Friday, November 17, 2017

Salvator Mundi

Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi, or "Savior of the World," has just set a new world record for a work of art sold at auction, realizing $450,312,500 (including buyer's premium) at Christie's in New York on November 15, 2017. The work is one of a small number of surviving paintings attributed to da Vinci, and according to Christie's, was the last not already in a museum collection. The buyer has not as yet been publically revealed. The art conservator Dianne Dwyer Modestini spent several years restoring the painting, beginning in 2005.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Great Cornell Pumpkin Prank

On the morning of October 8, 1997, it was observed that a pumpkin had mysteriously been placed overnight atop the spire of Cornell University's McGraw Tower. The Common Curator had just begun work at Big Red, and recalls the great buzz that the pumpkin created across campus--and beyond. Twenty years later, the identity of the perpetrator(s) of one of the greatest college pranks is still not known with certainty, although various explanations have been put forward.

Initially, it was unclear if the object was actually a pumpkin, as the tower is 173' tall. For pumpkin skeptics and conspiracists, a recent Cornell Chronicle article features a photo of the "Certificate of Authenticity" from the Kingsbury Commission (which intensively studied the matter) that unequivocally states: "It's a pumpkin." A thorough and fascinating summary of the events, and speculation, surrounding the incident has also recently been published by Atlas Obscura.

To mark the 20th anniversary, Cornell University Library is hosting a "PumpkinCam Redux," with much--but not all--of the content of the original website. Bits and cucurbits both decay, after all. Happy Halloween!

Note: the photo above is a Cornell University file photo.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

UNESCO Statement on the Withdrawal of the United States from Membership

Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, delivered on October 12, 2017 a statement of "profound regret" on the decision of the United States to withdraw from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization effective December 31, 2018. Bakova stated that "Universality is critical to UNESCO’s mission to strengthen international peace and security in the face of hatred and violence, to defend human rights and dignity," and delineated numerous initiatives, collaborations, and projects that have involved the United States, which was one of the original signers of the Constitution of UNESCO on November 16, 1945.

One notable UNESCO program achievement, in 2008, was the designation of Iowa City, Iowa as a UNESCO City of Literature. It was just the third city in the world to be accorded such recognition, and to date is the only such city in the United States. Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature Executive Director John Kenyon, in an article in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, observed that he was personally very disappointed by the withdrawal, and noted that "This decision has not made things better for UNESCO." He also remarked that "UNESCO's ability to better the world was compromised" when the United States ceased paying membership contributions in 2011 under the Obama administration.

A press statement by the U.S. Department of State earlier today indicates that UNESCO was informed, despite the withdrawal, of the United States' ongoing:
. . . desire to remain engaged with UNESCO as a non-member observer state in order to contribute U.S. views, perspectives and expertise on some of the important issues undertaken by the organization, including the protection of world heritage, advocating for press freedoms, and promoting scientific collaboration and education.
Meanwhile, the Iowa City Book Festival continues this week with its full slate of activities, including events celebrating the 50th anniversary of the International Writing Program. Festival highlights for today also include the bestowal of the Paul Engle Prize to this year's recipient, Alexander Chee.

It is worth recalling that the Preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO begins with the assertion "that since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed." And today that must include the minds of everyone.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Sputnik I Launches the Space Age 60 Years Ago

Euronews recounts in its Legends of Space series the story of the first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth, Sputnik I (Спутник-1), which was launched by the Soviet Union on October 4, 1957.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The 9th Annual Iowa City Book Festival

Designated in 2008 as one of the first UNESCO Cities of Literature in the world and still the only one in the United States, Iowa City will be hosting the ninth annual Iowa City Book Festival, October 8-15, 2017. In conjunction with the University of Iowa, FilmScene, the Iowa City Public Library, and the Iowa Arts Council, as well as other organizations and individuals, the expanded eight-day event will feature a Book Fair, readings by dozens of authors, and non-stop programming at many venues in and around downtown Iowa City.

In addition, many of this year's events will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the University of Iowa's International Writing Program, which was founded in 1967 by Paul Engle and Hualing Nieh  Engle. During this period, over 1,400 writers from more than 140 countries have spent a residency in Iowa City, where they have enriched the writing culture of the community while experiencing firsthand life at an American university. Also as part of the festival, this year's Paul Engle Prize will be awarded to Alexander Chee.

The 2017 Program can be downloaded as a PDF, and full details can be found at the festival website.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Banned Books Week: Challenge Censorship

Sponsored by the American Library Association and allied organizations, Banned Books Week (September 24-30, 2017) is an annual celebration of the freedom to read. It began in 1982 in response to widespread censorship of books, and since that time over 11,000 books have been challenged in communities throughout the United States.

The American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom has been documenting cases of challenged and banned books since 1990, and the ALA's Library Bill of Rights strongly supports free and unfettered access to information and ideas. Internationally, the Index on Censorship is an organization that promotes and defends the right to freedom of expression.

Friday, September 1, 2017

2017 National Book Festival

The 17th annual National Book Festival, organized and sponsored by the Library of Congress, will be held on Saturday, September 2, 2017, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. The festival is free and open to the public.

More than 100 authors, poets, and illustrators will be making presentations throughout the day in the theme-based pavilions for Children, Teens, Books to Movies, Contemporary Life, Fiction, Food & Home, Graphic Novels, History & Biography, International, Poetry & Prose, and Science. Speakers include such writers as David McCullough, Siddhartha Mukherjee, Dava Sobel, Ibram X. Kendi, Elizabeth Strout, Jesmyn Ward, Margot Lee Shetterly, and many others. 

Further information, including a schedule of events and a map of the festival grounds, can be found at the festival website. Mobile apps are also available for the Festival. This year's poster was designed by Roz Chast; a gallery of all Festival posters from 2001 to 2017 can be viewed here

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Petition to Congress for the Censure of the President

The following petition has garnered over 32,000 signatures to date. As noted in the press release announcing the petition, "the censure of Presidents and members of Congress has been sought and imposed at least 40 times" in the past. After further signatures are gathered in the coming weeks, it is planned to present the petition to every member of the Senate and House of Representatives for "appropriate action." Further information can be found at the petition website and at the petition webpage at (Note also that on July 12, 2017, U.S. Representative Brad Sherman (D-CA) submitted an article of impeachment (H. Res. 438) to the House Committee on the Judiciary.) 

Petition to the Congress of the United States for the Redress of Grievances under the First Amendment Requesting That President Trump Be Censured 

The undersigned, exercising their inalienable right, deriving from the Magna Carta and enshrined in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” do hereby request of each member of the United States Senate and House of Representatives that the Senate and House, separately or jointly, adopt a resolution censuring President Donald J. Trump for the misconduct described below.

The undersigned have concluded, after due deliberation, that President Donald J. Trump, from the day he took office on January 20, 2017 as the forty-fifth President, to the present, has betrayed his obligations to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution” and to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed" by engaging in the following unlawful conduct, and conduct that contravenes, betrays, disparages and denigrates the values enshrined in the Constitution, and demeans the office of President. Far from embracing our constitutional rights and obligations, President Trump has demonstrated that he lacks allegiance to, respect for, or even knowledge of, those rights and obligations.

1. President Trump acted improperly by
       (i) firing Director James Comey of the FBI for refusing to terminate the FBI’s investigation into charges that the Russian Government had sought to influence the outcome of the November 2016 presidential election, and then offering contradictory explanations of the reasons for that firing, one or more of which explanations must have been false.
       (ii) interfering in the FBI’s investigation of Michael Flynn, who had been National Security Advisor until his recent firing by the President, by asking FBI Director Comey to terminate that investigation.
       (iii) disclosing highly classified intelligence information to Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, and the Russian Ambassador to the United States, Sergei. Kislyak, in a private meeting in the Oval Office on May 10, 2017.
       (iv) abusing the powers of his office and the integrity and independence of the Justice Department by admonishing Attorney General Sessions for having recused himself from involvement in the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

2. President Trump has disgraced his office by repeatedly making false statements publicly in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1001 which provides, in relevant part, that "...whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative or judicial branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully...makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation...shall be fined,...imprisoned not more than 5 years...or both.
       (i) President Trump asserted on March 4, 2017 that his predecessor, then President Barack Obama, had tapped his phone at Trump Tower in New York City. Neither President Trump nor anyone else has offered any evidence to support this claim, which must, therefore, be concluded to have been false.

3. President Trump has ownership, leasehold, licensing or other interests in numerous hotels in Washington, D.C., elsewhere in the United States and abroad in which individuals holding office in foreign governments have stayed and/or enjoyed meals and entertainment, and has thereby violated Article 1, Section 10 (the “Emoluments Clause”) of the United States Constitution. Further, President Trump continues to hold and benefit from his many assets, both foreign and domestic, receiving profits and benefits, such as trademarks, from foreign powers, which constitute wrongfully received emoluments. By engaging in those violations, President Trump has also violated his oath of office to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

4. President Trump has disparaged, demeaned and ridiculed women, including statements referring to the lack of intelligence and the physical appearance of a television commentator. Such conduct betrays our Nation’s values and undermines the hard-fought equality of women in our Nation.

5. By announcing on May 31, 2017 that the United States is withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accords signed by 195 nations, President Trump has acted recklessly, without justification and contrary to the wishes of the great majority of the American people, and has thereby jeopardized the residents of our country and their descendants.

6. President Trump has refused, and made clear that he will continue to refuse, to disclose his previously filed or future federal income tax returns in violation of a long-standing tradition of disclosure honored by former Presidents. That refusal has deprived and will deprive Congress and the American people of information necessary to determine
       (i) whether, and if so, the extent to which, President Trump violated the Emoluments Clause of the United States Constitution;
       (ii) the President’s past, continuing and future relations with foreign individuals and entities; and
       (iii) the personal impact on President Trump of any proposed amendments to the Internal Revenue Code.

7. From the moment of his inaugural address to date, President Trump has publicly and repeatedly disparaged and defamed his predecessor as President, members of Congress, the Judiciary, Government officials, political opponents, members of the press, and other individuals in a crude, and insulting manner. In addition, he has called into question the legitimacy of the other equal branches of our government, so as to undermine seriously these institutions in the eyes of our people and the world. Thus he has made us fear that our nation is headed in the direction of becoming an authoritarian dictatorship.

8. In June, 2016, Donald Trump’s agents, campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Trump’s son, Donald Trump, Jr., and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, willfully, knowingly, and improperly, sought to obtain from Russian government sources, damaging information regarding Hillary Clinton for the purpose of aiding Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. On July 13, 2017 President Trump defended the foregoing improper actions.

WHEREFORE, the undersigned respectfully request that President Donald J. Trump be censured for the acts, statements and conduct specified above.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Sussex Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, but there has long been disagreement on which day (or days) it was actually signed. Although the evidence is not clear-cut, some historians consider August 2 rather than July 4 to be the day the document was signed by all (or most) of the delegates to the Second Congressional Congress. What is not in dispute, however, is that ultimately 56 signatures were affixed, and that these are grouped by state, with the exception of Congress President John Hancock, whose iconic signature appears at the head of the others. This founding document was engrossed on parchment and is permanently housed in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom at the National Archives Museum in Washington, D.C.

The original Declaration (also known as the Matlack Declaration) is now complemented by the Sussex Declaration, which is the only other known manuscript copy of the Declaration on parchment from the late 1700s. Danielle Allen and Emily Sneff, researchers at Harvard's Declaration Resources Project, first came across the document in August 2015; it derives its moniker from the West Sussex Record Office in Chichester, U.K., the repository where it is located.

The Sussex copy is the same size as the Matlack Declaration, but is oriented horizontally. More notably, some of the signers' names are misspelled, and the names are not grouped by states. Allen and Sneff believe that James Wilson, a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, is the person who likely commissioned the Sussex Declaration. They discuss many of their findings in Discovering the Sussex Declaration, a lecture delivered at the National Archives on July 6, 2017.

Monday, July 31, 2017

In Case You Missed It . . . H. Res. 438

1st Session
H. RES. 438

Impeaching Donald John Trump, President of the United States, for high crimes and misdemeanors.

July 12, 2017
Mr. Sherman (for himself and Mr. Al Green of Texas) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary

Impeaching Donald John Trump, President of the United States, for high crimes and misdemeanors.
Resolved, That Donald John Trump, President of the United States, is impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors and that the following article of impeachment be exhibited to the United States Senate:
Article of impeachment exhibited by the House of Representatives of the United States of America in the name of itself and of the people of the United States of America, against Donald John Trump, President of the United States of America, in maintenance and support of its impeachment against him for high crimes and misdemeanors.
In his conduct while President of the United States, Donald John Trump, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has prevented, obstructed and impeded the administration of justice during a Federal investigation in that:
Knowing that Federal law enforcement authorities were investigating possible criminal law violations of his former National Security Advisor, General Michael Flynn and knowing that Federal law enforcement authorities were conducting one or more investigations into Russian state interference in the 2016 campaign for President of the United States, and that such investigation(s) included the conduct of his campaign personnel and associates acting on behalf of the campaign, to include the possible collusion by those individuals with the Russian government, Donald John Trump sought to use his authority to hinder and cause the termination of such investigation(s) including through threatening, and then terminating, James Comey, who was until such termination the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The pattern of behavior leading to the conclusion that he sought to cause the hindrance or termination of said investigation(s) include the following:
(1) Requesting that the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation curtail the investigation of the activities of General Michael Flynn under circumstances wherein it appeared that Director Comey might be terminated if he failed to adhere to such request.
(2) Making a determination to terminate the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and only thereafter requesting that the Deputy Attorney General provide him with a memorandum detailing inadequacies in the Director’s performance of his duties.
(3) Despite offering differing rationales for the termination of the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, admitted subsequently that the main reason for the termination was that the Director would not close or alter the investigation of matters related to the involvement of Russia in the 2016 campaign for President of the United States.
(4) Stated that, once he had terminated the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the pressure of said investigation had been significantly reduced.
In all of this, Donald John Trump has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.
Wherefore, Donald John Trump, by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial, and removal from office.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Kiva Surpasses $1 Billion in Microloans Worldwide

Founded in 2005 as a non-profit organization to alleviate poverty through microloans to small entrepreneurs worldwide, Kiva has just surpassed $1 billion in total funds lent to some 2.5 million entrepreneurs in over 80 countries. Having established a global network of microfinance field partners, Kiva currently has a repayment rate of 97% across all loans.

To learn more about how Kiva works and its history, visit its website and consider joining the effort to fund entrepreneurs around the world. To date, the Common Curator has made over 180 microloans for projects in 82 countries.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Saving Brinton: The World Premiere

Saving Brinton is a documentary that will have its world premiere at the AFI DOCS film festival on June 17, 2017. The film recounts the discovery by retired history teacher Mike Zahs of some of the earliest films ever made that were shown in small communities by William Franklin Brinton, the "barnstorming movie man" who toured Iowa, Texas, and the Midwest from around 1895 to 1910.

Zahs acquired some 35,000 feet of footage at an auction in 1981, and only thereafter realized the rarity of his acquisitions, which include works by such production companies as Edison, Méliés, Lumiere, and Pathé. Zahs eventually enlisted the help of staff at the Library of Congress and the University of Iowa to preserve and digitize what in some cases was the only known surviving copy of a film title. Saving Brinton was directed by Tommy Haines and Andrew Sherburne, and further information can be found at the documentary's website.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Bob Dylan's Nobel Lecture in Literature

Awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature, Bob Dylan recorded his Nobel Lecture, with piano accompaniment, on June 4, 2017 in Los Angeles. He emphasizes the role literature has played in his music, and describes in particular the influence of three classic works: Moby-Dick, or, The Whale; All Quiet on the Western Front; and The Odyssey. A full transcript of the Lecture is available on the Nobel Prize website.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Celebrating the JFK Centennial: A Strategy of Peace

John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the U.S., was born 100 years ago today on May 29, 1917. The video above is an excerpt from Kennedy's speech, "A Strategy of Peace," delivered at American University in Washington, D.C. on June 10, 1963 [transcript]. In his address, Kennedy exhorts:
Let us examine our attitude toward peace itself. Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable--that mankind is doomed--that we are gripped by forces we cannot control.
We need not accept that view. Our problems are manmade--therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man's reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable--and we believe they can do it again. 
Kennedy further observes:
So, let us not be blind to our differences--but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal. 
The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum offers countless resources related to Kennedy's life and legacy. The JFK Centennial website provides additional information on events and programming related to the 100th anniversary of Kennedy's birth.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest

Entries are now being accepted for the 2017 National Collegiate Book Collecting ContestBegun in 2005 by the Fine Books & Collections magazine for student bibliophiles, the competition is now jointly sponsored by the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America, the Fellowship of American Bibliophilic Societies, as well as the Center for the Book and the Rare Books and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress. 

number of contests are currently held at colleges and universities around the U.S., with Swarthmore College's competition being the first in the 1920s. College-level students from all educational institutions, however, are encouraged to participate. Entries for this year's competition are due by May 31, 2017. Contest rules and further information are available at the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America website. Winners of the last several years can be viewed here: 2016, 2015, 2014201320122011, and 2010.