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Like many sports and hobbies, gamers have developed their own slang and terminology that often varies from game to game. But as online gaming has exploded in popularity in Chinese culture, gamer lingo has begun to bleed into popular speech.
While gaming lingo like “aggro,” “grind” and “respawn” have made their ways into the Oxford English Dictionary, they are still primarily gaming terms. However, online multiplayer games like DOTA 2 and World of Warcraft are so popular in China that gamer lingo has started changing how even non-gamers speak, Christina Xu writes for BoingBoing's Offworld. Now, terms like “PK” (or “Player Kill”), “Live-action Counter-Strike” and “Full Blood Resurrection” have almost become commonplace in the modern Chinese vernacular to describe things that have nothing to do with video games.
The Chinese video game market is worth almost $22 billion – and with about 517 million gamers in the country, that market is only growing. But while the government only recently lifted a ban on consoles like the Xbox and PlayStation, PC games have long been a major part of Chinese popular culture. Now, phrases like “PK,” which usually means to kill an opponent’s character in a video game, is used in singing competitions. “Live-action Counter-Strike” refers to an enormously popular first-person shooter, but is a term used to promote games like paintball or laser-tag. And “Full Blood Resurrection,” which originally referred to a gamer’s health bar being restored to full after an in-game death was recently used in Chinese newspapers to describe a giant, inflatable rubber duck in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor being reinflated after a mishap, Xu writes.
China’s relationship with online gaming also has a darker side. Gaming and internet addiction is a big problem, with an estimated 24 million internet addicts in the country, Massoud Hayoun writes for Al-Jazeera America. In some cases, as Danny Vincent from The Guardian reported in 2011, the government is profiting off of the virtual economies within online multiplayer games by forcing prisoners to become “gold farmers,” spending long hours collecting virtual gold through basic, monotonous in-game tasks that can be sold in bulk to gamers around the world for real money. In 2011, it was estimated that 80% of gold farmers around the world are based in China, with about 100,000 people farming gold full-time,Vincent writes.
But even if the worlds that gamers play in are virtual, the effect they have on the real world is undeniable.
In decades past, travelers along Route 66 might stop for a bite at The Mill, a Lincoln, Illinois, restaurant built in the shape of a Dutch windmill. The little eatery was among many attractions that once dotted the iconic highway, and its ever-changing menu offered an eclectic selection of dishes: wiener schnitzel sandwiches, ham and peanut butter on toast, ice cream, and the occasional squirrel dinner.
The Mill shut down in 1996, but an 11-year restoration project has given the restaurant a new life, John Reynolds reports for the State Journal Register. Over the weekend, The Mill reopened as a museum dedicated to exploring Lincoln’s ties to Route 66.
The Route 66 Heritage Foundation of Logan County, a non-profit group, raised $90,000 to restore the derelict building. The Mill’s crumbling roof and broken windows have been fixed, and the original flooring has been restored. Inside, visitors can find transportation-themed displays—like a robotic replica of a former Lincoln gas station— and items from other local restaurants that once thrived in the area.
“Route 66 is one of the most iconic, special places anywhere in America,” Governor Bruce Rauner said during The Mill’s opening ceremony, according to Reynolds. “It is what America is about—the freedom of the road, exploring our communities ... and coming to the local tourist destinations.”
The now-defunct 2,448-mile highway was a diagonal road that ran between Chicago and Los Angeles, according to The National Historic Route 66 Federation. When it opened in the 1920s, Route 66 provided a vital route to the Pacific coast for America’s burgeoning truck industry and linked hundreds of rural communities to Chicago.
During the Depression era, thousands of migrants traveled to California along Route 66, trying to escape the drought-ridden Dust Bowl of the Great Plains (Steinbeck famously referred to the highway as the “mother road” in Grapes of Wrath). Automobile traffic on the highway proliferated during the postwar years, and restaurants, gas stations, and motels began cropping up along Route 66, offering travelers a place to rest and refuel. The highway became a fixture of pop culture, inspiring—among other things—Nat King Cole’s classic 1946 song and an ambitious 1960s TV show.
The Mill dates back to the early years of Route 66. In 1929, Paul Coddington opened his Dutch-inspired restaurant, which he called The Blue Mill. The manager’s children dressed in Dutch costumes, while waitresses served the decidedly non-Dutch dish of fried ham, peanut butter, and mayo sandwiches, according to an Indiegogo fundraising page for the restaurant. Soon, Coddington established a reputation for serving up sandwiches "at any hour of the day or night," writes Kevin Barlow at the Pantagraph.
In 1945, the restaurant was purchased by Albert and Blossom Huffman, who attached an old army barracks to the building. They painted it red and converted it into a dance hall, where live country bands would play on the weekend.
Between the '50s and '80s, Route 66 was gradually replaced by larger, multiple-lane superhighways that could better accommodate heavy traffic, according to Robert McHenry of Encyclopedia Britannica. The Mill soldiered on for a few years, reinventing itself as a museum of oddities complete with a 20-pound stuffed catfish, a noise-making toilet and a mechanical leg that dangled through a hole in the ceiling. But The Mill shut down in 1996, and the building fell into a state of disrepair.
Now, curious patrons can visit the historic building that offered up food and fun to many Route 66 travelers. The team behind the restoration has preserved much of the Mill’s flavor: the building is still bright red, a windmill sail still churns outside and if you look up, you'll see a disembodied, robotic leg still dangling from the ceiling.
"Herrn Leutnant Holthoff von Fassmann im Kaiser Alexander Garde Grenadier Rgt. No. 1 gewidmet."
"Otto Köpping ... Hoboist im Kaiser im Kaiser Alexander Garde Grenadier Rgt. No. 1 /Berlin."
Illustrated t.p. has a picture of a hot air balloon and an inset picture (from photograph) of a man in a military officer's uniform standing in a hot air balloon basket, surrounded by other men in uniform.
In a journey back to the world of the hobo, James R. Chiles describes life in the hobo jungles, the struggle to escape from angry "bulls" (railroad police), the difference between "bums" and "yeggs" and "tramps," and what it was like to hop a freight. "I grab it as tight as I can," a young hobo recalls. "I think my arms will be jerked out of their sockets." Hoboes had their own do's and don'ts, Chiles reports. Stealing from the general public was kept to a minimum. It might be OK to filch a piece of pie or a clean shirt from a laundry line, but breaking into someone's house was an extremely serious offense--it might lead friendly householders to stop giving back porch meals in return for splitting wood or carrying water.
Restless and displaced veterans began riding the rails soon after the Civil War, as more and more railroads were extended west, but Chiles' account concentrates on the Depression era when hoboes became something of a national preoccupation. In the 1870s there were only 53,000 miles of railroad track. By 1930 there were 230,000. In the 1890s stories generally described men on the bum as "demented vagrants" or "depraved savages" or "symbols of primitive evil." But in the 1930s Americans sympathized; one in five of the able-bodied population was out of work. Besides, the public had fallen in love with Charlie Chaplin as the touching Little Tramp; and in 1941 a celebrated film, Sullivan's Travels, with Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake, made people understand what it was like to ride the rails, and to face the world as down-and-outers.
Hoboes are often thought of as losers, but Chiles notes that included among them at various times were such future notables as novelist Louis L'Amour, oil billionaire H. L. Hunt, journalist Eric Sevareid and Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. Included also was Chiles himself, who, some years back, rode the rails briefly to get a taste of hobo life.
It’s a staple of birthday parties around the world, but for the past two years a battle has been raging over who owns the song “Happy Birthday to You.” Now, some recently uncovered documents might just free the Birthday Song from copyright and put it in the public domain.
Originally composed by Patty and Mildred Hill in the late 19th century, the copyright has been owned by Warner/Chappell Music for almost 30 years, writes Michael E. Miller for the Washington Post. Since purchasing the song in 1988, Warner/Chappell has aggressively defended their copyright, going so far as to sue the Girl Scouts for publicly singing the song in 1996. While it’s become something of a joke in the film and television world, there’s big money in the Birthday Song, to the tune of $2 million a year in licensing fees.
For most of that time the copyright went unchallenged, with most choosing to either pay for the rights or to compose their own birthday song. Documentarian Jennifer Nelson did the same in 2013, when she paid $1,500 for the rights to use footage of people singing “Happy Birthday to You” in a film she was making about the song’s history. But as she did more research, she became more and more skeptical of Warner/Chappell’s claim to the song, Miller writes. So she sued them.
“I felt that there was legitimate reason to take action and not just let this be an industry joke,” Nelson said in a 2014 video about the lawsuit. “So here I am...I just saw something that was inherently wrong and we all joked about it and laughed about it and didn’t do anything about. But then I realized we could do something about it and I did.”
For the last two years, Nelson has been fighting Warner/Chappell in California district court. A judge was set to deliver a ruling this summer, but on July 13 Warner/Chappell submitted more than 500 pages of new documents — including an “illegibly blurred” copy of “Happy Birthday to You” from a 1927 songbook Nelson and her team had never seen before. After a flurry of digging, Nelson uncovered a 1922 version of the book with a crucial difference – there was no copyright listed.
Nelson says this proves that the Birthday Song has been in the public domain for almost a century, calling it “a proverbial smoking gun,” Miller writes. Lawyers representing Warner/Chappell denied hiding any documents in court and argued that the “special permission” granted in 1922 doesn’t nullify the original copyright.
Judge George H. King considered the new evidence in during a hearing on July 29. Soon enough, people around the world may be able to sing “Happy Birthday to You” without fear of being sued.
There are 43 muscles in the human face, so it's no wonder that the range of emotions expressed by those muscles extends well beyond the six reseachers tend to focus on—"happy sad, fearful, angry, surprised and disgusted," according to the Guardian. And now researchers have identified 21 "emotional states" and their corresponding human facial expressions.
Researchers used a computer program to analyze the faces of 230 volunteers. These 21 expressions, the researchers found, were more or less universal among the group, NPR reports. Some were hybrids of basic emotional states, like happily disgusted (i.e., when you watch The Aristrocrats) or sadly angry (i.e., when you discover your signficant other is cheating on you).
The volunteers were all American, NPR points out, so at this point the team doesn't know whether or not happily disgusted is a distinctly North American expression or a universal human experience.
Christmas of 1918 was just months away, and the United States — immersed in the war effort — was considering calling off Santa. Perhaps parents should invest in Liberty bonds rather than in toys, the powers-that-be reasoned. Why should toys be saved when so many other items were being sacrificed during wartime?
Addressing the Council of National Defense in a special meeting, an energetic businessman from New Haven, Connecticut, explained why. America, argued A. C. Gilbert, was the home of educational toys, toys that prepared our boys for adulthood. He also brought examples. Soon, the Secretaries of War, the Navy, Commerce and the Interior were playing with tiny submarines and engines, reading children's books and tinkering with A. C. Gilbert's own popular creation: the Erector set.
He was touted in the press that year as "The Man Who Saved Christmas," but as author Bruce Watson points out, A. C. Gilbert and his trusty Erector sets also saved "rainy afternoons from boredom" and "inquiring minds...from the tedium of science textbooks." From 1913, when he released his first boxes of steel girders, nuts and bolts, till his death in 1961, A. C. Gilbert was inseparable from the popular toy, and the toy was inseparable from American boyhood.
Whether as a champion pole-vaulter, a professional magician or a purveyor of constructive fun, A. C. Gilbert set out to be the very best — and encouraged the same drive in his young customers. Times and toys have changed, and Gilbert's Erector sets and science kits now sell only among collectors. But the fond memories of millions of grown-up "Erector Engineers" — including our author — live on.
Curator Dr. Katherine Ott invited students in Dr. Samuel J. Redman's Museum/Historic Site Interpretation Seminar to explore the museum's disability history collections and write blog posts sharing their research. Read more posts by the students in our Disability History section.
Andrew Roy was 26 years old when Lieutenant Henry S. Farley lobbed the infamous first shot of the Civil War over Charleston Harbor on April 17, 1861. He answered President Lincoln's call for 75,000 volunteers by travelling north from his native Maryland and enlisting in a Pennsylvania regiment. The young man paid dearly for his zeal when he was gravely wounded at the Battle of Gaines Mill.
A private in Company F, Tenth Pennsylvania Reserves, Andrew Roy and his unit rushed forward to bolster the Union line against tenacious Confederate assaults. During the charge, he was felled by a shot that destroyed the left side of his pelvis. Roy was then captured when the field hospital he was kept in was overrun by Rebel forces a few days later. Upon returning home from a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp in Richmond, Virginia, his transition to civilian life was plagued by the wound's perpetual pain and numbness. Back home, despite holding a managerial position at a mine, Roy took weeks off from his job because of his health, relying on a disability pension for survival. Before his death in 1914, he lamented, "My lameness grows worse and the pain is more severe each year. ... My [left] foot seems dead." Doctors commented that he was, "wholly unfit to care for himself and demands constant attention."
Andrew Roy was one of over 275,000 northern soldiers wounded in the American Civil War—although he avoided amputation, unlike more than 20,000 fellow comrades who wore the Union blue. Following the death and destruction of the war, survivors faced the difficult task of finding significance in their suffering and sacrifice. Northern civilians and wounded veterans of the Federal Army offered an array of responses to the nation's anguish through ritualized commemorations in the ensuing decades. Two dominant portrayals of disabled veterans emerged: pitiful cripples and a more popular version depicting the wounded as the epitome of masculine patriotism. Scars, limps, and amputations were honorifics that symbolized the Union man's character as an individual who had sacrificed dearly to preserve the Union.
Religion helped to define public perceptions of wounded veterans, suggesting that a soldier's torment was ordained by a higher power for the national good. As Henry Palmer wrote in a handwriting competition for Federal soldiers who had lost a dominant hand:
"My right arm, as if conscious of approaching dissolution, seemingly bequeathed unto the left arm, all the properties of which it died, seized and possessed. The seal of this Last Will and Testament was the bloodseal of amputation—Patriotism, Love and Country, and Equal Rights were the subscribing witnesses to the instrument—The body from which the arm was severed, was the Executor—In Heaven's Court, the will was proved, allowed and recorded."
A carte-de-visite featuring a wounded veteran of the Union army taken some time during the 1860s. Many veterans with a visible, permanent wound would pin their shirt and/or pant sleeves together instead of opting for free artificial limbs that were considered very uncomfortable.
Despite the misery, Union veterans attempted to demonstrate self-reliance. Perhaps the greatest example of independence was Major General Oliver Otis Howard, who rose to become the head of the Freedmen's Bureau after the war. Veterans argued that their injuries encouraged increased social and economic independence, and some used their wounds for political leverage. Lucius Fairchild, who received an amputation after being seriously wounded during the Battle of Gettysburg, won the Wisconsin gubernatorial election of 1866 and became a prominent veteran-affairs spokesperson for former members of the Federal Army. As such, scarred veterans as virtuous harbingers appeared in the popular culture for a public concerned about the profound effects of the war on wounded soldiers. "The Empty Sleeve: A Song with Chorus" by P.A. Hanaford and Reverend J.W. Dadmun of Boston, Massachusetts, was a popular sheet music written in 1866. Its chorus venerated Civil War veterans:
"Three hearty cheers for those who lost
An arm in Freedom's Fray
And bear about an empty sleeve
But a patriot's heart today."
The lyrics correlate physical sacrifice and triumphant patriotism. This righteous empty sleeve iconography was not equally bestowed, however. African American veterans went unacknowledged, and were barred from most veterans' organizations. Veteran Will Thomas, who participated in the same contest as Henry Palmer stated, "I don't expect to win a position as a clerk, that being ascribed on count of my color." Thus, at least within the confines of northern society, the physical changes that black veterans like Thomas suffered were largely ignored by the community. Listen to the song here. This post's headline also comes from the song's lyrics.
While many men spoke of their injuries in a variety of ways, many more remained silent about the nature of their wounds. While some wounded veterans celebrated personal success later in life, others endured a lifetime of hardship. Roy did not say how his wound affected his patriotism despite professing great esteem for the late Abraham Lincoln in a speech given several decades after General Robert E. Lee's surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant in Wilmer McLean's parlor. The stories circulated by thousands of northern veterans and civilians illustrated the complex post-war psyche that attempted to explain the presence of the permanently wounded soldiers who had served in "Mr. Lincoln's army."
Note: The phrase has been borrowed from the first book in Bruce Catton's trilogy chronicling the history of the Army of the Potomac.
Matt Coletti is a graduate student in the Public History Program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. His academic interests include the public memory and contemporary collective interpretations of the American Civil War, as well as the psychological repercussions of war on individual and community life in a historical context.
Why did I buy that set of steak knives I don't even need? Which online restaurant reviews can I trust? How come my number-loving friend opted out of AP math courses in high school?
These are the types of questions that social scientists tackle every day, trying to tease apart the complex and sometimes unexpected reasons humans do what they do. In 2005, journalist Shankar Vedantam reported a story for The Washington Post in which he explored unconscious bias and the social scientists working to understand it through implicit association tests. He became so fascinated by the influence of the unconscious mind on human behavior that he decided to dive further into the topic in a book called The Hidden Brain.
Vedantam then joined NPR as a science correspondent in 2011, and his radio reports on human behavior and social science quickly gained a loyal following. Now those listeners and podcast fanatics everywhere can hear more from Vedantam about the role the unconscious mind plays in their behavior in a new NPR podcast, aptly called Hidden Brain.
The first episode of the podcast drops on September 22, and a sneak peek is out now. We spoke with Vedantam to learn more about it. (The following has been edited for length.)
What is Hidden Brain?
The Hidden Brain has many different incarnations. If your question is specifically about the podcast, the goal of Hidden Brain really is to connect people’s everyday lived experiences with interesting and rigorous science. I think the great joy that I have in this work is finding moments when I can connect work that is rigorous and scientifically solid with the kind of experiences that people have in everyday life—the way they park their car, the way they read a restaurant review—and to basically say, look, there are ways in which science can illumine the life that you lead and help you think about your world with curiosity and freshness.
Where did you come up with the term?
So "hidden brain" is a term that I coined as I was writing my book a few years ago. It’s really a metaphor to describe the many things that happen in our minds that lie outside of our conscious awareness. And I think over the last 10 or 20 years there’s just been this explosion of research, empirically grounded rigorous research, that suggests that in everyday life, many of our perceptions and judgments and decisions are shaped by factors that lie outside of conscious awareness. Some of these hidden things are actually accessible if we try very hard to pay attention to them. But others are completely hidden and we actually have no ability to get at them even if we try very hard consciously.
What are some examples of topics you will cover in the podcast?
One of our early episodes, for example, is going to look at a pattern in communication where people are conversing with one another, but really talking past one another. This idea is called switch tracking. A couple of episodes later, we’re going to look at this idea that’s being explored in a lot of psychological research known as stereotype threat, which is this idea that if you believe that the world holds certain stereotypes about you, your concern that you’re the victim of those stereotypes is going to shape how you behave and how you see the world.
The tagline of the show is "A conversation about life’s unseen patterns." Can you give an example of an unseen pattern?
A central premise of Hidden Brain really is that once you identify these unconscious and hidden forces acting on us, it gives you some power and agency to actually do something about it. You can actually choose to make different choices once you’re aware that you’re being biased or once you’re aware that your judgments and perceptions are being subtly shaped by these factors that lie outside of your awareness.
Are there any studies or topics that your listeners have loved or hated?
I did a story a couple of years ago that connected the work of the philosopher Albert Camus with new research into why people get stuck in boring jobs. Camus had written this famous essay, The Myth of Sisyphus, about the man who rolls the boulder up and down the hill for all eternity. And the idea is Camus was dealing with this question of how we deal with drudgery and monotony and boredom in our lives, and how we actually should address this from a philosophical standpoint.
The new research was looking at why is it that many people are stuck in jobs that they find dissatisfying and boring … and it found that people sometimes choose occupations and professions and activities that are boring because they’re unwilling to take a chance on activities that might be more fulfilling, because they actually might carry more risk. And this idea of connecting the psychological research into people’s choices and their professions with this philosophical idea that Camus explained many decades ago really struck a nerve.
How much trust should people place in social science and human behavior studies?
I think there have been a lot of concerns raised in recent years about the accuracy and the reproducibility of scientific studies. Many of these concerns have been raised about studies that are in the social sciences, although I don’t think the social sciences are unique in terms having this problem. And the way that I think about many of these studies is I think of it is as being that each study sort of gives us a new picture to understand how the world works.
So when humans first looked up and saw the moon, they had theories about what the moon was. And several hundred years later, when we built telescopes and could look at the moon more closely, we could see different aspects of the moon that we hadn’t seen before, and we came up with new models of how the moon works. And then eventually when we sent satellites into space and astronauts to land on the moon, we saw the moon up close. Now each of these versions gives us a more accurate version of reality. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the previous version was wrong, it just means that it’s a different map.
What have you learned about yourself from reporting on human behavior?
I think my interest in the hidden brain stems from the fact that I think of myself as being a very rational and very deliberate person. I think I was drawn to it first of all because it seems so alien to me, so alien to the way I thought I lived my life. So part of the reason I think I continue to be fascinated with this whole field of the hidden brain is that at some fundamental level, I feel like it’s teaching me things about myself.
Is there any technology being developed that researchers might use to better study human behavior in the future?
I think there are a lot of interesting ideas that are being worked on right now. There’s research, for example, looking at whether you could study facial expressions as a window into people’s emotional states, and can those expressions tell us something that people are not able or willing to tell us when you just ask them the question. There’s a lot of work that looks at brain imaging that is trying to peer deeper and deeper into the way the brain works to say, can you understand from these brain and neurological processes how it is we think about the world. And in many ways I think some of these technologies are already providing us with very valuable tools to understand how the mind works.
I would argue that psychological techniques and experiments are also a technology. I would argue the implicit association test is a technology. It’s not a technology that uses a machine to peer inside the brain, but it’s a technology that really uses scientific techniques to say, how do we better understand what’s happening inside people’s heads. I am not personally enamored by the idea that the only technologies that are valuable are the technologies that come from machines. I think you can be very rigorous and base your work on empirical science even if you’re not using a brain scanner.
Ask a modern-day treasure hunter what ship they’d most want to find and many would say they’d give their right arm to discover the wreck of the San José, a Spanish treasure ship that went to the bottom of the Caribbean Sea in 1708.
Well, as it turns out, researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), the Colombian Navy, Maritime Archaeology Consultants and Switzerland AG did find the “Holy Grail” of shipwrecks in 2015, and only recently received permission to tell the world about the find. The treasure trove of gold, silver and gems it holds is worth an estimated $1 to $17 billion, reports Lauren Landrum at CNN.
According to a press release an expedition to find the legendary treasure galleon was launched in 2015 with researchers combing the seas using the Colombian Navy’s research ship ARC Malpelo. WHOI provided an autonomous underwater vehicle called REMUS 6000, which surveyed the Barú Peninsula during a first expedition in June of that year. The team returned to the location for a second go-around, locating the San José on November 27. “During that November expedition, we got the first indications of the find from side scan sonar images of the wreck,” WHOI expedition leader Mike Purcell says. “From those images, we could see strong sonar signal returns, so we sent REMUS back down for a closer look to collect camera images.”
REMUS got within 30 feet of the wreck, close enough to image the ship's unique canons. In later dives, researchers captured images of dolphins engraved on the canons, positively IDing the wreck as the fabled ship.
WHOI research engineer Jeff Kaeli was alone in his bunk when images of the cannons first appeared. “I just sat there for about 10 minutes and smiled,” he tells CBS News. “I'm not a marine archaeologist, but...I know what a cannon looks like. So in that moment, I guess I was the only person in the world who knew we'd found the shipwreck."
Now, of course, the whole world knows, but the researchers aren’t giving out many details. One reason is that the ownership of the treasure is already being disputed by Spain, which owned the ship; Colombia, in whose waters it sits; and marine archaeologists, who found the ship. However it pans out, Colombia is preparing for the contents of the ship to be salvaged and has already committed to building a state-of-the-art conservation lab and museum to process the wreck, pointing out that there’s much more than treasure at stake.
“The San José discovery carries considerable cultural and historical significance for the Colombian government and people because of the ship’s treasure of cultural and historical artifacts and the clues they may provide about Europe’s economic, social, and political climate in the early 18th century,” WHOI states in the press release.
Per the Associated Press, the United Nations cultural agency Unesco has stepped into the ownership dispute, and it recently called on Colombia “not to commercially exploit the 300-year-old wreck.”
You might be surprised to learn that it was a stupid mistake that led to the sinking of the San José in the first place. Laura Geggel at LiveScience reports that every year, the treasure galleon laden with precious metals and gems from mines in the Potosi region of Peru would depart South America, bound for Spain and flanked by a fleet of warships.
In 1708, however, the escort squadron was delayed. Nevertheless, fleet commander admiral José Fernandez de Santillan decided to sail the San José for Europe, despite the ongoing War of the Spanish Succession.
Sure enough, the treasure ship met four English warships off the coast of Colombia. Its 62 highly decorated cannons weren’t enough to fend off the royal navy, and during a firefight the San José's powder magazine was hit. The ship, which had approximately 600 people aboard, went down—too quickly for the British to salvage the treasure.
As the rain clouds began to blow out to sea over the fortress of Castillo San Felipe del Morro, I looked out over the crowd of veterans and their families, knowing that not even rain could ruin this day for them. On April 27, 2016, a team of Smithsonian staff traveled to Puerto Rico with the most recently issued Congressional Gold Medal, which was presented to the U.S. Army 65th Infantry Regiment, nicknamed "The Borinqueneers." According to the Senate's website, the medal was given in recognition of the regiment's "pioneering military service, devotion to duty, and many acts of valor in the face of adversity." The Congressional Gold Medal is the "highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions by individuals or institutions," according to the site.
The first Congressional Medals were issued by the Continental Congress and struck in Paris during the American Revolution to "serve as an expression of national appreciation," according to the Congressional Research Service. Long before the power of the Internet, medals were small, portable objects on which images and messages could be struck and disseminated around the country and around the world. The medals were used to commemorate "distinguished contributions, dramatize the virtues of patriotism, and perpetuate the remembrance of great events." It should come as no surprise that the first recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal was General George Washington, the commander of the Continental Army. Washington received the medal for "wise and spirited conduct" in the Siege of Boston in June 1775.
The 65th Infantry Regiment is the recipient of the most recent medal in honor of its valor, determination, and bravery during the Korean War. The 65th is the first segregated Hispanic military unit in the history of the United States. The 65th Infantry Regiment garnered the nickname "The Borinqueneers" originating from the Taíno name of the island of Puerto Rico (Borinquen). Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory in 1898 and in 1917, Puerto Ricans were granted statutory citizenship. The 65th Infantry Regiment participated in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. Interestingly, the first shots fired from the United States, signaling its involvement in World War I, were shot from the fort of "El Morro" San Juan, Puerto Rico at a German ship that sailed into in San Juan Bay on March 21, 1915. Since that time, over 100,000 Borinqueneers have served as American war veterans and "The Borinqueneers" hold another distinction as the first military unit with service during the Korean War to receive this award.
Since the American Revolution, Congressional Gold Medals have been awarded for more than just military service and valor. Recipients of these medals include humanitarians, explorers, actors, and even foreign recipients such as the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. Prestigious recipients of this medal include actor John Wayne, Walt Disney, boxer Joe Louis, Native American Code Talkers, and civil rights activist Rosa Parks. One of my favorites is the Japanese American Nisei Congressional Gold Medal, which is part of the museum's collection.
To date, over 300 Congressional Gold Medals have been awarded. My congratulations to the Borinqueneers, whose patriotism inspires so many of us.
Hillery York is a collections manager for the National Numismatic Collection.
What do you do after recovering sound from 130-year old recordings? For the museum, the next step was trying to understand that sound. In the exhibition "Hear My Voice": Alexander Graham Bell and the Origins of Recorded Sound," experimental historic sound recordings made by Bell and his Volta Laboratory team in the 1880s are matched with transcripts of the speakers' words. Matching the sound with the written word took a lot of work. Patrick Feaster, three-time Grammy nominee and specialist in history, culture, and preservation of early sound, helped with that effort. In an interview, Feaster discussed his involvement in the project, the process of rediscovering the content of historic sound recordings, and one of the New Media department's favorite phrases from the recordings.
What was your role in the Bell recordings project?
For a long time, I've been studying early sound recordings in the way that some people study early cinema. With this interest, I approached museum curator Carlene Stephens, and got a better understanding of the Bell recordings and the challenges of understanding them. I put in an application for a Lemelson Center Fellowship to study the recordings, and go through written materials about the experiments—some are at the museum and some are at the Library of Congress—and try to pull them together into a better picture of what Bell and his team were doing and how the recordings fit into it.
What can you tell me about the experience of deciphering early sound recordings?
I think a lot of people assume sound recording should be easy to understand. We're used to old writings being difficult to decipher and old artworks taking some work to figure out, but sound recordings that don't make sense tend to throw people. I've done a good bit of listening to early sound recordings and I've developed something of an ear for it. It’s certainly nothing magical; it's having a sense of what certain phonographic processes do to different speech sounds. A lot of it is understanding the culture and context well enough to know the range of possibilities: what things are people most likely to have said?
How do you research phrases you hear that were more common in spoken language than in written language?
When I listen, I try to pick out names of people or short phrases of recitations, just to lock onto four or five distinctive words in a row that I'm pretty sure about. I then search for that string of words online. Often I find digitized texts that contained those words. I see what words are before them, what words are after them, and hopefully that fits a part of the recording that I hadn't been able to figure out. When all of that falls into place, it's incredibly gratifying, like finding the final piece in a jigsaw puzzle.
Can you explain the phrase "How is that for high?" from the recordings?
Going through written Volta materials, I got a sense for the kinds of test phrases they liked to use. "How is that (or this, both occur) for high?" was one. I'd say it's something along the lines of "How do you like them apples?," "Well what do you think of that?," or "Amazing, isn't it?" It’s a little hard to find an equivalent, but it's a slightly boastful, slightly playful, remark of something being very clever, interesting, astonishing, or marvelous. I don't know that anyone from the period defined it clearly or unambiguously. It would be like trying to define Homer Simpson's "D'oh!" "How's that for high?" turns up all over the place in popular songs, newspaper stories, and apparently, it occurred to the folks who were making these recordings. Why they used it is an interesting question. Generally you might use it in a way such as, "Hey I just found a $50 bill on the sidewalk! How's that for high?" But in this case, it just pops up in the middle of the recording, among other phrases. So I guess just the fact that the words could be reproduced at all is one of these things you might want to say that about.
Deciphering the words and phrases in 130-year old sound recordings? How’s that for high?