(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘intellectual history

“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them”*…

 

People think of reading as the introvert’s hobby: A quiet activity for a person who likes quiet, save for the voices in their head. But in the 5,000 or so years humans have been writing, reading as we conceive it, an asocial solo activity with a book, is a relatively new form of leisure.

For centuries, Europeans who could read did so aloud. The ancient Greeks read their texts aloud. So did the monks of Europe’s dark ages. But by the 17th century, reading society in Europe had changed drastically. Text technologies, like moveable type, and the rise of vernacular writing helped usher in the practice we cherish today: taking in words without saying them aloud, letting them build a world in our heads…

Read the full story of how “The beginning of silent reading changed Westerners’ interior life.”

* Lemony Snicket [Daniel Handler], Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can’t Avoid

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As we try not to move our lips, we might gratefully recall that it was on this date in 1971 that Michael Hart, now known as the father of e-books, inaugurated Project Gutenberg, issuing the Declaration of Independence.  The service now offers over 54,000 free eBooks– epub books, free kindle books, and plain text, available to download or to read online.  Mostly classics (that are out of copyright), the collection contains much of the world’s great literature, all digitized and diligently proofread with the help of thousands of volunteers.

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Written by LW

December 1, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Even a broken clock is right twice a day”*…

 

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, as the saying goes.

Lumberjack beards, old typewriters, old-timey drinks, thick rimmed glasses, your grandmother’s knitting, fixed gear bicycles, mason jars for every occasionworkaday heritage brands, you name it – if it’s oldish, it’s in. All things vintage have now become eagerly sought after status symbols by modern-day consumers of a particular stripe, albeit with an ironic twist, under the insidious guise of counterculture coolness.

These are some of the hallmarks of today’s so-called hipster, the caricatured figure of a subculture much mocked in the media and on the internet, yet who somehow persists in having a widespread impact on popular culture and counterculture as it moves, sometimes unwillingly, into mainstream consciousness…

So if all sorts of retro symbols from the past are being revived, consumed, and regurgitated by a fast-moving hipster culture, it’s a fair question for us language obsessives to ask: is vintage language, perchance, also making a comeback?

In this decidedly unscientific investigation, the answer seems to be a resounding: mayhaps?…

Do the linguistic lambada at “More Hipster than Thou: Is Vintage Language Back in Vogue?

* Proverbial

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As we twist our tongues, we might send improving birthday greetings to Samuel Smiles; he was born on this date in 1812.  A Scottish Chartist writer of many personal improvement books, his “masterpiece,” Self-Help (1859), promoted thrift and claimed that poverty was caused largely by irresponsible habits, even as it attacked materialism and laissez-faire government.  It has been called “the bible of mid-Victorian liberalism”, and turned Smiles into a celebrity overnight.

George Bernard Shaw called Smiles “the modern Plutarch”; but, as F. A. Hayek wrote, “It is probably a misfortune that, especially in the USA, popular writers like Samuel Smiles…have defended free enterprise on the ground that it regularly rewards the deserving, and it bodes ill for the future of the market order that this seems to have become the only defense of it which is understood by the general public. That it has largely become the basis of the self-esteem of the businessman often gives him an air of self-righteousness which does not make him more popular.”

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Your correspondent is headed, as he hopes readers are, into the warm embrace of family and friends for the Holidays; thus (Roughly) Daily is going into its customary Holiday hiatus.  Regular service will resume just after the New Year.  Many thanks for checking in throughout 2015.  Have the Happiest Holidays!

 

Written by LW

December 23, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Study the past if you would define the future”*…

 

Six Degrees of Francis Bacon (SDFB) is a digital reconstruction of the early modern social network that scholars and students from all over the world will be able to collaboratively expand, revise, curate, and critique. Historians and literary critics have long studied the way that early modern people associated with each other and participated in various kinds of formal and informal groups. By data-mining existing scholarship that describes relationships between early modern persons, documents, and institutions, we have created a unified, systematized representation of the way people in early modern England were connected…

Follow the connections at Six Degrees of Francis Bacon.

* Confucius

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As we marvel at the interconnectedness of it all, we might recall that it was on this date in The Virginia Company loaded three ships with settlers, who set sail to establish Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in the Americas.  As this was the UK’s first colony, today can be considered the birthday of the British Empire.

A rendering of the initial settlement/fort at Jamestown, c. 1607

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Written by LW

December 20, 2015 at 1:01 am

“When a great genius appears in the world you may know him by this sign: that the dunces are all in confederacy against him”*…

 

Genius follows its own law of gravity. It migrates in ever greater numbers to where it thrives. Hence places like Silicon Valley – and attempts to replicate it elsewhere, like London’s Silicon Roundabout. The phenomenon is older than the microchip, of course…

Watch the centers of creative gravity migrate through Europe, from 1400 to 1950, at “The Geography of Genius.”

* Jonathan Swift (the inspiration for John Kennedy Toole)

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As we put on our sailin’ shoes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1853 that Steinway & Sons sold its first piano in the United States.  The company had been founded in March of that year by Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg, who’d started making pianos in his native Germany in 1935 (and who didn’t officially change his name to “Steinway” until 1864).  Working in a loft on Varrick Street in Manhattan, he called his first U.S. piano “Number 483” as he’d built 482 pianos before immigrating.  It was sold to a New York family for $500.  Over the next thirty years, Henry and his sons, C. F. Theodore, Charles, Henry Jr., William, and Albert, developed the modern piano; almost half of the company’s 127 patented inventions were developed during this period.

An “Original Style” Steinway piano like #483

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* Jonathan Swift

Written by LW

September 16, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Originality is nothing but judicious plagiarism”*…

 click here for dynamic zoom

Readers seemed to enjoy Simon Raper’s diagrammatic history of philosophy (see “Who’s Hume“), so may also appreciate Brendan Griffen‘s even more ambitious visual essay– a depiction of the connections between every important thinker, ever: “The Graph of Ideas.”

He fields it at two levels of detail; the first (pictured at the top of this post, with a link to a zoomable version) treats roughly 850 thinkers, clustering those most closely related and showing how each is connected.  For example:

The second treats his entire set of 4,200 thinkers; it is here (it’s a 50MB file, so takes a while to load– but it’s worth it).

Read the backstory– the method used and the iterative attempts to avoid a Western bias– here.

[TotH to CoDesign]

* Voltaire

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As we honor our ancestors, we might send carefully-scrawled birthday greetings to Nicolas-Jacques Conté; he was born on this date in 1755.  While Conté was an accomplished painter, balloonist, and army officer, he is best remembered for his contribution to the later contributions to the charts above: the invention of the modern pencil.

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Your correspondent is off for a period of deep and serious study of the smoked and fried foods of the Low Country.  Sticky fingers being the impediment to keyboarding that they are, regular service will resume in mid-August… Y’all have fun!

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