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Archive for November, 2009

To those of you blaming tryptophan for your Monday morning lag,

Tomorrow, December 1, marks World AIDS Day, which seems like a good moment to point to some online resources about the history of the illness, its impact, and the art and activisim it inspired.

The Carpenter Center here at Harvard has organized an extraordinary exhibit on the art of ACT UP (that’s AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) that runs until December 23. For those outside the Cambridge area, you can see many of the powerfully confrontational posters, stickers, and postcards designed by ACT UP artist group Gran Fury online at the New York Public Library.

The Carpenter Center exhibit also includes hours and hours of testimonies from the ACT UP Oral History Project, but you can also visit their site to view excerpts and complete transcripts. Interviewees include ACT UP founder Larry Kramer, journalist Michelangelo Signorile, filmmaker Tom Kalin, and NYC artist Peter Cramer.

For a sense of how AIDS was covered by the mainstream press, check out this 1983 cover story from New York magazine, and this 1985 Time article, which hit the stands shortly after Rock Hudson’s death.

For a more visceral sense of how the queer community itself experienced the frightening and devastating spread of AIDS, I recommend watching Bill Sherwood’s astonishing and unsentimental 1986 film Parting Glances, starring a young Steve Buscemi, available for instant viewing on Netflix.

Even in the 1980s, of course, AIDS was on its way to becoming a worldwide epidemic. UCLA’s AIDS Posters collection includes health advisories from Japan (on the left) to Uganda (on the right).

For the record, at last count, the World Health Organization estimates that 33.4 million people are currently living with HIV/AIDS worldwide.

Yours sincerely,

Stephen

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Dear preemptive vacationers,

I realize there’s been a lot of food in these dispatches lately, perhaps in subconscious anticipation of Thanksgiving this Thursday. I don’t know about you, but when I think about Thanksgiving (or Turkey Day, as I’ve heard it called), I think about sweet potatoes with marshmallows, fresh roasted turkey, grandmotherly love—and that’s just the Garfield Thanksgiving special.This year my brother and sister-in-law are hosting, and rather than bake a pumpkin pie, I figured I’d bring something far more nutritious and satisfying: cultural ephemera! Even my nephew, who hasn’t started teething, can digest that!

Even in 1898, Americans had discovered the fine art of historical reenactment. The photograph below, from the Memorial Hall Museum Online, shows four women dressed in colonial garb making “Thanksgiving Pies.” The image was created for Home Life in Colonial Days by Alice Morse Earle, usually remembered for reviving interest in the colonial period.

If you’re unsure what to prepare for your own Thanksgiving feast, then best consult the amazing collection of cookbooks and home economics among Virginia Tech’s rare and digitized books. Why not take a page from Ida Follett’s Table Decorations and Delicacies: a Complete Hand-book for the Hostess, and place a stuffed turkey at the center of the table (and illustrated turkeys at the center of your plates!). Honestly, it’s only slighty tackier than the Thanksgiving “tablescape” offered by the Food Network’s Sandra Lee.

You can also search USC’s L.A. Examiner negatives archive for some truly awe-inspiring photographs from the years of 1950s abundance, like the ones below.

And last but not least, I’ve pointed you, dear readers, to the J.N. “Ding” Darling cartoon archive at U of Iowa, but not his Thanksgiving panels. Here’s one of my favorites, “The Thanksgiving turkey of our forefathers – and the Thanksgiving turkey of today.”

With thanks to you, readers,

Stephen

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To students seldom awake before ten,

Like many scholars, I’ve relied on coffee as a lifeline for most of my academic career. By senior year of high school, I was already bringing a plastic mug full of instant Maxwell House (terrible, I know) to class. In college, I even considered footnoting the local convenience store in a freshman year philosophy paper, since I owed their machine-made vanilla lattes at least as much as Kant.

My thoughts turned to coffee this week after reading a great paper-in-progress by a fellow graduate student here at Harvard. Still I wondered, where was the history of coffee on the web? Look no further than the Victorian trade card collection at Miami University in Ohio . Trade cards became popular in nineteenth century America, as a way of advertising products from soap to lawnmowers (to learn more, check out the Baker Library’s online exhibit). In the example below, Uncle Sam himself endorses one brand. The back of the card features these inspiring verses, “Take this from me my people dear / If you’d keep war away/and fill the land with peace and cheer / Do just what I shall say: / I know a beverage full of charm, / there’s magic in the cup. / To cure all ills, to keep from harm, / Drink when you dine or sup.” Sorry, Anglophiles, your Earl Grey tea won’t help you escape the traumas of sickness and strife!Other cards, while produced by coffee companies, didn’t bother to picture the product itself. Arbuckle Brothers, for instance, came up with a number of collectible series, including “sports and pastimes of all nations.”  Check out the gentlemen athletes in the image below, and the coffee instructions on the reverse.

For more coffee-related trade cards, click here. And for yet more cards of all types, check out the collections at the Brooklyn Public Library and University of Iowa.

To see where coffee advertising would go a few decades later, surf over to the always remarkable Prelinger Archives. You’ll quickly discover the theme in these Folgers ads from the 1960s: make a better cup of coffee for your husband, or he’ll be back “at the office” faster than Mad Men‘s debonair Don Draper.  Click on the images below to watch.

Yours perkily,

Stephen

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Dear lethargic readers,

It’s one of the regrets of my life thus far that I’ve never been to a county or state fair—to my knowledge, there weren’t many (or any) on Long Island where I grew up. Thanks to the Digital Library of Georgia, however, I can at least enjoy the “idea” of the state fair from my home computer. Their wonderful State Fair collection includes a short history of the annual Macon event along with dozens of photographs, like the one on the left from 1955 of a young boy at a chicken show, and the one on the right from 1935 of the ominously named Buddy Bloodworth Chicken Grill (click on images for more details).

Only one thing absent from all these photos: African Americans, who couldn’t take part in the fair until the end of segregation.

The Georgia website also includes some great links to more digital State Fair archives, including the Wisconsin State Fair Gallery from the Wisconsin Historical Society. I particularly love the photographs from the annual “Alice in Dairyland” competition. Check out, on the left, a photograph of 1962’s Alice with Miss Wisconsin and a milk-loving gentleman, and on the right, Alice of Dairyland 1951 buttering the kernels of Miss Sweet Corn Queen. Make of that what you will.

Suggestively yours,

Stephen

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Dear readers suffering from archive-related-asthma,

Allow me to introduce you today to the fabulous Europa Film Treasures, which brings together rare archival movies from 28 of the best collections across the continent. But don’t let the name fool you: you need not be a Franco-, Russo-, or Swedophile to appreciate these silents and talkies. A number of films come from American filmmakers—or parody them. French Jewish director Max Linder came to the United States to film The Three Must-Get-Theres (a broad spoof of Douglas Fairbank’s Three Musketeers) starring Linder himself  as “Dart-in-Again.” EFT’s restored digital version of the 1922 film also includes a delightful new score by Maud Nelissen.

three must get theresAlso check out one of John Ford’s earliest features, Bucking Broadway, about a Wyoming cowboy who falls for a rancher’s daughter, and heads to New York to rescue her from a villainous captor. Chaos ensues.

john fordjohn ford 2

And last but hardly least, enjoy Tulips Shall Grow, a creepy stop-motion depiction of—no, not The Fantastic Mr. Fox—the Nazi assault on the Netherlands! Not even the church escapes destruction.

tulips shall growYours cinematically,

Stephen

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To my fellow homebodies,

If you, like me, have found yourself reluctantly addicted to FOX’s high school dramedy Glee, then you know that this week’s episode shined its bemused spotlight the show’s wheelchair-riding, background singing Artie Abrams. The character has raised the ire of some disability advocates because he’s played by a nondisabled actor. But what strikes me as far more egregious than the casting is the degree of misguided, even degrading sympathy the episode points Artie’s way. When the glee club hesitates to help raise money for a bus that could accommodate Artie’s wheelchair, the director insists the students “learn a lesson” by using wheelchairs for at least three hours a day, you know, so they can understand what it’s “really” like to be disabled.

artie

This violence of viewing the disabled as “weaker” or “afflicted” is one of the central critiques of the emerging discipline of disability studies. The highlight of the episode, for me anyway, was an early sequence where Artie wheels around the high school singing Billy Idol’s “Dancin’ With Myself.” (Watch the clip for yourself here.) What makes the scene so surprisingly sublime is the way the boundary between body and apparatus blur, much in the way Petra Kuppers describes in her wonderful essay, “The Wheelchair’s Rhetoric” (you can download it here, with the kind permission of Professor Kuppers.) Artie’s joyful ability to dance within and with his wheelchair (thanks in part to stunt double and wheelchair athlete Aaron Fotheringham) begins to expose the pernicious norms inherent in the very term “disabled” and re-cast Artie as an artist, much more so than the wheelchair minstrelsy that ends the episode.

All of which I say by way of introducing a valuable resource for the digitally-inclined: The Disability History Museum. The archive includes both documents and images, like the 1933 advertisement below.

You can also read an 1863 article from Scientific American, The Great Lilliputian Wedding,” noting the marriage of the performing pair Charles S. Stratton, a.k.a. “General Tom Thumb,” and Lavinia Warren. As the author dimly advocates, “It is generally admitted, we believe, that these little people have as good a right to marry as the larger folks.”

And be sure to check out this videography of physical disabilities on film from the 1920 silent The Penalty (watch an excerpt here) to 2007’s Diving Bell and the Butterfly. And for a more political take, listen to the oral histories collected at UC Berkeley’s Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement site.

Until next time.

Sincerely yours,

Stephen

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Dear holiday lovers,

Growing up, I definitely didn’t take Veterans’ Day very seriously, except as a reason to sleep in. There were only two people in my family who ever saw a battle front—my Bronx-reared great-uncle, who was a paratrooper in the Pacific, and my Czech grandfather, who fought with the Russian army against the Nazis. The first died when I was five, and the other seldom spoke about his past. My mother, meanwhile, forbid my brother and me from playing with G.I. Joe action figures or even waterguns. So the military was pretty far from my mind as a child.

Since 2001, of course, it’s been fairly hard not to think about the military on a regular basis, whether you have a personal connection or not. And surely Veteran’s Day takes on a new meaning at a moment when America is waging war on two fronts. For today, then, I wanted to point you, dear readers, to the American Folklife Center’s (alas, not easy to navigate) Veterans History Project, which includes literally thousands of audio and video interviews with veterans from World War I to those of our present day. The 185 interviews with men and women back from Iraq and Afghanistan include soldiers such as Specialist Rosetta Tywanna Rainge Floyd from Oklahoma City; Specialist Bradley Keith Oxford from North Carolina; and Staff Sergeant Shawn Russell Stenberg, who shared the photograph below.

At the risk of sounding a cynical note on Veterans’ Day, I also feel compelled to point out a few of the commercials (and promises) that the Army has used to find new recruits. For one, check out this ad from the Reagan Era, complete with a rock song from what sounds like a Bruce Springsteen tribute band, “’cause freedom isn’t free.” Also, does anyone else vaguely remember this “Be All That You Can Be” ad from 1986? And just to round things out, here’s one from the recent Army Strong campaign. It’s nice to know that their production values have gone up, even if their recruitment standards have gone down. Who needs all those gay Arabic translators anyway?

Patriotically yours,

Stephen

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