Tag Archives: history

When the wealth is gone

From The New York Times, When Wealth Disappears:

…a plea for economic honesty, to recognize that promises made during good times can no longer be easily kept.


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Digital Dead Sea Scrolls

deadseascrolls.org looks like a fascinating web site, if one is interested in that sort of study.

The discovery of the first Dead Sea Scrolls in a remote Judean Desert cave in 1947 is widely considered the greatest archaeological event of the twentieth century. Bedouin treasure hunters and archaeologists ultimately found the remains of hundreds of ancient scrolls. These fragile pieces of parchment and papyrus, including the oldest existing copies of the Hebrew Bible, were preserved for two thousand years by the hot, dry desert climate and the darkness of the caves where they were placed. The scrolls provide an unprecedented picture of the diverse religious beliefs of ancient Judaism, and of daily life during the turbulent Second Temple period when Jesus lived and preached.

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On the US Constitution

From The Browser—FiveBook Interviews with author and historian, Jack Rakove (Stanford University):

The Pulitzer prize-winning history professor tells us how the Constitution came to be written and ratified and explains why, after more than 200 years, Americans are still so deeply wedded to it.

Well, some people still think it’s a worthy reference. Others see it as an annoying interference.

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The History of Reading

From The Browser, an interview with Leah Price.

We can learn about the past not just through what was written but how it was read. The historian of books tells us about reading aloud in Roman times, Gutenberg-era marginalia, and Middle Age solutions to information overload

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50 Years Ago: The World in 1962

From The Atlantic, a photo essay:

A half-century ago, the space race was heating up and the Cold War was freezing over. Soviet missile bases discovered in Cuba triggered a crisis that brought the U.S. to the brink of war with the U.S.S.R. Civil rights activists won hard-earned victories against segregationists in the American South, and John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. Algeria gained independence from France and the U.S. slowly escalated its involvement in Vietnam. Meanwhile, Seattle held a World’s Fair called the the Century 21 Exposition, celebrating the themes of space, science, and the future. Let me take you 50 years into the past now, for a look at the world as it was in 1962.

See 50 photos.

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Why legacy-newspaper media reporters get their own industry so wrong

From Reason (Hat tip: Instapundit), an essay titled When Losers Write History. An excerpt:

Does it matter that most people telling us about the state of the media are, either through their professional conflicts of interest or career-long fixations, missing or severely underplaying the liberatory effects of the formerly captive audience becoming sophisticated and productive journalism consumers and creators? Unfortunately, yes. If Steven Brill wants to convince newspapers to throw their content behind paywalls, that’s his (and their) business. (And, as an editor of a magazine that puts all its content up for free, it’s my business, too—hurry up, Brill!) Ditto for newspaper columnists who want to further alienate their dwindling readerships by accusing them of undermining democracy when they read stuff for free. If nothing else, this blame-the-consumer routine is some of the best evidence yet for how an entitled, monopolist-style mentality crept into the worldview of a profession once noted for its cutthroat sense of competition. Instead of begging the audience to stay, the old guard is trying to charge them a steep exit fee.

But the problem here is that the legacy-centric view is bleeding into the sausage-making of public policy. The A&P Organization Men aren’t just spinning their own industrial decline and confusing it with the fate of democracy, they’re actively advising the Federal Trade Commission on how laws might be rewritten to punish news aggregators—from Google to individual bloggers—whose work is perceived to hurt them. Dollars from every single taxpaying American may be redistributed to an industry that until very recently was among the most profitable in U.S. history. And like the last round of newspaper protectionism—the Newspaper Protection Act of 1970—any rulemaking or legislation that comes out of this process will almost axiomatically reward deep-pocketed incumbents at the direct expense of new entrants, all in an effort to delay the inevitable.

Update: From Frank Wilson, “Democracy is imperiled when newspapers shill for those in power.”

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A darned good upbringing…

Frank Wilson, of Books INQ. The Epilogue, used the above title in referencing an old blog post of mine called Origins, an essay written years ago, then slightly updated in 2010, which reveals where some of the themes in my novel Waiting for Zoë originated.

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The More Things Change—Literary Futures

A guest post written by Emma Pullman:

The world of publishing is changing. The digital age is forcing publishers ‒ and readers ‒ to alter their horizons. There are new ways to publish, read and write. Just as the music industry has been changed forever by the advent of digital, so has literature. Traditionalists might not like it, but there is no escaping change. Some see digital publishing as a threat to writers, making an already low-paid profession even harder to make a living from. Others recognise that while there may be threats associated with the digital world, there are also many opportunities.

Back in the nineteenth century, literature was largely the preserve of the wealthy. Only those with money, time and connections were able to write and publish novels. Even women were often barred, hence writers like George Eliot publishing under assumed male names. Inevitably, much nineteenth century literature deals with the lives of people like their authors: the middle and upper-classes. Charles Dickens is a notable exception (though not the only one), and he was rewarded by interest in his work from the largely illiterate poor, who would pay a small sum to ‘Dickens clubs’ where his work was read to them. The twentieth century brought wider literacy, cheaper books and more extensive publishing. The advent of the paperback in the 1930s meant that anyone could sit on their cheap sofa reading the latest novel.

As the century progressed, so did interest in literature, and more and more people wanted not only to be readers, but to be writers. Publishers today are inundated with many more manuscripts than they’ll ever get around to reading. Competition for publishing deals is fierce, and many publishers are unwilling to take a risk on an upcoming author with an unusual style, who may or may not sell. This kind of competition created the self-publishing industry: not a bad way for someone who wants to publish a book for their family and friends to read on a very small print run, but often exploitative and expensive, particularly for those with bigger dreams than talent.

So, into the twenty-first century, and the publishing industry is adapting to new forms of publishing and of selling books. Fewer and fewer books are sold in bookshops, with more and more readers choosing to buy their books online (often after using the bookshop as somewhere to browse before taking advantage of cheaper online prices). Many independent bookshops have sadly been unable to survive. The launch of the Amazon Kindle in 2007 offered readers, a way to read digital books without having to squint at a computer screen. Its popularity is unquestionable: US Amazon now sells more Kindle books than it does paperbacks.

So where does all this leave the writer? As in the music industry, the big names are likely to be relatively unaffected by the digital age. For the rest, things are changing, but not necessarily for the worse. Few novelists ever make a full time wage as things stand (the average income of a novelist from their writing is just a few thousand dollars a year), and with digital books more easily shared than physical ones, their incomes are hardly likely to increase. However, digital publishing also creates a huge opportunity for writers. Some publishers are starting to run competitions on their websites for aspiring authors, giving them the chance to be read not just by the public, but by the publishers. Some authors publicise their work by putting extracts online or even publishing a free book: just as musicians have been able to showcase their work via Myspace. As in the music industry too, it may be that there is an increase in interest in live literature, as writers seek non- traditional ways to get themselves noticed. This is a return to the days of Dickens, who toured the world giving very popular readings.

We cannot roll back the digital world: it is here to stay. The truth is, there has never really been a golden age when anyone could write a novel and make a living from it. The industry has always been socially elitist or highly competitive (or both). Digital publishing gives writers who might not ever get past the ‘slush-pile’ the chance to work their own way into readers’ hearts.

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US Newspapers, 1690-2011

From The Society Pages:

This visualization of the rise and fall of newspapers in America is interactive and not to be missed.Click over to the interactive visualization (or open it in a new window) and then come back and read commentary. The folks at Stanford’s Bill Lane Center for the American West have used Library of Congress records to create what they say, “would be fairer to call a “database” visualization than an omniscient creator’s-eye view of the growth of American newspapers”.

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The Cesspool of the Middle Ages?

Philosopher Edward Feser engages in some sarcasm followed by corrections and recommendations:

“During the Middle Ages, the Church was a cesspool of corruption, people wore chastity belts and thought the earth was flat, and humorless Scholastics debated how many angels could dance on the head of a pin while burning witches by the bushel. Right? Well no, of course not. Given the ridiculous urban legends about the period that permeate high school history lectures and pop science books, you could probably get a less misleading picture of what medieval times were really like by watching The Cable Guy.

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