What follows are my selections for this month’s Early Modern Carnivalesque, the seventy-fourth in an ongoing series of blog post compendia, or “carnivals,” curated by the web’s doyenne of early modern history, Sharon Howard. Thanks to Sharon and to all the authors of the posts cited below for making such rich stores of information freely available.
• The blog of the Dittrick Museum of Medical History presents scans from a macabre and rather hilarious rare book in its library: Le Livre sans Titre [The Book without a Title]. This 1830 work relates the “perils of self-abuse, or onanism,” i.e. masturbation, but bears no title because “merely speaking the word in polite company invited rebuke in the nineteenth century,” writes Jim Edmonson. It features some striking illustrations depicting the adverse health effects of “corrupting” oneself. A sample:
|Before: “He was young, handsome and the hope of his mother.” After: “He is corrupted! Soon
he carries the pain of his fault, old before his time… His back is bent…
• The Readex Blog presents a guest post by Elizabeth Hopwood, a graduate student in English at Northeastern, on “Avoiding Errors, Fopperies and Follies: How to be a Good Wife.” This post offers extracts from a piece published in the New-England Weekly Journal in 1731 called “A Letter to a Lady on her Marriage.” The author inveighs strongly against showing “the least degree of Fondness to your Husband before any Witness whatsoever, even before your nearest Relations, or the very Maids of your Chamber.” PDA didn’t go over well in colonial New England, it would appear.
• The wonderful Powered by Osteons blog offers up “Artifacts… in Space!” The English warship Mary Rose sank in battle with French ships in 1545. What can the bones of its sailors and the remains of the ship itself tell us about its fate? The author, Kristina Killgrove, is a biological anthropologist at UNC Chapel Hill, so she is able to offer some interesting insights in regards to the sailor’s skeletal remains. A 2008 isotope analysis of the sailors’ bones found that part of the crew was non-English, thus occasioning the theory that the ship “may have sunk because a language barrier among the sailors caused poor communication leading to operator error”! This strikes me as a bit of a stretch, and it seems to have been debunked by a more recent study. Killgrove also writes about the reconstruction of a sailor’s face (seen at right) and the fact that a bead from the Mary Rose was recently sent into space aboard the Shuttle Endeavor. Quite a fascinating post.
• A food history blog called The Old Foodie posts about one of my favorite Englishmen of all time: the radical vegetarian and author Thomas Tryon (1634-1703). When I first stumbled upon Tryon’s works in a rare books library I was amazed at how modern Tryon’s advocacy of a healthy diet sounded (he loves salads and hates meat) and fascinated by the religious associations that he brought to bear in his polemics (he wrote an invented dialogue between a Frenchman and a “Brahmin” philosopher from “the Indies” advocating a form of deism). This post offers one of the best overviews of Tryon I’ve seen online. It also features a typically grim-sounding recipe he created: artichoke soup. The first ingredient: “blanched water.” Vegan cooking has come a long way since the 1600s.
• On Not Even Past, a new website created by the Department of History at the University of Texas at Austin (full disclosure – I’m the assistant editor), my friend and graduate school colleague Maria Jose Afanador Llach writes about “Naming and Picturing New World Nature: The Codice de la Cruz-Badiano.” The Codice de la Cruz-Badiano, or Badianus manuscript, was the “first illustrated survey of Mexican nature produced in the New World.” Fascinatingly, it was a joint product of indigenous Mesoamerican and European medical knowledge, and was produced by Nahua-speaking artisans and physicians. The illustrations (an example is posted below) are beautiful and evocative, with an eye-popping neon color scheme that varies strongly from traditional European botanical illustrations. This incredibly valuable work is currently housed in the Vatican archives.
• Elizabeth Roberts of Brain Blogger writes informatively about the oft-forgotten but crucially important barber-surgeons of the early modern era – one of my own favorite historical topics. “From Haircuts to Hangnails – the Barber-Surgeon” gives a broad overview of the topic, showing how the arts of hair-cutting has been intermingled in history with quite a few of the jobs we moderns associate with medical professionals, from lancing and blood-letting to surgery and amputation. At right, an engraving from 1524 by the Flemish painter Lucas van Leyden shows a barber-surgeon performing some dicey-looking maneuvers to a man’s ear region. “In the ancient Mayan civilization,” Roberts writes, “they were called upon to create ritual tattoos and scars. The ancient Chinese used them to castrate eunuchs. They gelded animals and assisted midwives, and performed circumcisions. Their accessibility and skill with precise instruments often made them the obvious choice for surgical procedures.” It all puts me in mind of my friend Chris, who once expressed the desire to write a history of the craft in Latin America called “Barberism and Civilization.” I hope he does it someday. (By the way, the earlier Res Obscura post “A Pirate Surgeon in Panama” sheds some light on the barber-surgeon’s sea-going compatriots.)
• The art history blog 3 Pipe Problem seems to keep getting better and better. This month saw a typically rich and well thought out post on “The elusive truth of art historical inquiry – a Raphael case study.” The author, H. Niyazi, takes to task what I’ve long regarded as the most obnoxious element in the field of art history — namely, the view that certain experts have quasi-supernatural gifts of discerning authorship in works of art. The author offers up the term “shamanistic connoisseurship” to describe such a view. I have to say I’m glad to see this ahistorical and snobby practice falling by the wayside. This post offers an interesting introduction to the contours of the debate, which has also been discussed in a fascinating recent piece on Jackson Pollocks in the New Yorker called “The Mark of a Masterpiece.”
• Finally, the ever-reliable BibliOdyssey, which was the direct inspiration for my own blog, offers up a selection of writing blanks. These were “were single sheets printed from copper or wood engravings, issued by print sellers (and, later, children’s booksellers), and sold to children across a broad socio-economic spectrum” in the period between 1650 and 1850, or thereabouts. Students would use the blank space in the center to show off their best hand-writing. The pictorial themes of the borders are quite varied, from the voyages of Captain Cook to the rather more prosaic topic of “Craneing Goods on Shore” (see below). Whether these reflect the interests of early modern school-children accurately or not is hard to say, but they are useful as scraps of evidence about what pre-modern kids were interested in, thus shedding light on highly elusive but fascinating topic of the history of childhood.
That’s all for now – I will probably update this to add new posts as I find them. Thanks to all whose blogs I have sampled!