The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights

Dec. 28 2015 1:05 PM

The X-Ray Images That Showed Midcentury Scientists How Radiation Affects an Ecosystem

In June 1947, biologists from the University of Washington collected a wrasse from the waters around Bikini Atoll, squished it against a photographic plate, and took an x-ray. The resulting image shocked them. Almost an entire year had passed since the United States had detonated “Able” and “Baker,” two fission bombs, at the atoll. The scientists involved in the Bikini Scientific Resurvey were certain that the expansive Pacific Ocean would have quickly diluted and dispersed any radioactive products from the 1946 detonations.

Dec. 21 2015 2:49 PM

Five More Digital History Projects We Loved in 2015

On Friday, I shared five digital history projects that dazzled me this past year. Here are five more. (The whole list is in no particular order. They're all amazing.) Happy browsing! 

Dec. 18 2015 2:02 PM

Five Digital History Projects That Dazzled Us in 2015

Here are five digital history sites that absorbed my attention in 2015. I'll be sharing five more on Monday, for your holiday bookmarking and browsing needs. 

Dec. 16 2015 11:36 AM

“The Problem of Living in New York”: A Middle-Class Complaint From 1882

"Year after year New York seems to justify the painful, dispiriting averment that it is a city of paupers and millionaires," wrote Junius Henri Browne in this 1882 cri de coeur, "The Problem of Living in New York," which appeared in Harper's Monthly Magazine. Browne, a journalist who won fame as a Civil War correspondent for the New York Tribune, had published a book-long love letter to the city (The Great Metropolis: A Mirror of New York) in 1869. Just thirteen years later, the bloom, for Browne, was off the rose. 

Dec. 14 2015 1:19 PM

Poe’s Only Bestseller as a Living Author Was This Schoolbook About Seashells

In 1839, Edgar Allan Poe accepted a somewhat sketchy writing job: remixing and condensing an existing book, Thomas Wyatt's Manual of Conchology, into a cheaper version that would be useful to students. Wyatt's Manual was beautiful and expensive, selling at the high price of e$8; Poe's was simple and could be bought for $1.50.

Dec. 11 2015 11:29 AM

A 19th-Century Memory Palace Containing All of Ancient History 

This "Chronographer of Ancient History," published by American educator Emma Willard in 1851, is one in a series of prints Willard designed to teach students about the shape of historical time. Her "Temples of Time" were (she wrote) a way to tap into the power of visual comprehension, so that the historical information conveyed would "by frequent inspection, be formed within, and forever remain, wrought into the living texture of the mind." 

Dec. 9 2015 11:34 AM

How 19th-Century Parisians Under Siege Improvised a System of Airmail by Balloon

The Siege of Paris, one of the more dramatic events of the Franco-Prussian War, began on September 19th, 1870, and ended on January 28th, 1871. As days turned into months, food supply became a matter of great concern. Even the city zoo’s charismatic pair of elephants—Castor and Pollux—ended up on the dining room table (though this feast was more a matter of wealthy elites showing off their exotic tastes than a sign of the city's starvation). 

Dec. 7 2015 1:00 PM

Watch American Yearbook Photos Evolve Over 108 Years 

In research documented in a forthcoming paper, University of California, Berkeley Ph.D student Shiry Ginosar and her team demonstrate how computers could be used to aid historians who want to carry out analysis of large amounts of visual data, using more than a century of yearbook photos of American high school seniors as their test case. In this video, made by Slate producer Aymann Ismail, you can see how their dataset's composite images of graduating 18-year-olds change over time. 

Dec. 4 2015 12:41 PM

Spooky, Beautiful 1930s Photos of London Streets at Night

With his collaborator John Morrison, Harold Burdekin photographed the streets of the city of London in the dark for his book London Night, published in 1934. In a time before stricter air pollution controls, the pair chose foggy nights to make their images, giving the light in the photos a sense of weighty presence. 

Dec. 2 2015 11:30 AM

This 1914 Children’s Map Depicts World War I as a Massive Dogfight

When the First World War started in 1914, most commentators thought that the war would be of short duration, and this was reflected in the relatively light-hearted caricature maps issued in the first months of the war. By the second year, when the true scale of the conflict became apparent, such propaganda maps took on an altogether darker tone.