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Posts from the ‘Research’ Category

The Making of Dürer’s Rhinoceros

by Eleanor Russell

This famous sketch of a rhinoceros was created in 1515 by the influential German artist, Albrecht Dürer, reflecting the growing interest in foreign curiosities that had emerged in tangent with the overseas voyages of exploration, commerce and conquest by the Spanish and Portuguese. The rhinoceros had been given as a gift by the ruler of Cambaia to Afonso de Albuquerque, the Portuguese viceroy in India, who in turn gifted it to king Manuel I of Portugal.

While the drawing itself provides a great deal of information about art and Orientalism in the Renaissance, among other things, the backstory of the painting is equally as fascinating. How did Dürer, then living in Nuremberg, ever come to make such a sketch?

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Changing rooms in eighteenth-century London

 

By Carys Brown | @HistoryCarys

On 8 February 1750, some time between the hours of 12 and 1 o’clock in the afternoon, Baptist Minister Benjamin Wallin was ‘musing’ at his desk in the upstairs study of his Southwark home when he suddenly

‘felt the Desk move the floor shake and the Front of the house seemed to incline forwards the strut and presently an sensation of some large body falling and sounding as the covered with a Blanket or as could arise from the fall of a Woolpack of a prodigious size’ [1]

The alarming sensation, also experienced by his daughter, wife, maid, and neighbours, turned out to have been an earthquake, the first of two to hit London within a month of each other. Wallin was among the many who interpreted this as a providential act; he preached on the matter three days later. Of more interest here, however, is that in the course of the detailed description he gave of the event in his diary, Wallin inadvertently left us a rich insight into the domestic space of a moderately wealthy eighteenth-century London household. Read more

Reformation parallels: the case of Gottschalk of Orbais

By Robert Evans @R_AH_Evans

Five hundred years ago this October, the German monk, Martin Luther (probably) nailed his famous 95 theses to Wittenberg’s cathedral door. This sparked a lengthy and complex process of religious transformation across Europe. Luther’s views continue to have consequences for the modern world and as this anniversary approaches, there are many questions to ask about Luther’s legacy. It is, however, also instructive to consider the parallels between the Reformation and earlier Christian debates. How radical or new was the Reformation within the broader sweep of Christian history? Read more

Proclaiming tolerance and maintaining integrity

By Carys Brown | @HistoryCarys

Theoretically, twenty-first-century Britain is tolerant; it is a place where diverse opinions can flourish. However, when opinions come into conflict, the appropriate course of action is not always obvious. As last year’s “Gay cake” row highlighted, the line between intolerance and a principled stance can be unclear. At the same time, as the recent resignation of the Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron demonstrates, those who appear willing to put aside their personal belief in the name of promoting the principle of tolerance can find their integrity under scrutiny. Read more

‘Rejoice Moscow, Russians are in Paris!’: The curious history of a popular melody

By Jimmy Chen

Within the collection of Cambridge University Library, there is a piece of sheet music for a Russian song dating from the Napoleonic Wars. Insignificant at first glance, this simple song can provide important insights into European musical culture in the early nineteenth century. Read more

Gospel truth? History and the writing of the New Testament

By Robert Evans @R_AH_Evans

This Sunday, millions around the world will gather to celebrate Easter. They will listen to historical documents written almost two thousand years ago, purporting to describe the last hours, death, and physical resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, a religious teacher from first-century Palestine. Those events, and the documents which supposedly describe them, have had an unsurpassed impact on world history. Yet for many in modern society, the first Easter seems clouded in mystery and suspicion. Among the writings known as the New Testament, we have four lives of Jesus, known as the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but what are we to make of them? What is a ‘Gospel’? Why and how were they written? What do they claim to be? Read more

‘Whence proceeds the custom of making April Fools?’

By Rosa Hodgkin

In 1708 the Apollo Magazine printed the query, “Whence proceeds the custom of making April Fools?”. The answer received was

“It may not improperly be derived from a memorable transaction happening between the Romans and Sabines, mentioned by Dionysius, which was thus: the Romans, about the infancy of the city, wanting wives, and finding they could not obtain the neighbouring women by their peaceable addresses, resolved to make use of a stratagem; and accordingly Romulus instituted certain games, to be performed in the beginning of April (according to the Roman Calendar), in honour of Neptune. Upon notice thereof, the bordering inhabitants, with their whole families, flocked to Rome to see this mighty celebration, where the Romans seized upon a great number of the Sabine virgins, and ravished them, which imposition we suppose may be the foundation of this foolish custom.” [1]

People still seem to be curious about the origins of April Fools’ Day, but few clear answers have been found.[2] Chaucer’s 1392 story The Nun’s Priest’s Tale is often cited as the first mention of April Fool’s Day. In the story a rooster is fooled by a fox and is almost eaten. Chaucer describes this tale as taking place: Read more

Absent leeks, lost voices? Cooking and recording in early modern Wales

By Carys Brown | @HistoryCarys

My original intention for a blog post for St David’s Day (1 March) had been to cook and write about early modern leeks. Quite apart from being one of my favourite vegetables, the humble leek is one of the national symbols of Wales and features in a number of “traditional” Welsh recipes, including Cawl and the misleadingly-named Glamorgan “Sausages”. Unfortunately, the leeks proved surprisingly elusive. What I found in their place were some interesting hints at the dynamics of society and literacy in early modern Wales. Read more

The Wandering Historian: Reflections on a Year of Research Abroad

In the second of our posts on doing research abroad, Tom Smith  (@TomEtesonSmith) traverses the United States.

Working on American history from a British university as I do, it was inevitable that at some point during my PhD research I was going to have to spend some time abroad. Courtesy of two Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded fellowships, first at the Huntington Library in California, and secondly at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, ‘some time’ rapidly became more-or-less an entire year. While I was somewhat daunted by the prospect of abandoning family, friends, and familiar settings to enter the political inferno that is the contemporary United States, this was too good an opportunity to pass up. Read more

Sweet harmony or rough music? Singing in the seventeenth century

By Carys Brown | @HistoryCarys

If you’ve ever been in a roaring rugby crowd, a church full of carol singers, or even just broken into song in the shower, you’ve probably noticed that singing can have a powerful effect. The physical, psychological, and social benefits of singing are now widely recognised, although the underlying reasons behind these are less well understood. But what if you could harness the power of singing, and use it for ill? In seventeenth-century England, it was generally agreed that singing could have a significant impact on the emotions. What was less clear was whether this was always a good thing. Read more

Festivity amid the fighting: Christmas on the British Home Front in World War Two.

by Elly Barnett – @eleanorrbarnett

By Christmas 1940 almost all of Britain’s major cities had been hit by extensive bombing raids, amongst them the devastating London Blitz of September and the destruction of Coventry in November. 24,000 British civilians had died, and families were displaced as children were evacuated from cities and parents went to serve in the war.[1] Read more

Christmas Shopping in the Seventeenth Century

By Carys Brown | @HistoryCarys

In October 2004, Christians, trade-unionists, and the festively-inclined rejoiced at the introduction of the Christmas Day (Trading) Act. Ever since then it has been illegal for large shops to be open on Christmas Day; workers theoretically have the chance to rest and spend time with loved ones; Christians can celebrate the festival undisturbed by other commitments. Three-and-a-half centuries before this legislation came into force the picture was somewhat different. In December 1643, zealously Christian shopkeepers stubbornly tried (and failed) to keep their businesses trading on Christmas Day against the riotous objections of the apprentice-boys of London. The dispute over Christmas trading and other festivities that lasted for much of the next two decades meant that for the rest of the seventeenth century it was the opening of shops of Christmas Day, rather than their closing, that was regarded as an expression of a pious Protestantism. Read more

The Late Medieval Christmas Feast

By Eleanor Russell

This article forms part of Doing History in Public’s Christmas series, which this year looks into patterns of consumption at Christmastide.

Like today, the most spectacular and anticipated part of the medieval Christmas was not the Mass, then mandatory, but Christmas feast, an event which offered not only an opportunity to celebrate the birth of Christ, reconnect with family and friends, and eat to bursting, but also  the chance to express social hierarchies and identity. Read more

Optimo dierum! – Ancient winter festivals

By Alex Wakelam | @A_Wakelam

It should come as no surprise to most that the festival of Christmas, as practised by Europeans, did not come into existence at this time of year by itself. Long before the supposed birth of the Nazarene, ancient cultures celebrated a number of winter festivals. Nor is this acknowledgment necessarily a new one; in 1560 the new Church of Scotland issued its First Book of Doctrine (whose authors included John Knox), which declared that ‘the feasts (as they term them) of apostles, martyrs, virgins, of Christmas, Circumcision, Epiphany, Purification, and other fond feasts of our lady’ were the inventions of papists as they had no basis ‘in God’s scriptures’. Christmas was clearly an invention of the Church, but it is also clear that this invention was not without its own sources even if they were more pagan than biblical. Read more

Royal Power takes Flight: A Reconsideration of the Staircase in the Early Modern Palace

By Atlanta Neudorf | @ARaeNeudorf

In a letter written in 1663, Jean-Baptiste Colbert wrote to King Louis XIV of France that ‘in lieu of dazzling actions in war, nothing indicates better the greatness and spirit of princes than buildings’.[1] This sentiment illustrates the importance of palace architecture to the image and character of the prince in the early modern period. In the growing field of architectural history, the political and cultural functions of such grand spaces have been the focus of increasing interest in the last few decades. Scholarship has focused on the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century trend for palace building and adaptation by European princes aiming to affirm their royal status. Read more

From nose in a book to nose in the kitchen – musings on the place of historians in recipe recreation

by Elly Barnett – @eleanorrbarnett

When I explain that I am researching the links between food and the European Reformations, I am usually met with premature praise for my (in reality non-existent) cooking skills. The obvious location in which to research food, they assume, is the kitchen. The cooking of historical recipes, moreover, has gained much public exposure recently, especially after last week’s Tudor theme on the nationally-coveted show, The Great British Bake Off. Meanwhile, food is increasingly becoming a legitimate and flourishing subject of enquiry in academia, as it moves away from traditional historical narratives. How then, should historians react to this popular interest in historical cooking, and is there any academic value in moving research from the archives to the kitchen?  With these questions in mind I attempted to recreate an early-modern blancmange… Read more

The Public House – the struggle to find privacy in the eighteenth century home

By Alex Wakelam – @A_Wakelam

Around two o’clock in the morning of February 15th 1732, Robert Atkinson, a sadler, returned home drunk from the alehouse. His mother Ann Atkinson, having sent the maid to bed at midnight, had sat up to wait for him so that she could lock the door behind him (the symbolic ending of the household day) and while she waited drank about a pint of gin. The drunken pair soon argued and maybe about twenty minutes later, Ann slipped under suspicious circumstances at the top of the stairs of the home she and Robert shared with their maid Mary Parrot, Robert’s apprentice John Barber, and their three lodgers: Captain Dunbar, Arthur Gold, and Gold’s younger brother. When she hit the tiles at the bottom ‘her Skull was broke … of which she instantly dy’d.’ As the trial at the Old Bailey that followed this case shows, for most people in eighteenth century cities, the idea of private personal space was little better than an illusion. Read more

Crying Wolf in the early middle ages?

By Robert Evans @R_AH_Evans

The chronicles and histories of the early middle ages have a reputation for describing somewhat unusual events. In his history of contemporary events, for example, Prudentius, bishop of Troyes (d.861) describes how, in 846

‘Wolves attacked and devoured with complete audacity the inhabitants of the western part of Gaul. Indeed, in some parts of Aquitaine they are said to have gathered together in groups of up to 300, just like army detachments, formed a sort of battle-line and marched along the road, boldly charging en masse all who tried to resist them’ (The Annals of St-Bertin, 846AD, p. 62). Read more

Marian Mason: England’s Trailblazing Woman of Fitness

By Conor Heffernan

Although sporting historians have long noted the importance of English women in the development of sport in general, few studies have devoted themselves to the study of gymnastic exercise systems such as callisthenics. This has done a great injustice to Marian Mason, England’s first female physical fitness instructor who, beginning in the 1820s, ran one of the most sought after training studios in all of England.

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