(Image: Informal close-up photo of Blanche Stuart Scott circa 1960; Scott was a pioneer aviatrix of the 1910s and was the only woman taught to fly by Glenn Curtiss. She was also the first U.S. woman to fly solo. Photographer unknown; released on Flickr by the Smithsonian Institution.)

The Smithsonian just released 6,288 images that appear to be in the public domain; they’re now available on Flickr. And they’re pretty damn cool — there are images grouped in categories ranging from Muybridge cyanotypes to uniforms, mining to structures, and a whole lot more.

Gosh, these Internets: There’s really something to ’em. In addition to the dizzying array of historoporn, a letter from public.resource.org outlines three goals related to making the images available:

  1. The unwieldy archive of low-resolution images on the Smithsonian site makes it hard for people to ascertain the public domain status of the vast majority of these images. By placing the database on sites such as Flickr and in convenient-to-examine PDF and tarball formats, we hope that the Internet commnunity is able to form a better judgement.
  2. Some images are clearly in the public domain and of immense public importance. For these images, our nonprofit organization is attempting to systematically purchase these images and place them on the net for use without restriction.
  3. We would like to see the Smithsonian adopt a policy for on-line distribution that is much more closely aligned to their mission, focusing on vastly increasing the store of public domain materials available on the Internet.

Here here!

Yup, New York’s guv was caught on a federal wiretap soliciting a prostitute. Prospect of me getting any work done this afternoon? About as good as Spitzer getting off scott-free. Everybody’s talking about it, and I don’t have much to add to the discussion, so, without further ado, books about prostitution for your scholarly edification:

An excerpt from the latter …

Passing now to the fourth of this vice we find prostitution in a most repulsive form, the women themselves diseased and dirty the houses redolent of bad rum.

Poor-quality booze! Say it isn’t so!

A piece by Salman Rushdie, “The Shelter of the World,” ran in last week’s New Yorker, and while I didn’t find the story (a tale of Emperor Akbar and maybe-real, maybe-imaginary wife Jodha) as gripping as I have some of his work, one passage jumped out at me:

“The court was also full of foreigners, pomaded exotics, weather-beaten merchants, narrow-faced priests from the West, boasting in ugly, undesirable tongues about the majesty of their lands, their gods, their kings. When the Emperor showed her the pictures of their mountains and valleys they’d brought with them, she thought of the Himalayas and of Kashmir and laughed at the foreigners’ paltry approximations of natural beauty, their vaals and aalps, half-words to describe half-things. Their kings were savages, and they had nailed their god to a tree. What did she want with people as ridiculous as that?

They came in search of—what, exactly? Nothing of use. If they had possessed any wisdom, the inutility of their journeying would have been obvious to them. Travel was pointless. It removed you from the place in which you had a meaning, and to which you gave meaning in return by dedicating your life to it, and spirited you away into fairlylands where you were, and looked, frankly absurd.

Not sure whether it’s happenstance or by calculation, but Rushdie’s not the only person who’s got something to say about the erstwhile emperor. Jodhaa Akbar, a Bollywood flick billed as “a sixteenth-century love story about a marriage of alliance that gave birth to true love between a great Mughal emperor, Akbar, and a Rajput princess, Jodhaa,” debuted on February 15 and has been in the news ever since, not least because its historical accuracy has been called into question. The Times gave it a fairly good review, but people in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Sonepat, and Ambala will have to wait for pirated VCDs of Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Cecil B. DeMille-esque grasp of cinematic grandeur.

The Times of India offers a fairly good precis of recent controversies related to Bollywood releases; the Hindustan Times also chimes in with analysis of the phenomenon.

Mass hysteria, the making of a mountain out of a molehill? Or a microcosm of a deep sense of unrest about (historical and contemporary) identity in India? I can’t say that I have any answers, or even insight. But Bollywood — and artistic expression, disciplined studies or street-level outpourings — does, however, seem like an important vehicle for understanding the subcontinent; I certainly find it, and the way people in the middle class interact with it, more enlightening than figures from the World Bank about the economy’s growth.

Additional links:
Bollywood literacy for the 1990s and today, a Berkeley course coordinated by Leena Kamat and Katherine Good
Hindi cinema: making meaning of a popular culture
Desi critics
Queering Bollywood
Bollywood as India’s cultural ambassador
Bollywood for the skeptical
Upperstall: a better view of Indian cinema
Bollywood fashion police
BollySpace 2.0
Beth loves Bollywood

She knew as soon as she found the yellow legal pad etched with his erratic hand that it wasn’t something she should share. But, lacking the abiding sense of self-preservation that develops only around the age of 13 or so, she settled in the garage, sifting through the boxes her father was filling—boxes he would carry off in his silver Camry to a place unknown, a place she didn’t really want to know, either.

(more…)

57.jpg 

(Image of Emperor Tughlak, taken by John Sache in the mid-19th century)

Great video presentation of historical images of India juxtaposed with current photos: LINK.

Bonus: An old favorite of mine is Kamat’s Potpourri, which has all sorts of awesomeness around the theme “India’s history, mystery, and diversity” — particularly enriching is the site’s photoblog.

Super-bonus: There’s some interesting British Raj photography on Harappa, and the site also offers cool vintage postcards, engravings, and lithographs.

… by genealogy. It happens every few months, an obsession with finding out my roots, usually quelled after a few false starts.

But today, I remembered. I remembered some details, and they led to census records, which led to yet more census records, all handwritten in entrancing, precise cursive, o’s and l’s looping across the page.

Some facts long sealed in the family vault, finally unleashed:
— My maternal great-grandfather had four sisters, one of whom was named Imelda, which seems rather avant-garde for the daughter of an Irish immigrant in the 1890s
— Contrary to anecdotal lore, it appears that my family is not quite so full-blooded German as it imagined it was: my paternal great-grandmother left from Hamburg in 1891, but she did not in fact live in the country or even speak German
— There is still much to learn: though I discovered that my paternal great-grandmother was not German, the record from the ship she crossed on lists her hometown as Kozojed, Boehmen (which is in the modern Czech Republic), but in the 1920 census, her hometown is listed as Sopron, Austria (which is in modern Hungary)

Whither the snapshot of a store in Hamburg, purportedly taken in the 1880s, emblazoned with our family name? Was the oral history I based all my colorful, childish elaborations on a false history? How do you try and unearth “truth” when no one alive has any recollection of these people, places, the smells, sights, memories? When you haven’t even talked to your own father since the halcyon days leading up to 9/11?

(These musings facilitated by the kind people at Ancestry and Genealogy.)

It’s mere happenstance that on Martin Luther King Jr. Day I am reading Lawrence Hill’s Someone Knows My Name, the fictional narrative of a slave in the eighteenth century. But it’s no surprise that I’m captivated by the absorbing story of Aminata Diallo, which Hill chronicles with a deft sensitivity I didn’t entirely expect from a middle-aged man.

The Times’ glowing review focuses on the power of language to undermine great social ills. But rather than being overtly political, the text strikes me as a testament to the importance of independent voices echoing in the night:

If I live long enough to finish this story, it will outlive me. Long after I have returned to the spirits of my ancestors, perhaps it will wait in the London Library. Sometimes I imagine the first reader to come upon my story. Could it be a girl? Perhaps a woman. A man. An Englishman. An African. One of these people will find my story and pass it along. And then, I believe, I will have lived for a reason.

Much has been written on the place of witness and testimony in creating a case for change; what is so compelling about this book (and others like it) is that it asks for nothing directly, but rather allows the narrator’s voice to ring clear as a sounding bell, audible long after the the gong is initially struck.

A side note: Anyone have suggestions for similar narratives about non-African slaves? I’m particularly interested in reading something similar about the experience of indentured servants from India in the Caribbean. Looking into reading The Counting House (David Dabydeen), Maharani’s Misery (Verene A. Shepherd), The Last English Plantation (Jan Lo Shinebourne), or Bechu (Clem Seecharan). Tips or insight?