Carnivalesque #1, July/August 2004


Here it is, just in time for the weekend: some of the best blog writing out there on early modern related topics, from late June (so I cheated slightly…) to the end of August. What a talented bunch.

Early in July, George H Williams was to be found in the Methodist archives in Manchester (Wayback), taking in the bands, scrapping with lamp posts and sharing his research discoveries and questions with his readers. He was intrigued by the marginalia in an eighteenth-century bible, and what they revealed about its owner’s (a Methodist preacher) reading habits. And he mused on a situation familiar to many historians: so many sources, so little time…

The challenge, of course, is relatively limited time. I could research until the end of time, always finding a need for new information. But the fact is that I am here in England for only so long, and I only have so many years to work before I have to have produced enough published material to make tenure…

Miriam Jones of Scribblingwoman also paid a visit to Britain in July (although some might say that she seemed most interested in taking pictures of the local fauna and flora)[Wayback]) Shortly before her trip, however, she found time for some seventeenth-century theatre (Wayback). She disagreed vehemently with critics of the performance of Molière’s Le malade imaginaire. Too ‘dark’? Not if they understood the play’s own history.

We cannot now think of Le Malade imaginaire apart from the knowledge that the playwright was ill as he wrote it, that he himself played Argan, that he was so weak that he barely made it through the fourth night, and that he died shortly after. How can any actor playing Argan rail against the blindness of doctors and the pain inflicted by their treatments … for laughs?…

And now for our token medievalist: at Blogenspiel, Another Damned Medievalist has some forceful things to say about the use and abuse of the F-word. ADM is concerned, moreover, that this is symptomatic of wider problems in the teaching and understanding of history, not just medieval history but a far more recent past served up to us by politicians.

What I dread is that I will get these students… and will have to fight tooth and nail to explain to them that the ‘F’ word isn’t what they’ve learned, and instead is many things and nothing in particular. I’ll have to explain the nuances of historiographic debate, and then go into much longer and more complex examples from England, West Francia, East Francia, France, and Germany (not to mention various Spanish kingdoms and Portugal), over a very long period, to demonstrate that what they think of as Feudalism never actually existed in the way it’s been explained…

(I feel perfectly justified in including this because a) it’s great and b) when do you think that alleged ‘transition’ from Feudalism to Capitalism is supposed to take place, if not during the early modern period?)

Konrad Lawson at Muninn, meanwhile, was thinking about some myths of Japanese history, again highlighting the importance of good history teaching.

I took a great seminar on the history of the Chûshingura… (the famous Japanese saga of the revenge of the 47 ronin) with Henry D. Smith at Columbia 2 years ago. We focused mostly on the imaginative potential of a historical event and the many fascinating ways that this event has moved through Japanese culture since the early 18th century…

Nathanael D Robinson at Cliopatria, too, explores some myths, this time back in the USA. Now, one might not immediately bracket together California and early modern history, but he took us on a fascinating tour of its late-eighteenth century origins and the subsequent legends.

The myth, of course, is that of Catholic missions and Father Junipero Serra: a Franciscan who was sent to establish a firm Spanish presence in Alta California against the encroachment of British and Russian traders and to Catholicize the natives. The mission were outposts whereat Europeans and natives coexisted. They were the basis for the settlement of California…

Moving on to art history, Claire at Fenland (17th century as was) found us some gorgeous online resources in her own specialist area, seventeenth-century portrait prints [now inaccessible]. Portraits of ambassadors from Java to the court of Charles II offered us unexpected insights into European political rivalries of the time. She was curious, too, about the meanings of some of the prints she’d found.

I would be interested to learn more about the iconography of this Dutch print of Oliver Cromwell. Do the horns suggest that he is a cuckold? What is the significance of the owl in the dark (?) glasses? Is it wisdom blinded or have I got it completely wrong? What do you think?…

From Mr H’s Giornale Nuovo, beauty and entertainment in equal measure, with the sixteenth-century ‘Book of Drolleries’ (Wayback). “Drolleries are decorative thumbnail illustrations which adorn the margins of certain manuscripts, often depicting fanciful or grotesque hybrid creatures.” The post abounds with images of these delightful, er, beasts as well as links to learn more.

Art historians online have plenty to keep them amused. Brandon at Siris was, however, somewhat vexed at the lack of substantial online resources for early modern philosophy.

Looking at these four figures, Cockburn, Astell, Norris, and Campbell has reminded me of just how little one can glean from the internet in philosophy. To be sure, this is not entirely surprising. Philosophy is, after all, the Infinite Field of Study…

Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber asked an intriguing question (taken up by scribblingwoman [Wayback] with a couple of nice links, by the way): is blogging comparable to the early modern coffee-house culture?

Sennett is writing about the eighteenth century coffee-house as a place where people could escape from their private lives, reinventing themselves, and engaging in good conversation with others, regardless of their background or their everyday selves. They could assume new identities, try out novel arguments usw…

And Natalie at Philobiblion comments that women were to be found in those coffee houses more often than some theorists have assumed.

An excellent article in the journal The Seventeenth Century suggests that working-class women, at least, often went into coffee shops, while middle-class women might well have done this, in addition to using them to transact business just as the men did… Of course women could be there for other reasons: “There being scarce a Coffee-House but affords a Tawdry Woman, a wanton Daughter, or a Buzome Maide, to accommodate Customers …”

For myself (sometimes wanton though never buxom), I wondered if blogging verges on the carnivalesque.

So there you have it: from medieval England and France to eighteenth-century Japan via California, amidst many strange beasties (and that’s just the bloggers, no doubt), this has been the first ever early modern blog carnival. And, I hope, not the last.

11 thoughts on “Carnivalesque #1, July/August 2004

  1. Wow! I feel like I hit the big time! Now I have to live up to it, I suppose. Of course, I would like to think of the transition during the EM period (and really, you’d have to start it with the re-rise of the towns during the Late MA, I think) as a social one, rather than economic. How about the movement from order to class — and the odd overlaps that occur? Do merchants and guildmembers constitute a class? or are they a new order in the Duby sense? My goodness, I have a new blog topic to look forward to ;-)

  2. Thank you, thank you (modestly) (yeah, right)

    ADM: I wasn’t thinking it through in much detail… but I reckon it should make a good topic! (But a damned big one…) You know, I think medievalists and early modernists don’t really talk to each other enough. Of course, it’s always difficult enough to keep up with just your own field; but nonetheless we tend to talk about Change (another C-word…) without really examining what we think was there before…

  3. True — I sometimes wonder how much of it is due to a different world-view. Most of the Medievalists I know are Ancient-Medieval people. If you look at our syllabi (and this is very anecdotal, I admit), there’s more in the way of Aristotle and less attempt to connect the past to the present in a direct manner. The Medieval-EM people I know tend to use more Plato and the neo-Platonists, and buy into that Renaissance-y idea of “nothing relevant (in the sense of why our governments are the way they are now) happened between the 1st c. AD and the Renaissance. I sometimes think I’m an oddball, because I have a really strong A-M background (almost a Classics minor as an undergrad), but also tons of EM classes — enough that I probably took as many as most EM PhDs. Still, it gets a bit weird talking with some of you lot, in that I tend to see the Reformation (and really, a LOT of the EM period as a continuation of the Medieval, rather than the break that people firmly in the EM-Modern camp seem to see it as. Sorry for the awkward sentence, and hoping that I haven’t generalized my way into being shunned forever or into the EM contingent thinking I’m an idiot. ;-)

  4. Hell, no. Well, I don’t think there’s anything idiotic about it. You’re expressing exactly what I wonder about; the EM tendency is to look for EM-modern connections, to emphasise change – an underlying whiff of whiggishness, even though we publicly reject that particular historiographical sin. But a medievalist is seeing things from a different perspective, and we should take more notice of what the view looks like from there.

    As with the Reformation, often a closer look seems to suggest that what we’d like to portray as decisive breaks are better seen as growing out of, or building on, or consolidating (momentary pause to think about choices of metaphor…) previous developments. This is probably simplistic, but I’d tend to view the Reformation as crucially underpinned by the development of print; what’s novel is not the existence of dissenting beliefs (or even high-level conflict within the Church…) but the way in which formerly scattered ‘heretics’ can communicate with each other and propagate ideas on a much larger scale than previously. And something else to do with print (and literacy); not merely to do with what’s transmitted to contemporaries but also what’s available to much later generations, at the basic level of source survival…

  5. I confess I’m actually a little relieved that the problem of not enough Medieval-EM communication isn’t confined to philosophy, where it (in retrospect, though of course nobody noticed at the time) actually may have led to some serious distortions in the interpretation of the thought of some EM thinkers (Descartes, for example). Fortunately it looks like there’s the start of a strong shift toward more focus on the continuity between EM philosophy and Medieval philosophy; so perhaps that’s a good omen for everyone.

  6. This reminded me that I’ve had conversations on and off about some kind of collaboration with a PhD student in our department who just happens to be working in the same area of Wales as my PhD and with legal sources, but in the early 14th century. There are certainly significant differences in the legal-administrative structures, but we keep noticing similarities in the ways that people *used* the law and the courts. We might even get round to it one day…

  7. Funny, I know many more medievalists who cross over into the EM camp than those who look back to the ancient world. But I think that’s a quirk of the grad program I attended, in which there were very strong medievalists and early modernists, and crap classicists. Also I know of more Medieval and Renaissance (or Medieval and Early Modern) Centers (Ohio State, and UCLA, I think?) than, say, Ancient & Medieval. Having said that, said medievalists have often found the medieval/EM break equally misleading and overemphasized (usually by EMists, no offense to anyone reading here!). I’ve seen a number of medievalists raise an alternative periodization, putting forth ~1000-~1700 as a unit rather than the Ren/Ref break.

    Of course a lot of this seems related to academic fields in the US – there are certainly a lot of schools where you have the traditional medievalist and the traditional Ren/Ref person and never the twain shall meet, but it seems more and more common for schools to have a “pre-modern” Europe person – someone to cover everything up till, say, the French Revolution – and then a modern person.

  8. Our department has just got/is in the process of getting a Medieval and Early Modern BA scheme up and running. We certainly have no shortage of medievalists (4 on the permanent lecturing staff, including a late Roman-early medieval guy) or early modernists (3… plus me, I suppose), and plenty of existing modules. But at present the teaching does tend to be very clearly demarcated into ‘medieval’ (up to 15th century) and ‘early modern’ from 1500-ish… I wonder if the new scheme will change that.

  9. Er … I guess you found the discussion, NK! What I’m finding interesting about periodization is that the traditional Medieval/EM break makes it very interesting for us early folk. WHen I go to Late Antique conferences, people wonder why I’m there because the 9th c. is late, but when I go to, say, Medieval Academy, there are hardly any papers before the middle of the 11th c. I wonder if we’ll see more redefinition of the later end of the period as Late Antiquity becomes more a period of its own?!

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