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This is What the World Looked Like to Columbus

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A map by Henricus Martellus from 1489. Image Credit: Yale University Library

The mistake that took Christopher Columbus to the Caribbean in 1492, rather than the east Asian destination he was hoping for, might have been a product of the map above.

The 15th century map by the German cartographer Henricus Martellus is thought to be the best map we have illustrating Columbus’ perception of world geography. It’s housed at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, where an imaging team has been analyzing it to read writing that has faded into invisibility over the centuries. They photographed the area rug-sized map under 12 different light frequencies to reveal the more than 500-year-old text.

Smithsonian magazine created this nifty infographic of some of the information hidden inside. 

The 6-foot-tall map is believed to be from around 1491. It quotes an encyclopedia published in the same year, and its depiction of world geography is consistent with our understanding of where Columbus thought he was going. On the eastern portion of the map, it shows Japan—Columbus' intended destination during his initial 1491 voyage—as being just across the ocean from Europe and Africa. Of that land mass, the map says: “This island is 1000 miles from the continent of the province of Mangi [a term for southern China]; the people have their own language and the circumference of the island is [illegible] miles.”

On the bright side, they managed to get three of the seven continents right. 

[h/t: Smithsonian]

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“Dissension” by Tobias Rothe. Original image courtesy Fondazione Federico Zeri/Università di Bologna // CC-BY 3.0
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Get Your GIFs Ready for This International Public Domain GIF-Making Competition
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“Dissension” by Tobias Rothe. Original image courtesy Fondazione Federico Zeri/Università di Bologna // CC-BY 3.0

Excellent GIF-making skills can serve you beyond material for your clever tweets. Each year, a group of four digital libraries from across the world hosts GIF IT UP, a competition to find the best animated image sourced from public domain images from their archives.

The competition is sponsored by Europeana, the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), New Zealand’s DigitalNZ, and the National Library of Australia’s Trove, all of which host millions of public domain works. The requirements are that the source material must be in the public domain, have a 'no known copyright restrictions' statement, or have a Creative Commons license that allows its reuse. The material must also come from one of the sponsored sources. Oh, and judging by the past winners, it helps if it’s a little whimsical.

The image above won the grand prize in 2015. And this was a runner-up in 2016:

via GIPHY

This year’s prizes haven’t been announced yet (although Europeana says there will be a new one for first-time GIF makers), but last year’s grand prize winner got their own Giphoscope, and runners-up got $20 gift cards. (Turns out, there’s not a lot of money in public domain art.)

Not an expert GIFer yet? You can always revisit the audio version of DPLA’s advanced GIF-making tutorial from last year.

The fourth-annual GIF IT UP contest opens to submissions October 1.

Update: GIF IT UP has announced that this year’s grand prize winner will receive an Electric Object, a digital art frame. The winner of the people’s choice category will get a Giphoscope, while runners-up for the general competition and the winner of the first-time GIF-maker category will get gift cards. There will also be special prizes for several themed categories, including transportation, holidays, Christmas cards, and animals.

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Alex Wong/Getty Images
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The Library of Congress Wants Your Help Identifying World War I-Era Political Cartoons
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Alex Wong/Getty Images

The U.S. government’s official library wants your help. And it involves cartoons.

The Library of Congress just debuted its new digital innovation lab, an initiative that aims to improve upon its massive archives and use them in creative ways. Its first project is Beyond Words, a digitization effort designed to make the research library’s historical newspaper collection more search-friendly. It aims to classify and tag historical images from World War I-era newspapers, identifying political cartoons, comics, illustrations, and photos within old news archives. The images come from newspapers included in Chronicling America, the library’s existing newspaper digitization project.

The tasks involved in Beyond Words are simple, even if you know nothing about the illustrations involved going into it. The Library of Congress just needs people to help mark all the illustrations and cartoons in the scanned newspaper pages, a task that only involves drawing boxes to differentiate the image from the articles around it.

Then there’s transcription, involving typing in the title of the image, the caption, the author, and whether it’s an editorial cartoon, an illustration, a photo, a map, or a comic. The library also needs people to verify the work of others, since it’s a crowd-sourced effort—you just need to make sure the images have been transcribed consistently and accurately.

A pop-up window below an early 20th century newspaper illustration prompts the user to pick the most accurate caption.

Screenshot via labs.loc.gov

The data will eventually be available for download by researchers, and you can explore the already-transcribed images on the Beyond Words site. Everything is in the public domain, so you can remix and use it however you want.

With the new labs.loc.gov, “we are inviting explorers to help crack open digital discoveries and share the collections in new and innovative ways,” Carla Hayden, the library’s head, said in a press release.

Other government archives regularly look to ordinary people to help with the monstrous task of digitizing and categorizing their collections. The National Archives and Records Administration, for instance, has recently crowd-sourced data entry and transcription for vintage photos of life on Native American reservations and declassified government documents to help make their collections more accessible online.

Want to contribute to the Library of Congress’s latest effort? Visit labs.loc.gov.

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