This is why the EPA matters.

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All photographs courtesy of the DOCUMERICA collection in the  U.S National Archives Flickr.

Above: Contaminated waterways, algae blooms, dead fish, uncovered coal trains, strip mining activities, soil that won’t grow anything due to contamination, sulphur gas being emitted, oil spills…..

The EPA was created in 1970 to assess, research, and keep track of the environment in the United States. In the early 1970’s, the United States government sent out several photographers to document the state of the nation. What the photographer’s images revealed, in the early stages of the EPA, was massive contamination of water, pollution of major waterways (including the Potomac), dead and dying fish, pristine landscapes planned for strip mining, and other atrocities.

Today, 46 years later, the human impact on Earth has only become more significant. Climate change is real, as is our rapidly growing global population. The United States, which prides itself on being a global leader (as a historian I can go off on a tangent about that later…) has a duty to help lead the way to enforcement of environment protections, research to preserve our environment, develop technologies that have less of a carbon/energy footprint, and protect our natural environment as well as encourage reclamation of areas that were previously developed for such activities as mining, dumping, etc.

Thanks to the EPA, more and more of us have clean drinking water, we have preserved coast lines, deserts, Arctic regions, forests, and prairies. We have quick responses to oil spills, and those companies get investigated swiftly. We have relatively clean air in most parts of the United States, and most of us (still not all) can live without fear of contaminated soil in our gardens. (As a Montanan, our resource extraction legacy still leaves us with contaminated waterways, energy development projects that threaten our national parks, contaminated soils, garbage piles, and the like.)

If you want rivers that catch on fire, if you want irresponsible, outdated energy development (don’t get me started on coal), irresponsible reclamation if any at all, polluted air, more and more endangered species, and oil spills that don’t get immediate attention and lawsuits for those companies, let’s turn back the clock almost half a century. If not, let’s look forward and do good on this beautiful Earth we all live on.

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Current project: Evelyn Cameron

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Images via the Montana Historical Society

I am currently writing a 30 page academic paper exploring the diaries of Evelyn Cameron, a British woman who moved to a ranch outside Terry, Montana, in 1893 and lived in Montana until her death in 1928.

I am researching the first 10 years of her life in Montana- how she breaks horses, makes curry, acquires her cameras and begins to become an avid and talented photographer. This project has become deeply personal- I have grown so attached to Evelyn that I am already planning a trip to Terry this summer so I can see where she built a new life.

To try and describe Evelyn would be a difficult project. She was strong, hardworking, incredibly creative (two diary passages in 1895 are entirely in rhyming verse!), as well as patient and loving. She lived in Eastern Montana, a land prone to cruel temperatures, prairie fires, wolves, coyotes, and all sorts of challenges.

So far I have discovered that she writes in Italian and French when she wants to write some private thoughts. She often worked from 6 am to 10 pm, while managing to read quite a bit. Her husband, Ewen, often seems to be quite the grump (he was 15 years older than her, and apparently previously married), but she writes often of missing him when he makes overnight trips. Evelyn definitely did the work around the ranch- entries documenting her gathering hundreds of pounds of potatoes or spending hours repairing fences, watering animals, etc make me tired just reading them (and give Ewen a dirty look). Evelyn was very good with animals of all kinds as well. Many diary entries write of boarders at the ranch having a go at breaking stallions, to no avail, until Evelyn comes in and does the job. She and Ewen moved to Montana with the dream of sending polo ponies to England, but the travel often stressed the animals, and they were not as broken or tame as the buyers in England wanted.

Overall, reading Evelyn’s diaries has been an overwhelmingly wonderful experience. I am heavily considering turning her diaries into a thesis. Donna Lucey already published a marvelous biography of Evelyn with all her gorgeous photographs in 2000 but I am tempted to turn her diaries into a sort of lens into food habits of British expats or something (I doubt there were many homesteaders making curries or sago pudding at the time in Terry!).

 

Flickr Commons: Around the world.

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C. Ray and large jellyfish. Smithsonian Institution.

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Gezi Park, Taksim Square, Istanbul via SALTOnline

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Unicorn and bird pattern, artist uknown, Bergem Public Library

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British Library, Illustration of a Northern Pike. 

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View of Stuffed Animals Installation, cyanotype, Smithsonian Insitution

 

Acervo Museu do Senado

 Brilho da Noite by Eduardo Meira Lima via Senado The Commons

The National Galleries of Scotland

The National Galleries of Scotland, albumen print, 1860. 

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1902, torfbærinn Sölvhóll á Arnarhólstúni. Ær framan við bæinn via Reykjavik Museum of Photography

Last night I spent an evening as I often do: On my computer. However, I found myself falling deep into the Flickr Commons, a sort of collection of archives from various universities and institutions that digitized photographs, documents, postcards, you name it, and put them available for public use.

Last night alone I explored post-mortem photography (a grim Victorian thing that today is not often done), tin types, illustrations of plants, original treaties from various nations- dozens of different areas.

What I posted above are a few of my favorites. Oddly enough, many don’t post actual art collections, with the exception of the Senado Federal do Brasil, which has a massive album of some amazing modern and early modern art.  The British Library has one of the best collections of fauna (animal) sketches and illustrations I have ever seen, and I spent hours scrolling through early German, French, and English explorer’s depictions of animals from all corners of the world (early sketches of water creatures are especially interesting- sharks often look more like cats for some reason). The Smithsonian Institution has an (obviously) gigantic collection but images from one person’s diving around Antarctica were really damn spectacular.

If you’re bored (which you shouldn’t be, the world is too awesome for that) I recommend simply starting here: https://www.flickr.com/commons. Go get lost exploring what various institutions and places have collected and then made available to you. Find goofy sketches of extinct animals done by some guy with more imagination than observational skills. Explore orotypes (gold-tinted photographs) from over 100 years ago. Find yourself looking at woolly Icelandic sheep living out their days on that wonderfully bizarre island. Delve into photographs of wealthy people fabulously lounging in repose. Look at images of fantastical buildings from different time periods. Wonder how the hell an archivist delicately handles centuries old documents in acid-free cotton gloves without panicking. Begin a thought train and see where it takes you.

Or, don’t. But bookmark the link because you’ll be glad you did when your plans cancel and you’re stuck at home. Or when you voluntarily cancel your plans because being outside and around people is just too much.

Day off

 Today was my day off.

I woke up early and played with my dog, drank mint tea and ate muffins. Then I headed downtown to read on a sunny bench. I’m currently reading about 3 or 4 different books, all with very different ideas. One is Margarted Atwood’s The Robber Wife, which thus far is very much from the early 1990’s and different, if not still good. A biography of FDR has revealed that he was a ridiculous momma’s boy, but still incredibly good as a man and president (we can’t all be perfect!).  I shared my books with a spider that literally blew in on the wind, but didn’t want to hang around for whatever reason.

I wound up at the Montana Museum, where I saw Charles M. Russell’s depictions of cowboys, Native Americans, and life in Montana 120 years ago. I feel very grateful for modern furnaces and adequate clothing, as well as bug spray!

Among many of the treasures there, however, a beautiful red dress adorned with elk teeth always catches my eye. It’s such a beatiful color and elk’s teeth are smooth and symmetrical, and on the dress they are beautiful. I am not sure if they were elk ivory (elk have two ivory teeth in their mouths, per elk. They are beautiful!). I also visited the eerie creamy white bison that inhabits the second floor the Historical Society. Blue glass eyes add to the effect, making me never want to spend much time in front of the creature.

I came home and promptly fell asleep for 3 hours of odd afternoon dreams, and woke up in time to help make dinner and wish I’d done more with my day. I was going to drive to the Deerlodge Car Museum but decided that I couldn’t afford the gas (GAH) and so stayed within the town limits for the day, but nonetheless still had a lovely time!

Thesis Pieces

My current thesis topic is the comparison between various Spanish-Colonial Virgins from Cuzco and Mexico City.

I’m absolutely entranced by both of these pieces. The three pictures at the top are of the Virgin of Guadalupe enconchado piece (enconchado is mother-of-pearl applied directly to the canvas) by Michel Gonzalez from 1698. This style came from Japan, as the Spanish had a trading route with Japan and much of the art and furniture, although meant for Spain, ended up in Mexico!

The other three pictures are from the Virgin of Belan by a Cuzco School artist from around 1710. Obviously she is a very different depiction of the Virgin Mary- hers incorporates Incan and native symbols and styles learned and developed in Peru.

Both of these pieces are in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and I hope to see the enconchado piece! (The Virgin of Belan is not on view right now, gah!)

 

World War One and Harold Gillies

EYEBROW-GRAFT tubed-pedicle-graft-harold-gilliesThese are two images from Harold Gillies’ 1920 book “Plastic Surgery of the Face”.

I’m doing a rather greusome and graphic study on medical innovations that resulted because of World War One, and it’s painful to know that thousands of people had to suffer massive disfigurements, wounds, and other fates. Treatments were done with the aid of ether or choloform, sometimes mixed together- both were not as medically sound as they could have been, although no other options existed at the time.

Harold Gillies pioneered a lot of plastic surgery techniques to restore a realistic face to many men- he performed over 11,000 surgeries (along with the first sex change!) and his work, while not perfect and often with scarring, gave many soldiers hope that they could return to society and not feel the need to hide. He grafted cartilige, injected fat (sometimes paraffin wax), and gave men lips, eyebrows, and eyelids where they were burned off or blown off by the massive artillery or chemicals.

I’m doing this paper and every word I write makes me grateful for the medical science around me as well as feeling immense compassion for the surgeons and men who had to work under such conditions.

 

For some reason I always think the Defenestration of Prague happened on Valentine’s Day

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I literally always wake up on Valentine’s Day and imagine a bunch of Bohemian guys being tossed out of windows. The first Defenestration (de = from, fenestra = window in Latin) was actually on July 30 in 1419.

Here’s an engraving of the event- I think dudes should highlight their burly man-calves in tights and shoes with petite heels more often, no? Also, note the guy on the far left about to be tossed out- he doesn’t even look that upset.

In any case, enjoy your day, because I think I can safely say you won’t be tossed out a window!

 

 

My love for Edvard Munch intensifies.

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The Dance of Life (showing Munch accosted by Lust while Love waits and decays on either side)edvard_munch_scream

The Scream- considered a possible drawing of a human soul, inspired by a bloody sunset on a bridge, also a culmination of anxiety and fear.edvard_munch_seperation

Seperation- a lithograph where the memory of one of his lovers pervades as hair over his shoulder on the shore of his summering place in Norway, probably.edvard_munch_the_kiss

The Kiss- his response to a kiss with an early lover, all-encompassing, overwhelming, but gloriously so. munch_ashes

Ashes- Edvard often felt “used” by women, drained by them (this inspires his “Vampyr” series, where life force is taken by various lovers, particularly Tulla, an obsessive wealthy girl who stalked him all over Europe). munch_self_portrait_1895

Self Portrait with Skeleton Arm- Edvard would put fetuses, skeletons, and corpses in the borders of some of his prints, which I love.

Growing up in Kristiania, which is now Oslo, to a fiercely religious father and a sickly mother, Edvard Munch watched his family succumb to sickness, death, and insanity. His mother slowly wasted away, his best friend and dear sister Sophie died (he kept the chair she expired in for the rest of her life), and his sister Laura descended into madness and schizophrenia. His Aunt Karen, his father, and his youngest brother and sister lived on but forever in debt, living in more and more decrepit apartments.

Edvard was a master drawer, and very creative, but plagued with depression and bouts of extreme sickness. Because of his father’s religious beliefs, he from an early age recalls thinking about how he would surely perish and end up in Hell. He also never managed to escape the idea of love/intimacy with being sinful- making every relationship with women he ever had doomed.

He would starve for days to afford paint, and in the papers he was known as Norway’s most infamous artist, hated and feared. He “disgraced” his family and eventually moved between Oslo, Berlin, and Paris, borrowing money and drinking all day, creating gorgeous paintings laced with his common experiences with death, sickness, poverty, and emotional twists and turns that we could only barely portray.

Munch was a genius in how he showed his ideas- they are universally understood. Where other artists followed symbols and color ideas, Munch just painted how he felt. And it’s so easy to feel exactly that- grief, exhaustion, terror, anxiety.

The intense psychology and the influence he exerted later on the Die Brucke movement in German Expressionism has spawned some of my favorite art- free of “rules” and expectations, but uninhibited, active, and gorgeous, in oft unsettling ways.

He is the ultimate master of manipulation. I feel loss of innocence, terrible guilt and immense sadness when I look at his things.

Only a few short months until I will be in New York to stand in front of The Scream, where I am totally sure I will weep a bit- Munch’s things are so saturated, I don’t believe I could help myself (I’ve only cried in front of Guernica, Picasso’s huge canvas, and Seurat’s Bathers before. The list will grow).

Rogier van der Weyden, The Descent from the Cross

Writing a paper, studying for an exam, listening to Eurotrash, consuming Red Bull.

I leave you with a detail from The Descent from the Cross, by Flemish artist Rogier van der Weyden. This piece is in the Museo del Prado in Madrid- seeing it at the time I didn’t understand how gorgeous this painting is. Even though I’m an atheist, I can appreciate the emotion, and the haptic feelings here in this piece.

Also, look at that blue! Egads! For being painted in 1435, this work sure blows my mind.

Ciao, I’m off to write about Miriam Schapiro and feminist art!

A material Utopia: The Metropolitan Museum of Art collections

Aquamanile- Lion, c. 1400, Nuremburg

 The Lamentation, 1480, Spain

Detail of “The Hunters Enter the Woods”- Tapestry, c. 1500, Flemish

Velvet Panel, late 15th century, Italian

Standing Cup, late 16th century, Breslau, Germany

Minnekätschen, 1325-1350, German

Julius Caesar, by the workshop of Colin Nouahilher, French, 1541

Ivory casket, 14th century, French

Grisaille panel, 1240, French

Fresco on canvas, 12th century, Castile-Leon, Spain

Gold casket, 16th century, Italian

Once upon a time…

Or, in 2010, I went to New York City with my friend Exa. We took the train in from Westport where I was visiting my aunts, and went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. WHAT. A. COLLECTION. My heart literally could not stop beating super fast the entire time we were there. It was a utopia of visual delight- my eyes were drawn to every corner, ceiling and floor tile- every surface had some form of art on it. I’ve recently begun the AWESOME process of going through the collections they post online, and I spent a good couple of hours drooling over some particular things.

Please revel in the glory of  material objects! That sounds bad, but they’re too lovely to ignore.

All images from http://www.metmuseum.org

67th anniversary of Auschwitz liberation

I think that often times, my generation feels that World War II is so far away, because we couldn’t imagine ourselves letting atrocities such as Auschwitz happen. However, it’s only been 67 years.

In 2010, I visited Auschwitz, trying to get a feel for what happened there. It was controversial to go- I did not want in any way to feel like a “tourist”- this is a terrible place, where lives where lost in despicable ways. It was haunting how mathematical and efficient everything at the camp was- it was almost as though once one walked under the sign, “Arbeit macht frei” (Work will make you free), that humanity was erased.

When Hannah and I went, we weren’t prepared for how emotionally exhausted we would end up being. It was spring in Poland when we visited, and flowers were blooming on the grass in the camp. It felt eerie to see life sprouting in this place. We went through and saw photographs of all the prisoners , before they tattooed the serial numbers on their arms. Exhibits of the Zyklon-B cyanide tins they used to kill people in the “showers” were on display, as well as a massive glass case of hair- slowly turning into colorless reminders.

We made the walk along a street with cars to Birkenau, the second part of Auschwitz. Again, the out-of-body feeling came on, because we were walking down a sunny street on a place bordering a town, walking to a heinous place where unspeakable things occurred. The railroad tracks are still in place, and the barbed wire remains. Hannah and I felt so drained by the whole thing. We left Auschwitz on a small Polish bus (which was really just a van) and Hannah promptly fell asleep due to all of the things we had just seen. I stayed awake, watching the country side change into Krakow.

May we never forget.

 

Hello, Helena!

I am back in a town that hasn’t changed much since the 1950’s. Checking out the Helena history website (here) has truly showed me how little this town has changed. In many ways this is nice. It’s quite wonderful to be back home, sitting at the counter drinking some Swiss tea I brought back with me last summer. Life in small towns seems to rarely shift pace, it always just keeps going. From a small town, I bid you adieu!

History Heraldic Beast

So, I found a website all about History majors, and people make “memes” about history, being History majors, and the general woes of non-History knowing folks. The ones below are relevant and true to me.

Every time. Sometimes I do end up correcting people. Often, if you go to a museum with me, to avoid such grievous errors, you will be led around and have me as your tour guide.

Marquis de Lafayette trumps George Washington every time.

I feel physical pain. Sometimes I get super nervous watching Antiques Roadshow because I think they’re mishandling or about to drop things!

Defenestration is the act of actually throwing somebody out the window. It was coined in Prague. The citizens of Prague loved throwing officials and whoever else they despised out windows to start wars, like the Thirty Years War, among others.

Oh, Bohemia!

Seriously, it becomes super problematic for me to write down everything I read because there is SO MUCH AWESOMENESS! I usually end up reading an entire book, then realize I only needed to gather a few quotes and leave it be. Oops.

Nobody thinks it’s funny when I suggest that they might have the plague. “Well, if you get swollen lymph nodes and start sweating super bad, you can always put a dried toad on it!”…and nobody understands that it was a  medieval myth that if you put a dried toad on your sores it would cure you of the plague. Socially shunned.

Uprooting history for your capitalist ventures is pure evil.

True life. Self explanatory.

Why do I have to go out and find a scientific source to prove to you that I know the number of people Russia lost in WWII or the three elements of the triangle trade, or the year that Magellan sailed around the sea or how many offspring Joanna the Mad had?

Good try, Napoleon. Nice job with the invasion of Stalingrad, Hitler. The Russians will burn their cities and fight you from the forests before they let you take their country.

And this is how I’m spending my Sunday. Reveling in history, soaking up more dates (Battle of Hastings, anybody?) and working on Geopolitics homework.

Adieu!