Documents That Changed the World

Documents That Changed the World
Revealing the power and importance of information

World’s Fair Time Capsule, 1938
Aug 6
The best known example of an attempt to help the future to understand the present when it’s the past, even 5000 years on
Articles of Impeachment, 1868
Jul 29
The extraordinary ordinariness of articles of impeachment, then and now, and the lessons to be learned, over and over again
Code of Hammurabi, c1754 BCE
Jul 31, 2019
Whoever thought finding the law could be a challenge? Not if it’s on a 7 ft tall stela for all to see - now, as then, finding the law can be almost as complicated as finding justice
Eurovision/European Broadcast Union Statutes, 1950
May 11, 2019
What’s the most popular television show in the world that you may never have heard of? Founding documents, politics, dancing apes, and the shared cultural moments that are the Eurovision Song Contest
IRS Form 1040, 1914
Apr 7, 2019
Line after line, year after year, the forms that keep information organized, processes processing, and civilization working
“Operation Mincemeat” Faked Documents, 1943
Jun 18, 2018
When is a fake not a fake? A strange WWII stories, authentically fake documents on a dead fake British officer to divert German attention from an invasion of Sicily and change the course of the war-for real (researched/co-written by Kate Merifield)
Voyager “Golden Records”, 1977
Aug 20, 2017
Mixtape, love letter, time capsule, letter of introduction, message in a bottle and more, not to mention the furthest object of human construction, sending our messages out to the stars, seeking understanding and remembrance
Webster’s Dictionary, 1828
Apr 27, 2016
Words define a language, and in turn languages help to define cultures and societies. And people define words, as the last man who tried to define them all himself knew, in the process trying also to define and distinguish his developing nation
Liber Abaci (Arabic Numerals), 1202
Mar 2, 2016
800 years ago, an Italian mathematician and world traveler brought the gift of digits to Europe, from India, through Arabia, and taught the West how to count, and calculate, and figure it all out
Palm Beach County “Butterfly” Ballot, 2000
Feb 24, 2016
Vote for the person you want, somebody in charge counts ‘em up and then we find out the winner. As if. The many ways that can go wrong, and the importance of good design done well but somebody who knows how
Stock Market Crash Ticker Tape, 1929
Dec 9, 2015
When the market started to crash, the ticker, reliable source of up-to-the-second information, fell behind, and all of a sudden not knowing what you didn’t know was worse than knowing, and the spiral went down and down from there
FDR Thanksgiving Proclamation, 1939
Oct 30, 2015
Two Thanksgivings! Twice the turkey, twice the parades, twice the football? Nope, but for a few years the nation was split by a presidential proclamation that didn’t quite work as intended
Declaration of Independence Deleted Passage, 1776
Oct 20, 2015
How do you read words that aren’t there? The towering idea of the Declaration of Independence, the passage on slavery deleted before its adoption, and the hole that silence has left behind
Nupedia (Wikipedia precursor), 2000
Sep 9, 2015
Encyclopedias have changed, due to the one you know - but actually the one you probably don’t, and the ways in which we know the things we know are changing right along with them
Richter Scale, 1935
Aug 12, 2015
The Richter Scale…isn’t used any more, and the man who created it had a mind more sensitive to the movements of the earth than the subtleties of society
Fannie Farmer Cookbook, 1896
Jul 20, 2015
Hungry yet? The cookbook, and the woman, who standardized recipes and encouraged us all to think about food as science and art
Vietnam Veterans Memorial, 1982
Jul 3, 2015
Name after name, row after row, the wall, and the things we bring to it, including ourselves, all of which help us remember and reconcile
Statistical Significance, 1925
Jun 5, 2015
How to know when to believe a research study, drawing the line between real and spurious, and how a “random” line in a book defines the way we understand the world
Annals of the World, 1650
Apr 6, 2015
Bishop James Ussher, the search for the beginning of the universe, and the date (and time) of Creation, making the most of the tools at hand
Alfred Nobel’s Will, 1895
Mar 16, 2015
One of the greatest legacies, and worst-written wills of all times, though almost completely not what the author had in mind; wills, their history and how to (almost always) get the last word
“The Star-Spangled Banner”, 1814
Aug 12, 2014
O say do you know…the story behind the Star-Spangled Banner? It took off fast, then slowly, and has stood the test of time while still, and always, becoming
Philosophical Transactions, 1665
Jul 30, 2014
The first scholarly journal, at the dawn of the Scientific Revolution, and helping to give birth to the way we write and think about scholarship and investigation…and now it’s all changing again
First Woman’s College Diploma, 1840
Jul 15, 2014
It’s just “a piece of paper,” except it’s not. The story of Catherine Elizabeth Benson Brewer, the first woman to receive a diploma, and how we recognize achievement, yesterday and today (written/researched/recorded by Kelsey Gibbons)
Joseph McCarthy’s “List”, 1950
Jul 4, 2014
I have in my hand a list…of 57 Communists in the State Department. Or was it 205? Or 81? Or was there a list at all? How documents get their power, from us, even if they don’t exist
The Exaltation of Inanna, c2300 BCE
Jun 1, 2014
One of the oldest works of literature we know, a hymn written by Enheduanna, perhaps the first known named author, in the Sumerian city of Ur, a plea for help that doesn’t feel out of place 4300 years later
Donation of Constantine, c750
May 21, 2014
Why the Popes ruled Italy: one of the greatest gifts in history, as a result of one of the greatest forgery in history, the art of making a document lie, and figuring out what’s real and what’s not
Zimmerman Telegram, 1917
May 11, 2014
The secret decoding of a secret message: how Britain found out that Germany wanted Mexico to attack America to keep them out of World War I, and the spectacular backfire that resulted (researched/produced by Jill Fenno)
Airplane Black Box/Flight Data Recorder, 1958
Apr 22, 2014
The black box that reveals, not conceals: how flight recorders were developed, how they work, how they’re used, what happens to the information, and how they’re related to the 8-track tape
“We Can Do It!” Poster/Rosie the Riveter, 1943
Apr 6, 2014
That poster—isn’t what you think. She’s not Rosie the Riveter, and the lives she’s led, as, feminist icon, symbol of wartime solidarity, cultural nostalgia touchstone, are almost all entirely wrong
Alaska Purchase Check, 1868
Mar 19, 2014
Seward’s Folly, enabled by a single piece of paper exchanged for $7.2 million, adding vast new territories to the US, and telling us about how money moves, and how people feel about how that’s changing (researched/produced/co-written by Andrew Kyrios)
Zapruder Film, 1963
Nov 13, 2013
486 frames, likely the most scrutinized film of all time, dissected, debated, debunked, and the harbinger of things to come as events are increasingly documented and shared
Rosetta Stone, 196BCE
Sep 5, 2013
Undoubtedly one of the great document stories of all time, which help us to think about permanence, durability, and what can happen when media outlast messages
Mental Disorder Diagnosis Manual, 1952
Aug 8, 2013
Are you crazy? Maybe yes, maybe no, but either way, this book lays out what mental disorders are, and aren’t, and reinforce the power that we give names of all kinds
The Book of Mormon, 1830
Jul 20, 2013
Joseph Smith: led to long-buried golden tablets revealing lost truths…or the most successful humbug even known? Words, faith, a backstory that defies logic, and the power of belief
Einstein’s Letter to Roosevelt, 1939
Jul 6, 2013
A two page letter from a great mind to a great leader about a great subject matter, the beginning of the Atomic Age and one of the oldest forms of writing
X-Ray, 1895
Jun 13, 2013
A shadowy skeletal hand gives us the first good look inside ourselves, and we’ve not been the same since
Riot Act, 1714
Jun 9, 2013
If you don’t say it out loud, it doesn’t work—magic spells, wedding ceremonies, and how to stop a riot, 18th Century style
IQ Test, 1905
May 15, 2013
The origin of standardized tests, the quantification of intelligence, and measuring and numbering of us all (written/researched/produced/recorded by Eli Gander-Rood)
Space Needle “Sketch”, 1959 (Live)
Mar 2, 2013
How an icon gets conceived, how ideas get recorded, the value of cocktail napkins (real and virtual), and the story of how stories get started
Pope Benedict XVI Resignation, 2013
Feb 14, 2013
Moving on gracefully (or not), the history of papal resignations, and why it helps to have it all written down
Rules of Association Football (Soccer), 1863
Feb 8, 2013
What makes sports sports, why the rules matter, how football got the way it is, and the basis of creativity
“Letters of Transit”, 1942
Dec 29, 2012
You must remember this: Casablanca, passports, exit visas, fictional documents, Rick, Ilsa, Sam’s piano and the words that move us
What is the Third Estate?, 1789
Nov 11, 2012
The priest, the pamphlet, the Revolution, and lightning in a bottle, all in the right place at the right time
Robert’s Rules of Order, 1876
Oct 19, 2012
Bringing order to chaos, one meeting at a time
Protocols of the Elders of Zion, c1900
Sep 28, 2012
Fraud, plagiarism, hate, and the power of belief no matter what
AIDS Quilt, 1987
Sep 18, 2012
Love, loss, and the stories a quilt can tell
The 18 1/2 Minute Gap, 1972
Sep 3, 2012
Watergate, the Nixon White House, and the benefits of unsolved mysteries
Gutenberg Indulgence, 1454
Aug 23, 2012
What Gutenberg printed first, the unexpected effects all his works had, and how it’s all about to happen again
Internet Protocol, 1981
Aug 15, 2012
The simple genius that makes the Internet happen
Aug 8, 2012
The 19th Amendment, 1920
Jul 19, 2012
Where exactly is the Constitution? Chances are, what you think…is wrong
The Gregorian Calendar, 1582
Jul 18, 2012
The power of one person, the power of one document
Mao’s Little Red Book, 1964
Jul 17, 2012
Words matter, and who says them does too
John Snow’s Cholera Map, 1853
Jul 16, 2012
Making sense of Big Data, 19th century edition (written/researched/produced/recorded by Andrew Brink)
Barack Obama Birth Certificate, 1961
Jul 15, 2012
Authenticity, authentication, and last piece of paper you might have