RYAN INZANA
RYAN INZANA

When College Freshmen Were Forced to Pose Nude During Orientation

RYAN INZANA
RYAN INZANA

Freshman orientation is easily the most awkward part of college. But if you were a student at one of America’s elite universities during the middle of the 20th century, it was really awkward: From the 1940s to the 1960s, incoming students at schools like Yale, Vassar, Harvard, Syracuse, Purdue, and Wellesley were required to pose for a series of nude portraits.

One by one, freshmen were led into a room full of men decked in white and instructed to undress. There were no forms or waivers to sign, no choice to opt out. Once the student disrobed, the men taped metal pins to his or her spine. Then the student posed for pictures from three angles—front, side, and back. The official story was that it was to help identify posture problems. But this wasn’t entirely true.

The “posture picture project” was led by William Herbert Sheldon, a psychologist who was, incidentally, the world’s leading authority on American pennies. Sheldon used thousands of nude photos to build a taxonomy of body shapes called somatotypes. He classified people into one of three groups: ectomorphs (tall and skinny), endomorphs (round but solid), or mesomorphs (compact and muscular). His ideas were wildly popular at the time. In 1951, LIFE magazine dedicated a cover story to Sheldon’s work, and the tobacco industry used his Ivy League nudes to study the relationship between smoking and masculinity.

But Sheldon was doing more than classifying people’s looks. He believed your physique correlated with your intelligence, social standing, behavior, morals, and future success. “The inspiration came from the founder of social Darwinism, Francis Galton, who proposed such a photo archive for the British population,” George Hersey, an art history professor at Yale, told Ron Rosenbaum of The New York Times Magazine in 1995. Sheldon, it appeared, still had faith in one of the century’s most regrettable trends: eugenics.

Sheldon took thousands of pictures, including those of later power players like George Bush and Diane Sawyer. His book Atlas of Men, published in 1954, contained hundreds of Harvard nudes. But when Sheldon began Atlas of Women, he hit a snag. A student at the University of Washington complained, and lawyers stormed his lab to burn his photos. As the 1960s progressed, and as more people doubted his theories, colleges nixed the program. “[What] masqueraded as science ... now looked like a kind of kinky voodoo ritual,” writes Rosenbaum. Today, Sheldon’s ideas about physiology and social status have been relegated to a place among some of history’s worst, and most of the nude photos have been incinerated. Now, thankfully, the only thing to dread about freshman orientation is that icebreaker where you have to come up with an interesting fact about yourself.

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NASA, Getty Images
Watch Apollo 11 Launch
Vice President Spiro Agnew and former President Lyndon Johnson view the liftoff of Apollo 11
Vice President Spiro Agnew and former President Lyndon Johnson view the liftoff of Apollo 11
NASA, Getty Images

Apollo 11 launched on July 16, 1969, on its way to the moon. In the video below, Mark Gray shows slow-motion footage of the launch (a Saturn V rocket) and explains in glorious detail what's going on from a technical perspective—the launch is very complex, and lots of stuff has to happen just right in order to get a safe launch. The video is mesmerizing, the narration is informative. Prepare to geek out about rockets! (Did you know the hold-down arms actually catch on fire after the rocket lifts off?)

Apollo 11 Saturn V Launch (HD) Camera E-8 from Spacecraft Films on Vimeo.

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Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma
Utility Workers May Have Found One of Rome’s First Churches
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma

The remains of what may have been one of Rome’s earliest Christian churches were accidentally discovered along the Tiber River during construction, The Local reports. The four-room structure, which could have been built as early as the 1st century CE, was unearthed by electrical technicians who were laying cables along the Ponte Milvio.

The newly discovered structure next to the river
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma

No one is sure what to make of this “archaeological enigma shrouded in mystery,” in the words of Rome’s Archaeological Superintendency. Although there’s no definitive theory as of yet, experts have a few ideas.

The use of colorful African marble for the floors and walls has led archaeologists to believe that the building probably served a prestigious—or perhaps holy—function as the villa of a noble family or as a Christian place of worship. Its proximity to an early cemetery spawned the latter theory, since it's common for churches to have mausoleums attached to them. Several tombs were found in that cemetery, including one containing the intact skeleton of a Roman man.

Marble flooring
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma

A tomb
Romano D’Agostini, Giorgio Cargnel, Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma1

The walls are made of brick, and the red, green, and beige marble had been imported from Sparta (Greece), Egypt, and present-day Tunisia, The Telegraph reports.

As The Local points out, it’s not all that unusual in Rome for archaeological discoveries to be made by unsuspecting people going about their day. Rome’s oldest aqueduct was found by Metro workers, and an ancient bath house and tombs were found during construction on a new church.

[h/t The Local]

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