Step right up, everybody, get your funnel cakes here, your churros, your sopapillas, your fried dough in every shape and size. The carousel, the Ferris wheel and the jugglers are just around the corner. (We put the carnival in Carnivalesque!) There’s something here for everyone. Looking for the latest great ideas on early modern history, art, philosophy, and science? Keep reading; you’re in the right place. Do your preferences run more towards whisky, snowball fights, bonfires and duct tape? Feel free to wander around some of the other posts (and, more importantly, stroll through the comments; that’s where all the fun is.) If you’re new here, welcome! If you’re a regular, you know the bar’s always open and drinks are on the house.
First of all, special thanks to all the folks who sent in contributions, particularly Sharon Howard who is the ringmaster par excellence of all things early modern.
I’d also like to give a shout out to the history carnivals, especially the most recent one (History Carnival XXIV) hosted by The Elfin Ethicist. There are several good early modern links here: see, for example, Jonathan Dresner’s take on Gavin Menzies, David Post’s challenge of Mozart’s abilities as a “boy genius,” and Jonathan Edelstein’s description of uses of sign language in testimony by deaf witnesses in 18th century English courts.
Here, the carnival is all early modern, all the time. Here are some highlights:
Kristine, who has a veritable treasure-trove of treats at Earmarks in Early Modern Culture, was intrigued by Henry Peacham’s 1622 remark that for a gentleman, learning to swim is, among other things, a good way to “annoy your enemy.” She wonders about the social and cultural context of swimming in early modern society and ferrets out some good references, pointing us in particular to Everard Digby’s De Arte Natandi, and its rich discussion (and illustrations!) of early modern swimming techniques.
For those of you who dream of being able to “see and turn through a large number of books without moving from one spot,” she also describes a 16th century reading machine. Tapping into the 16th century fascination of machines and technology in general, there’s a wonderful collection of images of these at BibliOdyssey, itself a treasure-trove of images and links.
If you had access to one of those wonderful book-reading machines, you’d be likely to make some discoveries like those of Paul Helm at Reformata, who suggests some intriguing parallels between John Calvin’s and Thomas Aquinas’ approaches to astronomy.
In the realm of early modern imagery, how about a three-headed Saturn? MisterAitch of Giornale Nuovo shares some bits from Vincenzo Cartari’s book Imagini delli Dei de gl’Antichi, a 16th century study of the iconography of the gods (principally those of the Greek and Roman pantheon, but with a curious appendix on Mexican and Japanese deities). MisterAitch also shows us how artisans obtained instruction in the basic techniques of perspective drawing, through treatises such as Hieronumus Rodler’s 1531 Eyn schön nützlich büchlin und underweisung der kunst des Messens, (‘A Fine, Useful Booklet and Instruction in the Art of Measurement’).
While we usually envy modernists their relatively easy access to source material, more early modern primary sources are becoming available online all the time. One of the most fascinating collections is that of The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, London’s principal criminal court, which gives us access to over 100,000 criminal trials for the period 1674-1834. From these records, Natalie Bennett highlights the story of a well-traveled thief (with some additional tantalizing hints about the murder of a member of the Royal Society), and Kristine of Earmarks gives us the intriguing tale of a cat who calls its owner’s attention to a suspicious Noise in the Vault.
Crime seems to be a hot topic for early modernists, as Laura James at CLEWS shares the tribulations of Dorothy Talby, one of the first women to be executed in the American colonies. Another mystery comes from Sharon at Early Modern Notes, drawn from her research on early modern crime and legal history: the case of the missing swineherd who came to an unfortunate end.
And crime, of course, has its consequences: “I am now to end a Scandalous Life, by a deserved Ignominious Death,” says a priest about to be executed in 1693. Copernicus at Fústar discusses a collection of gallows speeches from 18th century Ireland (and, in passing, slips in a neat argument that “bloggers are the latterday pamphleteers to the corporate media’s 17th century newspaper publishers”).
“What do you lack? What is’t you buy?” Pasttense reviews Linda Levy Peck’s Consuming Splendor, on the seventeenth-century aristocrat’s consuming desire for… well, consuming. See also Pasttense’s discussion of the BBC’s “In Our Time” episodes on James II and the Jacobites and 17th-century print culture.
More valuable online sources include Winter Evenings, an 18th-century collection of essays on literature and morals by the Rev. Vicesimus Knox. See here, for example, Knox’s argument in favor of quotations and marginal scribblings. A similar collection of writings, in this case from the early 19th-century manuscript volumes of Miss Frances Williams Wynn, is made available to us by Natalie Bennett at Diaries of a Lady of Quality. Exploratoria points us to an entry from the Hon. John Lindsay’s Journal of An Imprisonment in Seringapatam written in the 1780s, with a link to the full text at Christopher Handley’s Diary Research website.
Take a peek at Steve Muhlberger’s relatively new blog, which addresses the BBC’s list of “Who were the worst Britons?” as well as the validity (or not) of everyone’s favorite 15th century Chinese map. Steve also has some excellent links and comments on early modern sources, including Samuel Pepys’ diary and what he describes as “a tremendous collection of paintings and engravings illustrating the life and costumes of the very, very, very rich and noble in the time of Charles II of England and Louis XIV of France,” L'Age d'Or.
Want more early modern culture in your own world? Here’s Natalie Bennett’s review of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s current production of Thomas More, and Bunny Smedley discusses the meaning of self-portraiture with particular reference to Jan van Eyck in this review of the National Portrait Gallery's current exhibition Self Portrait: Renaissance to Contemporary.
More contemporary connections come from Manan Ahmed at Chapati Mystery, who draws on early modern representations of Muhammad to add perspective to the current uproar over the Danish cartoons. Diamond Geezer ponders what day should be chosen to be celebrated as British Day (the possibilities include five different possible dates for the “founding of Britain,” several saint days and royal birthdays, and various “days of enormous historic national importance.”
Last but not least, all the things about the early modern world you’ve always wanted to know but have been afraid to ask: Chris Brooke at the Virtual Stoa wonders “Why did people in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries think that the Egyptians worshipped vegetables in general and leeks in particular?” and Richard Nokes at Unlocked Wordhoard explores the possible early modern origins of the word “dildo.”
I know I’ve missed lots of other good tidbits, especially since Blogger’s been down for much of the day, so my apologies to anyone who was left out. (I had several good links to Rebecca Goetz’s blog in particular, & will try to post these once I regain access to her site!) There are always more carnivals, though, so take another ride on that Ferris wheel and the next one will swing around soon.
ETA: Here are the links that weren’t working last night (even after most of Blogger seemed to have come back up) that I wanted to include: Rebecca Goetz’s exploration of punishments for interracial sex in 1640s Virginia, and her discussion of Captain William Mitchell and his “Crimes... Soe many and Soe haynous.” And for more on early modern technology, see CLASSical Liberalism’s account of Tadeusz Kosciuszko, the Polish military engineer who was inspired by the Declaration of Independence and became George Washington’s chief engineer and strategist.
The next Carnivalesque, in its ancient/medieval incarnation, will be announced here and should appear in early March. The next edition of the History Carnival will be hosted on 15 February at Philobiblon. Please send entry nominations to Natalie Bennett: natalieben[at]journ[dot]freeserve[dot]co[dot]uk, or use the submission form here. So many good things!