Fine Books: Photography’s Gilded Age

In the Summer 2020 issue of Fine Books magazine, I have a story on daguerreotypes from the Gold Rush:

The 1848 discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill—a sawmill in Coloma, California—inspired thousands of people to uproot their lives and travel west to seek their fortunes. They arrived from across the country and abroad, from Chile, Mexico, France, China, and Australia. They believed they were part of something exceptional and many posed for portraits in the new medium of photography to commemorate this moment. These images are a contrast to the refined dress and gentility usually seen in 19th-century daguerreotypes. The miners had unruly beards, wore tattered work shirts, and proudly displayed their pickaxes; the lucky ones showed off gold nuggets and flakes, which were sometimes hand-gilded on the photographic plates to add a visual dazzle representing their success.

The story is only in print and you can pick up a copy through the Fine Books site.

JSTOR Daily: Why Do Police Use Tear Gas When It Was Banned in War?

As the US has experienced a wave of police brutality in response to the protests, I explored why they are allowed to use tear gas when it is banned in war. From the story on JSTOR Daily:

As a police tool, the current deployment of tear gas reinforces the effect that made gases so powerful in World War I: fear. With reports showing tear gas being used on peaceful protesters, that fear is itself a deterrent by law enforcement on public demonstrations. Given legitimacy by the CWS in the interwar period, tear gas provides police with a chemical weapon that is no longer permitted in war.

Read more at JSTOR Daily.

Wellcome Collection: Graveyards as Green Getaways

For Wellcome Collection, I interviewed three cemeteries that kept their gates open during the pandemic when so many spaces have closed to the public:

Notably, many of the cemeteries that stayed open were founded in the 19th century as respites from urban life, and their capacity to accommodate people safely comes in part from their design as spacious natural retreats. This era saw a shift from churchyards and Quaker Meeting House burial grounds towards what is known as the rural cemetery movement. The new, larger cemeteries were often on the edges of cities in the United States and Europe that had experienced a surge in urban population growth and industrialisation.

Read more at Wellcome Collection.

Nightingale: Color Field Paintings That Anticipated “Warming Stripes”

For Earth Week 2020, I contributed a story on color field paintings and Ed Hawkin’s “Warming Stripes” visualization to the data visualization publication Nightingale:

The reduction of an idea to its basic form in “Warming Stripes” is reminiscent of the Color Field style of abstract painting that emerged in the 1950s and ’60s, with hubs in New York City and Washington, DC. Building off postwar Abstract Expressionism, the Color Field painters stepped away from the gestural movement in work by artists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, where the process of painting was very much visible. A Color Field painting pulls the viewer in through its simplified lines and shapes, the focus on the interplay of the colors themselves rather than the hand of the artist.

Read more at Nightingale.

The Study: How Socially Concious Makers Are Giving Back to Local Communities

The 1stDibs The Study, I interviewed makers who are embedding socially consciousness in their practices, from heritage sheep wool blankets to mud bead chandeliers:

Each step in crafting an object has an environmental and social impact, from the sourcing of materials to production. Aware of the responsibility this entails, many designers and makers are thoughtfully organizing their processes to ensure that their impacts are positive.

Read more at The Study.

Hart Island in National Geographic

I covered the role of Hart Island in caring for the unclaimed dead and its new significance amidst COVID-19, for National Geographic:

The burial process hasn’t changed much since the late 1800s. An 1890 photo by Jacob Riis shows coffins being lowered into a trench, and an aerial video today shows a similar scene.

It’s been the practice that every week, staff and eight inmates from nearby Rikers Island prison have come to carry out the burials, stacking coffins three deep in trenches large enough to hold up to 162 for adults and a thousand for infants and fetal remains. Numbers and sometimes names are written in heavy black marker on the pine coffins and entered into a register, so that family members can claim their loved ones later.

This month, due to a spike in coronavirus cases at Rikers Island, the city began hiring contract workers—who wear hazmat suits—to bury the dead.

Read more at National Geographic.

JSTOR Daily: Surviving a Pandemic, in 1918

I explored the first-hand accounts of the nuns who volunteered as nurses during the 1918 influenza pandemic in Philadelphia for JSTOR Daily:

For all the devastation of pandemics, there is a historic forgetfulness around them. They are not events that get grand public memorials, and their tolls tend to be remembered individually, rather than collectively, by those who experienced loss.

It was this scarcity of historical on-the-ground experiences that the Rev. Francis E. Tourscher was thinking of in 1919, when he compiled first-hand accounts from nuns who had worked as nurses during the influenza outbreak that had just ravaged Philadelphia. Their stories filled over a hundred pages, published in installments in the Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia in March, June, and September. In an introduction, Tourscher wrote that it was important to “assemble facts while they are still a living memory”

Read more at JSTOR Daily.

Lapham’s Quarterly: Remember You Will Be Buried

Lapham’s Quarterly published my essay “Remember You Will Be Buried” on the changes in remembrance in cemeteries from the Victorian to Gilded Age:

Tombstones have always been tools of memory. “If a man do not erect in this age his own tomb ere he dies, he shall live no longer in monument than the bell rings and the widow weeps,” Benedick warned in Shakespeare’s sixteenth-century play Much Ado About Nothing. And few want to be forgotten, as the rows of carved granite and marble that fill cemeteries across the United States attest—even if the methods of rendering that remembering into a symbol or setting have changed and the context of these memorials has altered enough to make it hard to understand what we were supposed to remember in the first place.

Read more in Lapham’s Quarterly.