Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Antiquity cannot be owned by any culture or any nation state.

Treasures on Trial
In Defense of Museums
That Resist the Call
To Repatriate Ancient Artifacts
April 26, 2008; Page W8

Who Owns Antiquity?
By James Cuno
Princeton University, 228 pages, $24.95

The oldest printed book known is not the magnificent Bible produced by Johannes Gutenberg in 1455 but a translation of the "Diamond Sutra," a Buddhist treatise on the illusory nature of reality. The word "sutra" means "thread" in Sanskrit but came to designate any pithy statement; the Diamond Sutra -- more accurately, the Diamond-Cutter Sutra -- was so called because the sharp facets of its aphorisms slice through the illusions of both mind and senses.
[The Elgin Marbles at the British Museum.]
The Elgin Marbles at the British Museum.

Sometime in the fourth century, when Buddhism made its way from India into China along such well-traveled routes as the Silk Road, the text was turned from its original Sanskrit into Chinese. The book, produced by wood-block printing on separate pages that were then stitched into a scroll some 16 feet long, is dated 868 A.D. Discovered in 1907 in the Mogao Caves of northwestern China by the scholar and explorer Aurel Stein, it was one of several thousand manuscripts and artworks that he deposited in museums from New Delhi to London. For more than a century now, this earliest of imprints has been one of the most prized possessions of the British Library.

The Diamond Sutra is important for the history of Buddhism in China; it is also an irreplaceable record of human spirituality in general. Should it be considered the "cultural property" of the Chinese people or does it in some sense belong to us all? The question, as James Cuno makes clear in his excellent and outspoken new study, isn't about provenance but about rightful possession. To put the matter another way: If antiquities, whether the Diamond Sutra or the Elgin Marbles, form part of what he calls "our common heritage," is it right to treat them as embodiments of some particular modern nationality, whether Chinese or Italian or Turkish?
[The sixth-century-B.C. vessel known as the Euphronios Krater, returned from the U.S. to Italy earlier this year.]
The sixth-century-B.C. vessel known as the Euphronios Krater, returned from the U.S. to Italy earlier this year.

The question may appear disingenuous. After all, Mr. Cuno is himself the director of the Art Institute of Chicago and hardly a disinterested party. And since American and European museums hold many of the most famous and priceless antiquities known -- some acquired in ways that wouldn't be allowed today -- it seems self-serving, at this late date, to invoke lofty notions of the "heritage of humanity." The real issue is ownership, legal as well as ethical. Both the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Getty Museum have in recent years ended up returning disputed antiquities, such as the Met's sixth-century-B.C. ceramic vessel known as the Euphronios Krater, to Italy. And claims continue to be made not merely over objects whose provenance is murky but over ancient artworks increasingly seen as the inalienable "cultural property" of a nation.

Mr. Cuno minces no words. In his view, "antiquity cannot be owned." By setting the stringent cultural property laws of such countries as China, Italy and Turkey in historical perspective, he is able to show how contradictory, and often unjustified, such claims of ownership tend to be, driven as they are by constantly shifting political agendas.

Mr. Cuno is a passionate advocate of "the encyclopedic museum." By this he means a "museum dedicated to ideas, not ideologies, the museum of international, indeed universal aspirations." This ideal, inherited from the 18th- century Enlightenment, drives his argument throughout. Against this stand ranked nation-states, many recently constituted, whose policies favor museums governed narrowly by "nationalistic limitations."
[book cover]
• Read an excerpt from the book.

Possibly the most famous wrangling over the ownership of antiquities involves the Elgin Marbles, removed from the Parthenon in Athens between 1801 and 1805 by Thomas Bruce, the seventh Earl of Elgin and British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. Greece was then under Turkish rule and -- with the consent of the Ottoman authorities -- Elgin had the sculptures sawed from the Parthenon frieze and transported to England. Ten years later, when he fell into debt, he sold the marbles for £35,000 to Parliament, which deposited them in the British Museum, where they have remained for the past 200 years. The Greeks have passionately petitioned for their return but the British Museum has repeatedly rejected the request, refusing to lend them "even for a short period of time," in the words of Museum trustees. According to Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum: "This is where they can do the most good." Mr. Cuno shares this view.

If Mr. Cuno opposes the pressure to repatriate antiquities, which is mounting, it's not only because he espouses lofty "universalist" ideals. His own Art Institute, and museums like it, catalog, conserve and exhibit antiquities for the benefit of all. And they safeguard them for the future. The looting of the Iraqi national museum in Baghdad, which he describes in shocking detail, stands as a grim example of the alternative.

Excellent as his book is, Mr. Cuno makes some surprising factual errors, especially about early Islam. Thus he calls Mu'awiya, the founder of the Umayyad Dynasty in Syria, the "fourth caliph," when in fact that office was held by 'Ali, the Prophet's son-in-law. Nor did 'Ali "challenge" Mu'awiya for the caliphate, as Mr. Cuno states; rather, Mu'awiya was the challenger. The author further describes 'Ali's supporters as the "Shia I-Ali," an impossible construction in either Arabic or Persian; the correct term is Shi'at 'Ali, or "party of 'Ali" (from which the present-day term "Shi'a" derives). The Abbasid Dynasty, which supplanted the Umayyads around 750, did not endure for two centuries, as Mr. Cuno states, but lasted a good 500 years, until obliterated by the Mongols in 1258. Sometimes he uncritically recycles the errors of others. Describing an ivory casket made in medieval Sicily by a Muslim craftsman, and now in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, he says -- following the misreading of earlier catalogers -- that the calligraphic inscription on this lovely little masterpiece reads: "May glory endure." In fact, the inscription is nothing more than a conventional formula of blessing on the owner of the casket and means "lasting honor." In Islamic belief, "glory" belongs to God alone.

No one, of course, disputes that the looting of archaeological sites or the trafficking in antiquities should be prevented. But for Mr. Cuno, the enforcement of sweeping cultural property laws, as in China (which claims all antiquities from prehistoric times to 1911, when the Qing Dynasty fell), isn't the best approach. He advocates a return to the practice of "partage," whereby archaeologists who excavate an ancient site divide their finds, according to agreed percentages, with the host country. It was through partage, for example, that the rich collections of cuneiform tablets unearthed in Iraq in the late-19th and early-20th centuries were apportioned between the University of Pennsylvania and the British and Iraqi national museums, to the ultimate advantage of the institutions and the general public.

In a final chapter, Mr. Cuno sets aside polemic to describe his first visit to the Louvre as a young man. There he was surprised to experience an unexpected kinship with vanished peoples; their artworks inspired a deep sense of wonder in him. He felt momentarily part of immemorial human endeavor. That kind of wonder may still be possible only in an "encyclopedic museum," where antiquities from all cultures are assembled to reveal the full range of human genius. As the French poet Paul Claudel wrote: "For the flight of a single butterfly the entire sky is needed."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Things You Should Know Before Boarding an “Unsinkable” Oceanliner

I was telling my husband that I wasn’t sure how to start a Titanic story, and this was his suggestion:

“Hey, this is a little-known fact… an obscure, low-budget movie was made about it in the 90s.”

So, on that note, today is the 96th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Yes, we all know about Jack and Rose and their brief-but-intense relationship aboard the ship, but which details did James Cameron get right, which did he exaggerate and what did he leave out altogether? Below are 10 things you may not know about the real Titanic. [And if that gets you in the mood to buy some Titanic merchandise, order our “Ship Happens” shirt.]
1. Iceberg Warnings

Seems like this ship was doomed. Captain Edward Smith actually changed course a little bit in response to iceberg warnings he received over wireless, but, obviously, icebergs were in the Titanic’s future anyway. Two boats, the Amerika and the Mesaba, both sent messages to the Titanic to warn the captain that despite changing course, huge icebergs were still in the ship’s path. Neither message made it from the wireless operator to the bridge. Around 11 p.m., The Californian sent word that they were stopped for the night because of the ice. Like the others, this message never left the wireless room.
2. Notable Passengers

Being the first to ride on the luxury ocean liner was a big deal – thus, some very rich and prominent people called the first-class cabins “home” 96 years ago. Just a few of the passengers included:

•Millionaire John Jacob Astor and his pregnant wife, Madeleine. They had been on their honeymoon when she became pregnant, which is why they booked tickets on the Titanic. Many legends about Astor and the Titanic are floating around, but none of them have ever been substantiated. It’s rumored that he was the one who let all of the dogs out of their kennels so that they might have a fighting chance; it’s also said that he put a woman’s hat on a younger boy so that he would be mistaken for a woman and would be able to board a lifeboat. My favorite, though, is the rumor that when the iceberg struck the ship, Astor quipped, “I asked for ice, but this is ridiculous.”

• Benjamin Guggenheim, the son of mining magnate Meyer Guggenheim and the father of museum founder and art collector Peggy Guggenheim. He was reportedly the one who said, “We’ve dressed up in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen.”

• Isidor Straus, co-owner of Macy’s department store. His wife, Ida, refused to leave his side even though she was offered a spot on a lifeboat.

• Molly Brown, who was friends with the Astors and decided to return home with them when she learned that her grandson was ill. Molly survived by boarding a lifeboat and tried to commandeer the boat when the boat’s Commander, Robert Hichens, refused to go back and pick up people in the water even though the lifeboat was only half-full.

• Dorothy Gibson, who, after Mary Pickford, was probably the best-known and highest-paid silent film actress of the day. She survived and made a film about her escape from the Titanic, even wearing the same clothes she wore on that fateful night – a white silk dress with a cardigan and polo coat. She may have been the inspiration for Rose in the 1997 movie that you may have heard of if you like little indie films.
3. The prices

Third-class passage was only about $36.25, although that was still quite a bit of money in those days, especially for a large family. Second class was about $66 and first class started at $125. The highest priced suite was $4,500, though, which was a huge amount of money – at the time, a decent house could be found for $1,000, so to spend more than four times that on temporary lodgings was pretty shocking. I suppose that’s why they called it “The Millionaire’s Suite”.
4. A close call

close call
Both J. P. Morgan (right) and Milton S. Hershey (left) had reservations on the Titanic and surely could have booked the Millionaire’s Suite. Mrs. Hershey fell ill so the Hersheys booked passage on a different ship – The Amerika. The Hershey museum displays a copy of the check Hershey wrote to the White Star Line as a deposit for his first-class room on the Titanic. The White Star Line was actually owned by J.P. Morgan, who was scheduled to be staying in his own private suite. He canceled for unknown reasons.
5. Commander Charles Lightoller

lightoller Commander Charles Lightoller was the senior-most crew to survive, but even his was a narrow escape. When water washed over the bow of the ship, Lightoller decided that he might as well jump in the water voluntarily before it took him unexpectedly. He surfaced from his dive only to be sucked back under as water flooded one of the ventilators. He was pinned to the grates until a blast of air from the ship pushed him back up to the surface. He then helped passengers cling to an overturned lifeboat until they were rescued. He continued to be a hero even after getting back to dry land - it was his testimony and recommendation that spurred safety improvements such as basing lifeboat numbers on passenger numbers (instead of the weight of the ship), 24-hour radio communications in all ships and lifeboat drills for the passengers.
6. The Titanic Curse

It doesn’t really exist, but at the time, people thought the ship was cursed from the start. The ship was supposedly assigned the number 390904. Read that backward in a mirror and it vaguely resembles the phrase “No Pope”. The Titanic was actually assigned the number 401, so there’s really no truth to the “curse” at all.
7. Rediscovery

The doomed steamliner wasn’t found until 1985, when oceanographer Robert Ballard discovered it near Newfoundland using new sonar technology. He was actually just looking for debris, not the ship itself – over the years, experts decided that debris would have been scattered over a large area as the ship sank to the bottom of the ocean. Soon after sighting debris, the crew spotted a boiler and then the hull of the ship. The biggest discovery the team made is that the ship did actually split into two parts – both American and British inquiries had determined that the ship sank as one whole piece.
Ballard and his crew didn’t take any artifacts from the ship at the time; he considered it graverobbing. Eventually, though, more than 6,000 items were recovered and put on display at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England. Many objects were also part of a traveling Titanic museum exhibit.
8. The Last Survivor

deanMillvina Dean was the youngest person on the Titanic at a mere two months old. Her parents were moving from England to Wichita, Kansas, and managed to get third-class tickets for the Titanic. They never made it to Wichita - her father didn’t survive the crash and her mother, being left with two small children, wanted to go home to England to be with her surviving family.

Strangely enough, her brother, Bertram, died on April 14, 1992, the 80th anniversary of the Titanic striking the iceberg.
9. Was the accident foretold?

Maybe Morgan Robertson was psychic. About 14 years before the Titanic sank, Robertson wrote Futility, a novel about the largest ship ever built hitting an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean on a cold April night. The ship – The Titan – sank, leaving only 13 survivors out of 3,000. The Titan was also billed as “unsinkable” and was also a British ship on its way to New York. A little spooky, no??
10. The last meal

What did all of these wealthy people dine on before going down with the ship? Well, it was quite a feast. Offerings at dinner on the night of April 14, 1912, included oysters, filet mignon, lamb with mint sauce, roast duckling, chateau potatoes, roast squab and cress, pate de foie gras, Waldorf pudding, peaches in Chartreube jelly, chocolate and vanilla eclairs and French ice cream.
Second-class passengers didn’t fare quite so well – their dinner was their choice of haddock, chicken, lamb or turkey, boiled rice, boiled potatoes, plum pudding, American ice cream, fresh fruit, biscuits and coffee.
Third-class passengers received Irish stew, stewed apricots, fresh bread and butter and tea.

Drug dealer vintage tax stamp

This "Special Tax Stamp," issued by the IRS in 1951 to a "retail dealer in opium, coca leaves, etc.," is up for auction on eBay. Starting bid is $7.95

Monday, April 14, 2008

1895 8th Grade Exam

Remember when grandparents and great-grandparents stated that they only had an 8th grade education? Well, check this out. Could any of us have passed the 8th grade in 1895?

This is the eighth-grade final exam from 1895 in Salina , Kansas , USA . It was taken from the original document on file at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina , KS , and reprinted by the Salina Journal.

8th Grade Final Exam:
Salina , KS , 1895

Grammar (Time, one hour)

1. Give nine rules for the use of capital letters.
2. Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications.
3. Define verse, stanza and paragraph
4. What are the principal parts of a verb? Give principal parts of "lie", "play", and "run."
5. Define case; illustrate each case.
6. What is punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of punctuation.
7 - 10. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

Arithmetic (Time, 65 minutes)

1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft. deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3942 lbs., what is it worth at 50cts/bushel, deducting 1050 lbs. for tare?
4. District No 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
5. Find the cost of 6720 lbs. coal at $6.00 per ton.
6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft. long at $20 per meter?
8. Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance of which is 640 rods?
10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt

U.S. History (Time, 45 minutes)

1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided
2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus .
3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
4. Show the territorial growth of the United States .
5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas .
6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.
7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton, Bell, Lincoln, Penn, and Howe?
8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, and 1865.

Orthography (Time, one hour) (Do we even know what this is???)

1. What is meant by the following: alphabet, phonetic, orthography, etymology, and syllabication.
2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?
3. What are the following, and give examples of each: trigraph, sub vocal, diphthong, cognate letters, and lingual.
4. Give four substitutes for caret 'u.' (HUH?)
5. Give two rules for spelling words with final 'e.' Name two exceptions under each rule.
6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.
7. Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word: bi-, dis-, mis-, pre-, semi-, post-, non-, inter-, mono-, and sup-.
8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: card, ball, mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fare, last.
9. Use the following correctly in sentences: cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane, vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.
10. Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication.

Geography (Time, one hour)

1 What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?
2. How do you account for the extremes of climate in Kansas ?
3. Of what use are rivers? Of what use is the ocean?
4. Describe the mountains of North America
5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia , Odessa , Denver , Manitoba , Hecla , Yukon , St. Helena, Juan Fernandez, Aspinwall and Orinoco .
6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S.
7. Name all the republics of: Europe and give the capital of each.
8. Why is the Atlantic Coast colder than the Pacific in the same latitude?
9. Describe the process by which the water of the ocean returns to the sources of rivers.
10. Describe the movements of the earth. Give the inclination of the earth.

Notice that the exam took FIVE HOURS to complete. Gives the saying "he only had an 8th grade education" a whole new meaning, doesn't it? This also shows you how poor our education system has become... and, NO! I don't have the answers

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Those Who Do Know the Past

Those Who Do Know the Past

By ADAM KIRSCH | April 2, 2008

In the sixth century, Bishop Gregory of Tours began his "Histories" with the observation, "A great many things keep happening, some of them good, some of them bad." This is, as John Burrow writes in "A History of Histories" (Knopf, 544 pages, $35), an "entirely accurate" reflection. It is also, of course, an absurd one, and it takes a certain alertness to pick up on the dry satire hidden in Mr. Burrow's bland endorsement. In his deadpan mockery, and in his choice of a pious Christian target, Mr. Burrow deliberately recalls Edward Gibbon, who is one of his heroes.
Mr. Burrow, a historian of the 18th and 19th centuries who teaches at Oxford, is the author of a short introduction to Gibbon, and in his new book he writes lovingly about the author of the "Decline and Fall." He especially admires Gibbon's famously feline treatment of the early Church — the way the man of the Enlightenment makes clear his disdain for superstition, without ever committing himself openly to atheism. "Sometimes we have a phrase," Mr. Burrow writes of "The Decline and Fall," "which, depending on the preconceptions of the reader, can be read either devoutly or skeptically." When Gibbon observes that "the laws of nature were frequently suspended for the benefit of the church," for instance, it is not immediately clear whether he is making a statement of fact, or silently laughing at those credulous enough to accept it.

So, too, with Mr. Burrow's playfully mocking account of Gregory. By the time the reader of "A History of Histories" reaches the chapter on this chronicler of an age of darkness, he has already been thoroughly exposed to the most brilliant lights of the ancient world: Herodotus, Thucydides, Livy, Tacitus. Those Greek and Roman writers not only invented the very discipline of history, they created some of its most lasting monuments; in some ways they have never been excelled. By the time Gregory came on the scene, the Roman Empire had fallen in the West, and the historian's horizons, intellectual and geographical, had shrunken pitifully. "Gregory's life and the contemporary events he records were centered on, though not entirely confined to, the Loire valley," Mr. Burrow writes. In his chronicle, as in a medieval painting, the sense of perspective has been lost: "A great many things keep happening," one after another, but there is no way to distinguish great from small, or even fact from legend.

Yet even in Gregory, Mr. Burrow helps us to recognize, the spirit of the historian remains, just as the legacy of Rome survived in fragments in the medieval monasteries. Gregory writes that his goal as a historian is "to keep alive the memory of those dead and gone, and to bring them to the notice of future generations." It is a direct (and unconscious) echo of Herodotus, the father of history, who a millennium earlier declared that he wrote "so that human achievements may not become forgotten in time."

And it is substantially the same impulse we find in historians today. E.P. Thompson's influential study "The Making of the English Working Class," published in 1963, approaches the past in a way Herodotus or Gregory could scarcely have comprehended, with its Marxist categories and its interest in history "from below." Yet when Thompson writes, "I am seeking to rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the 'obsolete' hand-loom weaver ... from the enormous condescension of posterity," he is giving his own inflection to the old promise of history: It is an artificial immortality, a stay against oblivion.

This humane understanding of history, its methods and its goals, serves Mr. Burrow as a constant guide through an enormous amount of material. In his introduction, he makes clear that he has not set out to write "the history of history," which would be a truly limitless subject. To explain all the different ways human beings have understood their past would mean invoking not just historiography but biography, literature, religion, philosophy, and science.

In writing "A History of Histories" instead, Mr. Burrow assigns himself a finite subject rather than an infinite one. Yet the breadth of knowledge and erudition Mr. Burrow displays is sufficiently astonishing. Ranging far beyond his area of scholarly expertise, he offers the reader a series of introductions to most of the major historians in the Western tradition. Each chapter combines a brief sketch of a historian's subject with remarks on his style and how he conceived of his calling. (And until the 20th century, it is always a "he.") Rather than a tightly argued thesis about what historiography is or should be, Mr. Burrow offers a leisurely tour around some of the monuments of the discipline.

Beginning at the beginning, with Herodotus and Thucydides, Mr. Burrow shows how these Greeks of the fifth century BCE invented history as a secular literary genre, distinct from the annals and king-lists of the ancient Near East. Every reader tends to become a partisan of one of these founding historians, and Mr. Burrow seems to prefer the tolerant, curious, myth-loving Herodotus to the stern, pessimistic, proto-scientific Thucydides. Mr. Burrow points out that, while Herodotus has been censured by later historians for his apparent credulity about strange peoples and customs, some of the tales he found most outlandish can now be verified. For instance, he "dismissed as incredible the story that Phoenician voyagers traveling west along the southern coast of west Africa found that they had the sun to the north of them, on their right." Not until the Portuguese repeated the journey, two thousand years later, would the truth of this observation be confirmed.

Mr. Burrow proceeds to the great historians of Rome, from Polybius, who wrote in Greek in the second century before the common era, to Ammianus Marcellinus, who lived during the waning days of the empire. After the shattering of the antique world, Mr. Burrow guides the reader through the sadly reduced histories of the Middle Ages, when powerful minds like the English monk Bede tried to stay afloat on a sea of ignorance. (Not until this point in his story does Mr. Burrow come to grips with the Bible, which emerged in the Middle Ages as the Western world's chief guide to the past.) He is good-humored enough to see the appeal even of a writer such as Geoffrey of Monmouth, who in the 1130s made up the "history" of King Arthur more or less out of whole cloth. "It is perhaps not wrong, and certainly tempting, to use the word 'hoax'" for Geoffrey's work, Mr. Burrow writes, "but whether Geoffrey was in his own mind a hoaxer seems more problematic. He was a parodist of near-genius, and a considerable imaginative writer."

It is not until the 14th century, with the dawning of the Italian Renaissance, that historiography starts to resemble the discipline we know today. The Florentine humanists' rediscovery of the Greeks, and their renewed interest in the ethos of republican Rome, inspired a new way of writing history "as a source of republican inspiration and political lessons." Machiavelli's "Discourses on Livy" turned to early Rome for instruction in the laws of statecraft, while Guicciardini's "History of Italy" brought a new level of realism and detail to the study of modern power politics. Still more important in the long run, Mr. Burrow points out, is the way the humanists' interest in the accurate understanding of ancient texts led to a new respect for the pastness of the past, and a new attention to the techniques of philology and archival research.

It is in his discussion of the 18th and 19th centuries, his own period of expertise, that Mr. Burrow is at his most enthusiastic. This was the age of Gibbon, Hume, Carlyle, and Macaulay in Britain, of Taine and Michelet in France, and of Parkman, Prescott, and Henry Adams in America. Mr. Burrow writes sympathetically about each of them, even when, as with Taine and Michelet's works on the French Revolution, they took diametrically opposite approaches. What is notable about all these writers is the way they combine modern research techniques and standards of accuracy with the ancient historians' interest in narrative, moral insight, and literary quality. Mr. Burrow clearly prefers such independent scholars to their professorial successors, for whom history became not a literary genre but a university department. He mocks the late-19th century notion that "the long history of historical writing and inquiry from Herodotus onward had reached its terminus: Clio was unveiled and holding a chair, probably in Germany."

While Mr. Burrow concludes with a respectful summary of recent trends in academic historiography, from Marxism to the Annales school, he leaves no doubt that even the most up-to-date historians do not render their predecessors obsolete. Every great historian is, rather, a permanently valid witness to human experience. Together, they form what Mr. Burrow calls "a kind of community of the dead and the living," of which he is himself a honorable member.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Origin of the Crossword Puzzle

In the 1920s, a crossword puzzle craze swept the nation that drove some people over the edge: a man shot his wife when she wouldn’t help him and another man killed himself leaving a suicide note in the form of a crossword puzzle.

Here’s the story of how crossword puzzles came to be and why it took over twenty years for The New York Times to convince itself to carry the puzzles.

Arthur Wynne was a writer for the game page of the New York World at the turn of the 19th century. One winter afternoon in 1913, while trying to think up new types of games for the newspaper’s special Christmas edition, he came up with a way to adapt the "word squares" his grandfather had taught him when he was a boy. In a word square, all of the words in the square have to read the same horizontally and vertically, like the example below.

But in the new puzzle Wynne came up with, the "across" words were different from the "down" words. It was more challenging, since there were more words to work on.

Wynne’s puzzle, which he called a "Word-Cross," debuted on Sunday December 21 as planned. And it was well-received. So many people wrote in to praise the puzzle that he put one in the paper the following Sunday and again on the third Sunday. (See if you can solve the World’s First Crossword Puzzle)
Reversal of Fortune

Four weeks after the puzzle first appeared, typesetters at the newspaper inadvertently transposed the words in the title to read "Cross-Word." For some reason, the name stuck - and so did the puzzle. When the World tried to drop it a few months later, readers were so hostile that the paper reversed itself and decided to make it a permanent feature of the puzzle page instead.

Though the puzzles were popular with readers, they were decidedly unpopular with editors. Crosswords were difficult to print and were plagued with typographical and other errors. In fact, no other newspaper wanted any part of them. So for the next 10 years, if you wanted to work on a crossword puzzle, you had to buy the World.
Enter Simon and Schuster

According to legend, in 1924 a young Columbia University graduate named Richard L. Simon went to dinner at his Aunt Wixie’s house. A World subscriber and a cross-word devotee, she asked where she could buy a book of crossword puzzles for her daughter. Simon, who was trying to break into the publishing business with college chum M. Lincoln Schuster, told her there were no such books … and then hit on the idea of publishing one himself.

The next day, he and Schuster went to the World’s offices and made a deal with the paper’s crossword puzzle editors. They would pick the newspaper’s best crossword puzzles and pay $25 apiece for the rights to publish them in a book. The pair then used all their money to print The Cross Word Puzzle Book.
Hot off the Presses

It was literally an overnight success. The World’s crossword puzzlers flocked to stores to get copies, and by the end of the year more than 300,000 crossword books had been sold.

The book turned Simon & Schuster into a major publisher. (Today it’s the largest U.S. publishing house and the second-largest publisher on earth). It also started a major craze. Crossword puzzles became a way of life in the 1920s. Newspaper started adding them to increase circulation. They inspired a Broadway hit called Games of 1925 and a hit song called "Crossword Mama, You Puzzle Me." Sales of dictionaries soared, and foot traffic in libraries increased dramatically. Clothes made with black-and-white checked fabric were the rage. The B&O Railroad put dictionaries on all of its mainline trains for crossword-crazy commuters.
Crossword Casualties

Some folks were driven over the edge by the craze. In 1924, a Chicago woman sued her husband for divorce, claiming "he was so engrossed in solving crosswords that he didn’t have time to work." The judge ordered the man to "limit himself to 3 puzzles a day and devote the rest of his time to domestic duties." In 1925, a New York Telephone Co. employee shot his wife when she wouldn’t help with a crossword puzzle. And in 1926, a Budapest man committed suicide, leaving an explanation in the form of a crossword puzzle. (No one could solve it.) Eventually, the craze died down. It took The New York Times to revive it.

Today, The New York Times crossword puzzle is considered the puzzle of choice for hardcore addicts, but that hasn’t always been true. Believe it or not, the Times resisted crosswords for more than two decades. Here’s the story of how the newspaper changed its mind.
Hard Times

By the late 1930s, the crossword puzzle boom that started in 1924 had begun to fizzle - largely because the crossword puzzles in most newspapers had become predictable. They constantly repeat boring clues like "Headgear" (hat), "Writing instrument" (pen) and "Woody plant" (tree).

But readers of The New York Times never got bored with their crossword puzzle … because the Times didn’t have one. Then, as now, the Times considered itself America’s "newspaper of record" and the guardian of journalistic standards. It scoffed at crossword puzzles as "a primitive form of mental exercise" in a1924 editorial, and refused to print them.

Eighteen years later, it was one of the last puzzle holdouts among America’s major newspapers.
All this and World War II

Still, the Times had crossword puzzle fans on its staff. Publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger is said to have loved crosswords almost as much as he hated having to buy copies of the rival New York Herald Tribune in order to get them. And as America teetered on the brink of war in the early 1940s, the mood at the paper began to change.

Less than two weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Lester Markel, the Times‘ Sunday editor, dashed off a memo to his superiors suggesting that they consider adding a puzzle to the Sunday paper. The pressures and demands of the war played heavily on his mind. "We ought to proceed with the puzzle," he wrote, "especially in view of the fact that it is possible that there will now be bleak blackout hours - or if not that, then certainly a need for relaxation of some kind of other … We ought not to try to do anything essentially different from what is now being done - except to do it better."

Markel had met with Margaret Petherbridge Farrar, senior crossword puzzle editor at Simon & Schuster, and he attached a memo from her:

The Herald Tribune runs the best puzzle page in existence so far, but they have gotten into a bit of a rut. Their big puzzle never ventures even one imaginative definition, and lacks the quality that I believe can be achieved and maintained. We could, I dare to predict, get the edge on them.

I don’t think I have to sell you on the increased demand for this kind of pastime in an increasingly worried world. You can’t think of your troubles while solving a crossword …

Getting Started

The argument worked. The Times hired Farrar away from Simon & Schuster and made her its crossword editor, a position she held until she retired in 1969. The first puzzle appeared on February 15, 1942, in the Sunday magazine section. (Weekday puzzles weren’t added until September 1950.) "The puzzle," writes Times reporter Richard Shepard, "was an instant success."

Under Margaret Farrar’s direction, the crossword "constructors" (freelance puzzle makers) developed a clever and elaborate style. Instead of giving clues like "Stinging insect" (bee) and "Bird’s home" (nest), they phrased them as "Nectar inspector" and "Nutcracker’s suite." The Times‘ clever, whimsical style almost single-handedly ushered in a crossword renaissance, as newspapers all over the U.S. followed its lead.

Today, more than 90 percent of newspapers around the world have crossword puzzles, and, according to a study by the U.S. Newspaper Advertising Bureau, 26 percent of people who read newspapers regularly attempt to solve them.
Setting the Pace

The New York Times crossword puzzle sets the standard that other puzzles follow. Here are just some of the informal (but strictly followed) "rules" that were established by the Times‘ example:

There can be no unkeyed letters - letters that appear in only one word of the puzzle. Every single letter of the puzzle must be part of both a horizontal and a vertical word.

* The black and white pattern must be "diagonally symmetrical."
* The black squares should not take up more than one-sixth of the total design.
* The puzzle shouldn’t have "dirty double-crossers" - that is, obscure words should not intersect one another.

Puzzling Facts

* The Times estimates that it takes the average puzzler half an hour to solve the 15-square-by-15-square daily puzzle, and two hours to solve the much larger Sunday puzzle.
* The Times daily puzzles are designed to get progressively harder from Monday through Saturday. The Saturday puzzle is nearly impossible for anyone but experts to solve. The Sunday puzzle is even worse. The paper figures that the weekend puzzles should be the hardest, because that’s when people have the most time to work on them.
* Constructing the crossword puzzles take a lot more time than solving them. "It takes me a day to make a Times Sunday puzzle," says Maura B. Jacobson, one of the Times‘ constructors. "I spend at least 10 or 12 hours making definitions. My research takes a day, then a day to get the words into the diagram to make them cross. But the hardest is making the definitions."
* Making a puzzle that lives up to The New York Times standards isn’t easy - Eugene Maleska, the paper’s crossword editor in 1992, estimates that there aren’t more than 600 people in the entire country skilled enough to do it. And the puzzles have to be thoroughly edited before the go to press. "I and all editors change about a third of the definitions," Maleska told reporters in 1992. "I have a notebook filled with definitions so I don’t repeat them."
* The New York Times goes to great length not to offend anyone with its puzzles. Words as innocuous as "bra" are forbidden, as are the names of illegal drugs. Words such as "ale" and "rum" are considered to be at the extreme limit of good taste - they are permitted but aren’t used often.

5 Leaders Who Spent Their Countries Into The Ground

If you’re looking for some bank-breaking works of less-than-staggering genius, look no further. Not only were these five leaders plagued by terrible ideas, they never bothered to get their money’s worth.
1. Caligula’s Bridge (Over Very Troubled Waters)

As he was going mad, the Roman emperor Caligula began spending money on increasingly bizarre and extravagant projects to satisfy his megalomaniacal whims. Among Caligula’s best efforts: constructing a three-mile pontoon bridge across the Bay of Naples by confiscating merchant ships, having their bulwarks sawed off (making them useless afterward), spreading soil over the planks, and then planting trees, shrubs, and flowers to make the bridge more pleasant. When it was done, Caligula supposedly rode his horse across the bridge at the head of 20,000 troops to prove wrong an earlier prophecy that claimed he could no more become emperor than ride across the bay. After a night of partying, Caligula left and never came back. The bridge itself was destroyed by a storm a short while later.
2. Nero’s Extreme Home Makeover

As the noted gossip Suetonius tells it, the emperor Nero decided to go Caligula one better by building an extravagant mansion for himself in burned down neighborhoods of Rome following the great fire of 64 CE. Called the Domus Aurea, or “Golden House,” because its exterior was overlaid with gold leaf and mother of pearl embedded with gems and beautiful seashells, the building was far and away the largest private residence ever seen in Rome, covering a large part of three of Rome’s seven hills. So, just how extravagant was Nero’s crib? In the entrance hall stood a 120-foot statue (of Nero); a columned arcade ran for a mile; a pool the size of a small lake was surrounded by buildings shaped like cities and fake farms; exotic animals roamed everywhere; and the ceilings were carved ivory panels that could retract to allow a rain of perfume and flowers to fall on partiers. The Roman poet Martial said of it, “One house took up the whole city of Rome.” When it was finished Nero famously said, “Good, now I can at last begin to live like a human being.”
3. Prince of Thieves (Mainly the White-Collar Variety)

Jefri Bolkiah, the brother of the sultan of Brunei, spent his small country into bankruptcy during the 1990s with a multibillion puts all the other royal contenders to shame. Clearly, Prince Jefri knew how to treat himself right, as the 300,000 citizens of Brunei found out when his purchases were put up for auction as part of bankruptcy proceedings (pictured, courtesy of the BBC). Included for sale were a golden toilet roll holder, rows of gold plated Jacuzzis and showerheads, porcelain flamingos, gold plated wastepaper baskets, a multi-million dollar marquee complex, Comanche helicopter simulators, an Airbus jet, a Formula 1 racing car, and a bronze plated eight-foot-high Trojan horse. Luxury hotels in Great Britain, France, and Singapore were also favorite purchases of Jefri. That’s not to say he hasn’t been caught with his fingers in more than a few (illegal) pies. Previously, a lawsuit had been brought against Jefri for the theft of approximately $16 billion from Brunei’s state run economic development agency. Needless to say, he didn’t develop anything profitable with the funds.
4. Versailles and Everything After

Louis XIV was one of the most extravagant kings in French history. A lot of the stuff Louis spent money on was quite respectable—as a famous patron of arts he supported literary and cultural figures like Molière, Le Brun, and Lully, and he spent a great deal of money to improve the Louvre. Of course, Louis’ most famous boondoggle was his palace at Versailles, a sprawling 700 room rococo residence on an 800-hectare estate with carefully tended gardens and woodlands about 15 miles to the southwest of Paris. In fact, Louis used so many luxurious materials—including gold leaf, crystal chandeliers and doorknobs, silk and satin window dressings, exotic hardwood furniture, ivory, mother of pearl, and precious stones—and his house contained so many famous works of art, that it’s actually impossible to calculate a modern cost equivalent. If the spending wasn’t bad enough, Louis also foolishly kicked out the Huguenots, or French Protestants, even though they provided many of the country’s leading merchants and much of its tax income. Last but not least, Louis launched an endless series of unwinnable wars that were to put the last nail in the coffin of French finances. Who knew the nickname the Sun King referred to one that was setting?
5. Empress Dowager’s Ship That Never Sailed

dowager-empress.jpgIn 1888, China had been on the ropes for a good three decades. Once an international powerhouse, the nation’s world rep had suffered greatly since its humiliating loss to Great Britain in the Opium War. Foreign technical advisors told the mandarins who set policy that China needed a modern navy along Western lines if it was going to defend itself from further European and Japanese aggression, and the mandarins duly set aside 30 million taels of silver for new, modern ships. However, the dowager empress Cixi, who had the final say, decided that the money would be better spent on reconstructing the elaborate Summer Palace, which had served as a vacation spot for the Chinese imperial family for millennia.

When advisors complained that the only ship she had purchased was a marble pleasure yacht, she noted that while it was indeed immobile, “it’s still a very nice place for a picnic.”