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How Photography Feeds Our Fascination With the Civil War
It is believed that the first war-related photographs were taken in 1847 by an anonymous photographer during the Mexican–American War, of which we “Remember the Alamo” and little else. But when we think of the American Civil War, especially in this sesquicentennial year, we quite vividly picture the war thanks to the army of photographers that captured that conflict through the still-young medium and brought it back to the home front. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new exhibition, Photography and the American Civil War, studies how the “War Between the States” lives on as a dialogue between the modern viewer and century-and-a-half-old images as raw and fresh as pictures of contemporary wars beamed into our homes today. Of all the aspects of memory that feed our fascination with the Civil War, photography provides the single element that continually leaves us hungry for more.
It’s believed that somewhere around 1,000 photographers worked separately and/or together during the Civil War period to take the hundreds of thousands of photographs that circulated around the country and the world. Soldier on both sides rushing off to war stopped just long enough to pose for a photographic portrait for those left behind. The exhibition offers many of the familiar portraits of Union soldiers, but also (thanks to the amazing collection of David Wynn Vaughan) rare ambrotypes (glass) and tintypes (iron) of Confederate soldiers. These portraits truly illustrate democracy in action by ranging across all classes—from the simplest army private to generals to President Abraham Lincoln and even to slaves such as the man known as “Gordon,” who posed for the infamous Scourged Back photograph that became visual shorthand for the cruelties of slavery.
On July 4, 1863, the popular magazine Harper’s Weekly published a special “Independence Day” issue featuring a wood engraving of The Scourged Back, at the same time that the Battle of Gettysburg roiled in Pennsylvania. Post-battle photographs from Gettysburg, such as Timothy H. O'Sullivan’s Field Where General Reynolds Fell, Gettysburg (shown above), brought home the massive toll of this single battle. (The Met specifically timed this exhibition to coincide with the anniversary of Gettysburg as a sign of that battle’s central position in the influence of Civil War photography.) General John F. Reynolds fought bravely and led his men admirably at the Second Battle of Bull Run, the Battle of Fredericksburg, and the Battle of Chancellorsville, but was killed instantly by a sniper’s bullet on the first day of Gettysburg. (Major General Abner Doubleday, the apocryphal father of baseball, took Reynolds’ place.)
An etching titled The Fall of Reynolds soon appeared to appeal to the traditional taste for heroic, romantic war, but photographs such as O’Sullivan’s fed the growing appetite for greater realism and honesty in depicting the stark reality of battle. O’Sullivan’s photograph of Reynolds fall found its way into Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of War, a two-volume collection compiled by Alexander Gardner featuring the photography of 11 artists, including Gardner himself. Among the 10 plates showing Gettysburg in the book, O’Sullivan’s A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, and Gardner’s Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter, Gettysburg, remain not just some of the time’s most powerful wartime photos, but also rank among the finest of all early photographs.
The Met plans to complement this photography exhibition with The Civil War and American Art (May 28 to September 2, 2013) and a show of American prints by Winslow Homer, Thomas Nast, and others related to the Civil War (May 20 to August 25, 2013). As much as I love the paintings and sculptures of this time, the photographs reach out in a way that the older, classical media cannot. Try to imagine Ken Burns’ The Civil War done without photographs. You just can’t. The immediacy and connectivity of photography from the Civil War period, despite the 150-year gap, plug right into the visual culture of today in a way that paintings, sculptures, and etchings cannot.
“I Sell the Shadow to Support the Substance,” Sojourner Truth inscribed on the portrait of herself she used as her abolitionist calling card. These “shadows,” these photographic echoes of people and events long past, still “support the substance” of what took place on a human scale at that time and continues to take place in our age of seemingly endless wars. Mathew Brady, Gardner, and other photographers continue to catch flak for staging some Civil War photos to enhance the pathos (see, for example, “The Case of the Moved Body”), but the truth of the images presented in Photography and the American Civil War really lies not in how they made them but in how our ancestors once used them and, more importantly, how we use them today. I plan on visiting Gettysburg with my family this July to see the reenactments of those four terrible days. I’ll be watching living men and women before me, but in my mind’s eye I’ll be continually comparing them to the pictures in my head—those perpetual reenactors.
[Image: Timothy H. O'Sullivan (American, born Ireland, 1840-1882). Alexander Gardner (American, Glasgow, Scotland 1821-1882 Washington, D.C.). Field Where General Reynolds Fell, Gettysburg, 1863. Albumen silver print from glass negative. Preceding page in the album with printed title and caption. Gilman Collection, Purchase, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Gift, 2005. 2005.100.502.1 (37). Image: ©The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.]
[Many thanks to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, for providing me with the image above and other press materials related to Photography and the American Civil War, which runs through September 2, 2013.]
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.
- A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
- It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
- The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
The ocean depths are home to many creatures that some consider to be unnatural.<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU2NzY4My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTUwMzg0NX0.BTK3zVeXxoduyvXfsvp4QH40_9POsrgca_W5CQpjVtw/img.png?width=980" id="b6fb0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2739ec50d9f9a3bd0058f937b6d447ac" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1512" data-height="2224" />
What benefit does this find have for science? And is it as evil as it looks?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="7XqcvwWp" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="8506fcd195866131efb93525ae42dec4"> <div id="botr_7XqcvwWp_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7XqcvwWp-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/7XqcvwWp-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7XqcvwWp-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>The discovery of a new species is always a cause for celebration in zoology. That this is the discovery of an animal that inhabits the deeps of the sea, one of the least explored areas humans can get to, is the icing on the cake.</p><p>Helen Wong of the National University of Singapore, who co-authored the species' description, explained the importance of the discovery:</p><p>"The identification of this new species is an indication of just how little we know about the oceans. There is certainly more for us to explore in terms of biodiversity in the deep sea of our region." </p><p>The animal's visual similarity to Darth Vader is a result of its compound eyes and the curious shape of its <a href="https://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/research/sjades2018/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow" style="">head</a>. However, given the location of its discovery, the bottom of the remote seas, it may be associated with all manner of horrifically evil Elder Things and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cthulhu" target="_blank" rel="dofollow">Great Old Ones</a>. <em></em></p>
Answering the question of who you are is not an easy task. Let's unpack what culture, philosophy, and neuroscience have to say.
- Who am I? It's a question that humans have grappled with since the dawn of time, and most of us are no closer to an answer.
- Trying to pin down what makes you you depends on which school of thought you prescribe to. Some argue that the self is an illusion, while others believe that finding one's "true self" is about sincerity and authenticity.
- In this video, author Gish Jen, Harvard professor Michael Puett, psychotherapist Mark Epstein, and neuroscientist Sam Harris discuss three layers of the self, looking through the lens of culture, philosophy, and neuroscience.
The newly discovered galaxies are 62x bigger than the Milky Way.
- Two recently discovered radio galaxies are among the largest objects in the cosmos.
- The discovery implies that radio galaxies are more common than previously thought.
- The discovery was made while creating a radio map of the sky with a small part of a new radio array.