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...and you thought cursive was tough

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Long ago in a land not so far away all students had to learn to print and write in cursive. Penmanship was an item on your report card, like keyboarding is today.

But penmanship in the 1960s and 70s is nothing compared to 16th century calligraphy. There were no machines on which to type and the printing press was the new technological mainstay.

Calligraphy was seen as a dying art, but what an art. Calligraphers and illuminists had to compete with the printing press to prove the value of their art for what it added to texts, and art is what they were striving for. If you have ever taken one of my classes, you know how important your initial presentation is, how I feel about combining text and image (esp. comics), and how important it is to present a beautiful and functional text. Getting your professor to appreciate your layout is the first step towards getting a good grade. If they look at your paper and it is just a jumbled mess, but I digress...

Beautiful illuminated texts were dyin…

Sears Helped End the Jim Crow Era

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What? I knew Sears was the retail giant of America in the late 19th and early 20th century, but how did they help stop Jim Crow?

By now I'm sure you've heard that Sears is closing its doors after more than 100 years in business. But like me, you probably never thought of Sears as a champion of civil rights, however it makes sense when you think about American economies.

Sears made consumption possible for communities with few stores and fewer choices during the Jim Crow era. People who lived in small communities, especially small rural communities, might only have one choice when it came to purchasing goods -- the general store. Not to say all general stores were racist or evil capitalists who preyed on their customers, but most general stores had a small range of goods and no competition, so prices could be steep and owners might unfairly prey on their consumers
Over at Open Culture they describe Sears' innovation this way: "the democratizing power of the Sears Cata…

For the Love of Maps

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I just love maps. They bring back cherished memories or they remind me of trips I'd like to take. Some are abstract concepts depicting places of which I can only dream others are concrete places I can't imagine. There is a new project spearheaded at the University of Chicago that purports to include maps from all corners of the earth and beyond--even to the spirit world.

According to Open Culture, "The project includes non-Western and pre-medieval maps, presenting itself as 'the first serious global attempt' to describe the cartography of African, American, Arctic, Asian, Australian, and Pacific societies as well as European. In so doing, it illuminates many of those 'obscure origins.'"

Old maps show us how people used to view their surroundings, which some may find funny or disturbing, while modern maps represent what is real or true. The ancients interpreted what they thought they knew or what they could imagine. I wonder what our ancestors will th…

Up the down staircase with M.C. Escher

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I know there has been a lot of news about the pitfalls of the internet and social media lately, but digital art collections is one thing that the internet is good for . The Boston Public library has digitized dozens of M.C. Escher prints and put them online for everyone to see.

If you don't know the works of M.C. Escher he definitely inspired the grand staircase in the Harry Potter films.

Escher was born in the Netherlands in 1898 and he produced many prints featured on album covers and films. His works encourages viewers to get lost in his art's myriad three dimensional spaces where the gravity connection doesn't seem to work they way science says it should.

Escher was interested in the sciences, but his "fame spread outside of the sciences in part through the interests of the counterculture. He may have shrugged off mystical and psychedelic readings of his prints, but he had an innate penchant for the marvelously weird."

So Escher started as a pop artist icon an…

Advertisements from the Past

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It seems advertising has been around as long as people. I can imagine ads scrawled into the walls of Pompeii for the "Best Sandals" or "Fish Sauce." Commercials are all over television, and with its decline, they are all over YouTube and even in movie theaters, but what did they look like in your grandparents day? Let's take a look at a few.

Got a headache? How about the latest cure, Opium (with 46 percent alcohol). That will knock it out for good, and if you take too much, it will knock you out permanently.

"Opium was widely available in the 19th century, sold by barbers, tobacconists and stationers. Writers including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Charles Dickens all used the drug, for pleasure or as medicine."

There are many Victorian novels that feature the evils of the opium den. Sherlock Holmes, that inveterate purveyor of cocaine, often had to rescue recalcitrant clients from the opium dens found in the China town.

Let&…

Nobody knows China, not even the Chinese

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How many people are there in China? What's the GDP of China? How does Chinese education compare to other nations? What are the crime statistics in China? These are just some of the questions that James Palmer at Foreign Policyexamined in a recent article.

Take GDP (gross domestic product) for example. Officials in the Chinese government inflate these numbers because their status, or success rate, is measured by this number. Complicating this further is the fact that the people who report the numbers are the people who benefit career-wise from these numbers. Even harder to judge are Chinese economic recovery numbers because bad economic figures are often glossed over before a recovery occurs.

What about population? China doesn't even know what their population is because "rural counties are incentivized to overreport population to receive more benefits from higher levels of government, while city districts report lower figures to hit population control targets." Beij…

Writing a Rhetorical Critique

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The first time you write a rhetorical analysis, it may seem almost impossible, but there are some basic steps to help make it a bit easier.

Take a moment and watch the video. It has lots of good tips and strategies for writing a rhetorical analysis.

When you start your essay, you need to introduce the writer, subject, audience purpose, and occasion just like you would any time you introduce one person to another.

For example, if you were at a BBQ you might say something like, "This is Professor David Whalen, Provost of Hillsdale College, a Liberal Arts school, and we were just talking about an online essay he wrote in response to G.W. Thielman. Thielman published an article stating that colleges and universities should favor STEM education over the Liberal Arts. If you are someone who believes in the Liberal Arts, or in STEM, or anyone who ever has an argument, you would probably be interested in what he has to say." That statement introduces the writer, subject, audience, …