Repost: Of cats, rabbits and monstrous births

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[Originally posted here, February 2005.]

A couple of blog posts about monstrous births in the early modern period over the last few days: Natalie at Philobiblon discussing Agnes Bowker (supposedly delivered of a cat-like creature in 1568), and Ephelia on Mary Toft (who was reported to have given birth to a large number of rabbits in 1726). Mary Toft’s case is the better-known, to us at first an amusing tale of a trickster; when we learn that she had genuinely suffered a miscarriage, perhaps a little less so. But there’s a wider cultural context to both cases.

Such stories were commonly reported in print: Cressy’s essay on Agnes Bowker refers to many of them, and there is a further chapter on monstrous births in his book.* He suggests that contemporaries explained them in a range of possible ways: freaks of nature or manifestations of divine power; judgements or punishments against individuals or communities; portents of coming catastrophes, or even of the end of the world. Or they could simply be treated as freak-show entertainment.

Very often, the cases are associated with the widespread belief that what the experiences of a pregnant mother – beautiful or shocking, but most often the latter – could physically imprint themselves on her unborn child. In the case of Mary Toft, it was reported that she

hath made oath, That two months ago, being working in a field with other women, they put up a rabbit; who running from them, they pursued it, but to no purpose: This created in her such a longing to it, that she (being with child) was taken ill, and miscarried; and, from that time, she hath not been able to avoid thinking of rabbits.

(Agnes Bowker, on the other hand, claimed to have had sex with a human lover and with the Devil in the shape of (at various times) a man, a greyhound and a cat. As Natalie says, she was very likely trying to cover up an abortion or infanticide.)

Herman Roodenburg’s detailed study of the phenomenon of the ‘maternal imagination’ in Holland** notes that pregnant women were warned to be particularly careful with animals (strange and frightening or maimed animals seem to have been particularly dangerous); other cases were associated with the sight of human ‘freaks’ at fairs, or mutilated beggars, or black people, or lunatics, with paintings or statutes of grotesque subjects. (Conversely, pregnant women were advised to hang beautiful paintings on their walls in order to have beautiful babies.)

Equally, it was common to see these events as manifestations of divine power, even in providentialist terms, as punishments for a community’s sins, or warnings of greater punishments to come if the population did not repent and reform. In the case of Agnes Bowker in 1568, it was a matter of considerable concern to government ministers that her case could be used by Catholic propagandists to undermine the still rather shaky Protestant regime of Elizabeth I.

By the 1720s, Mary Toft could still convince doctors (to begin with), and the possibility was accepted. Even before doubts crept in, there was controversy, although in terms rather different to those used during the 16th century.

People, after all, differ much in their opinion about this matter, some looking upon them as great curiosities fit to be presented to the Royal Society, &c. others are angry at the account, and say, that if it be fact, a veil should be drawn over it, as an imperfection in humane nature.

And within a few weeks, there were severe doubts about the truth of the story, Mary confessed, and a fraud prosecution was initiated (although she was released later without being tried). Even so, she still had her believers, at least among those who still saw such births in political and providential terms; and such beliefs did not really die out until at least the 19th century.

[links have not been recently checked]

Monstrous births
Monsters and prodigies (no longer available: Wayback)
Monstrous children in English Renaissance broadside ballads
Mary Toft and the rabbit babies
A cabinet of curiosities: Mary Toft
The rabbit woman (contemporary newspaper reports: the Mary Toft-related quotes above are taken from this page)
A wondrous tale: Agnes Bowker (extracts from the primary sources)
Early modern pregnancy and childbirth bibliography

………….

* David Cressy, Agnes Bowker’s cat: travesties and transgressions in Tudor and Stuart England (Oxford, 2000).
** Herman W Roodenburg, ‘The maternal imagination: the fears of pregnant women in seventeenth-century Holland’, Journal of Social History, ?, 1988.

Repost: Learning Welsh in the sixteenth century

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Originally posted here (June 2004).

I got round to reading some of William Salesbury’s A briefe and a playne introduction, teaching how to pronounce the letters in the British tong… today. Rather different to Welsh pronunciation guides (this one has audio files with examples) for all us suffering Welsh learners today. I’m not at all sure that ‘playne’ is the right word.

The introductory note ‘to the reader’ was a fascinating read. Here the author, William Salesbury, sets out the reasons he wrote the book. (I’ve changed ‘u’ to ‘v’ where appropriate and silently expanded some contractions, but otherwise the spelling is unchanged, barring any typos I might have missed.) After he had compiled ‘a little Dictionarye [1547] for the use and behove of my contry men’, he says,

there came came certayne persons unto me, whereof some where Englysh marchers bordering upon Wales: and some not skilled in the Walshe tonge, nevertheles havyng good and honeste occasions, eyther for their promotions and lyvynges, eyther els for trade of marchaudice and other their affayres to be conversante in the sayd contrye of Wales…

And some other were such Walshmen that had been brought up from their yoth and tender age, oute of the precincte of their native contrye, who thoughte it reproch to be utterly ignoraunt in their mother tong, having a mind also to come to some knowledge therin, wherby they myght ye rather (semyng lesse straung) renewe frendshyp and familiaritie with their contrye folke and frendes…

Nowe the other some, were such Englishe men as had not so urgente a cause, nor so earnest an occasion to travell in thys behalfe, but yet were they so fervent… as they (whom I spake of before) whom the Grekes with one propre terme cal Philoglottous, whose gentle herted disposition is alwaies addicte, bente, & geven to be sene in al languages, but speciallye of their owne felow subiectes and contrey menne, thoughe they purchase thereby but small gaynes, lucre, or wynnyng, which thynges be the honied swete baytes of the avaricious beastly misers, and contrarywyse the defiaunce of all liberal and noble stomakes. …

They asked Salesbury ‘whether the pronounciation of the letters in Walshe, dyd dyffer from the Englyshe soundynge of them? And I sayde verye muche.’ (I’ll say.) And so they asked if he would write a short guide setting out ‘a fewe englishe rules’ for Welsh pronunciation. To which he agreed, for ‘the encrease of mutuall amitie and brotherly love, and continuall frendshyppe, and some commoditie at the leaste wise, to suche as be desierous to be occupied thereaboutes.’

In practical terms, particularly relevant in considering the first group, it’s worth commenting that this follows shortly after the ‘Acts of Union’ (1536-43). That legislation (among other things) uniformly replaced most of the final vestiges of Welsh native law with English law, established the Courts of Great Sessions and boosted the influence and business of the Council in the Marches of Wales, based at Ludlow – which between them would have meant many new opportunities for clerks, administrators and lawyers, who might well want some way of communicating with the largely Welsh-speaking population without always having to rely on interpreters. Businessmen, too, might have seen new opportunities across the Welsh border if the legislation was successful in one of its primary aims, reducing Welsh lawlessness and disorder.

But there’s clearly more to it for Salesbury, a true Renaissance man, than that. I’m intrigued about those Welsh exiles, for a start. Were they perhaps the children of Welsh emigrants to London and other English cities (and it’s interesting that they remained attached to their ‘roots’)? The ‘London Welsh’ certainly already existed. Or could they even have been from Protestant families who went into exile to avoid persecution under Henry VIII, now returning following the succession of the far more enthusiastically Protestant Edward VI?

And then there’s Salesbury’s final group: Englishmen (any women, one wonders?) who were eager to learn for the love of learning and to increase ‘mutuall amitie and brotherly love’ with their Welsh neighbours; clearly, a truly noble enterprise. Salesbury was far from being the only highly educated and intelligent, polyglot Welshman in mid-Tudor England (another well known case is John Dee). The Cecils remained interested in their Welsh origins; even the Tudors did on occasion (usually when it suited them politically, it has to be said). Did men like Salesbury help to stimulate English interest in Welsh literary culture and the language? Shakespeare was certainly interested in the ancient ‘British’ (ie, Welsh) past. It would be fascinating to know whether any of Salesbury’s would-be Welsh learners were successful in their quest… and whether anyone ever used his little

book effectively (it does seem to depend on knowing several classical languages before you even begin, which might further suggest that it was his third, already deeply learned, group for whom it was primarily intended. His translation of the New Testament was also aimed at a scholarly audience).

William Salesbury is primarily celebrated in Wales for his part in the Tudor ‘Welsh Renaissance’ and his contribution to Welsh language and literary culture: for his dictionary, for his pioneering Welsh translation of the New Testament (1567) and Prayer Book (1567). Quite right, too. All of these are indeed major achievements. But I’m beginning to wonder if he should also be celebrated as a pioneer in Welsh language teaching for adults, who did not merely champion his language amongst his own people, but also strove to give it wider currency (not least by harnessing the power of print) and to aid those who wished (even for ‘lucre’!) to learn it.

Repost: Wallography

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Originally posted here, January 2005.

In 1682, a satirical little book about the Welsh was published: Wallography, or the Britton described, by “WR”, an English clergyman named William Richards.* It purported to describe, first, a journey from London to the Welsh borders and then the “State and Condition, the Nature, Humours, Manners, customs, and mighty Actions” of Wales and its inhabitants. It’s not an altogether popular book in Wales; laughing at Wallography is a slightly guilty pleasure… though some might say that that’s the best kind. (Although it doesn’t just take aim at the Welsh and ‘Taphydome’. Much of the book, in fact, is an equally gleeful send-up of English country-dwelling caricatures.)

As for the Inhabitants [of Wales], they are a pretty Sort of Creatures, which, when we saw, we were so far from stroaking them with the Palms of Love, that we were almost ready to buffet them with the Fist of Indignation. They are a rude People, and want much Instruction…

We were much surprized at the Thoughts of their Rank, and did not suspect so much Gentility among such a Peopl; when we saw so many Coats without Arms, we could not imaging they had any with them, but fancy’d they had more Need of a Taylor than of Clarentius, and of a Prick-louse to stitch up and compose their Breeches, rather than an Herald to blazen their Families.

Ahem. (That mockery of the combined poverty and ‘pretensions’ to gentility of the early modern Welsh is a common theme amongst the English, who did not quite comprehend that for the Welsh status had long been rather more about lineage than wealth and display.)

Richards also had great fun with another stereotype of the Welsh, that of their hot temper and inclination towards both quarrelling and litigation. (Combined with comments on the behaviour of ‘pettifogging’ lawyers that was by no means exclusive to the Welsh. Or, of course, the early modern period.)

They do not always observe the Rules of Justice in their Punishments; oftentimes chastising one Body for another, and so misplace their rigour on the undeserving; as will be very evident from this following Instance: A certain Taylor ferrying over a River in their Country with a diminutive Nag; the Steed never using to travel by Water, and wondering that he stood still and mov’d, was possess’d with Fear, and made some Disturbance on the Boat, to the great endangering of the Passengers; The Welshman, being in Jeopardy, was fir’d with Anger, and without any Wings he flew on the Taylor, and revenged the Injury of the Palfry on poor Prick-Louse. The Stitcher swaddled the Scrupling Horse, and Taphy beat the Stitcher, to the great Diversion and Grief of the Spectators. …

Most of their Indictments are generally the tragical Effects of some dismal Counterscuffle, where a bloody Nose and a broken Shin is ample Matter for the Commencement of a Suit; for, they being of a fiery Temper, sometimes Choler is kindled by an Antiperistasis with a Pot of Ale; and then they fall to biting and scratching as hard as they can drive, and the Wounds of this Caterwauling and Bickering afford Stuff for an Action the next Day; which, being once got into the Pounces of a Welsh Attorney, is dandled into a Business of no small Aggravation. Oh! how these Pettifoggers will hug a Buffeting, and improve a Squobble! They are the very Bellows of Contention, and will soon blow a Spark into a great Combustion. They are a Kind of Tinkers in the Law, who usually make Holes on Purpose that they may mend them; nay, sometimes they will play at Loggerhead themselves to set others together by the Ears, and so (as if Fighting was contagious) will infect the Taphies into Quarrels and Blows. …

Yet it is tremendously funny, sometimes perceptive and frequently “deliciously ambiguous”.** You can easily find nastier and cruder examples of this sort of Welsh-baiting from the late 17th and early 18th centuries; indeed the book draws on a well-established tradition of abuse of the Welsh by the English (this is long before Wales became a Romantic holiday destination). And it’s regularly quoted by early modern Welsh historians. Who could deny the truth of this?

The Country is mountainous, and yields pretty handsome Clambering for Goats, and hath Variety of Precipice to break one’s Neck; which a Man may sooner do than fill his Belly, the Soil being barren, and an excellent Place to breed a Famine in.

The most regularly quoted passage from the book is about the fate of the Welsh language (that it was “being English’d out of Wales”). But the quote is usually wrenched out of its fuller context, which is much more subtle and ironic in tone. (English learners of Welsh everywhere will appreciate the problems you experience when you get some of those Welsh polysyllables stuck in your throat.) And what are we supposed to make of the author’s attitude to the language? On the one hand, to be much admired as a language of ‘sincerity’ and ‘purity’, with English a ‘barbarous’ intruder; on the other, ‘native gibberish’; yet again, those in the towns who ‘despise it’ are ‘puffed up’ snobs. Does the author approve of the ‘glimmering hopes’ that it may become extinct, or is that to be taken as the view of those puffed up townsfolk and gentry who are turning their backs on it? (This is probably exaggerating for effect the extent to which Welsh was being ejected from gentry households at that time, but it is true that English was the language of high status, politics, law, learning, necessary in order to ‘get on’.)

That, which we admir’d most of all amongst them, was the Virginity of their Language, not deflower’d by the Mixture of any other Dialect: The Purity of Latin was debauch’d by the Vandals, and was Hun’d into Corruption by that barbarous People; but the Sincerity of the British remains inviolable. ‘Tis a Tongue (it seems) not made for every Mouth; as appears by an Instance of one in our Company, who, having got a Welsh Polysyllable into his Throat, was almost choak’d with Consonants, had we not, by clapping him on the Back, made him dis-gorge a Guttural or two, and so sav’d him. They usually liquefy the most rugged Mutes, and soften ‘em by Pronunciation… Whether the Welsh tongue be a Splinter of that universal one that was shatter’d at Babel, we have some reason to doubt, in regard ‘tis unlike the Dialects that were crumbled there; however, whether it be kin or no to other country Speeches, it matters not; but this we are assured of, it is near and dear to the Folk that utter it, who are so passionately fond of it, that they will scarce admit another into the Embraces of their Lips, which sputter forth a Kind of loathing of our English Language; wherein, if a Question be ask’d them, they will, with somewhat of Disdain and Choler, make Answer, Dim Aiffonick, i.e. no English. Their native Gibberish is usually prattled throughout the whole Taphydome, except in their Market-Towns, whose Inhabitants being a little rais’d and (as it were) puffed up into Bubbles above the ordinary Scum, do begin to despise it. Some of these being elevated above the common Level, and perhaps refin’d into the Quality of having two Suits, are apt to fancy themselves above their Tongue, and when in their t’other Cloaths, are quite asham’d on’t. ‘Tis usually cashier’d out of Gentlemen’s Houses, there being scarcely to be heard even one single Welsh Tone in many Families; their Children are instructed in the Anglican Idiom, and their Schools are paedagogu’d with Professors of the same; so that (if the Stars prove lucky) there may be some glimmering Hopes that the British Lingua may be quite extinct, and may be English’d out of Wales, as Latin was barbarously Goth’d out of Italy.

…………….

* If you’re looking it up in a library’s rare books collection (there’s no modern edition), it was republished in subsequent decades under a variety of titles, often in compiled collections, eg John Torbuck, A collection of Welsh travels, and memoirs of Wales (1738 and later editions); Dean Swift’s ghost (1753). For those with access, it’s available at EEBO.

** I’m borrowing that phrase, and some the arguments, from Michael Roberts, ‘ “A Witty Book, but mostly Feigned”: William Richards’ Wallography and perceptions of Wales in later seventeenth-century England’, in Archipelagic identities (eds. Philip Schwyzer and Simon Mealor). Declaration of interest: Michael was my PhD supervisor.

Carnivalesque 100: the World We Have Lost/Gained edition

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Snowball fight (detail), c. 1500, from the Walters Art Museum

Snowball fight (detail), c. 1500, from the Walters Art Museum


I started blogging in about May 2004, near the end of the early phase of the history of blogging, although the history blogosphere and academic blogging was very much in its infancy. The very first blog carnival (begun 2002, I think) was the Carnival of the Vanities, a weekly US-oriented political blogs roundup. It spawned various imitators; I found none of them very interesting. But by summer 2004 carnivals for scholarly subjects were beginning to emerge, and these did grab my attention.

My primary inspiration was the Philosophers’ Carnival (which is still going strong too, I’m pleased to say). Carnivalesque began as an early modernists’ carnival, and widened out to take in the medieval and ancient worlds a bit later. Some of the blogs of the first edition in September 2004 are long gone now, although nearly all of the posts mentioned there can still be located. Even where the blogs no longer exist or are inactive, many of those bloggers are still to be found blogging away, somewhere.

Digital and Physical Media, Medieval+Modern

Dorothy Kim wrote at the group blog In the Middle about being a medievalist on Twitter and live-tweeting conferences

As a manuscript specialist, I spend a lot of time looking, reading, transcribing, and thinking about the physical manuscript medium. I am obsessed with the marginal and interlinear glosses and commentary as I am with the main text in a manuscript. If the medieval manuscript is a recording medium that allows scholar now to see the conversations and connected marginal glosses of individual readers, then twitter is the digital medium that replicates this practice the most but with comments all the time and in real time for individual thinkers.

At the Folger’s group blog The Collation, Goran Proot traced the mysteries of a 17th-century pamphlet.

The text is a response to another pamphlet and it indicates neither a place of publication nor a printer. But the flyleaves used by the binder of this little book tell a nice little story about the bookseller’s scene in Mechelen in the beginning of the 19th century.

Erik Kwakkel asks: What is the Oldest Book in the World? But first, what is a “book”?

Zachary Fisher of Shaping Sense chronicles his developing experiments in making woodcuts.

Laura Sangha has a mini-series of posts at The Many-headed Monster on an Exeter exhibition of ‘the spirit of adventure and enterprise of south west people’ during the Elizabethan period.

New and Old Worlds

I think my favourite new discovery for this edition was Medieval POC (Tumblr) and its slightly more sedate companion Medieval POC.

The focus of this blog is to showcase works of art from European history that feature People of Color… to address common misconceptions that People of Color did not exist in Europe before the Enlightenment

It’s almost impossible to choose one post from the tumbling cornucopeia, but I loved this late-16th-century Italian Portrait of a Young Black Man.

The consistently brilliant British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts blog brought us an Old World View of the New World. This 16th-century Spanish manuscript includes among its vividly detailed miniature an illustration of a Spanish expedition to America in 1530, with the unsettling text, referring to Indian cannibalism (trans.): ‘The Indians, who until now had gorged themselves on human flesh like wild and untamed beings, by the virtue and sovereign power of Charles have been domesticated’. A follow-up post took an even older view of the new world in images of the edges of the known world and unknown world in earlier medieval manuscripts.

Samir S. Patel explores the archaeology of the Stone Towns of the Swahili Coast .

S.J. Pearce strikingly juxtaposes Convivencia, the Medieval Mediterranean and the San Francisco Unified School District at Notes from the Life of a Medievalist.

And an old early modern blogging friend, the Historianess, brought us up to date with her shiny new Atlantic World syllabus.

Science and Technology

A much loved old online friend, the Renaissance Mathematicus, also reached a milestone this month with 500 posts, including this Christmas post about Kepler’s thoughts on snowflakes.

The Corning Museum of Glass’s blog Behind The Glass had a post on Antonio Neri, the 17th-century Alchemist, glassmaker and priest by Paul Engle, who also blogs about Neri’s life and times at Conciatore.

Neri is famously known as the author of the first book devoted to the subject of making glass—L’Arte Vetraria, 1612.2 He has often been considered a mysterious figure, steeped in the intrigues of alchemy and transmutation.

Rohit Gupta of Kali & The Kaleidoscope posts about The Age Of Re:discovery and an upcoming online workshop in the history of science, exploring ancient and pre-modern navigational techniques.

Sex, Sexuality and Marriage

Notches is a new group blog on the history of sexuality. A cracking inaugural post is from Katherine Harvey on Bedsharing and Sexuality in Medieval Europe:

One of the biggest challenges facing medieval historians, and perhaps especially historians of medieval sexuality, is interpreting the actions of individuals at a remove of several centuries… For many modern readers, the fact that the two men shared a bed can mean only one thing: they were having a sexual relationship.

At Irish History Podcast blog there is a guest post by Finbar Dwyer, using a 1306 court case as a starting point for a discussion of prostitution in medieval Ireland.

Judith Weingarten of Zenobia: Empress of the East explores a remarkable series of sensuous golden pendants in Sex Play in Ancient Canaan (part 2, part 3).

Perfume and gold … and the image of a woman (left) reduced to her simplest female essences: face, breasts, navel, and a decidedly hairy pubic triangle.

The Scribe Unbound has a look at Marriage in the Margins of manuscripts from the wonderful collections of the Walters Art Museum.

Classical Wisdom Weekly delves into The Dirty World of Ancient Graffiti.

what sort of thing lined the walls of the shops, houses, brothels and public buildings of these ancient towns before they were paradoxically destroyed – and preserved – from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD?

Pain, Life and Death

At Early Modern Medicine Sara Read discusses Lady Elizabeth Hervey’s experiences of Rheumatism and Joint Pain, while Jennifer Evans has a post at the Perceptions of Pregnancy blog on the pain relief options for a woman in labour in the early modern period.

Sam Thomas guest posts at Susanna Calkins’ blog on death and the seventeenth-century midwife.

While we (rightly) associate midwives with bringing life in to the world, for several centuries midwives also sent people out. Most obviously, thanks to comparatively high infant and maternal mortality rates, midwives saw their share of death in the delivery room. But this is just the start, for midwives were key players in England’s legal and judicial system, and when a woman came into contact with the law, whether as a victim or a suspect, a midwife often was on the scene.

Samantha Sandassie at the newish blog Panacea explores the importance of networking and patronage to early modern medical practitioners.

At the beginning of the 17th century, the College was faced with a troublesome surgeon who proved that even frequent and flagrant flouting of College strictures could be attenuated by patron power.

David Meadows, the Rogue Classicist, looks at a recent story on Head-Hunting Romans.

Food (and Festive Gluttony)

At Research Fragments, Jonathan Green discusses prophecies discovered inside herring caught by fishermen in the Baltic or North Sea in 1587, which also inspired an anonymous parody a year later.

Ask The Past has advice from 1687 on How to Make Fake Bacon, while 18thC. Cuisine has a recipe for Royal Saucissons.

For those waking up after the Christmas and New Year festivities, Dr Alun had a post on the early modern history of “detoxing”.

Postscript: Then and Now

Another Damned Medievalist (Cesque #1 post) has been blogcrastinating. (Hang on, wasn’t she doing that in 2004 as well?)

Brandon Watson (Cesque #1) is still posting regularly at Siris and recently started a series on Prayers written by early modern philosophers, starting with the French Cartesian philosopher Nicolas Malebranche (1638-1715).

Konrad Lawson (Cesque #1) and George Williams (Cesque #1) can both be found at the group blog ProfHacker (for ‘Teaching, tech, and productivity’) these days. Konrad recently posted on Open Access publishing; George has some tips for 2014.

Henry Farrell (Cesque #1) is still an active member of Crooked Timber.

Miriam Jones (Cesque #1) occasionally surfaces at scribblingwoman2 and blogs more often in her role as President of the Association of University of New Brunswick Teachers (AUNBT) .

Natalie Bennett (Cesque #1) still blogs at Philobiblon from time to time, including posts about early modern women, when she isn’t too busy being the leader of the Green Party.

* * *

Many thanks to the people who sent nominations, and to all the bloggers who make it possible!

The next Carnivalesque will be at Anchora on or about 8 March.

If you enjoyed this, you might also enjoy…


This could have been a much, much longer carnival. Blogging isn’t dead yet, whatever you might have read somewhere recently (though commenting on blogs might, sadly, be on its last legs…). Just like the people who do it, it continues to grow and evolve. So here’s to the next 100 Carnivalesques, whatever they may look like…

An Online Hub for Early Modernists

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Early Modern Resources is going to change. The site has been accumulating content for more than a decade now without changing significantly in its functions or intent. Meanwhile, the Web has expanded dramatically. There are now far more high-quality scholarly resources, especially collections of primary sources. But, just as important, there is also a much larger community of early modernists online.

As I began a very overdue review of links in the EMR database in April 2013, I soon began to feel that it needed something more drastic than another spring clean. Many of my older summaries were too short and unspecific to be at all helpful. Over time (unsurprisingly enough) my editorial decisions have been inconsistent (and occasionally mildly puzzling). Not all the early content had much substance, and some pages, though still accessible, were completely out of date. Conversely, however, some websites that I had linked when they were first established have grown far beyond my original summaries.

I’m not taking down Early Modern Resources “v.1″ for the moment: it can be found at http://earlymodernweb.org/emr where it will be fully searchable, as at present (there might be the occasional broken internal link and, of course, a growing number of dead links to resources). However, I will not be doing any further updates to the site, and eventually it will go away altogether.

Instead, I’ve started building a new website, an ‘Early Modern Hub’, with a number of interconnected areas:

  1. resources will be more tightly focused, emphasising resources for researchers (whether students, academics, independent scholars), especially online primary sources, and sites of scholarship. Hopefully, listings will provide more detailed and useful information, especially about large resources. I will continue to include only content that is free to access.
  2. news and events – this will include the Early Modern News blog which is currently hosted at WordPress.com; it may also add links to external resources that I’ve been unable to include in EMR previously, such as blogs/sites set up specifically for conferences and short term projects.
  3. blogs – I’d like to integrate Early Modern Commons more closely into the site; and think about ways to bring in Twitter links and conversations
  4. people – I’m not quite sure yet what this might consist of, but I’d particularly like to facilitate a network to support postgraduate students, early career researchers, independent scholars and alt-academics. This might involve setting up a network along the lines of MLA Commons, if there’s enough demand for it. At the very least I’d like to have some kind of directory to which researchers would submit their own online profile. (Suggestions welcome.)

This will take a while to come together – watch out for news!

Women’s History Month 2013: early modern women & gender

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Happy International Women’s Day!

Digital Resources

You can of course, visit the Gender section of Early Modern Resources any month of the year, but I’ll highlight a few relatively new resources that wouldn’t have appeared in previous roundups here.

ABO: Interactive Journal for Women in the Arts, 1640-1830: “an online annual publication that serves as a forum for interactive scholarly discussion on all aspects of women in arts between 1640 and 1830, especially literature, visual arts, music, performance art, film criticism, and production arts”.

Who Were The Nuns?: “A Prosopographical study of the English Convents in exile 1600-1800″.

The Poetess Archive: “a resource for studying the literary history of popular British and American poetry… late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century popular poetry was often written in what came to be designated an “effeminate” style”.

Women’s Studies Group 1558 – 1837: “a small, informal multi-disciplinary group formed to promote women’s studies in the early modern period and the long eighteenth century”.

Blogs

A few highlights from blogs tagged Gender at Early Modern Commons:

Good Gentlewoman: “the St John ladies and the people whose lives they touched”

his story, her story: “Medieval, Tudor and early modern women”

Jen Burke’s Blog: a lovely renaissance art history/culture blog

Women Writers, 1660-1800: “Exploring Authorial Adventures in the Long Eighteenth Century”, a very good students’ group blog.

Recent blogging

All the women we’ve never heard of: Women’s History Month (his story, her story)

Women’s History Month (In the Words of Women)

Beauty and the Pox (Early Modern Medicine)

Gender and the Newest Political History (The Junto)

Feminism and the Wives of Henry VIII? (Conor Byrne)

A few (good|bad) women

Frances Tradescant
Grizzell Apthorp: Widow, Employer, Property Owner
Agnes Bulmer: Poet of Methodist Experience
Elizabeth Bennet, shirt stealer? (1796)
Lady Mary Wroth – paving the way for women writers

Carnivalesque: Transitions and Meetings

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Welcome to the 92nd edition of Carnivalesque!

A New Year brings a new look to Carnivalesque: from now on carnival editions will cover everything from ancient history to early modernity. This change was brought about by practical considerations; we simply couldn’t recruit enough hosts to keep running six ancient/medieval editions a year. But, as it turns out, this edition contains plenty of rather more interesting reasons to abandon our old dividing line between medieval and early modern.

So it seems appropriate to kick off with the medievalist JJ Cohen’s provocative discussion of the use of “early modern” at In The Middle.

Medievalists learned long ago that when you carve your scholarly habitation out of time’s wilderness of flux and declare this secure home exclusively yours, you may as well have retreated to the monastery… Because they work in the “Middle Ages” (a plural and imprecise designation for the times left behind so that our Now could arrive), medievalists are not responsible for explaining modernity… What if the medieval were not middle to anything?

Steve Mentz agreed with much of Cohen’s argument in Messy Transitions, but noted

I don’t want history without transitions. I like plurality, multiplicity, radical difference, but I also want narratives of change, transformation, discontinuity… But how to have both at once?

We’ll be returning to this topic before we’re done…

Where the Old meets the New

Erik Kwakkel at medievalfragments reflected on his first year on Twitter

The ten medieval doodles showed me a way to combine three important things: what I love as a researcher (medieval books); the means to reach a broad audience (images); and something that is dear to me personally, which is to bring a light touch, humor if appropriate, to all things I do.

The bloggers at Enfilade are Trying to Think Seriously about using Pinterest to study art and architectural history

If art historians are well placed to say what’s wrong with most of what happens on Pinterest, it seems to me we might also start contributing models for making a tool like this work better… How and to what extent might Pinterest be used in the production of knowledge, particularly in terms of collecting information (visual and textual information) and presenting that information together?

The blog Burnable Books has begun a series of guest-authored posts on Medieval Studies in the Age of Big Data (I have some current professional reasons to be interested in this topic). First, Martin Foys on learning To Stop Worrying and Love Big Data.

technologies of information and the ecological dynamic we have with it are not alien, but organic, and derived from our own informational needs. Historically, they are of our own making, and continue to be so. In medieval studies and elsewhere, big data will be as good or as bad as we allow.

Timothy Stinson follows up with An Unrevolutionary Revolution: The Other 99%

Yes, we can and should ask new questions and invent new forms for disseminating our research… But if we really want to do big data, and if we really want to see the full potential of these tools, we need the other 99% of manuscripts digitized.

Although we always need to bear in mind the particular practical problems of digitising very old texts, as detailed here by The British Library Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts Blog.

Manuscript, Print, Image: the Material meets the Cultural

At medievalfragments, Irene O’Daly compared a famous fictional library with the real medieval thing in Library or Labyrinth?

The monastery depicted in The Name of the Rose has no historical parallel. The library building, modeled by Eco on the thirteenth-century Castel Monte in Apulia, Italy, accordingly, does not reflect any medieval library that we have knowledge of… On a more profound level, Eco’s depiction of the library as a labyrinth symbolises an important aspect of the medieval quest for knowledge.

Niki Gamm at Hürriyet Daily News explored the development of books and libraries in the ancient and medieval Middle East.

Erin Blake wrote at The Collation on scientific research dispelling the myth that copper plates wore out because of intense pressure from the rolling press, which is less well known among historians than it ought to be, and called for more communication between scholars who are working on the same subjects but divided by the split between humanities and sciences.

Also at The Collation, Heather Wolfe looks at 17th-century letters locked with silk embroidery floss, an unusual and personal technique that would have carried meaning for recipients even before they opened the letters.

Mark Hailwood at The Many-Headed Monster, in a series on representations of workers, discusses images of miners:

On the one hand, mining is often closely associated with modernity… But if the development of mining in early modern England was a precursor to modernity, miners themselves were more likely to be labelled as ‘backward’, even by many of their contemporaries, and a number of their beliefs certainly do not look modern to our eyes.

The Manchester Museum’s blog for its Egyptian collections looks at royal portraits in ancient Egypt.

Pharaonic scenes are functional rather than purely aesthetic. Many focus on the king: he is recognisable by his scale, insignia, and position in a scene. Viewers are left in no doubt about who he is. Royal family members are identifiable for the same reasons. But was any attempt made to make these individuals look like themselves?

Passages and Intercourses: Food, Sex, Death

In Life and Afterlife: Dealing with the dead in the Viking age J Hellden at Academia considers “the fundamental role that narrative, storytelling and dramatisation played in the mindset of the Viking Age (8th-11th centuries), occupying a crucial place not only in the cycles of life but particularly in the ritual responses to dying and the dead”.

At Early Modern John, John Gallagher discussed the tradition of baking spiced ‘soul cakes’ for All Souls’ Day, and had a go at baking some for himself.

Elizabethan contrarian and polemicist Philip Stubbs took aim at the old traditions, attacking ‘Friers, Nunns, and Ankresses’… not just for their Latin prayers and rosary beads, or for their impressive church vestments, but also for the way in which they would ‘give soule-cakes (for so they shame not to cal them) or rather foole-cakes agaynst all soules daie, for the redemption of all christen soules, as they blasphemously speak’.

And if you don’t fancy soul-cakes, what about Chocolate in Seventeenth-Century England, from the Recipes Project?

Recently, a news story broke that some cheap beefburgers on sale in British supermarkets had been found to contain horse DNA (also causing an outbreak of magnificently bad jokes on Twitter). The Old Foodie reminds us that worries about adulterated food have been around for a long time, with a set of 14th-century Rules for Pie-bakers, introduced (apparently) because “the Pastelers of the City of London have heretofore baked in pasties rabbits, geese, and garbage, not befitting, and sometimes stinking, in deceit of the people”.

For those of you who ate and drank too much over the Christmas holidays, the Ancient Worlds blog has a look at Overindulgence at Saturnalia in Ancient Rome.

OK: if there’s one thing I love even more than blogging about sex and blogging about food, it’s blogging about sex and food. Jonathan Jarrett at A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe brings us a case that is More cheese than adultery.

Nonetheless, she was not actually required to compensate for the adultery, which was presumably not considered worth punishing; it would have been hard to argue, perhaps, that it had cost Hermenegildo anything except a few hours of his slave’s labour (ahem) but for the, well, inconspicuous consumption of four head of cattle and sixty cheeses. I mean, how long was this going on?

Jill Burke asks: Did renaissance women remove their body hair? It seems the answer is: yes.

there is indeed advice on how to remove hair from every part of the body in all of these books I have consulted. The renewed interest in facial cosmetics was, then, matched by an explosion in treatments for body hair removal. The Renaissance could, indeed be called a golden age of depilation.

Alexandra Sofroniew at The Iris explores ancient curse tablets

The tablet could be rolled around magic herbs, or even animal or human hair (from the intended victim!) for extra potency. Or the folded lead could be pierced with nails (to pin down the target, giving the Latin name defixio). The curse tablet was then thrown into a sacred pit at a sanctuary, a watery chasm at a spring or pool, or a newly dug grave (preferably of someone who had just died young or violently), ensuring its delivery to the Gods of the Underworld who would carry out the punishment.

Executed Today discusses “the Sow of Falaise”, a sow hanged in Falaise in 1386 for causing the death of a 3 month old baby.

an impressive legend has grown up around the “Sow of Falaise”. It’s been alleged by subsequent interlocuters that the condemned sow was dressed up as a person for execution, that other pigs were made to attend in order to take warning by their swinish sister’s fate, and even that the incident became so famous as to merit depiction in a church fresco.

Also on animal deaths, Gavin Robinson has been investigating Horse Casualties in the English Civil War; the sources suggests that there were not as many fatalities in battle as we might tend to think.

The Interswerve (or, Battering Greenblatt)

And so… back to where we started: periodizations and transitions. The MLA’s decision to award a major prize to Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve: How The World Became Modern – a book “filled with factual inaccuracies and founded upon a view of history not shared by serious scholars of the periods Greenblatt studies” – attracted considerable criticism, but also generated some important discussion and reflection.

JJ Cohen was eloquent as always:

When Greenblatt was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for the book I thought: OK, it’s a general audience, and maybe any attention on the past is good attention. But now that the MLA has given a work so devoid of nuance in its account of a long span of human history — a book that in its relentless reductiveness and lack of complexity (or even humane impulses towards those who find themselves locked in 1000 years of unremitting and untextured darkness) offers a negative example of how to form an ethical relation to history — well, I just wonder about what the prize really means. Is it OK to compose caricatured history that reaffirms common prejudice and conveys factual errors rather than work that might make the past more unstable, variegated, intricate, alive?

Medieval Meets World argued that “Few eras in history suffer as badly from this obsession with naming as do the Middle Ages, betwixt and between, neither old nor new, never full here or fully there. And yet, despite attempts to relegate them to the infinitely liminal, the Middle Ages remain an object of fascination and inquiry.”

Steve Mentz emphasised that Modernity is not History

The heart of this swervin’ exchange lays bare the conflict between two things: an objectively false feel-good story of “how the world became modern,” and a better-informed sense of what went on before Poggio found that copy of De rerum natura… I wonder what happens if we disentangle these threads? What if we rethink “modernity” as something other than a historical phenomenon? … Whatever heroic story of “the modern” you want to tell — bold explorers, brilliant textual scholars, brave Lutherans, lethal viruses, high-caloric American food crops feeding China or Ireland — will exclude and misrepresent aspects of the historical record. That’s a reason to tell more complex and less triumphant stories.

Elaine Treharne condemned the “grand narrative that trumpets the Renaissance partly through its insistent derogation and misrepresentation of the Medieval”:

Greenblatt shows a total disregard for textual production, transmission and reception in the period between the Fall of Rome and the finding of classical nuggets in the monastic libraries of the late Medieval period. He forgets that the real Middle Ages provided the world with universities and the full flourishing of scholasticism; with the twelfth-century Renaissance, which like its later iteration, re-discovered classical texts protected by the cultural bastions of organised religion.

Leila K. Norako suggested that Greenblatt’s book “seems to have far more to to say about very contemporary anxieties over the state of education than it does about the Middle Ages”.

Rick Godden of Modern Medieval criticised “the privileging of one time period over another, the creation of an abject other out of a segment of the past”. But, he thought,

there is a sense, for me at least, that although the older dogmas of heroic conceptions of periodization will never fully die out in various conversations, books like The Swerve are already seeming like the last gasp of a dying species.

Well… maybe. But we can at least celebrate the end of division and separation here at Carnivalesque. Here’s to the future!

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The next edition of Carnivalesque will be at Renaissance Mathematicus on or about 9 March, and the nomination form as usual will be here.

Early Modern Commons: Post Categories searching

Standard

Early Modern Commons has now been aggregating blog posts for several months. I recently added pages for book reviews and job adverts. Today I’ve gone a step further and added a search page for blog post categories.

This will search the categories, tags, labels, etc,* assigned to blog posts by their authors (for posts since the beginning of August 2012). So, for example, you can search for categories mentioning London, or the category Gunpowder Plot.

This is very much a work in progress. The most obvious limitation is that you can only search for posts in blogs that are included in Early Modern Commons. (I’ve been pondering for a while more generally how it might be possible to include relevant posts from blogs that only occasionally have early modern content…)

Alos, at the moment it’s a very simple word/phrase search; the only choices are between searching anywhere within categories and searching for an exact category. I’ll be adding some more sophisticated options later (it would obviously be useful to be able to find, say, ’17th century’ or ‘seventeenth century’ in the same search!).

I hope this addition to the site will be useful! Firstly, it will allow site users more flexible access to the content EMC has been aggregating.

Secondly, moreover, I hope to facilitate the pro-active use of tags and categories by bloggers to create useful resources by grouping together blogging about specific news, topics, conferences, etc, in a similar fashion to Twitter hashtags. All searches can be bookmarked for reference (and I hope to provide RSS feeds before too long); see the notes below on search URL construction.

Bloggers simply need to use a shared tag/category to make it accessible through this search – they could agree on one together for an event, or an organiser could announce one in advance.

So, for example, if a number of EMC bloggers individually blog about early modern panels at the upcoming American Historical Association 2013 meeting and tag/categorise their posts with AHA2013, their posts would all be accessible shortly afterwards through http://commons.earlymodernweb.org/searchcat?s=aha2013

Feedback will be very welcome.

Tag away!
 
 
Notes on Search URLs

With URL encoding as appropriate for spaces etc, it should be possible to work out in advance what the URL to search for any given category will be. This is the basic formula:

http://commons.earlymodernweb.org/searchcat?s={search phrase}

For example, the simple London URL looks like this:

http://commons.earlymodernweb.org/searchcat?s=london (The searches are all case-insensitive.)

Meanwhie, the Gunpowder Plot search URL looks like this:

http://commons.earlymodernweb.org/searchcat?s=Gunpowder%20Plot&exact=on

In this more complex search URL %20 is the URL encoding for a space between words and &exact=on adds the exact category requirement. (When more search options are added in the future they will similarly be preceded by &.)

I will do my best to ensure that the basic URL construction (searchcat?s=…) is stable and persistent as long as the site is around.


*The terminology varies with different blog platforms (and some, like WordPress, use more than one type), but this shouldn’t matter. Certainly, WordPress tags and categories, Blogspot labels, and Tumblr tags are all being captured and saved in the database. Movable Type/Typepad categories should also be fine though I haven’t checked this yet. NB that the search does not include the content of posts.