unique histories

A Cuppah

From the Smithsonian.com magazine (via   at BoingBoing) comes the unique history of what has been called “the Kleenex of paper cups,” The Dixie Cup. 

Their story starts with a Boston inventor named Lawrence Luellen, who crafted a two-piece cup made out of a blank of paper. He joined the American Water Supply Company, the brainchild of a Kansas-born Harvard dropout named Hugh Moore. The two began dispensing individual servings of water for a penny—one cent for a five-ounce cup from a tall, clumsy porcelain water cooler.

Dixie cups offer something at once refreshing and profoundly sobering, a pioneering product that ushered in the wave of single-use items—razors, aerosolized cans, pens, bottles of water and the paper cups you can find at doctor’s offices, backyard barbecues and, of course, the office water cooler.

Who doesn’t remember the drudgery of brushing ones teeth as a kid, only to realize that at the end of the ordeal, you got to swirl and spit from one of these entertaining cups? My collection varied between Disney panel comics and those with a joke- or riddle-a-cup (which my parents were oh-so patient to listen to).

Click the Image for the full article. Picture courtesy of Lawrence W. Luellen, 1912. Drinking Cup. Us Patent 1032557.

Today in History: “MONSTER OF LOCH NESS IS NOT LEGEND BUT A FACT.”

The ominous mysteriousness of a creature living in Scotland’s Loch Ness is nothing new to history. Earliest accounts of skepticism and wonder date back all the way to AD 500, where strange ‘creature-like’  illustrations were carved into standing stones around the body of water. May 2, 1933, however, marks the first modern day journalistic account (published and circulated in newsprint) of a real-life sighting of the aloof beast.

Copyright Kenneth Allen and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

We celebrate you today, Nessie, for alluding scientists, world-class hunters, divers, and everyone but those who’s honesty already has a reason to be doubted. What have you been eating all these years? McDonald’s delivery? That sweet gourmet cafe that’s only accessible through the time portal at the bottom of the Loch? I don’t blame you for staying underwater. Avoiding the paparazzi is the perfect way to stay sane when you’re so infamous.

Let your Geek Archivist flag fly!

Recently, the source code for the popular, nay INLFUENTIAL video game Prince of Persia was ‘found’ by its creator Jordan Mechner and posted on GitHub, now available for public access and use. But why is this so important? We can still play the game, remakes have been created, and very few of us would even recognize the code if we fell over it. According to Mechner, who is a programmer-not an Archivist, providing access to the original is the key to an object’s sustainability in this world of technological evolution:

[on needing an original musical score] You don’t, if all you want is to listen and enjoy the music. But to a pianist performing the piece, or a composer who wants to study it or arrange it for different instruments, the original score is valuable.

It’s possible, up to a point, to reverse-engineer new source code from a published video game, much as a capable musician can transcribe a musical score from listening to a performance. But in both cases, there’s no substitute for the original document as a direct line to the creator’s intentions and work process. As such, it has both practical and historical value, to the small subset of the game-playing/music-listening community that cares.

Just as the Archival community gradually embraces and incorporates linked data, online finding aids, and digital exhibits into their everyday workflow, they understand that maintaining the life of the original item-that very origin of idea-is essential to the longevity of any other surrogate.

Before Splinter trained those Turtles, he worked for the City

freshwater2006's Flickr via CreativeCommons use

Last week Larry Weimer wrote a great blog post for the Brooklyn Historical Society, in which he documented a major BHS processing  project: the records of the Brooklyn Bureau of Sewers (ARC.235).

Larry explains a bit about the collection and it’s benefits to the community:

The bulk of the collection consists of the documents compiled by the Bureau of Sewers principally for the purpose of establishing the tax levy to be assessed on those connecting to newly-laid sewer lines from the late 19th century to about 1960. So in addition to information about the expanding sewerage infrastructure in Brooklyn, the collection also includes documents concerning property ownership and maps showing blocks, lots, streets, and sewer paths. In short, the collection can be useful to house and neighborhood researchers.

He’s not kidding either. According to the final tallies:

…The collection holds over 50 feet of documents sprawling across 109 oversize manuscript boxes, record cartons and flat boxes. The variety of material and the changes in sewerage administrative structures over the course of a century also make for a complex collection. We hope to enhance the description with a block level index to the content to make the collection more efficient to use.

The city’s history is one that may never stop evolving. The city-beneath-the-city is no exception, and provides another lifetime of research and discovery. Read more of Larry’s processing overview and/or view the collection’s on-line guide!

Dirty Digits: [Research] Done Dirt Cheap

Fig. 1. Canon page from a missal (fol. 149v), showing damage where the priest repeatedly kissed it. Missal of the Haarlem Linen Weavers Guild, North Holland (Haarlem?), ca. 1400-10, tempera and gold on vellum, 349 x 270 (265 x 179) mm, 2 columns, 32 lines, littera textualis, Latin. Haarlem, Stadsbibliotheek, Ms. 184 C 2 (Photo: Byvanck archive; artwork in the public domain).

I have a copy of Geek Love that I would need a few extra hands to count its re-reads. Notes and exclamation marks in the margins, dog-eared pages, and a covers that are holding on for dear life. This, in a world of modern mass-publishing is my way of showing my love to a book. In a time when book manufacturing was both costly and time-prohibitive, books were treated as precious items. How can we tell, in a time when biblio-respect was close to that of religious piety, how/which books were loved the most? The University of St. Andrews, Scotland, has a few ideas:

A new technique invented by Dr Kathryn Rudy, lecturer in the School of Art History at the University of St Andrews, can measure which pages in mediaeval manuscripts are the dirtiest, and therefore, the most read.

Thanks to Eric White via EX-LIBRIS for the heads up!

And thanks to Klaus Graf for the following external scholarly links!

1. http://www.jhna.org/index.php/past-issues/volume-2-issue-1-2/129-dirty-books via http://archiv.twoday.net/stories/97001250/

A humorous ode to marginalia

© Copyright Ashley Dace and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Proof that even the most stoic, dedicated, and devoted proponents of bibliohistory and preservation were still allowed to gripe. Call them historical ‘status updates’ if you will.

Oh, My Hand: Complaints Medieval Monks Scribbled in the Margins of Illuminated Manuscripts

by , via BrainPickings

Maria also suggests this Tumblr site for more delightful contemporary marginalia immersion!

Turing archives finally find a home

This is a Tuesday, June 25, 2002 file picture, showing a four-rotor Enigma machine, right, once used by the crews of German U-boats in World War II to send coded messages, which British World War II code-breaker mathematician Alan Turing, was instrumental in breaking, and which is widely thought to have been a turning point in the war. AP Photo/Alex Dorgan Ross. By: Jill Lawless, Associated Press

Although Alan Turing is celebrated for his contributions to code creation and translation, his personal relationship with Britain was not always as favorable. Finally his papers, which recently went untouched at auction, have found a new home thanks to aid from the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

Art Daily has more on the acquisition.