when he was a member (off and on between 1921 and 1938). Then, we get to the good stuff, as it also details what books Hemingway checked out, and we have to assume, he read. They include works by William Butler Yeats, Gertrude Stein, Upton Sinclair, George Orwell, and Eugene O’Neill to name a few. He even bought some of his own work from Shakespeare, which somehow seems ‘on brand’.

Hemingway’s “Lending Library” card from 1926-27

Other famous folks that were members include James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Just a tantalizing snapshot into one of the most interesting periods of time in Paris and the world!

The Inmates ARE Running The Asylum

I would highly recommend subscribing to the Letters From An American newsletter published by Boston College History Professor Heather Cox Richardson. She publishes the newsletter on pretty much a daily basis and it provides a fantastically logical, fact based synopsis of the previous day’s events, drawing in both recent and long past history for context and comparison. The emails can be long – and admittedly I may skip one occasionally – however they are so well informed and so, perish the thought, based on fact.

So with that context, I found today’s email so troubling with the synopsis that she brought to bear. As we all know, the major issue that the USA has been grappling with has been the amount of resources and medical supplies that our healthcare system so critically needs to fight COVID-19. To that end:

A report from Representative Katie Porter (D-CA) has documented that as late as March 2, the administration was urging American businesses to take advantage of the booming market to export such supplies to other countries. If Trump had invoked the Defense Production Act, he could have kept masks, ventilators, and PPEs at home. Porter’s office examined export records to show that in February 2020, “the value of U.S. mask exports to China was 1094% higher than the 2019 monthly average.”

Even more disturbing are investigations into what is happening to the supplies hospitals and states are ordering. In the absence of federal masks, PPEs, ventilators, and so on, the president urged states to get what they needed themselves. They have bought supplies on the open market, only to have the federal government confiscate them.

Just so we’re clear here, the Federal Government of the United States has been confiscating desperately needed medical supplies that the states, which make up our country, need in order to fight and manage this virus. Let that sink in for a second. Sounds like something out of a Russian novel to me. She continues (emphasis mine):

While state and hospital officials from New Jersey, Colorado, Kentucky, and Massachusetts have all gone on record accusing federal authorities of confiscating supplies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency denies it is taking shipments. Vice President Mike Pence told governors on Monday that the administration is simply redirecting supplies to areas that need them most. “We have the visibility on medical supplies that are moving into this country and available to vendors in this country,” he said.

But, as Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo, who is on this story, reports, officials will not share the formula by which they are making those decisions. More and more stories are emerging that allege that the supplies are being redistributed by Jared Kushner or Trump based on political partisanship. Trump friends get supplies; others don’t. It seems likely that at least some of the confusion is simply poor management and people see a conspiracy in the chaos. But the suggestion that leading administration officials are trying to create political capital out of this crisis seems in keeping with their usual patterns.

It would also explain that bizarre exchange between Jared Kushner and a reporter, when Kushner said, “The notion of the federal stockpile is that it’s supposed to be our stockpile. It’s not supposed to be the states’ stockpiles that they then use.” When CBS News reporter Weijia Jiang later asked Trump what Kushner meant by “our stockpile,” Trump said it was a “gotcha” question. “You know what ‘our’ means? United States of America,” he said. “We take that – ‘our’ – and we distribute it to the states.” “[W]e need it for the federal government,” Trump said. “To keep for our country because the federal government needs it too, not just the states.” “It’s such a basic and simple question and you try and make it sound so bad,” he added. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”

What exactly did Super Jared mean by “our stockpile”? That is such a revealing and insanely damaging statement. Clearly this statement exposes that Super Jared, and by default the whole of 45’s administration, appears to be operating with the per-view that they are a dictatorship (People have said for so long that 45 thinks he’s a king instead of an elected official) right out of the monarchies of the middle ages, where only those who were in ‘the King’s’ favor would receive benefits. 45 even admitted as much when he chastised the Governor of Michigan for not ‘showing appreciation’ for him and ‘the work’ the Federal Government was doing for them (which is utterly laughable, but that’s a whole other rant). The Federal Government works for the people of the country and the states. The states are semi-autonomous yet they collectively make up our whole country. So if ‘our stockpile’ is not allocated to be used by ‘our’ states, who exactly are they earmarked for?

To this administration, the number of deaths are just that…numbers. There is zero empathy coming out of the White House these days, and that is why it is so great to see true leaders like Gavin Newsom (D-CA), Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) and Mike DeWine (R- Ohio) stand up for the good of their citizens and for the good of the country.

More Digitally Enhanced Videos From The Turn of 19th Century

I am completely fascinated by the efforts of the Polish firm Neural Love to to restore old, choppy grainy movies from the 1890s-1910’s using neural network technology. The end results are just amazing, especially those that are taken in some of our major cities, such as the one below from Paris. It is especially poignant when you compare it to Claude Lelouch’s “Rendezvous” and to the fact that Notre Dame went up in flames about a year ago.

Another restored video that I find interesting is the one below of miners and laborers from the United Kingdom. This video, originally filmed around 1901, was originally part of an 2013 exhibit at London’s Tate Britain museum about L.S. Lowry’s art. The connection is that the video below as taken at Pendlebury, just outside of Manchester, and Lowry’s had moved there in 1912.

As I’ve said before, the quality of the restored videos bring out so much rich detail and they feel like they could have been taken last week with a bunch of actors playing the parts. Just a wonderfully restored lens into life 120+ years ago that make you wonder who the people in the video were and what became of their lives.

Know Your History

An article in The New Yorker caught my eye, describing how US universities have seen a noticeable decline in History majors over the past decade or so, give or take. The primary research supporting the article is from the American Historical Association and Professor Ben Schmidt of Northwestern, who found that comparing the class from 2008 and the dawn of the “Great Recession” to 2017 graduating class, the number of students across US universities declaring a History major has fallen by 33%. The impact of the economic downturn on families across the country made college aged students reassess their academic choices since they were living directly with the impacts of the brutal 2008-09 economic downturn. They essentially felt that pursuing more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) related pursuits would provide them more opportunity in the future.

And taking a longer view of the trend, the decline is even more pronounced as you can see in the graph below, also from Professor Schmidt. The graph may be skewed slightly because the amount of people getting college degrees has expanded a lot over the past 30 years, as has the percentage of international students who generally are more likely to pursuing STEM related pursuits. Even with that to consider, the decline is substantial.

Interestingly, a significant driver of this long term trend is the rapid growth over the same period of women on college campuses, where they now represent around 57% of all college students. Women have never had a huge percentage of History majors and that presence has declined consistently over the past 30 or so years as they too have pursued majors outside of the humanities.

The irony and interesting implied side effect of this trend is its impact on the broader population and their ability to consider what we are experiencing in our broader societal and political discourse compared to what has happened in years past.

“Yes, we have a responsibility to train for the world of employment, but are we educating for life, and without historical knowledge you are not ready for life,” [Yale Professor David] Blight told me. As our political discourse is increasingly dominated by sources who care nothing for truth or credibility, we come closer and closer to the situation that Walter Lippmann warned about a century ago, in his seminal “Liberty and the News.” “Men who have lost their grip upon the relevant facts of their environment are the inevitable victims of agitation and propaganda. The quack, the charlatan, the jingo . . . can flourish only where the audience is deprived of independent access to information,” he wrote. A nation whose citizens have no knowledge of history is asking to be led by quacks, charlatans, and jingos. As he has proved ever since he rode to political prominence on the lie of Barack Obama’s birthplace, Trump is all three. And, without more history majors, we are doomed to repeat him.

The New Yorker

I was/am a History major as an undergraduate at Syracuse University many moons ago. I am proud that my daughter will be starting college next year and she will be pursuing a degree in History. History has, and will continue to be, a very important element of my family’s experience and discourse. And as we continue to experience the rapidly escalating challenge on what is the truth in our society, the lack of understanding by the proletariat population on what has caused us to get to this point in our nation’s collective History will only accelerate the constant death spiral we seem to be riding.

There are people and talking heads that seem to claim we are in a “new normal” with new technology and new methods of communication that should not be compared to experiences of the past. I call ‘bs’ on that. Society in the US and the world has had to deal with disruptive innovation and technology for as long as we have been a going concern as a country, and even before that. Radio changed the game in the 1930s, television changed the game even more in the 1950s and really hit its stride disrupting the ‘world order’ in the 1970s during the Vietnam War and, wait for it, Watergate.

Studying History and appreciating the path that people and society have led to get to where they are today is something that all people should study at one point in their life. Looking back at certain periods of time (e.g. the 1960s), at certain circumstances (e.g. How George Washington’s decision to cross the Delaware when he did changed the fate of the United States), or at unanticipated situations (e.g. how the country’s path changed with Kennedy’s assassination in 1963) and how they impacted life and society will provide everyone with a sense of perspective that is immensely valuable during times like we are in today.

Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.

George Santayana

The Book of Kells. Digitized.

From my ancestral homeland, the Book of Kells is now digitized for your browsing pleasure (link may take a sec to load up – big, robust images) courtesy of the Trinity College online collection

The ancient masterpiece is a stunning example of Hiberno-Saxon style, thought to have been composed on the Scottish island of Iona in 806, then transferred to the monastery of Kells in County Meath after a Viking raid (a story told in the marvelous animated film The Secret of Kells). Consisting mainly of copies of the four gospels, as well as indexes called canon tables, the manuscript is believed to have been made primarily for display, not reading aloud, which is why “the images are elaborate and detailed while the text is carelessly copied with entire words missing or long passages being repeated.

I was over in Dublin last April and absolutely fell in love with Ireland and Dublin. Through a mix up, I unfortunately did not see the Book of Kells in person at Trinity College Dublin. So I guess that just means I need to go back to Dublin to see them for real.

Toys In the Attic

A collection of around 700 baseball cards dating back to 1910 were recently found in an attic in Ohio. The cards included a perfect set of E98 (the name of the card series) from around 1910 and a Honus Wagner card that was graded mint. The unique element of this find was the near pristine condition of all of the cards.

The best of the bunch was sold in three lots — one, which sold for $286,800, was a nearly complete E98 set, the name of the the series the cards were issued under, and another was a Honus Wagner card that was judged to be in perfect condition by Professional Sports Authenticator, a company that grades cards on a 1-to-10 scale based of their condition. It brought $239,000.

Karl Kissner, who unearthed the cards in February in the town of Defiance with [Karla} Hench, his cousin, said they belonged to their grandfather, Carl Hench, who died in the 1940s. They think he gave away the cards at his meat market and stashed the extras in his attic and forgot about them. One of Hench’s daughters kept the house until she died last October, leaving everything inside to her 20 nieces and nephews.

The cards were auctioned off Thursday evening during the National Sports Collectors Convention being held in Baltimore, MD.

via ESPN.

Save Tatooine

Lars Homestead on Tatooine

Mark Dermul, a big time Star Wars fan, has been taking the lead over the past few years in an effort to restore the Lars Homestead and other sites (including one of my favorites, the Moss Eisley Cantina) in Tunisia that were used to film the original Star Wars: A New Hope in 1979. Over the years, the sites have fallen into dis-repair so Mr. Dermul and other volunteers from around the world have baned together to fix these sites.

More about the project can be found at the Save Lars site.

via Green Prophet.

The Great Escape

Steve McQueen in The Great Escape

This story and the movie of the same name is one that still peaks my interest. Today’s NY Times listed the obit of the World War II veteran Alex Cassie from Britain’s Royal Air Force. He was an unassuming hero in a (IMHO) very under-appreciated element of World War II.

It was on the moonless night of March 24 and 25, 1944, that 76 Allied prisoners of war, most of them British, clambered down a 30-foot shaft and crawled through a 340-foot-long tunnel below the supposedly escape-proof Stalag Luft III camp in eastern Germany the daring breakout that was celebrated in the classic 1963 movie ‘The Great Escape’.

In their pockets, the escapees carried what looked like officially stamped documents, identification cards, business cards and even letters written in German from purported wives and sweethearts, all of which were intended to make it possible for them to befuddle a hapless guard or police officer stopping them on their way to freedom.

Flight Lt. Alex Cassie, a British bomber pilot, was one of a half-dozen artists who had been forging those documents for months, playing a central role in the larger conspiracy to free hundreds of the nearly 1,000 airmen in the camp. They called their unit Dean and Dawson, after a well-known London travel agency.

Mr. Cassie created many of the falsified documents, papers and assets that the 76 escapees used to help them escape Nazi Germany. He and his fellow POW used great ingenuity and inventiveness in planning out their task. They used paper from the nicest book bindings for the passport and identification cards. They got ink, photos and information by bribing the German guards with cigarettes. More broadly, they used planks from their beds as support beams for their tunnels, and used the heels of boots as stamps for the forged paperwork.

The 1963 movie “The Great Escape” was a loosely accurate description of this event, with the typical Hollywood flair. Its funny to read the less than kind 1963 review of the movie which today is considered a classic.

Ironically, while his fellow POW’s shimmied their way through the tunnel that evening, Mr. Cassie stayed behind because he was claustrophobic and could not handle the tight enclosure of the long tunnel to freedom. His decision to stay ended up working to his favor as 73 of the 76 escapees were captured and 50 of them were subsequently executed by the Germans.

Summer Vacation?

PJ O’Rourke over at the WSJ vents his case against “summer vacation”:

Supposedly, summer vacation happens because that’s when the kids are home from school, although having the kids home from school is no vacation. And supposedly the kids are home from school because of some vestigial throwback to our agricultural past.

This is nonsense. The little helping hands of farm children were needed during spring planting and fall harvest. (And they must have been more helpful than the little hands of today’s children, or our grandparents would have died of starvation.) Farm kids, if they went to school at all, went in midsummer and midwinter, when nothing much was doing around the barn.

Summer vacation is, in fact, based on horse crap. American urbanization predated the automobile. Horses and what they leave behind them clogged cities that were already insalubrious from coal smoke, industry and notional sewage systems. Come summer, it was vacation time because “if you had any sense, common or olfactory, you vacated.”

I have to say, I love having the kids home from school but wow, it is a lot of work to keep them occupied and not at each other’s throats.

via the Wall St. Journal

Jefferson’s Library Books

A significant collection of Thomas Jefferson’s library has been discovered at Washington University of St. Louis Library.

Those books were dispersed after Jefferson’s heirs reluctantly decided to sell them at auction in 1829 to pay off Jefferson’s debts; auction catalogs survive, but not a record of who bought the books. The retirement collection is the least known of Jefferson’s libraries and one in which classics were represented in disproportionately greater numbers than politics and the law. He cataloged all 1,600 books according to “the faculties of the human mind, like memory, reason and imagination, and then classified them further. Many were in French or Italian.

“Currently Monticello and the University of Virginia have the largest concentrations of books from the retirement library, said Kevin J. Hayes, an English professor at the University of Central Oklahoma and the author of The Road to Monticello: The Life and Mind of Thomas Jefferson. This new find would put Washington University among them. The question I would like to answer is: Do they contain any marginalia? Sometimes Jefferson wrote in his books; his marginalia would enhance both the scholarly and the cultural value of the books immeasurably.

A total of about 28 titles in 74 volumes were found in the library. Not to be snarky, but isn’t the role of the library to catalog and know what books are in their collection? A great find but kinda surprising that they have never been discovered until now. Just makes you wonder what other hidden treasures are out there in plain sight?

I was down at Monticello back in November with my family. The existing collection of books in the home’s library was pretty amazing and really reinforced Jefferson’s obsession with books, reading and learning. I look forward to hearing what interesting insights and details are discovered after researchers have had the chance to look through the collection

via NYTimes.com

Have A Coke And A Smile

The folks at This American Life appear to have stumbled upon the original recipe for Coca Cola. What I want to know is their motivation and resources to dig up the original 1979 article from the Atlanta Journal Constitution that they used as the basis for the story.

Who knows how legit this is. Of course, Coke is denying everything and saying its not the “go to market” formula for the iconic soft drink.

Audio History

As stunning as it may seem, we are in the 10th anniversary year of Sept. 11, 2001. And as part of the acknowledgement of this somber anniversary, Brooklyn startup Broadcastr will partner with the National Sept 11 Memorial Museum to publish an audio history of that fateful day:

As part of Broadcastr’s debut next month, it will host over 2,000 interviews with eye witnesses and first responders about their experiences on September 11th, 2001. About a week after the site goes public, Broadcastr will offer both iPhone and Android versions of an app that will be able to associate geolocation data with uploaded stories.

via swtched

Twitter as History

Twitter is making all of its content – all 55 million daily tweets – available to the Library of Congress so that all tweets can be part of recorded history.

The library reached out to the company a few months ago about adding Twitter’s content to the national archives, said Matt Raymond, the library’s director of communications. He cited Twitter’s “immense impact on culture and history” like its use as a vital communications tool by political dissidents in Iran and Barack Obama’s turning to Twitter to declare victory in the 2008 election.

So look out folks, twenty years from now, your kids could be researching a paper about life in the first decade of the millenium and stumble upon some of your more interesting posts.

Retro

Building on the Retro craze for all your lounge lizards out there, RetroModern.com is a neat site that has lots of mod-retro furniture and accessories.

A neat trend marketing site is Trendsetters, where I found the above retro-mod site, which is written by Michael Tchong, the former editor and publisher of Iconocast and “The Jacobyte” column, which I desperately miss!!