A Song of Fog and Smoke

Lately the mornings in Pittsburgh have been chilly and lovely with fog.  Seeing the nearby hills obscured by fog makes me wonder what it must have been like to live here when things were instead obscured by smoke from industry and coal burning.  Luckily, my favorite of digital collections, Historic Pittsburgh, has digitized images of Smoke Control Lantern Slides from the 1940’s and 1950’s, before and after smoke control ordinances were passed in Pittsburgh:

Carnegie Museum of Art Collection of Photographs, 1894-1958, Carnegie Museum of Art. http://digital.library.pitt.edu/images/pittsburgh/cma.html
Smoke Control Lantern Slide Collection, ca. 1940s-1950s, Archives Service Center, University of Pittsburgh http://digital.library.pitt.edu/images/pittsburgh/smokecontrol.html
Smoke Control Lantern Slide Collection, ca. 1940s-1950s. Archives Service Center, University of Pittsburgh. http://digital.library.pitt.edu/images/pittsburgh/smokecontrol.html

And nowadays…

Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, Polish Hill

Image from Google Street View
Image from Google Street View
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Then and Now.

The Post-Gazette has a great interactive site where you can see photos of Pittsburgh past right next to those from Pittsburgh present: http://multimedia.post-gazette.com/ThenNow/.

Photo by George Kukic

Please forgive the title of this post; I couldn’t resist. 🙂


Pittsburgh, lord god, Pittsburgh

(post title from this song)

I’ve been answering an abnormal number of reference questions about Pittsburgh history lately, especially regarding photographs of old Pittsburgh. I think there’s a class that has to find an old photo and then go to the same place in the city and take a new one. Much like what Walter C. Kidney did in his thoroughly enjoyable book, Pittsburgh Then and Now. The lovely and forever engaging (to me, at least) Historic Pittsburgh image collection is still growing, with many images having been added to the Pittsburgh City Photographer collection this year.

And then, today, I found out about how the Dallmeyer Building downtown has been restored to it’s original facade from the 1800s. There’s an interesting thread about it, and about historic building restoration in Pittsburgh, on city-data.

See also:
Pittsburgh Photographic Archive – Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania Photographic Archives
Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation
Historic Photos of Pittsburgh by Miriam Meislik
Photos & Scenes of Pittsburgh recommended by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

Hear me, watch me, read me

I got this great disco compilation for Christmas. This song is my current favorite:
Change-Angel In My Pocket
This is a break-up/independence song to rival “I Will Survive” and its bass line is excellent. Plus…is that cowbell I hear? Oh yeah.

PBS Masterpiece Classic: Downton Abbey
I like that this is set in the early 20th century. It’s good for me to change up my period piece periods once in awhile. Plus the dresses are great and not so heaving-bosom centric.

I’m excited to sift through the archives of this blog/site. I love past predictions for the future – which I guess falls under the handy name of “paleofuturism”. And the fact that there are so many vintage visuals on the site just makes it better – you get the crazy sci-fi thinking AND the retro design inspiration.


dream project!

http://retrographer.org/ – “Dane, a senior at Carnegie Mellon University studying design and human-computer interaction, has created the Retrographer Project designed to geotag historical images of Pittsburgh. “Geotagging” adds latitude and longitude data to an historical image so that its geographic location can be identified on a map.” It does seem like it still needs work, but I’m glad someone is doing this.

Not only am I mildly obsessed with Pittsburgh history,  I also recently started geocaching.  Ever since I read this book I’ve been wishing that someone would make an online version that would juxtapose Pittsburgh of today with Pittsburgh of the 1970s and the 1800s. Well, “Retrographer” seems like just the sort of thing I was imagining.

I’ve never done any “geotagging”, but I have recently become hooked on geocaching.  I think it’s fun because it gives you extra incentive to explore your city and its surroundings, and finding the caches can be tricky, and thus rewarding.  I already liked walking in the woods, now I can just find hidden treasure while I do it. And right when my bff and I started doing this, I was reading about the history of Schenley Park, my favorite park in Pittsburgh.  I immediately started imagining caches I could create that would share some of the history of the locale where the cache was hidden.  I like the thought of creating collages out of historical photographs and text, so the contents of the cache would be like a mini-artistic homage to what was.

Another recently publicized project that combines Pittsburgh history with archival material and geography is Public Record, a “multimedia documentary project that Justin Hopper [turned] into a [walking tour of downtown] you can take with your iPhone, cell phone or MP3 player” (Post-Gazette).

While I’m really into these geo-projects that make use of technology like mp3s and digital maps, I also really like the simplicity, slowness, and tactility (yes that is a word, i just found out) involved in creating a physical cache and finding a physical cache using only a GPS reader as your technology.  While it’s cool to use digital media to experience the history of places, there’s something ironic about using a form as intangibile as digital media to recapture the most ephemeral thing of all – history! I’m not implying that the creators of the aforementioned digital projects are unaware of this tension or that they’re not exploiting it (in the positive artistic sense).  I think, though, that when I create homages to history I want them to be graspable (apparently this too is a word).  I want people to be able to stand with something – even if it’s just an image – in their mittens and say “This was here, but now it’s not anymore.”

ice skating on panther hollow pond
ice skating on Panther Hollow pond in Schenley Park


So much global positioning to do, so little time.

Nice work

Lienzo de Quauhquechollan
Online exhibit and dynamic digital map created by the Universidad Francisco Marroquín. According to the site, it was “voted “Best Virtual Map Presentation” at ESRI Conference in San Diego, California” — and with good reason. I was impressed by how fluid the dynamic map navigation is, and how vibrant the images are, even when zoomed in to the max. The presentation of the map’s history and the layout of the site in general are really nice, in my opinion. And the “digital restoration swipe tool” is just cool. I was excited to be able to find something like this for a patron who was just starting to do research on the Lienzo.

I started playing this game last night. Who knew empire-building could be so relaxing?! “Eufloria is an ambient game of space exploration and conquest that employs surprising themes of plant growth and bio mechanical evolution” — and it’s loosely based on Le Petit Prince. The colors and music are wonderful, and the navigation is quite novel (at least for a newbie like me). I am hooked.

Daniel Taylor / Theatre of Early Music – Lamento
This album is really great. More eloquently:

“Taylor . . . does possess one of the most purely beautiful among current countertenor voices, and uses it with skill and poise in predominantly slow music in which reliable intonation and breath control are so important. He also enjoys the best instrumental backing overall, with the mixed violins and viols of the Theatre of Early Music offering lush, consolatory warmth and lithe rhetorical springiness as required. . . . [P]erhaps ultimately his performances are the ones which make the strongest all-round appeal to the senses.” — Lindsay Kemp, Gramophone

Historical Issues #1: the international women’s movement

WIDF publications in 6 languages

At work last week my world was illuminated by the appearance of some decrepit yet lovely issues of Women of the Whole World, the journal of the Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF). According to a UN Chronicle article on the history of the struggle for women’s rights, “the Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF), established in Paris in late 1945 with an anti-fascist, left-feminist orientation, was the third major international women’s organization involved in the UN.” In her article “From Rosie the Riveter to the Global Assembly Line:
American Women on the World Stage
“, Leila Rupp mentions that the launch of the WIDF “challenged the traditional transnational women’s organizations such as the International Council of Women, the International Alliance of Women, and the WILPF and competed with them at the United Nations over who really represented the world’s women.” For a description of the WIDF as it exists today, see this 2008 interview with the organization’s president.

Women of the Whole World was published in 6 languages (as illustrated above, in an image from the History section of the current WIDF website). My library owns issues of this journal from 1952-1990, but I only had contact with issues from 1957-1969. I was struck by the snazzy cover images; something about them just caught my eye, and I wanted to scan all of them because of how striking they are as a collection. Unfortunately I could only scan a few. Work to do, etc. The cover images of this journal form a diverse and rather artistic snapshot of women from that time period. In the 1950s the covers usually featured children, but for most of the 1960s the images are like those below. I wish these journals could be digitized. Aside from the interesting cover images (which might only be interesting to me) their content would be relevant to scholars of 20th century progressive movements, communism, international politics, and women’s history.

There are some archival collections of WIDF documents, but I don’t know how to find out if anyone has digitized them, actually. It’s possible…but is there some sort of search engine for such things (other than Google)? If libraries don’t create records for their digital collections and submit them to something like WorldCat, the only other thing I know to do is to look for subject portals or webliographies and hope I get lucky. All I found was that you can search the text of some of the issues via the HathiTrust, but full view isn’t available because of copyright. Google has some of the issues from the 1980s-90s available just with snippet view. And for some reason many of them are categorized under “Health and Fitness”. :-/

The captions below are those that were included in the original issue of the journal.

women of the world cover image no1 1960
1960: no. 1. “The new advancement of women resulting from the last fifty years of struggles and successes is admirably personified in this young chinese woman worker. Throughout the entire world women have access to or are fighting for access to every field of public, economic, and social life of their country. Their numbers are particularly great in the field of production and in this regard China has shown the most spectacular example of recent years.”

women of the world cover image no3 1960
1960: no. 3. “Ursula Blau, 23, graduate in agriculture, is the youngest deputy in the German Democratic Republic. Since 1956 she has been one of those in charge of a nationalised agricultural enterprise, and has been busy with the training of apprentices.”

women of the world cover image no3 1962
1962: no 3. “This Korean girl was a member of the folk song and dance ensemble of the Korean People’s Democratic Republic at the World Youth Festival in Moscow in 1957.”

women of the world cover image no4 1962
1962: no. 4. “Dimitra Georgesco is a leading worker of the spinning mill “Romineasca de Bumbac” in Bucharest (Rumanian People’s Republic).”

women of the world cover image no5 1963
1963: no.5. “The young actress Margit Bara, of the Hungarian People’s Republic, is part of the Budapest National Theatre troupe. She was also the star of numerous films some of which have received favourable mention in various international festivals.”

women of the world cover image no12 1963
1963:no.12. “Maria Han-Nandaundo of Angola.”

women of the world cover image no2 1964
1964: no 2. “This young Guatemalan student was part of her country’s delegation to the World Congress of Women.”

women of the world cover image no8 1964
1964: no 8. “Mrs. Lambrakis is the widow of the Greek peace fighter, Gregoris Lambrakis assassinated by fascists in May 1963. Thanking the World Peace Council when they presented her with the Gold Medal (posthumously awarded to her husband) Mrs. Lambrakis said:

‘As a wife and mother, who has suffered the terrible blow of seeing her husband assassinated, I wish to raise my voice from this great platform to people of the world, above all to every woman and mother not to stand by passively, but to play their part in the endeavours to preserve peace, so that their homes and their children, and the homes and children of all countries, may be spared the very real disaster threatening the whole world.'”

As the title of this post indicates, I might try to make a series of blog posts out of the interesting historical tidbits I will inevitably find while working with the periodicals collection. Maybe/hopefully. But not with scans every time. Because that is TIME CONSUMING.

History podcasts, and then some

Today I went in search of some podcasts to listen to while working on organizing my recipes. First I tried some British biographies from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. I listened to the mp3s for Vita Sackville-West and the legendary Sweeney Todd. While the facts in these biographies are interesting, it seems that the narrators are just reading them from a biographical dictionary; the sentences just sound like they were written for the page, though the readers are both skilled at making the texts pleasant to listen to. I thought these podcasts lacked the sort of wandering intrigue that makes many others catch my attention. Perhaps it’s just the more popular interview format that makes other podcasts more interesting for me. I also think I have a preference for historical trivia to be revealed in an order determined by something other than chronology. Nevertheless, as an auditory form of access to a reference work, the Oxford DNB podcasts are easy to peruse, and they offer insights into the lives of some people I would never learn about otherwise.

Next I discovered the archives of Talking History, a program by the Organization of American Historians. The show is now defunct, but you can still download old episodes. I listened to one about the so-called “Children’s Blizzard of 1888“. This podcast takes the form of an interview, followed by a description of digital collections you can access online that offer photographs and a chronology of blizzards in the US. Then, a rather verbose scholar opines on the fate of cities vs. the destructive tendencies of Mother Nature. I liked the format of this podcast a lot better. The potpourri was entertaining, and hearing an author interviewed about a book always leaves you the option of going out and reading the book if you want to discover more. Some other interesting topics covered in this podcast series include the social and political history of marriage, a history of women’s basketball, and what’s behind Daylight Savings Time. And those are all just from 2006!

I don’t have iTunes on any of my computers that has the internet, so I sort of delayed getting into the whole podcast thing. It took me awhile to realize no iPod was required; that “podcast” didn’t mean anything more than “mp3 file” in many cases. I know the History Channel, the Library of Congress, the BBC, NPR, and many other major news outlets offer lots of podcasts, but I thought it might be nice to mention some from perhaps lesser-traveled areas of the web. Enjoy…

The Memory Palace – short podcasts on some of the more unusual or under-reported aspects of history, presented (i think) rather poetically.
BackStory with the American History Guys – lots of great topics, very chatty format. In keeping with the blizzard theme, I listened to their episode on the history of climate control. What can I say? I am over summer.
Environmental History podcast – about human societies and the environment in the past.
12 Byzantine Rulers and Norman Centuries – two podcast series by author and speaker Lars Brownworth, who has been featured in the New York Times (just sayin).
Journal of American History podcast – interviews with scholars about their work. Only on its 7th episode, but seems promising.

…and for more on other topics, try:
Science Podcasters – a list of high-quality podcasts on various science topics, e.g. “Brain Science Podcast”, “The Nursing Show”, and “This Week in Parasitism” (not kidding).
Astronomy Cast
Library of Congress Guide to Poetry and Literature Webcasts