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6 Predecessors to the Toilet

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Humanity has always wanted a nice way to dispose of their body waste. Well, some people in humanity. Most people threw it out the window, put it in their water supply, or left it in an open pit on the edge of the village. But every now and then a more convenient, less disgusting option would present itself. Here are six ways people have tried to make the troublesome business of doing your business more pleasant.

1. The Great Drain

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Not all ancient Romans used the public toilets available to them. If you were at home, it was still more convenient to go in a pot and throw it out the window. This practice was less offensive in Rome than in most places, because their streets were angled so that waste naturally fell into the gutters, which fed into The Great Drain—a constantly flowing stream that washed away from the city. Public toilets were communal and open to all genders and ages. Sponges sat in the ditch in front of the sitter in a constantly running steam of water, which allowed Romans to stab one with a stick, clean their bits, and toss the sponge into The Great Drain.

2. The Garderobe

Note the erosion on the wall directly below the garderobe. Photos courtesy of Flickr (left: gowersaint; right: Ronald Hackston)

It can really add a whole new perspective to Disney movies when you consider that most of the princesses would have relieved themselves in a stone hole that sluiced down the side of their castle to the ground (or moat) below. “Garderobe” can also mean closet, and often the two functions were used at the same time. It was believed that the odor and ammonia would kill off fleas and moths, which were apparently more miserable than smelling like your toilet chute.

3. The Close Stool

Photo courtesy of Stuart Interiors

Ever wonder why the doctors call it a “stool” sample? Well, you’re looking at it. The close stool (also called “the night stool”) held a chamber pot within a pleasant, often ornate seat. Close stools had the hygienic option of being able to close the lid, which would remove the evidence of your vile humanity until a servant came to collect it.

4. The Water Closet

Image courtesy of Victorian Passage

The Water Closet was the first widely used form of flush toilet. It was delightfully civilized and offered the furthest distance man had ever been able to put between himself and his sewage. Water fell from the cistern by force of gravity, and the carefully designed curves of the pipes in the basin helped prevent blockage and kept sewer gas from rising back up through the pipe. Where the pipes led to … that took some years to iron out. Water Closets predated widespread sewage treatment, and often the pipes led to water supplies. They didn’t call it a bathroom in those days, because your bath wasn’t in that room. Rather, many of the toilets were placed in remodeled closets, with just enough room to do what was necessary.

5. The Earth Closet

Photo courtesy of Mark Henderson via The Outhouse of America Tour

The man who invented the Earth Closet, Henry Moule, thought Water Closets and outhouses were “an unnatural abomination.” He became so disgusted with his own outhouse that he filled it in and demanded his family use buckets instead, the contents of which he buried. When he realized that in a few months’ time human waste becomes indistinguishable from the dirt around it, he created the Earth Toilet. After use, a cistern would drop a pile of ash or soil into the pot inside the seat, covering sight and smell until it was taken and buried. He boasted that the excrement/dirt mix that resulted could be dried and reused 25 times without ever becoming offensive to eye or nose. His invention was a reasonable, sanitary solution for the era. But eventually, the cleansing "out of sight–out of mind" swoosh of the water closet won out.

6. The Pig Toilet

Fair warning: This is going to be very unpleasant and might affect your ability to enjoy sweet and sour pork. Pig toilets were once widely used in China, and can still be found in certain provinces. The basic idea is that a person defecates into a pig trough, where pigs, who can and will eat anything … yeah. It was actually considered a very sanitary solution, far superior to an open cesspit or the hassle of proper waste disposal. Not to mention, as far as environmental concerns go, this makes recycling cardboard look decidedly unambitious.

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College Board Wants to Erase Thousands of Years From AP World History, and Teachers Aren't Happy
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One would be forgiven for thinking that the Ides of March are upon us, because Julius Caesar is being taken out once again—this time from the Advanced Placement World History exam. The College Board in charge of the AP program is planning to remove the Roman leader, and every other historical figure who lived and died prior to 1450, from high school students’ tests, The New York Times reports.

The nonprofit board recently announced that it would revise the test, beginning in 2019, to make it more manageable for teachers and students alike. The current exam covers over 10,000 years of world history, and according to the board, “no other AP course requires such an expanse of content to be covered over a single school year.”

As an alternative, the board suggested that schools offer two separate year-long courses to cover the entirety of world history, including a Pre-AP World History and Geography class focusing on the Ancient Period (before 600 BCE) up through the Postclassical Period (ending around 1450). However, as Politico points out, a pre-course for which the College Board would charge a fee "isn’t likely to be picked up by cash-strapped public schools," and high school students wouldn't be as inclined to take the pre-AP course since there would be no exam or college credit for it.

Many teachers and historians are pushing back against the proposed changes and asking the board to leave the course untouched. Much of the controversy surrounds the 1450 start date and the fact that no pre-colonial history would be tested.

“They couldn’t have picked a more Eurocentric date,” Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, who previously helped develop AP History exams and courses, told The New York Times. “If you start in 1450, the first thing you’ll talk about in terms of Africa is the slave trade. The first thing you’ll talk about in terms of the Americas is people dying from smallpox and other things. It’s not a start date that encourages looking at the agency and creativity of people outside Europe.”

A group of teachers who attended an AP open forum in Salt Lake City also protested the changes. One Michigan educator, Tyler George, told Politico, “Students need to understand that there was a beautiful, vast, and engaging world before Europeans ‘discovered’ it.”

The board is now reportedly reconsidering its decision and may push the start date of the course back some several hundred years. Their decision will be announced in July.

[h/t The New York Times]

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Nate D. Sanders Auctions
Sylvia Plath's Pulitzer Prize in Poetry Is Up for Auction
Nate D. Sanders Auctions
Nate D. Sanders Auctions

A Pulitzer Prize in Poetry that was awarded posthumously to Sylvia Plath in 1982 for her book The Collected Poems will be auctioned on June 28. The Los Angeles-based Nate D. Sanders Auctions says bidding for the literary document will start at $40,000.

The complete book of Plath’s poetry was published in 1981—18 years after her death—and was edited by her husband, fellow poet Ted Hughes. The Pulitzer Prize was presented to Hughes on Plath’s behalf, and one of two telegrams sent by Pulitzer President Michael Sovern to Hughes read, “We’ve just heard that the Collected Plath has won the Pulitzer Prize. Congratulations to you for making it possible.” The telegrams will also be included in the lot, in addition to an official congratulatory letter from Sovern.

The Pultizer’s jury report from 1982 called The Collected Poems an “extraordinary literary event.” It went on to write, “Plath won no major prizes in her lifetime, and most of her work has been posthumously published … The combination of metaphorical brilliance with an effortless formal structure makes this a striking volume.”

Ted Hughes penned an introduction to the poetry collection describing how Plath had “never scrapped any of her poetic efforts,” even if they weren’t all masterpieces. He wrote:

“Her attitude to her verse was artisan-like: if she couldn’t get a table out of the material, she was quite happy to get a chair, or even a toy. The end product for her was not so much a successful poem, as something that had temporarily exhausted her ingenuity. So this book contains not merely what verse she saved, but—after 1956—all she wrote.”

Also up for auction is Plath’s Massachusetts driver’s license from 1958, at which time she went by the name Sylvia P. Hughes. Bidding for the license will begin at $8000.

Plath's driver's license
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