America in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era

http://www.thegreatcourses.com/media/catalog/product/cache/1/image/800×600/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/8/5/8535—packaging_flat.1430474473.jpg

A long-ish lecture series, quite good on overall political themes, but a bit lacking in a certain something – obviously I was most interested in popular culture, especially music, and it wasn’t really his area. As we will continue to see, finding worldwide perspectives seems to be difficult.

The Great Courses – America in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era

Rex Factor – Victoria (Part 2 – 1861-1901)

Centuries of Sound
Centuries of Sound
Rex Factor - Victoria (Part 2 - 1861-1901)
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A large part of this project involves immersing myself in the years I’m covering. Later on this will mean I’m able to include audio from films, radio, TV and eventually the internet. For now it means I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries and reading a fair few books. In order to fill some time between main posts (and feel like my time has been spent in some way productively) I’ll be reporting on these here.

smiling-queen

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A good source of background has been the vast variety of historical podcasts which are around. I first listened to Rex Factor all the way through when I had my second child and was spending a lot of time traveling to and from hospital. The series ranks British monarchs in a top trumps fashion, and has an enjoyable pairing of a very well-informed history buff and an interested friend who is hearing everything for the first time. This is part two of their epic 5-part episode on Queen Victoria, and gives a good rundown of what life was like at the very highest echelon of society during this era.

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Rex Factor – 55. Victoria’s Biography (Part 2/5: 1861-1901)

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Victorian Farm

A large part of this project involves immersing myself in the years I’m covering. Later on this will mean I’m able to include audio from films, radio, TV and eventually the internet. For now it means I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries and reading a fair few books. In order to fill some time between main posts (and feel like my time has been spent in some way productively) I’ll be reporting on these here.

The Victorian Farm was the first of the recent series of all-in historical re-enactments, and was a nice, entertaining way to get an idea of what life in this time was like. It also introduced Ruth Goodman, who seems to be in most of these things, and for good reason – her commitment to the concept is so total that I’m tempted to follow her example. All the episodes are on Youtube, but seem to be blocked in certain countries.

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The Complete Victorian Farm [DVD]

1878-1885

Centuries of Sound
Centuries of Sound
1878-1885
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1897 big

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Nearly two decades have passed, and Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville’s experiments with recording sound have so far not resulted in anything replayable. On the other side of the Atlantic, however, development are taking place which will eventually turn these ideas into commercial recordings. On on November 21st, 1877, Thomas Edison announced that he had invented a device which would be able to play back recorded telegraph messages. The next few years saw frantic experimentation with various media – single-use tinfoil sheets wrapped around cylinders (nearly all of which have unfortunately not survived) and discs of different materials, some of which have proved to be readable (if not particularly listenable) by the people at firstsounds.org.

The first sound you will be able to hear is the vibrations from the Metropolitan Elevated Railroad in Manhatten, the result of an experiment by Charles Batchelor to adapt a phonograph to trace waves on lamp-blacked paper so they could be examined visually. If you can make anything out of this aside from a spooky wind then you’ve done better than I have. Next we have the only substantial bit of tinfoil to be recovered, a brief musical performance of some sort, a recitation of “Mary Had A Little Lamb” (probably not by Edison), some laughter and indistinct speech sounds. Then there’s an oddity, an ambitious attempt to create a talking clock by French-American inventor Frank Lambert, the oldest sound recording replayable on its own device. You should be able to make out “twelve o’ clock, five o’clock” and a few other hours.

After these early experiments Edison moved his energies to developing the electric light, and the project was put on the backburner. The second half of this mix has some of the experimental Volta labs disc recordings of the early 1880s, all recorded by Charles Summer Tainter and Chichester Bell, two engineers employed by Alexander Graham Bell. The first of these is little more than a noise, the second a recitation of Hamlet’s soliloquy, the third a man repeatedly saying ‘barometer’. The glass plate recording after is slightly more interesting as it contains the following monologue;

It’s the eleventh day of March, eighteen hundred and eighty five.  [Trilled R] How is this for high!  Mary had a little lamb, and its fleece was […] as […], and everywhere that Mary went — oh, fuck.

The machine breaks, and the first recorded obscenity of history is etched into a glass disc. The final two Volta Labs recordings apparently contain dull descriptions of business, the target market for this invention being rich businessmen who wanted to save time in dictating notes.

I won’t spend a moment pretending that this mix is even halfway listenable, but it’s only four minutes long (too short for mixcloud) and it sets us up nicely for next time, when we’ll start to shift focus to things being recorded and not just artifacts of the process.

Links:

Most of the sounds here were recovered by the brilliant people here at firstsounds.org
A video of Edison operating his original tinfoil cylinder machine
In-depth research into Frank Lambert’s talking clock
An article on the birth of sound recording

Tracklist

1. Charles Batchelor – Metropolitan Elevated Railroad from 40 feet away
2. Thomas Edison – Schenectady Museum – 22 June 1878 in St Louis, Missouri
3. Frank Lambert – Recording for an experimental talking clock
4. Charls Sumner Tainter – Lateral Electroplated Disc
5. Unknown artist – Green wax disc – Hamlet’s Soliloquy
6. Volta lab – November 17 1884 “Barometer”
7. Tainter / Rogers – Photographic glass plate recording
8. Chichester Bell – Disc on Japan wax, April 1885
9. Chichester Bell – Wax disc, summer 1885

Elsewhere in 1860

1859-1860Abraham Lincoln wins the presidential election, setting the scene for the outbreak of the American Civil War at the start of 1861

German chemist Albert Niemann makes a detailed analysis of the coca leaf, isolating and purifying the alkaloid which he calls cocaine.

Japanese Chief Minister Ii Naosuke is assassinated by samurai outside the Sakurada Gate of Edo Castle.

The Nightingale Training School and Home for Nurses, the first nursing school based on the ideas of Florence Nightingale, is opened at St Thomas’ Hospital in London.

Charles Dickens publishes the first installment of Great Expectations in his magazine All the Year Round.

In China, the Taiping rebels are successful in taking Hangzhou and Suzhou, but fail to take Shanghai

The first British Open is played at Prestwick Golf Club in Ayrshire, Scotland, and is won by Willie Park Sr

Southern Italy joins a union with Piedmont-Sardinia, leading to the creation of the Kingdom of Italy the following year

Beijing’s Old Summer Palace is burned to the ground by orders of British general Lord Elgin in retaliation for mistreatment of several prisoners of war during the Second Opium War.

Anton Chekhov, William Jennings Bryan,  Will Keith Kellog, Lizzie Borden, Gustav Mahler, Annie Oakley and J.M. Barrie are born

Charles Goodyear and Arthur Schopenhauer die

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