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from “The Poet” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

The poets made all the words, and therefore language is the archives of history, and, if we must say it, a sort of tomb of the muses. For, though the origin of most of our words is forgotten, each word was at first a stroke of genius, and obtained currency, because for the moment it symbolized the world to the first speaker and to the hearer. The etymologist finds the…

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Thirty Years Ago, the Challenger Crew Plunged Alive and Aware to Their Deaths

The Challenger made it through the spectacular eruption of its external fuel tank with its cabin more or less intact. Rather than being carried to Heaven in an instant, the crippled vessel kept sailing upward for another three miles before its momentum gave out, then plunged 12 miles to the ocean. The crew was, in all likelihood, conscious for the full two and a half minutes until it hit the…

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Challenger Disaster: 30 Years

I was a high school senior, watching on the TV in the library. The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster occurred on January 28, 1986, when the NASA Space Shuttle orbiter Challenger (OV-099) (mission STS-51-L) broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, leading to the deaths of its seven crew members, which included five NASA astronauts and two Payload Specialists. The spacecraft disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Cape…

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I Made My Friends Test the 19th Century’s Hottest Dating Tactic: Reading Aloud

There are perfectly good reasons to read aloud that don’t involve skirting Victorian restrictions on the stoking of passions, but I was somewhat amused by this assessment of the place of reading in today’s culture. It reminds me of the story of the local officials who, upon learning that the number of books in a family’s home is a good predictor of a student’s academic success, handed out free books…

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How Mickey Mouse Evades the Public Domain

I get my fill of Disney pretty quick. In the 90s I chose the time period 1920-1950 for my dissertation, because at the time works published in the early 1920s were entering the public domain in the US. I figured I could publish online annotated editions of the works I had studied, as each fell out of copyright. A certain rodent changed all that. Every time Disney’s beloved mouse is…

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What Jane [Austen] Saw: 1796 Shakespeare Gallery

You are invited to time travel to two art exhibitions witnessed by Jane Austen: the Sir Joshua Reynolds retrospective in 1813 or the Shakespeare Gallery as it looked in 1796. These two Georgian blockbusters took place, years apart, in the same London exhibition space at 52 Pall Mall (it no longer exists). When Austen visited in 1813, the building housed the British Institution, an organization promoting native artists. On her…

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Excessive Copyright Strikes Again in 2016

Current US law extends copyright for 70 years after the date of the author’s death, and corporate “works-for-hire” are copyrighted for 95 years after publication. But prior to the 1976 Copyright Act (which became effective in 1978), the maximum copyright term was 56 years—an initial term of 28 years, renewable for another 28 years. Under those laws, works published in 1959 would enter the public domain on January 1, 2016,…