Adonis Diaries

Archive for June 25th, 2017

 

Collecting the World: The Life and Curiosity of Hans Sloane.

By James Delbourgo.

Allen Lane; 503 pages; £25. To be published in America by Belknap in July; $35.

JOINED-UP words and sentences with verbs are not enough to describe Sir Hans Sloane. An Anglo-Irish physician, collector and naturalist

Only a list can do justice to this man, who was both quite remarkable and, to some, a little touched.

Over the course of a lifetime, he managed to accumulate 3,516 volumes of manuscripts, as well as books of prints, which together amounted to 50,000 volumes; 32,000 medals and coins; 5,843 testacea and shells; 173 starfish; 12,506 vegetable substances and 55 mathematical instruments.

This is just a selection from Sloane’s collection, much of which he eventually catalogued himself.

Or try this: “a set of surgeons’ instruments made from fish-skin; inks and inkhorns; face-paint; medicinal powders and pills; women’s shoes made of leather and silk; gold and silver pins and needles for the practice of acupuncture; tobacco pipes; several portable Buddhist ‘idols’; gilded rhinoceros horns; ‘metallick burning glasses’ and ‘a ball of several colours to be thrown into the fire to perfume a room’.” These are some of the objects Sloane acquired from Japan.

The Anglo-Irish physician, collector and naturalist was not a man of small ambitions. He aimed for universal knowledge, available to all humankind, with a serious play for personal immortality thrown in.

He did not make such a bad fist of them: his acquisitions became the foundation of the British Museum, as well as the collections of the Natural History Museum and the British Library.

He would surely be irritated that his name endures more strongly in London’s topography than in universal understanding.

There are a dozen or so Sloanes and Hanses listed in the city’s “A to Z”, because Sloane had the presence of mind to buy up most of Chelsea in the course of his long and prosperous life.

He was born in Ulster in 1660 and died at 92 with a cunning plan to leave a permanent mark on human civilisation.

He had set himself up in London as a physician and made himself the undisputed king of the capital’s medicine men, attending the best bedsides for the best prices. He married money and enjoyed the revenues from vast slave-plantations in Jamaica.

Sloane was president of the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal Society but he was not exactly a man of ideas.

What he liked was stuff. He was a man of the Enlightenment, but not a man remarkable for enlightened thought. An enemy called him “master of only scraps”.

In his early days Sloane spent a year in Jamaica, working as a physician just as Britain was concentrating on acquiring an empire.

Prudently he stuck to water while his patients drank themselves to death on Madeira wine. This was the time when he began to get serious about collecting.

After he had accumulated his Jamaicana, he returned to London and set about collecting the rest of the world.

In this he had the assistance of a large fortune, a vast network of contacts—he was reckoned to have 1,793 correspondents—and a limitless curiosity, or perhaps a limitless appetite for curious things.

Sloane sold the lot to the nation posthumously, for £20,000 (worth about £4m, or $5.2m, now), which he reckoned was a quarter of its value, to be paid to his two daughters. Had the nation turned down this offer, his executors had instructions to offer the stuff to St Petersburg.

He was a curious man in every sense. His biographer has struggled with a shortage of anecdotal and humanising material.

That gives “Collecting the World” a somewhat static feel, like a cabinet of curiosities. Little of Sloane’s stuff remains on display in London, though there is still a store of his Jamaican specimens in the Sir Hans Sloane herbarium at the Natural History Museum.

It is a reminder of that great tradition of learning, based around museums and libraries and emblematic of what the British Museum would come to describe as being, “for the benefit of all studious and curious persons, native and foreign”.

This article appeared in the Books and arts section of the print edition under the headline Hoarder extraordinaire

Unpaid internships and a culture of privilege are ruining journalism

Rolling Stone magazine drew the ire of journalists across the country last week when the owner, Jann Wenner, named his 22-year-old son, Gus, the head of the magazine’s website.

Naturally, this move has been seen as blatant nepotism. Gus has been working on the website for a whopping six months and is, by most accounts, grossly underqualified for his position. Apparently, privilege has no place in journalism, where the playing field is even and journalists are given opportunities based on merit and hard work alone.

If you’re a journalist nodding along with that last paragraph, then answer this question: does your publication use unpaid interns as the prevalent mode of determining full-time jobs?

If so, then I’m sorry to inform you that your publication is perpetuating a privilege-based upward mobility, and it’s ruining journalism.

As my classmates and I were finishing up our studies at Northwestern’s graduate school of journalism, we were naturally bombarded with stories and speeches from people who were actually successful in the field.

9 out of 10 had the same story: in order to succeed, you have to take an unpaid internship in New York for months or years; you build your resume and eventually land yourself a job.

One senior member of a leading national magazine when asked how someone could pay the bills to affording life in New York while working a full-time internship famously told us that if we couldn’t pull an unpaid internship off, then we didn’t want to succeed badly enough.

When we asked how he pulled it off, he told us about how he lived in his parents’ spare apartment upstate while working his internship.

And therein lies the issue with unpaid internships. The practice of asking recent graduates to spend their days working for free while paying rent and living in a city like New York is a barrier for entry to students from mid- to lower-class backgrounds.

Take these two hypothetical examples:

Two students, one from a single-parent, lower-class household in Gary, Indiana, and another from a wealthy family living in Worcester, Massachusetts whose parents are willing and able to support.

An unpaid internship is much easier to work through for the kid from Worcester, who doesn’t have to worry about earning money with a night job on the side. So many of my classmates decided to just get paying jobs outside of journalism in lieu of slaving away for a couple of years, hoping they’d get a shot at a magazine or website of repute, while classmates with deeper pockets went straight to New York to eat up internships

All of my classmates were qualified to work in any newsroom or publication in the city, but those who could afford the lifestyle got their feet in the door with internships.

Sure, it’s possible for someone to work 40 hours a week without pay while also waiting tables at night, but it sure is easier when you don’t have to worry about earning a living – or paying student loans.

But it’s not like even these “lucky” enough chosen to be unpaid interns have it easy or fair. Oftentimes they work full-time hours without earning any money or receiving any benefits.

Even if they perform well at their jobs, there isn’t a guarantee they’ll actually get hired, so there’s no end in sight for their unpaid labor. Basically, publications employ slave labor for people with degrees.

So why should you, the reader, care about unpaid internships for jobs you don’t want?

These practices have gone a long way to damage the fabric of journalism, and have changed the way issues are reported and the quality of the product you consume on a daily basis.

Recently, I wrote about how stories of crime in New Orleans or Chicago’s Southside are under-reported on the national level, and one of the reasons is the fact that voices from these areas aren’t making it to the national conversation to influence the direction of national discourse.

Media workplaces are becoming populated by those who can afford the jobs. Those who can’t are being shut out.

After the Boston bombings, it seemed like every news station had someone present who could talk about the Boston suburbs. How many outlets had employees at the ready to explain a New Orleans second line, or what it was like growing up during those scary Chicago summers?

As a consumer, I find opinions or perspectives reflecting my own come few and far between.

How many journalists can say they have firsthand knowledge of the mentality of someone from the inner-city? Many of these voices have been muted just because they simply can’t navigate the landscape of privilege that most modern journalism encourages.

The journalists who can tell my story – the story of urban or inner-city America – have taken a job in marketing while disseminating their opinions on blogs, which only small portion of the general public ever see. This is a loss to the art of journalism and its ability to tell the whole American story

Until publications find that more well-rounded reporting is more important than cutting financial corners, they’ll continue to alienate a large portion of the American population, and the stories that lay in the shadows of America’s dark corners will never come to light.

I can relate, having taken unpaid internships (that I had to pay for with college credits) and waiting tables at night. At one internship in New York, my boss wouldn’t let me leave early, even though I had no deadlines, which forced me to work restaurant shifts that often ended at 1-2am.

She was also unforgiving about not arriving promptly at 9am.

This writer has a more important point: these unpaid internships are excluding important voices that represent readers, who as a result feel the news media is out of touch with most Americans.

David Dennis: Media companies that rely on unpaid interns marginalize the voices of low-income communities and minorities
theguardian.com

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