Fortunio Liceti and His Big Book of Monsters

Our latest Postgraduate and Early Career Takeover post is by Jordan Baker. Jordan concentrates his research and writing on the history of the Atlantic World and blogs about history at eastindiabloggingco.com.

In early modern Europe, people believed in many things that modern readers would find fanciful. One of the most striking examples of this type of early modern thought is the study, and fascination with, monsters. From three-headed beasts to strange creatures of the deep, European audiences readily consumed tales of monstrosity. But what exactly were these monsters?

Occasionally creatures called monsters were exotic species or animals with imposing figures (like whales); sometimes monsters were simply creatures from myth, like satyres or centaurs. Usually, however, what early modern people deemed ‘monsters’ were simply animals or people who suffered from a genetic abnormality.

Seen throughout the Middle Ages, and even into the Renaissance, as acts of God, monsters and monstrous births fascinated early modern Europeans. While some earlier thinkers had attempted to pinpoint what caused the occurrence of monsters, in the seventeenth century at least one author sought an explanation that did not rely on ‘the glory of God.’

Fortunio Liceti and Monsters as Natural Phenomenon

Interest in monsters had been growing for centuries when one of the men most commonly associated with these texts, Fortunio Liceti, penned his seminal work on the topic. While Liceti does not seem to have studied monsters ‘in the field,’ so to speak, he was an avid collector of the illustrations and studies made by others. And though much of his work still included elements that we would consider fantastical, like a headless person with eyes in their shoulder blades, he made the first attempts to categorize monsters as something completely natural.

Illustrations from Liceti’s De monstrorum, sourced from https://publicdomainreview.org/
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‘Great fears of the Sicknesse here in the City’: Researching news in the 1665 plague during a pandemic

Our latest Postgraduate and Early Career Takeover post is by Nikki Clarke. She is a PhD student at Birkbeck, University of London. Nikki’s research focuses on how people gathered and assessed news in seventeenth-century England. You can find her on Twitter at @nikkiclarke1.

Reliable information takes on even greater significance in a time of pandemic, when rumour and fake news can have a serious impact on the decisions that people make for their own safety and that of their community. I have spent most of the last year researching the news sources available during the plague of 1665, and how both the authorities and citizens gathered news and judged its accuracy.[1] I have issued myself strong warnings about avoiding anachronistic comparisons with the current pandemic but there are some issues that still have a resonance today.

Londoners dealing with the outbreak of the 1665 plague would have viewed their situation through different intellectual and theological lenses from the ones we use, but they would have been asking many of the same questions and tackling many of the same decisions.  How close is the plague to my street? Should I stay in the city or l should I leave? Are the restrictions on my daily life effective in tackling the disease, or are they a huge economic burden, or both?

John Dunstall, plague broadsheet (1666). Copyright, Museum of London, object 42.39/142.

The primary official sources for news on the plague were the Bills of Mortality.  It is probably anachronistic to describe their weekly publication as the seventeenth-century equivalent of the daily Number 10 briefing. Yet watching those briefings in the spring of 2020 did help me to understand the need of Essex vicar Ralph Josselin to note in his diary almost every weekly bill from May 1665 to December 1666.

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Tasting America: Rum Punch and Barbecue in Early Modern London

Our latest Postgraduate and Early Career Takeover post is by Tyler Rainford. Tyler is a first year PhD student at the University of Bristol, funded by the SWW DTP. His research focuses on alcohol consumption and Atlantic exchange in early modern England, 1650-1750. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_Rainford

How did ordinary people experience colonial groceries in early modern England? Thanks to the pioneering work of Carole Shammas we now know that ‘being poor and being a consumer […] were not mutually exclusive conditions.’ Ordinary people were able to get their hands on an array of goods, which were previously believed to be the reserve of their betters (at least initially). But the way certain individuals and communities engaged with new commodities is often hard to articulate. It’s all too easy to imagine consumption as something that “trickles down” the social scale, as commodities became cheaper and more accessible. Take tea, for example. It is generally argued that tea drinking, at first a peculiar and exotic ritual, became popular amongst more elite and middling members of society, before making its way into the daily lives of ordinary women and men. But such a model hides a more complex reality. Colonial groceries and cooking techniques could be experienced first-hand by those we might consider “plebeian,” and the cultural influence of these goods could prove profoundly transformative. The Barbacue Feast: Or, The Three Pigs of Peckham, penned by Ned Ward in 1707 provides one such example.

Ned Ward, The Barbacue Feast: Or, The Three Pigs of Peckham, Broil’d under an Apple-Tree (London, 1707).

Ward’s scintillating verse and prose provides a fascinating glimpse into the nature of urban life in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Best known for his opus, The London Spy, which originally appeared in the form of eighteen instalments between 1698 and 1700, Ward’s work is decidedly visceral. The Barbacue Feast is no exception. Unsurprisingly, food and drink take centre stage in Ward’s description of this distinctly raucous affair, and their sensational influence is apparent from the outset. Alcohol is so prominent that it acts as the catalyst for the whole event. Indeed, Ward describes how a jolly group of mariners from Rotherhithe in Southwark became so ‘over-heated with that West-India-Diapente, call’d Kill-Devil [Rum] Punch’ that their thoughts turned to another Caribbean treat:

‘… By the powerful Ascendancy of the American Tipple, their Natures were so wonderfully chang’d, and their English Appetites so deprav’d and vitiated, that nothing would satisfy the squeamish Stomacks of the fanciful Society but a Litter of Pigs most nicely cook’d after the West-India Manner.’

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The World in a Jar: Apothecary Shops and Globalisation in Early Modern England

Our latest post in our Postgraduate and Early Career Takeover is from Christopher Booth. Chris is an Midlands3Cities funded PhD Candidate at The University of Nottingham, researching the material culture and visual experience of apothecary shops in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Find him on twitter @archaeobooth.

The image of the early modern apothecary shop, with its shelves of labelled jars and bottles behind a counter and the apothecary moving between customers and their stock, is a neat encapsulation of the way that new, global products were incorporated into English medicine between the late-sixteenth century and the late-eighteenth century.

It was the inclusion of these new medicinal botanicals, imported from the Americas and across the world, into existing systems of organisation based upon early modern herbals that made these products familiar and thus acceptable for consumption. Later they would also be incorporated into European (meaning Diderotian or Linnaean) systems of classification, further familiarizing them in the ‘old world’. The skilful navigation of these organisational systems, represented by the labels on medical containers, and the knowledgeability and trustworthiness of the apothecary within their shops were key to the acceptance and increasing consumption of these materia medica.

Apothecaries sought to materially represent this organisation and encyclopaedic knowledge through the tin-glazed earthenware drug jars which lined shelves behind the counter where prescriptions were made up. Doing so allowed them to visually and materially communicate their knowledge of, and mastery over, ‘newly discovered’ botanical products, and through that knowledge ensure the confidence of their patient when consuming the medicines which they compounded.

Initially the names of the materia medica which the apothecary stocked were not visible to the customer. Earlier drug jars, and those in more rural shops, would have been unlabelled albarelli with a small paper label affixed to the string keeping parchment or bladder lids in place. Later jars, however, had abbreviated Latin names of their contents painted within cartouches on their surfaces which would have been prominently displayed to the apothecaries’ patients. Whether or not individual customers read or understood Latin, the fact that all the simples (individual medicinal ingredients) in their medicine were labelled in this same way demonstrated that they were categorised and understood, at least by the apothecary, within the same system of medical and botanical knowledge as the more familiar simples from Britain and Europe whose names were on display in the same way. Examples of drug jars labelled with ‘new world’ simples are extant in museum collections. The below example from the collection of The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust was used to hold an electuary of sassafras which was derived from a North American tree.

An English drug jar, circa 1730; painted in blue on a white background; E.E.SASSAFRAS (Electuary of Sassifras) on a songbird and basket label. Dimensions: Height 195mm. Diameters: base 125mm, rim 90mm. STRST : SBT 1993-31/56. CC-BY-NC-ND Image Courtesy of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
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The ‘Lowest Sort’ in the Print Trade of 17th-Century England

Our latest post in the Postgraduate and Early Career Takeover is from Joe Saunders. Joe has just started a PhD at the University of York using wills to study the social networks of the print trade in England c.1557-1666. Find Joe on twitter at @joe_saunders1.

We are this year ‘working from home’; struggling with work-life balance; and have ‘Key Workers’ in our supermarkets, hospitals and care-homes. What constitutes important labour is a contemporary debate but also interests historians who seek to define and locate work. Histories of literature are a case-in-point, with focus oscillating between the labour of authors, readers and publishers. In recent decades we have come to know a great deal about text creation and circulation during the hand-press era with work on the producers and movers of texts; publishers, printers and booksellers as they turned an author’s ideas into something tangible and passed them to an audience. The transfer from the author’s mind to printed page and then to the reader required a significant amount of labour from a variety of actors in a myriad of roles from financing a text through to those who carried the finished products along country roads.

Men working at a printing press- Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Bertolt Brecht in his 1935 poem ‘A Worker Reads History’ imagined how the workers who built the great monuments of the world figured into histories dominated by great men. He asked ‘but was it kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone?’. Of course, the answer is no, but their names adorn these structures nonetheless. Though the process of text creation and movement in early modern England was gendered, classed and regionalised research has necessarily focused on the better offs who left their names on imprints and records of the Company of Stationers; the livery company which held a theoretical control over the membership and products of the print trade. This is the case across the History of the Book where source survival means most work on reading and authorship is also done on the middling sorts and elites.

The 2020 publication Women’s Labour and the History of the Book in Early Modern England brought together a range of essays dealing with reading, authorship and production. The focus was more towards countesses than chapmen-or-women but an exception was Craig’s essay on the rag-women who collected material for papermakers. This research recovered the labour of people who were critical to the production of texts but are largely absent from the records and therefore from our understanding. It was argued implicitly that to look for the lowest sort of women in the trade is the first step to finding them.

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A Poor Hand-Maid’s Tale: Love, Petitioning and Print in Seventeenth-Century England

The second post in our Postgraduate and Early Career Takeover comes from Scott Eaton, an ECR interested in early modern witchcraft, religion, art and print cultures. His book on the witch-finder John Stearne is available from Routledge now. You can follow him on twitter: @StjEaton.

On 22 August 1651 Christopher Love was executed for treason for conspiring with Royalists to restore the King, Charles II, to the throne. His wife, Mary Love, had worked tirelessly to try and save him. While he was being held in the Tower of London, Love petitioned, ‘stood dailie’ at Parliament’s doors and even sent messages to Cromwell in Scotland (at the cost of £100!) in the hope she might secure her husband’s release. Unfortunately, she failed in her efforts. Shortly after Christopher’s death, however, Mary published her petitions and included letters they had written to each other before he was executed. Her publications can provide insight into petitioning, print and gender roles in seventeenth-century England.  

Petitioning was an acceptable way for the ‘ruled’ to address the authorities and make their voices heard, whether seeking action, intercession or mercy, like Love. The 1640s saw a breakdown over censorship of the press and a rise of female assertiveness in the political arena, allowing printed petitions attributed to women to proliferation more widely than before. Mary Love’s printed petitions obviously came after these events had happened, giving her a precedent to follow.

The Resolution of the Women of London to the Parliament (1642), EEBO
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‘The devil will tear me in pieces’: Self-destruction and sympathy in a seventeenth-century witchcraft case

We are delighted to launch our Postgraduate and Early Career Takeover with this post from Imogen Knox. Imogen is an M4C funded doctoral researcher at the University of Warwick whose work focuses on suicide, self-harm and the supernatural in Britain, 1560-1735. Find her on twitter at @Imogen_Knox.

CONTENT WARNING: this post contains discussion of suicide.

Self-destruction was interwoven with the roles of both witch and bewitched in early modern Britain. Witches committed spiritual suicide in signing themselves over to the devil, and in turn the devil tempted his imprisoned servants to self-destruction to secure his grip on their souls. The spiritual and actual suicide of witches, like criminals, reinforced their guilt in the contemporary imagination. Witches also tormented their victims with temptation to self-destruction.

Witches making a pact with the devil. Compendium maleficarum. Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Both those afflicted by witchcraft and witches themselves expressed self-destructive temptations. One such admission would produce sympathy, the other scorn. In this post I examine the case of the witchcraft of Anne Bodenham and her victim Anne Styles to show how, by mirroring each other’s self-destructive behaviours, the women negotiated contemporary ideas around innocence, guilt, female nature, and spirituality. One would emerge as an innocent victim, the other an unrepentant sinner.

Dr John Lambe, Anne Bodenham’s reputed tutor. John Lambe, an infamous medical practitioner and magician. Wood engraving. Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Anne Bodenham, of Fisherton Anger, near Salisbury, was a reputed cunning woman. It was her ability to locate stolen goods that first brought Anne Styles to her in 1653. Styles, a young woman employed as a maid in the Goddard household, was illiterate and ‘altogether ignorant of the Fundamentall grounds of Religion’ according to the court clerk Edmund Bower. In contrast, the eighty-year-old Bodenham owned ‘a great many notable books’ and claimed to have been taught by the infamous Dr Lambe. Styles made multiple visits to Bodenham, to consult on various issues for the Goddard family, chief among the fear of Styles’ mistress that she was to be poisoned. After several visits, Bodenham offered to take Styles on, ‘to live with her’ and ‘teach her to doe as she did’. However, when Bodenham transformed herself into a cat, Styles was ‘very much affrighted’. Bodenham, seeing that she had misjudged the situation, let Styles go. To ensure that Styles would not ‘discover her’, Bodenham had Styles sign her name in blood in a book, while two conjured spirits looked on.

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the many-headed monster postgrad and early career takeover!

We monster heads still strongly believe in the value of the blog format, but sadly life has conspired to mean none of us can post as often as we used to. The site remains popular though, and we receive an average of around 5,000 views per month. So rather than having this platform sit here twiddling its thumbs, we put our monstrous heads together to think about how we could make the most of it at the current time. The answer was obvious: for at least the next six months we want to make the monster a platform for our postgraduate and early career readers to showcase their research, and to voice their views on academic life.

We hope there will be a number of benefits. Obviously the takeover will give early career scholars the chance to bring the fruits of their research to a wide audience, but it is also an opportunity for writers to give blogging a try and for us to share some of the insights we have gained over the years. Of course with lockdowns still in place in many parts of the globe, and with further postponements of conferences and symposia, the takeover is also intended as an alternative way of encountering and engaging with current research and work in progress – and in a digestible format that can fit in around online teaching, caring duties, daily exercise and lying on the floor in a darkened room breathing deeply, etc.

So if you are a budding historian who does not have a permanent academic job (our deliberately baggy definition of postgrad/early career), then please consider writing a blog for us. You can download our simple guidelines and style guide here: Submission Guidelines For Authors.

The rest of this post provides a gloss on the guidelines, familiarising potential contributors (or anyone else thinking of venturing into blog writing) with the reasons why we have come to write for the monster in the way that we do. As you will see, most of them relate to our sense of who reads the blog, when and why.

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