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the work of history
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    Erich Hartmann/Magnum Photos







    Rachel Carson
    May 27, 1907 – April 14, 1964

    The spiral shells of other snails—these quite minute—left winding tracks on the mud as they moved about in search of food. They were born shells, and when I saw them I had a nostalgic moment when I wished I might see what Audubon saw, a century and more ago. For such little horn shells were the food of the flamingo, once so numerous on this coast, and when I half closed my eyes I could almost imagine a flock of these magnificent flame birds feeding in that cove, filling it with their color. It was a mere yesterday in the life of the earth that they were there; in nature, time and space are relative matters.

    The Edge of the Sea, Rachel Carson.

    With these surface waters, through a series of delicately adjusted, interlocking relationship, the life of all parts of the sea is linked. What happens to a diatom in the upper, sunlit strata of the sea may well determine what happens to a cod lying on a ledge of some rocky canyon a hundred fathoms below, or to a bed of multicolored, gorgeously plumed seaworms carpeting an underlying shoal. or to a prawn creeping over the soft oozes of the sea floor in the blackness of mile-deep water.

    The Sea Around Us, Rachel Carson.

    An experience like that, when one’s thoughts are released to roam through the lonely spaces of the universe, can be shared… even if you don’t know the name of a single star. You can still drink in the beauty, and think and wonder at the meaning of what you see.

    The Sense of Wonder, Rachel Carson.

    The winds, the sea, and the moving tides are what they are. If there is wonder and beauty and majesty in them, science will discover these qualities. If they are not there, science cannot create them. If there is poetry in my book about the sea, it is not because I deliberately put it there, but because no one could write truthfully about the sea and leave out the poetry.

    Under the Sea Wind, Rachel Carson.

    Saint Rachel, “the nun of nature, ” as she is called, is frequently invoked in the name of one environmental cause or another, but few know much about her life and work. “People think she came out of nowhere to deliver this Jeremiad of ‘Silent Spring, ’ but she had three massive best sellers about the sea before that, ” McKibben says. “She was Jacques Cousteau before there was Jacques Cousteau.” …. Carson believed that people would protect only what they loved, so she worked to establish a “sense of wonder” about nature… to articulate sophisticated ideas about the inner workings of largely unseen things. 

    “She wanted us to understand that we were just a blip, ” says Linda Lear, author of Carson’s definitive biography, “Witness for Nature.” “The control of nature was an arrogant idea, and Carson was against human arrogance.”… “Silent Spring” was more than a study of the effects of synthetic pesticides; it was an indictment of the late 1950s. Humans, Carson argued, should not seek to dominate nature through chemistry, in the name of progress.

    “How ‘Silent Spring’ Ignited the Environmental Movement”


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    “Vital forms” are shapes inspired by nature; innovative artists and designers used them in the 1940s and 1950s to evoke living entities, ranging from amoebas and plant life to the human figure… Every period has its own visual vocabulary, which it partly borrows from the past and partly invents to meet new needs. The language of vital forms expressed the dualities of its times: the hopes and fears, the dreams and nightmares, of the middle years of the twentieth century were reflected in organic forms that were highly mutable, seemingly as changeable as life itself […]

    The gravity of the war changed the course of American art and design as well. It made 1930s American Scene painting and Regionalism, which often showed an agrarian daily life, seem naïve and nostalgic, and WPA photographs outdated. At the same time, the free-thinking Surrealist artists who came to this country from Europe to escape Hitler exerted enormous influence. In this era of international crisis, American artists and designers often used organic forms, especially the human figure, as a way of reasserting humane values.

    Public awareness of the Atomic Age began with the horrendous explosions in 1945 over Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ended the war. It was not until 1955 that atomic energy became available for peacetime uses in the United States. During this time of uncertainty, artists responded to the atomic phenomenon with powerful abstractions […]

    With the onset of the Atomic Age, disturbing, mutant forms—the result of exposure to radiation—began to appear in films and novels. Yet at the same time, the playful, positive form of the atom’s structure, with electrons circling the nucleus , also became an integral part of the period’s imagery, in art as well as in domestic products. By the mid-1950s, some Americans were optimistic about the atom’s role as a new source of energy, a replacement for coal and oil in generating electricity.

    The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union and the resulting arms race, however, fed the persistent fear of nuclear destruction. The paradox remains with us today, as we continue to struggle with how to reconcile the positive and negative aspects of atomic energy.

    (Brooklyn Museum) Vital Forms: American Art and Design in the Atomic Age, 1940-1960


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    May 30, 1941: Manolis Glezos and Apostolos Santas, members of the Greek Resistance, climb the Acropolis of Athens and tear down the swastika.

    Manolis Glezos and Apostolos Santas were both nineteen years old when Wehrmacht soldiers marched south on Macedonia in April 1941. Three weeks later, when German tanks rolled into Athens and took the city and the country, the pair hatched a stunt, involving secret tunnels and torches, in defiance of the impending occupation.

    Greek troops had beaten back Italian forces that winter, but the new German onslaught quickly overwhelmed. Optimism born of the temporary victory over the Italian campaign was extinguished. The Germans, it was clear, came bearing a long, painful night. In mid-April, facing the imminent German entrance into Athens, Prime Minister Alexandros Koryzis shot himself, and King George II and his family fled to Crete before departing for exile in Great Britain. The thin spread of Allied forces left in Greece, badly outnumbered and depleted of resources, could stave off very little before they too departed. In the aftermath of this retreat, Italy took hold of the majority of the peninsula — but the country’s vital regions, including the small center within Attica containing Athens, fell under German administration.

    Walther Wrede, director of the German Archaeological Institute at Athens and leading Nazi party representative in Greece, was tasked with welcoming the occupiers to Athens. As the Wehrmacht took Athens and draped the city in Nazi colors, as Nazi flags unfurled over balconies and doorways, Wrede wrote: “I spring to our lookout post on the upper floor. The cry: ‘Swastika over the Acropolis!’ rings through the house… and thus prepared we stand at the windows waiting for the first German soldiers.”

    When Hitler wrote to Mussolini a year later regarding the Duce’s visit to Greece, he described the Acropolis as the “place where all that we today call human culture found its beginning.” Now the Nazi war flag — red emblazoned with black swastika, bars, and Iron Cross — flew above. According to wartime folk legend, the Greek soldier on guard at the Acropolis the first day of occupation chose to leap off the rock rather than lower the Greek flag and raise the swastika overhead.

    Apostolos Santas, who died in 2011, and Manolis Glezos, who was, until his resignation in 2015, the oldest member of the European parliament as a member of SYRIZA, were first-year college students in 1941. But both already had early political experience, having participated in anti-fascist organizing against Greece’s own authoritarian government and subsequently the Italian invasion.

    Under the cover of night, the two boys, wielding a torch and a pocketknife, crept into a cave whose mouth was hidden in undergrowth at the foot of the Acropolis. Together they climbed to the top of the Acropolis and surfaced near the Erechtheion. At the summit, bathed in moonlight, as Santas later described, they paused to look upon the temples and “became emotional.”

    They then scaled the flagpole and tore the Nazi flag from its post overlooking Athens. The two scaled down, embraced and “did a quick dance,” and escaped undetected. They kept a corner of the flag, the upper left carrying the Iron Cross, and discarded the remaining scraps down a well. The missing flag — and the weight of their act — was realized the next morning. German authorities publicly condemned the theft, inadvertently publicizing the brazen stunt to a dispirited public. They sentenced the perpetrators to death, though they had no idea who they might be. They would never learn, at least during the course of the occupation.

    Both Glezos and Santas survived the death sentence, and the war and the one after it, but not unscarred. Both continued their activities with communist factions of the Resistance, and both were imprisoned multiple times, first by German occupiers, later by their fellow Greeks during the partisan violence that erupted in the vacuum of the German departure. In 1963, a New York Times correspondent described Glezos, no longer a symbol of heroic Allied resistance but rather of the communist threat in Greece, as “heroic but dangerous.” Later, Glezos described that, despite their youth, theirs had been “a conscious act… The swastika on the Acropolis offended all human ideals.”


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    Ellsworth Kelly
    May 31, 1923 – December 27, 2015

    The process by which the “already-made” shape is suddenly available to Kelly—while it escapes most of us—is one of defamiliarization, of what the Russian formalists called ostranenie. It came upon the young Kelly years before he became an artist, and the strong memories he has about several childhood experiences is perhaps the reason his work remains so fresh. I’ll quote two such memories, but there are many more:

    I remember that when I was about ten or twelve years old I was ill and fainted. And when I came to, my head was upside down. I looked at the room upside down, and, for a brief moment I couldn’t understand anything until my mind realized that I was upside down and I righted myself. But for the moment that I didn’t know where I was, it was fascinating. It was like a wonderful world.

    “Ellsworth Kelly’s Dream of Impersonality”


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    Man Ray
    “Laboratory of the Future,” 1935

    Museum of Modern Art


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    Lizzie Douglas AKA Memphis Minnie
    June 3, 1897 – August 6, 1973

    She was coal black beautiful, they say, with soft black hair she could fix any way she wanted to, and all gold teeth across the front. In joints, on the street, at house parties and fish fries, she picked and sang while chewing Brown Mule tobacco… She swore freely, dipped Copenhagen snuff, shot craps, gambled at cards, and bested Big Bill Broonzy in picking contests. In blues circles, she was rumored, respectfully, to have shot off the arm of a man who tried to mess with her, or she chopped it off with a hatchet… 

    When she came down with what was diagnosed as meningitis and yellow fever, and the doctors gave up on her, she wrote “Memphis Minnie-jitis Blues,” drank a quart of whiskey her husband brought to the hospital, and just sweated whatever it was out. She drank hard — gin, corn whiskey, potato-and-yeast home-brew, and Wild Irish Rose wine — but lived to be seventy-six.

    She held her own from Mississippi to Chicago, right through the Depression, in country blues and urban blues, acoustic and electric… She wrote any number of songs that stirred food, rue, relish, and sex together in roughly equal parts: ‘Keep On Eating’,” “Banana Man Blues,” “Lean Meat Don’t Fry.”

    She grew up in rural Mississippi near Memphis, started performing in that city, and moved back there in old age, but where the Minnie came from, nobody knows—she was born Lizzie Douglas… the relatives called her by her childhood name, Kid.

    “I’m so glad,” Minnie sings, “that I ain’t nobody’s tool.”… At its roots, the blues isn’t jaded. It’s as pretty as it can be…

    “Memphis Minnie’s Blues: A Dirty Mother For You,” Roy Blount, Jr.


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    Views at Abu Simbel, Nubia, Southern Egypt

    Brooklyn Museum


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    June 5, 1981: The CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report identifies strange cases of pneumonia in gay men in Los Angeles, later recognized as the first report of the AIDS crisis.

    First there were five: Each of the men were in their late twenties to thirties, three of them “previously healthy,” and each had come down with what the CDC said was Pneumocystis pneumonia, caused by Pneumocystis carinii. This was odd. “You only got Pneumocystis when something had kicked the bottom out of your natural immunities,” wrote Randy Shilts in And The Band Played On, the definitive chronicle of the public health crisis that unraveled over the next decades.

    Something had been lurking in the gay communities of cities from Los Angeles to San Francisco to New York. Diseases like toxoplasmosis, Kaposi’s sarcoma, and infections via cytomegalovirus and P. carinii, were felling perfectly healthy adults, as if they had suddenly become long-suffering cancer patients. Doctors had observed these seemingly disparate cases for years and, though these men had one thing in common - that is, that they were gay - a few observations of pneumonia or cancer could not be deemed an epidemic. Before the disease was named or its virus identified, it was speculated that this might be something environmental or ‘lifestyle’ related, like tainted poppers.

    Michael S. Gottlieb, a young immunologist at UCLA, and Wayne Shandera, a CDC field investigator based in Los Angeles, had been studying such cases. In April 1981 Gottlieb had phoned Shandera to discuss his patients, these gay men suffering from pneumonia, and they agreed—not on what it was, exactly, but that it was odd.

    These patients “in some fashion… were immunosuppressed,” Shandera observed, but what he observed made him think not of young men in their physical primes but “of cancer patients… children with lymphocytic leukemia,” and even “starvation victims after World War II.”

    The doctors decided that these findings and their explosive potential were too pressing to put through a lengthy academic peer review process. They turned instead to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, which was not a formal academic journal but a quick, time-sensitive digest. Later that year Gottlieb would publish an official article in The New England Journal of Medicine; for now, the imperative was to get the word out. 

    The MMWR was widely distributed throughout the American medical community—whatever vital update appeared in the latest issue was immediately discussed across the country by doctors, researchers, hospitals, health departments, public health policymakers. 

    In the June 5, 1981 issue, under “Epidemiological Notes and Reports,” and following a dispatch about Dengue fever in Caribbean tourists, a brief and unsensational bulletin appeared. The title dryly read “Pneumocystis Pneumonia — Los Angeles.”

    Between October 1980 and May 1981, the MMWR reported, “five men aged 29-36 had been “treated for biopsy-confirmed Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia at 3 different hospitals in Los Angeles, California.” Two of the men had died. The report noted briefly that all of the men were “active homosexuals,” but also that none of them knew each other or any of the same people. The report did not speculate on what any of this meant. It was the first official inscription in the timeline of the AIDS crisis.

    The relationship between the medical establishment and a gay community emerging, for the first time, from secrecy and shame, remained complicated. The CDC did not want to report the potential outbreak as a “gay epidemic,” for fear of both alienating the communities and of stoking prejudice and hysteria against them. Shandera insisted that he knew that “the Centers for Disease Control, because it was infecting gay men, put [the report] on the second page of MMWR.”

    This tentative first report alerted the wider medical community to this mysterious outbreak. The CDC quickly assembled a task force, always aware of, accounting for, and constrained by the fact that the new Reagan administration had vowed to dramatically carve up the federal budget. 

    Researchers first called the disease GRID (gay-related immune deficiency), and by 1982 it was, alternatively, AID (acquired immunodeficiency disease). In 1982 a presidential spokesperson responded to a journalist’s inquiry (“…does the President have any reaction to the announcement – the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, that AIDS is now an epidemic and [has] over 600 cases?”) that, to his knowledge, no one in the White House knew about an AIDS epidemic. Between June 1 and September 1982, the CDC received reports of nearly 600 cases of what, by late 1982, it officially referred to as AIDS.


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    Charles Sheeler
    “Criss-Crossed Conveyors, River Rouge Plant, Ford Motor Company,” 1927
    “Ford Plant, River Rouge, Blast Furnace and Dust Catcher,” 1927
    “Bleeder Stacks, Ford Plant, Detroit,” 1927


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    Kareem Abdul-Jabbar attends his college graduation, UCLA, Los Angeles, 1969


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    Solange Brand
    Datong temple, Shanxi Province, China, 1966


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    From El Malcriado: “The Voice of the Farm Worker” No. 46, October 7, 1966

    UCSD Libraries


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    "Filipino strikers shout 'Mag Labas Cayo, Cabayen' ("Come out of there, countrymen') to imported strikebreakers"


    "Early in the struggle, strike leader Epifanio Camacho leads an informal group of pickets in a lively dialog with scabs"




    "Strikers challenge workers to join them. In this picture, they are shaming scabs by using the Mexican flag, one of many non-violent methods. The girl is Gonzala Zavala of Delano."


    "...Two strikers, members of the Farm Workers Theatre, act out a picket line scene. This is one of the many 'side effects' of the strike... a potent educational weapon."


    "The flags of the U.S., of Mexico, and of the Farm Workers Association converge ion this unusual photo. Most of these pictures were taken by George Ballis ofFresno."







    George Ballis & other photographers

    Images from the first hundred days of the Delano grape strike, 1965-1966

    Scanned from Huelga!: The First Hundred Days of the Great Delano Grape Strike, Eugene Nelson. I came across this copy of the book the other day—a second of six editions that the UFW’s Farm Worker Press printed in 1966-1969. It was one of the first major photojournalistic accounts of the strike, if not the very first. At that time, you could mail-order copies out of El Malcriado, the UFW’s independent paper, for $1.50 each.

    “Other cars pass, then a grower’s truck whose driver seems to peer at us in disbelief. We spot some of our own cars, going out to pre-arranged locations, and exchange greetings: ‘Huelga! Huelga!’ It also means ‘Hello.’ And we feel less alone in the cold darkness.”


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    “The events set down here did happen. But on rereading this reportage, my memory becomes alive to the other things, which were not reported. That they were not reported was… largely because there was a huge gassy thing called the War Effort… The rules, some imposed and some self-imposed, are amusing twenty years later. I shall try to remember a few of them. There were no cowards in the American Army, and of all the brave men the private in the infantry was the bravest and noblest. The reason for this in terms of the War Effort is obvious. The infantry private had the dirtiest, weariest, least rewarding job in the whole war. In addition to being dangerous and dirty, a great many of the things he had to do were stupid. He must therefore be reassured that these things he knew to be stupid were actually necessary and wise, and that he was a hero for doing them. Of course no one even casually inspected the fact that the infantry private had no choice. If he exercised a choice, he was either executed immediately or sent to prison for life.”

    - “Introduction,” Once There Was a War, John Steinbeck. Steinbeck is here discussing the de facto‘rules’ of war correspondence during World War II.

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    @ anybody reading this, hi and thanks for following. Especially if you’ve been following this blog since I made it, which was sometime in 2011. I don’t update it as much as I did back then, but I love sharing with you all as much as ever. I was 15 when I started this blog. It’s played such a huge part in my academic & personal & professional development. I’ve since graduated from high school and college, and I was just thinking about how it’s crazy this blog has been up that entire time. It’s even come up in some job interviews. So thank you for your support :) And for helping me get a job lol. 


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    Scanned from The Vietnam Photo Book, Mark Jury, 1971

    Black Americans became increasingly bitter over their role in Vietnam as more and more brothers were drafted and sent to Southeast Asia. The idea of waging war on the Vietnamese people didn’t sit well with them, and they knew that if they did live through their year in ‘Nam, they still had to fight for their own freedom when they returned to the States. The military ignored the resentment until the infamous Long Binh stockade revolt, in which the brothers took over part of the stockade and GIs were killed and wounded in the melee. Then there was an incident at Da Nang’s China Beach that almost resulted in a shoot-out with automatic weapons. 

    Overnight, the military started to get with it. Afros were ‘in’ from then on, as were Black Power bracelets, short-timer sticks with a clenched fist, and more soul music in the clubs. But the brothers still stayed by themselves and were just as bitter about fighting a ‘white man’s war.’

    The most common ‘Black is Beautiful’ display, after the Afro haircut, was the ‘dap’ – an intricate exercise of hand slapping, shaking, and gripping done by two brothers or sympathetic whites when they met. The military said, ‘The dap is O.K.’  and enterprising brothers expanded it to a loud, attention-getting performance. For many of the ‘old Army’ sergeants, black as well as white, watching the black Americans go through their rituals was devastating. 


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    Garry Winogrand
    Las Vegas/Los Angeles, 1957-1969


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    William Henry Jackson
    “Mammoth Hot Springs, Gardiner’s River, Montana,” 1871
    “White Mountain Hot Springs,” 1871
    “Grand Canyon of the Colorado River,” 1883


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    Alfred Lawrence
    African American musicians with violins, banjos, guitars, and mandolins, somewhere in Kansas, c. 1890-1919

    Kansas Historical Society


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    World War I, July 28 1914 – November 11, 1918

    Epitaphs of the Great War

    Also on twitter: @WWInscriptions