History Carnival 134

The History Carnival is coming to town! And what it lacks in coconut shies, tombolas and carousels it more than makes up for in fascinating new history blogging. This month, the Carnival features a rich smorgasbord of delights, with everything from Victorian diagnosis of mental illness to heliocentric heresy and a dollop of early modern surgical implements and economic history making this a particularly mouthwatering post. 

For those new to the History Carnival, it is a monthly round up of some of the best blogging on history. Hosted by different bloggers, it showcases new writing and gives bloggers a chance to present their work to a new and wider audience.

Francesco Guardi's Carnival Thursday on the Piazzetta (Venice) Francesco Guardi [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A topical post from Alan Flower’s History and the Sock Merchant as he asks Why is Russia obsessed with the Crimea? Alan argues that the Crimea became the heart of Russian Romanticism following its absorption into the Russian Empire in 1783. A potent combination of Russian religious history, its hosting of the Black Sea Fleet, the bloodshed of the Crimean War, the Russian resistance to Nazi occupation in the Second World War combined with the fate of Russian speaking minorities outside of Russia’s contemporary borders ensures that the Crimea has a particular hold on the Russian people and their governing elite.

What did it take to be admitted to a Victorian asylum? Kate Tyte at Kate Tyte Writes has been looking at some of the reasons given for the admission of patients to various lunatic asylums and madhouses in the nineteenth century (How to get admitted to a Victorian Lunatic Asylum). You might not be surprised to see hysteria, epileptic fits and grief listed as reasons. But it is more disturbing to see hard study, tobacco and masturbation (whether indulged together or separately is not indicated) and politics listed.

A Rake's Progress - Plate 8 - In The Madhouse by William Hogarth [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

As Kate notes, in a system of unregulated, private asylums, it was “absurdly easy for wealthy families to have a relative labelled a lunatic and incarcerated in a mad-house for life”. It wasn’t any better in the public system, which Kate suggests were “the closest you could get to hell without dying.” Things did improve with the County Asylums Act 1845 and, by the end of the century, the medical profession was starting to get to grips with mental illness and its proper diagnosis and treatment.

One historical figure who could have been excused for lapsing into madness was the Italian polymath Galileo Galilei. In his post, ‘Galileo, the Church and Heliocentricity: A Rough Guide‘, The Renaissance Mathematicus offers an explanation as to whether Galileo knew that publishing The Starry Messenger would upset the Church authorities.

Galileo facing the Roman Inquisition, painting by Cristiano Banti 1857

Heliocentricity, or the idea that the sun was at the centre of the solar system, was at odds with Biblical geocentricity. This fascinating post goes on to set the scene for Galileo’s scientific discoveries, his relationship with the Papacy and the ultimate controversy, his trial before the Inquisition and a lifetime of house arrest for heresy.

From the starry heavens to the mean streets of Victorian London, Julie Goucher’s Angler’s Rest takes a look at the work of Charles Booth in her post Survey into Life and Labour in London (1886-1903) by Charles Booth. This is a subject very close to my own heart for three reasons – firstly, I studied at the LSE and was familiar with the library’s holdings of the original maps and notebooks used by Booth and his researchers. Secondly, a print from his map covering my home district of north east London hangs in my hallway and thirdly because it was the basis for an excellent BBC documentary series, the Secret History of our Streets.

As Julie notes, Booth’s maps classified all of London’s streets, from the golden yellow of the Upper Middle Class and Upper Class to the uncompromisingly black of the lowest class, who were labelled ‘vicious, semi-criminal’.  Find out more about the survey and its impact on campaigners for social justice at Julie’s post.

Maps from across the Atlantic feature in Lincoln Mullen’s post Mapping the Spread of American SlaveryThe work, entitled “Map showing the distribution of the slave population of the southern states of the United States”, was produced by the US Coast Survey and based on information from the 1860 census.

The Slave Populations of the US in 1860 By E. Hergesheimer (cartographer), Th. Leonhardt (engraver) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This has prompted Lincoln to create his own interactive map charting the spread of slavery in the United States between 1790 and 1860. From an initial concentration on the Atlantic seaboards of Virginia and Georgia, the map charts the swift westward move of slavery. After the absorption of Louisiana, the Mississippi and Missouri river basins mark internal concentrations of slavery that shifts the centre of the USA’s enslaved population into the heart of the continent. By contrast, a similar map of free Americans shows vast swathes of the south with very small percentages of free populations.

The Royal College of Physicians hosted a guest post from Discover Medical London this month. It had the captivating title of The precious storehouse of the chirurgeon and the post opens the lid on pre-modern medical instruments and is not for the faint hearted! 

As Discover Medical London notes, “few items in the RCP collections draw more gasps or bring tears more easily to contemporary eyes than the contents of the Prujean chest.” With tools for trepanation (boring holes in the human skull) to instruments to remove stones, the chest certainly has plenty to discomfort the squeamish.

One of the most surprising points is at the end of the post, which notes that “modern day surgeons and those who work inside operating theatres more often remark how little the machinery of their metier has changed down the centuries.” Perhaps anesthetics, antiseptics and sterilization have done more to change the level of pain and success in surgery rather than radical changes to the tools of the trade.  

Broiler Chickens By U.S. Department of Agriculture (Poultry Classes Blog photo) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

If you are reading this over a spot of supper, you might be interested Alexis Coe’s post from the Modern Farmer on how ‘Today We’re Eating the Winners of the 1948 Chicken of Tomorrow Contest’This fascinating post tells the story of how in 1948, “the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, or A&P, sponsored this national event to give the world a better chicken”. 

Arbor Acres White Rocks’ white feathered birds would be combined with Red Cornish crosses from the Vantress Hatchery to produce the Arbor Acre breed.  This bird became ubiquitious not only in the USA, but across the world – as Alexis notes, “of 2013, over half the chickens raised in China have a genetic link to the Arbor Acres stock”.

When Napoleon was defeated in the War of the Sixth Coalition in 1814 he was forced to abdicate unconditionally. He was neither put on trial for war crimes (a much later concept) nor executed. Instead, he was exiled to the Mediterranean island of Elba. Remarkably, he landed on the island not as a prisoner but as the sovereign ruler and retained his title of Emperor.

This island exile is the subject for Helen Webberley’s post Napoleon’s island idyll on Elba 1814-15 at her blog Art and Architecture, mainlyHelen paints a vivid picture of the island that would be the Emperor’s temporary home and asks the pertinent question – why was he treated so leniently? 

Along the way, Helen describes the Imperial residences, the improvements the Emperor made to his much reduced domains, the landscape and buildings he would have been surrounded by and the lasting legacy he made on the island. It is easy to imagine Napoleon remembering his time on Elba wistfully when exhiled to the far more remote and bleak St Helena.

George Cruikshank's cartoon of Little Boney gone to Pot depicting Bonaparte on Elba

Alice Dolan and Sally Holloway’s remarkable blog Emotional Objects focuses on what objects reveal about emotions. The featured post from this blog for the Carnival is by Susan Woodall and has the unassuming title of Mrs Pumphrey’s Key The key itself is unexceptional – Susan evocatively describes an “unremarkable mid-nineteenth-century key [that] is unlikely to shine. It boasts no precious metal, fine engraving or stitching, its only embellishment is rust”

So what makes Mrs Pumphrey’s key so special? How does it induce an emotional reaction? I won’t spoil the secrets behind this selection. Instead, I will simply urge you to read this beautiful post that really shows how everyday objects can have much deeper meaning and symbolism.

An interesting article on Why Economics Needs History from Economics and Society. I fully agree with this – there were plenty of warning bells from history that could have usefully informed decision makers and economists during the economic crisis. History is dotted with cautionary tales of bubbles, busts, inflation and social strife following economic disaster. In this post,  Alex Lenchner makes a strong argument for the role of history in economic discourse.

Finally, I thought I’d throw one of my own articles from Vaguely Interesting into the pot. In An unfortunate tête-a-tête Charles de Gaulle has a potentially embarassing meeting with General Pershing, a First World War comrade of Maréchal Pétain. The Maréchal’s journey from war hero to traitor was so complete that it surprised those who had not kept abreast of developments and resulted in a comic exchange and some deft diplomacy from de Gaulle.

Some of the other historical highlights from last month include:

  • The BBC’s series of documentaries on the Georgians, including the always amazing Lucy Worsley’s fantastic The First Georgians: The German Kings Who Made Britain and fabulous Amanda Vickery’s illuminating At Home With the Georgians
  • The Thai embassy to Louis XIV’s France is profiled in May’s History Today magazine.
  • The BBC History Magazine asks whether D-Day was a tragedy or triumph.
  • The Plantagenet Alliance’s bid for a public consultation on the ultimate resting place of the bones of Richard III fails as the High Court rejects their request. It is now almost certain that Richard III will be buried at Lincoln Cathedral.
  • The British Library stages a major exhibition on the history of comics and comic art.
  • The astonishing tale of the The Reykjavik Confessions is recounted in a BBC Crossing Continents documentary and detailed website. It tells the story of the “mystery of why six people admitted roles in two murders – when they couldn’t remember anything about the crimes”.