Though hardly anyone knows it, the first person ever to attach their name to a poetic composition is not a mystery. Enheduanna was born more than 4,200 years ago and became the high priestess of a temple in what we now call southern Iraq. She wrote poems, edited hymnals, and may have taught other women at the temple how to write. Archaeologists discovered her in the 1920s and her works were published in English beginning in the 1960s. Yet, rarely if ever does she appear in history textbooks. There are almost no mentions of her within pop culture. No one namechecks her in song lyrics, she isn’t taught in MFA courses, and there are no paintings of her except for a few crudely drawn sketches that float around the outer edges of the internet.
- James Davidson reviews the exhibition Antinous: Boy Made God at the Ashmolean museum:
The transmogrification of emperors and people close to emperors into divine personalities, or divi, worthy of being worshipped as gods, wasn’t a novelty in the second century CE. Among others, Caligula had deified his sister Drusilla, Nero his second wife, Poppaea, and Trajan his niece Matidia. These divi and divae were officially sanctioned by the Senate and were closely associated with the cult of the emperors to whom they owed their ascension. But there were no great sanctuaries, so far as we can tell, dedicated to Matidia; no identically faced sculptures honoured Drusilla; no newly founded city of Poppaeopolis marked the spot where Nero, allegedly, kicked his pregnant queen to death. Antinous was different.
When I visited the exhibition last year it shared the room with another show, No Offence: Exploring LGBTQ+ Histories, but the organisers of the exhibition and certainly Roland Smith, the main author of the very useful little catalogue, Antinous: Boy Made God (Ashmolean, £15), suggest that Antinous’ relationship to Hadrian was less central to his cult than we have supposed: ‘Antinous’ veneration seems to have been largely an independent phenomenon … [Flaccus’] bust was dedicated to the boy in and for himself.’ He even suggests that it was the proliferation of monuments that gave rise to rumours of a relationship.
- A look at how sci-fi writer Octavia E. Butler reimagined her hometown of Pasadena, California:
As a historian who works on the history of Western cities and more recently on the relationships between the American experience and science fiction, I felt the same pull to Butler’s work that so many other scholars have felt. Her novel Parable of the Sower opens with the evocative image of near-future Los Angeles in decline; when her papers were released, I imagined they might shed light on how she transformed her experience as a Southern Californian into her depictions of the region’s future. Opening those boxes in the stillness of the Ahmanson Reading Room and noisily extracting spiral-bound notebooks from manila envelopes, I envisioned an essay on Butler and her relationship with greater Los Angeles. What emerged instead is the central role of her hometown.
- In this podcast for Reimagine Value, scholar Max Haiven talks about the ghosts of empire in the prescription opioid crisis, and it’s chilling:
The prescription opioid crisis in the United States is among the worst human-caused public health disasters in modern history, with over 500,000 dead and by some estimates almost 5% of the American population ‘misusing’ these drugs. This article supplies some unusual resources for understanding that crisis and the way it inherits a legacy of empire, now transfigured for a corporate age. From the museums funded by the sale of these drugs to the British-led Opium Wars to the present-day racialised dimensions of the epidemic, much can be gained from dwelling with its tangled and haunted complexities. The article concludes with a consideration of Susan Buck-Morss’s reading of Walter Benjamin’s meditations on the aestheticisation of politics in an age of what she calls capitalist anaesthetics.
- Diana Budds travels around the borough of Queens to highlight some modernist architectural gems:
For years, Tolbert highlighted many of these “midcentury mundane” buildings on a blog of the same name. Through his research, he realized that there was an especially large disparity in how Modernism in New York City was discussed. While Manhattan is well-documented and world-renowned for its modern architecture, Queens had more midcentury buildings but was “largely unheralded.”
“There’s just such a vast archive outside of Manhattan no one is looking at,” Tolbert says. “Going to neighborhoods gives you a better understanding of midcentury architecture in the context of how people live.”
- One of the most peculiar (and shocking stories) to come out this week was this extensive (three parts) piece of journalism that suggests that singer James Brown may have been murdered:
Brown didn’t like being questioned about his health or his drug abuse. Andre White called Crawford, his family doctor and an attending physician at Emory Crawford Long Hospital, and explained the situation. Crawford assured White that everyone would be discreet. On December 23, 2006, White escorted Brown into the hospital through a back entrance.
In a hospital suite, Crawford examined his patient. Brown thought he had pneumonia, and this misinformation would be widely reported after his death, but Crawford says Brown did not have pneumonia. He says he found symptoms of early congestive heart failure and signs of a mild heart attack. Brown’s urine tested positive for cocaine. These were treatable problems. Crawford gave him oxygen, IV diuretics, and ACE inhibitors to relax his blood vessels.
“And he improved fast,” Crawford told me. “Boom, boom, boom. … By 5 o’clock on the 24th, I mean, he probably could have walked out of the hospital if he had wanted. But we wouldn’t let him go. We wouldn’t tell him to go yet.”
- In one of the most delicious takedowns in a while, scholar Juan Cole reminds Ann Coulter that Benjamin Franklin — yes, the US founding father — wouldn’t think she or Trump are white. No really:
… [Franklin] said in “Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, etc.” (1751):
“Which leads me to add one Remark: That the Number of purely white People in the World is proportionably very small. All Africa is black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth. I could wish their Numbers were increased.”
So get this. Some of the eighteenth century founding fathers only thought English and Danish people were white. Even Swedes and Germans were “swarthy.”
- Vox does the research and lists how two years of Trump’s policies have impacted immigrants:
- Human Rights Watch published a fascinating report on LGBTQ rights in the Middle East and North Africa:
In the 75-page report, “Audacity in Adversity: LGBT Activism in the Middle East and North Africa” and video series, “No Longer Alone,” activists tell their stories and describe how they are building their movements. To confront myths and counteract the isolation of many LGBT people in the region, Human Rights Watch and AFE teamed up to produce the videos featuring Arabic-speaking LGBT activists describing their journeys of self-acceptance. Through the video series, they offer messages of support and encouragement to LGBT people throughout the Arabic-speaking world.
- Have you ever wondered if there will be a mile-high skyscraper one day?
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