What We’re Reading: Week of 26th March

Here are a few interesting articles and pieces we found around the web this week. If you come across something that other intellectual historians might enjoy, please let us know in the comments section.

 

Brendan:

Cecilia D’Anastasio, Dungeons And Dragons Wouldn’t Be What It Is Today Without These Women (Kotaku)

Jia Tolentino, The Very Unnerving Existence of Teen Boss, A Magazine for Girls (New Yorker)

Tanya Basu, Meet the Interstitum (Daily Beast)

Niko Maragos, The Body In Painlessness (New Inquiry)

 

Eric:

Asad Haider, “A New Practice of Politics: Althusser and Marxist Philosophy” (Verso)

Erica Johnson, “White Creole Identity on Trial: The Haitian Revolution and Refugees in Louisiana” (Age of Revolutions)

Ben Reynolds “Some Problems in the Theory of Imperialism” (Fragments)

Priya Satia, “The Whitesplaining of History is Over” (Chronicle), which is relevant to explaining this.

 

Derek:

Benjamin E. Park, “The Revolutionary Roots of America’s Religious Nationalism” (Politics and Religion)

Walter Johnson, “Guns in the Family” (Boston Review)

Jenna Tonn, “Women’s Work in Natural History Museums” (Lady Science)

 

AJ

Zach Dorfman, “The Disappeared” (Foreign Policy)

Margaret Renkl, “Easter Is Calling Me Back to the Church” (The New York Times)

Luc Sante, “The Kinks: Something Else” (Pitchfork)

Michael Taylor, “Living in limbo: Indonesia’s refugees face uncertain future” (Reuters)

 

Kristin

Edward Cavanough, “The Mountains: TImor Leste’s Blessing and Curse” (The Diplomat)

Sarah Zhang, “Scientists Still Don’t Know Exactly Why Knuckles Crack” (The Atlantic)

Krzysztof Iwanek, “How Marvel Failed to Promote Seoul and Busan” (The Diplomat)

 

Spencer:

Max Rodenbeck, “A Mighty Wind” (NYRB)

Michael Prodger, “Why 1932 was Picasso’s year of erotic torment” (New Statesman)

Kate Webb, “Angela Carter and Wilson Harris” (TLS)

Jennifer Wilson, “Floating in the Air” (The Nation)

Dispatches from Princeton’s History of Science Colloquium: Jutta Schickore’s “Contributions to a History of Experimental Controls”

By Guest Contributor Alison McManus

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Prof. Jutta Schickore

Princeton’s History of Science Colloquium series recently welcomed Jutta Schickore, professor of History and Philosophy of Science at Indiana University, to present a talk titled, “Contributions to a History of Experimental Controls.” In addition to her position at Indiana University, Schickore is a member of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study for the 2017–18 academic year. As I listened to her talk earlier this month, I found myself fully immersed in uncharted territory. Experimental controls are themselves an under-studied problem, but Schickore’s attention to the practice of experimental controls rendered her project a truly novel intervention. Though her project remains in its early stages of development, it no doubt pinpoints the need to historicize the “controlled experiment,” and it lays further claim to the established strategy of examining experimenters’ practical concerns prior to grand scientific theories.

 

 

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John Stuart Mill

Schickore’s scholarship is better defined by theme than by scientific discipline. Her previous monographs examine the long history of the microscope (2007) and a yet longer history of snake venom research from the seventeenth to the twentieth century (2017). Both monographs emphasize debates about scientific method, and the latter is particularly attentive to nonlinear, contingent methodological developments, which stem from the intricacies of experimental work rather than unified theory. Schickore’s current project extends this approach to new territory. Despite their manifest importance to scientific work, experimental controls have rarely been a topic of inquiry for historians and philosophers of science. The unique exception is Edward Boring’s 1954 paper in the American Journal of Psychology, in which he distinguished between colloquial and scientifically rigorous uses of the term “control.” In a further move, he identified John Stuart Mill’s “method of difference” as the first notion of a controlled experiment, a concept that Mill outlined in A System of Logic (1843). Boring’s identification of a theoretical rather than experimental origin of “control” reflects the state of the field prior to the “material turn” of the 1990s, and the time has come to integrate the controlled experiment into studies of scientific practice.

 

Even with a precise definition of the term, any effort to identify the first controlled experiment will likely end in failure. Probing the origins of the term’s modern popularity is a far more productive exercise. A preliminary Google search indicates that the term rose to prominence in late nineteenth-century scientific scholarship, and the same is true of its German counterpart (Kontrollversuch/Controllversuch). In order to identify the roots of its popularity, Schickore selects case studies from ostensibly marginal German agricultural field trials nearly one century before the “controlled experiment” took a prominent position in the scientific literature.

1

Wilhelm August Lampadius

The German pharmacists Sigismund Friedrich Hermbstädt and Wilhelm August Lampadius both sought to apply their chemical expertise toward agricultural production in the early nineteenth century. Both men had engaged with Lavoisier’s chemistry in their work, albeit to differing degrees. Whereas Lampadius was a staunch advocate of Lavoisier’s theory, Hermbstädt remained closer to the German chemical tradition, despite having published translations of Lavoisier’s work. Hermbstädt and Lampadius conducted near-contemporaneous field trials on fertilizer, both seeking to minimize product loss and thereby improve Germany’s economic position. However, theirs and others’ experiments reveal an inconsistent, multivalent use of the term “control.” Schickore notes that “control” occasionally served its now-familiar function as an unmanipulated unit of comparison, as in the case of Hermbstädt’s comparative category of “infertile land.” Yet Hermbstädt and Lampadius also used the concept in conjunction with other management terms. A third notion of control emerged as improved apparatuses for organic analysis began to circulate in the mid-nineteenth century. In addition to making Lavoisier’s approach less costly for agricultural scientists, these novel instruments enabled scientists to perform repeat analyses and apply different analytic methods to the same problem.

 

 

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Sigismund Friedrich Hermbstädt. Line engraving by G. A. Lehmann, 1808 (Wellcome Collection).

To add to this already complex terrain of meanings, Schickore notes that even in its most familiar scientific usage, the controlled experiment poses an implicit epistemological problem. When designing an experiment, each researcher must select which features shall remain unmanipulated, according to their own worldview. In the case of Hermbstädt’s experiments, his aforementioned category of “infertile land” meant land devoid of organic matter—a reflection of his vitalist notion of plant nutrition. Schickore’s observations identify a dire need to historicize both the text and the subtext of experimental controls.

 

The experience of my young career has led me to approach historical questions with a sort of inverse Occam’s razor, which holds that the more nuanced and heterogeneous causal accounts are the better ones. By turning away from theorists’ concerns and engaging instead with experimenters’ array of pragmatic preoccupations, the historian of science vastly expands her sites of methodological and conceptual production. Given Hermbstädt’s and Lampadius’s keen sensitivity to economic exigencies and technological innovation, I imagine that the larger field of nineteenth-century European agricultural science also developed its methods in conjunction with site-specific economic and instrumental circumstances. Schickore’s approach promises to extract a fruitful bounty of experimental practices from this uneven terrain of pragmatic concerns.

Alison McManus is a Ph.D. student in History of Science at Princeton University, where she studies twentieth-century chemical sciences. She is particularly interested in the development and deployment of chemical weapons technologies.

Review Essay: Caomhánach on Hamlin, Milam, and Schiebinger

By Contributing Editor Nuala F. Caomhánach

Kimberly A. Hamlin. From Eve to Evolution: Darwin, Science, and Women’s Rights in Gilded Age America. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2014.

Erika Lorraine Milam. Looking for a Few Good Males: Female Choice in Evolutionary Biology. Animals, History, Culture. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010.

Londa Schiebinger. Nature’s Body: Gender in the Making of Modern Science. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2004.

Although women were excluded from the biological sciences, women were very much on the minds and the scientific research of the men who excluded them. The three books under review explore gender and natural history in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American and European society. I argue that the books form a triad of analytically distinct interlocking pieces about the construction of sexual difference as a means of excluding women from the public sphere and science.  The authors use the categories of science, class and gender, not because they perceive them as natural, but because they recognize that these categories form lines of historical power. Hamlin’s From Eve to Evolution: Darwin, Science, and Women’s Rights in Gilded Age America (2014) examines how American feminists responded to and integrated Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory in Gilded Age America. Milam’s Looking for a Few Good Males: Female Choice in Evolutionary Biology (2010) presents the history of post-Darwin biological research on the concept of female choice, showing how men were mediators between biology as a body of knowledge and society. Schiebinger’s Nature’s Body: Gender in the Making of Modern Science explores how the gender-binary has molded biology since the eighteenth century. This triad demonstrates how science reinforced the binary of gender and created associated traits, how science is not external to culture but forms a symbiotic relationship that reflects societal and political order, and how biology “is not value neutral but participates in and continues to support scientific knowledge that is highly gendered” (Schiebinger x).

Sexual Difference and the Rank of Woman

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Londa Schiebinger, Nature’s Body: Gender in the Making of Modern Science (New Brunswick, 2004).

Schiebinger argues that “scientific sexism” (xi), related to the concepts of the masculine and feminine, co-evolved with the emergence of modern biology. She shows the roots of sexual difference as being created by elite men who “read nature through the lens of social relations” (17).  When Hamlin’s Darwinian feminists challenged, and Milam’s (male) biologists tackled this sexual difference, they provide additional support for Schiebinger’s argument that the gender binary had become fully ingrained into society. Schiebinger explains how Linnaeus’s Systema naturae (1735) created a hierarchical system of the natural world. Although contemporary naturalists recognized his scheme being artificial, he placed female traits (pistils) into the rank of order and male traits (stamens) into the rank of class. In the “taxonomic tree of life”, order was subordinate to class (Schiebinger 17). In taxonomy, traits mattered; Linnaeus prioritized male traits for identification. Schiebinger argues that Linnaeus had “ no empirical justification” (17) for this decision and here lay the origins of gendering science.

For Hamlin, the Bible created the gender binary. Hamlin argues that the biblical creation narrative, for Darwinian feminists, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, was “the single most powerful barrier to female equality” (49). The legacy of Eve had shaped conceptions of womanhood. When Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859) and The Descent of Man (1871) were published, these texts enabled woman’s rights activists to upend traditional ideas about gender roles. Hamlin shows how Darwin’s Origin provided the ideal “ballast” to fight this legacy by offering an alternative narrative of human origins (52). This new theory enabled woman’s rights activists to use objective science to subvert the assumptions that women were created from Adam’s rib and, therefore, subordinate to men.

Milam argues that Darwin’s sexual selection theory was “built on his assumptions about normative relations between men and women” (10). Darwin argued that the “psychological continuity of all animal life” proved sexual difference and supplied the reason why women were intellectually inferior to men (Milam 11). Darwin applied Victorian gender roles to nature, suggesting that females were “less eager” to mate and acted “coy” and “passive” to the aggressive, hypersexualised male (Milam 15). As males competed for females, females chose males. This implied a “rational choice-based behaviour” (1) of aesthetics which required an intelligent mind and “in such cerebral evaluations lay the problem” (15).  Biologists were hesitant to ascribe to animal minds this cognitive ability and reframed female choice as a reaction to male dominance. The female body, thus,  became the site of analysis.

Animal-Human Kinship and the Female Body

Schiebinger demonstrates how the masculine morphology in humans became representative of the normal form and the feminine an anomaly. Linnaeus delimited hairy, lactating quadrupeds as being mammals (Mammalia); at first this seems to invert Schiebinger’s argument but she shows how this descriptor did not elevate the feminine. It was a patriarchal lesson for women to return to their natural functions, such as breastfeeding and motherhood. As naturalists became obsessed with the primate order— Linnaeus coined the term “primates,” meaning “of the first rank,” in 1758 (Schiebinger 78)—they reinforced notions of sexual difference along the animal-human continuum.  Schiebinger argues that a focus on female primates’ primary and secondary characteristics advanced the masculine form as rational and intellectually superior. Milam explains that the biologist’s model of the female assumed they were naturally passive and always  “needed stimulation to persuade them to mate” (34). Biologists never questioned the male-female binary. The research of scientists Vernon Kellogg, Julian Huxley, and the Fisher-Haldane-Wright triumvirate rarely focused on female choice because they felt that Darwin’s natural selection theory sufficiently explained female-male interactions.

Hamlin explains how this animal-human kinship model supported Darwinian feminists’ demand for the equitable division of household labor, “fit pregnancy” (98), and ability to work outside the home because gendered differences did not characterize the animal kingdom. Hamlin shows how Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Antoinette Brown Blackwell declared the separate-spheres ideology a man-made construct. When Darwinian feminists argued that women as mothers could improve the genetic stock of the human species, it became a powerful tool for women to claim a natural right to reproductive autonomy. Hamlin notes that Margaret Sanger’s fight for autonomy over the female body and her birth control movement was shaped by these popular discussions. Milam shows how biology was intrinsically at odds with popular discussions of evolutionary theory.  Biologists and physiologists struggled to frame female choice, and thus they dismissed it as a viable mechanism in nature because females were limited in cognitive ability.

Science as a Male Pursuit

Hamlin shows how science became an “unwitting ally” (17) for Darwinian feminists and states that it metamorphosed into a “sexist science” as it increasingly “professionalized and masculinized” (59). Schiebinger, however, finds that science was always exclusionary. Schiebinger shows that botany was considered suitable for upper-class women, but they did not have the ability to shape biology.  Hamlin argues that women did shape science. Blackwell and Helen Hamilton Gardener tried to redefine the female “mind-body dualism” by asserting their distrust in the research findings of male scientists (59). Blackwell suggested that women needed to create the “science of feminine humanity” (60) because to study female bodies “one must turn to women themselves” (62). As science gained more cultural authority, Hamlin argues, Darwinian feminists played an active role in shaping science because they rejected biological determinism and demanded accurate research. Milam’s book provides historical evidence that biology was a male pursuit and women were always excluded.

Conclusion

These authors show that biology is not a neutral practice but emerges from complex cultural and political networks. They are impressive books that shed light on the development of modern biology and the popularization of evolutionary science by dethroning notions of objectivity in science, providing  a significant contribution to gender and science studies.

What We’re Reading: Week of 19th March

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Here are a few interesting articles and pieces we found around the web this week. If you come across something that other intellectual historians might enjoy, please let us know in the comments section.

 

Eric:

Michael C. Behrent, “Age of Emancipation” (Dissent)

Bronwen Everill, “Demarginalizing West Africa in the Age of Revolutions” (AoR)

Pankaj Mishra, “Jordan Peterson & Fascist Mysticism” (NYRdaily)

Quinn Slobodian, “Making Sense of Neoliberalism” (HUPblog)

Amia Srinivasan, “Does Anyone Have the Right to Sex?” (LRB).

 

Cynthia

March is women’s history month. The National Museum of Women in the Arts launched the #5womenartists social media campaign in 2016. The campaign asks: “Can you name 5 artists? Can you name 5 women artists? Can you name 5 women artists of color?”

To see what users are currently sharing, plug the #5womenartists hashtag into the search bar on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Now that we’re about halfway through the month, there’s quite a bit to see.

I was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art last Tuesday night for the Met’s 12th annual “Evening Celebrating Women.” One of the women celebrated that evening was Mariët Westermann, who reminded the (mostly female) audience that when she was a student, almost all of the professors and curators she encountered were men, while most of her fellow graduate students were women. Things are changing–though the gender gap continues to exist at the top levels of museum (and art world) leadership, as reported by this 2017 Association of Art Museum Directors study. 48% of art museum directorships are held by women, and the salary disadvantage for women directors continues to hold true (female museum directors make 73 cents for every dollar made by a male director, which is actually below average for women artists, who make 81 cents for every dollar made by a male artist).

I’ve thought a lot about these issues–especially in the wake of #metoo and #notsurprised, and the general drift of things–and thought particularly long and hard about how to go beyond the usual encomiums.

Coincidentally, this event fell on the heels of Armory Week. Art Basel / UBS also released Clare McAndrew’s “The Art Market 2018.”  If you are a keen watcher of art markets, McAndrew’s report won’t surprise you. It is a tale of 2 markets — the “haves” and everyone else. The art fair circuit lays that all out, right there–encomiums won’t get us to where we need to be, in terms of equality, and neither will good energy, nor buzz. Structures and institutions need to change.

 

A.J.

Shannon Connellan, “Ai Weiwei Makes Bold Statement About the Refugee Crisis with Giant Inflatable Boat” (Mashable)

A ChinaFile Conversation, “What Is the Significance of China’s #MeToo Movement?” (ChinaFile)

Bogdan Gherasim, “First Sustainable Lego Bricks Will be Launched in 2018” (Lego.com)

Molly Gottschalk, “These Drawings Show How Pop Culture Has Changed the Way We See UFOs” (Artsy)

                 

Brendan:

Reid McCarter, Astrid Budgor and Ed Smith, “Video Game Guns Don’t Need to be Fun to Be Interesting” (Waypoint)

Pauk Ford, “Facebook Is Why We Need a Digital Protection Agency” (Bloomberg Businessweek)

Tasmin Shaw, “Beware the Big Five” (NYRB)

Linda Colley, “Can History Help?” (LRB)

 

Derek:

Matt Young, “Stop looking for one war story to make sense of all wars” (Lithub)

Jill Lepore, “The Right Way to Remember Rachel Carson” (New Yorker)

David S. Reynolds, “Fine Specimens” (NYRB)

Britta Lokting, “The Portlandia Effect” (Vulture)

 

Nuala:

Sandip Patel, Two-pore channels open up. (Nature)

David P. Barash. It’s Time to Make Human-Chimp Hybrids. (Nautilus)

Jacey Fortin, She Was the Only Woman in a Photo of 38 Scientists, and Now She’s Been Identified. (New York TImes)

Andrew McConnell Stott, Stage Light. (Lapham’s Quarterly)

Carolina Diettrich, Mallet de Lima, and Anita Göndör, Circadian organization of the Genome. (Science)

 

Sarah:

Charisse Burden-Stelly, “The Absence of Political Economy in African Diaspora Studies,” (Black Perspectives)

Eric Foner, “I just get my pistol and shoot him right down,” (LRB)

Jeremy Harding, “Report from Sirius B,” (LRB)

Louisa Lim, “Policing the Contour Lines,” (LARB)

Sumanth Subramanian, “How Balkrishna Doshi Bent Le Corbusier’s Modernism to the Needs of India,” (New Yorker)

 

Spencer:

Colm Tóibín, “Desolation Row” (NYRB)

Antonia Quirke, “Devastatingly Milton” (New Statesman)

Peter Nagy, “TV’s Radical, Bisexual Comic-Book Antihero” (The Atlantic)

Michael Fischer, “How Much Easier to Hate” (Guernica Magazine)

Brazil and the World Revolutions at the Beginning of the 19th Century

By guest contributor João Paulo Pimenta

This post is a companion piece to Prof. Pimenta’s article in the Journal of the History of Ideas vol. 79, no. 1, “History of Concepts and the Historiography of the Independence of Brazil: A Preliminary Diagnosis.

Unique themes emerge and recur within every country’s history for a number of reasons: they relate to subjects that have received significant scholarly attention, they deal with facts that have long-term effects in the life of a country, and they resonate with the general public beyond academia, provoking interest, opinions, and emotional responses. Consider, for example, Independence and the Civil War in the US, Revolution and World War II in France, the Roman Empire in Italy, the Ming Dynasty and the Great Revolution in China, and Immigration and the Malvinas War in Argentina. In Brazil, one might mention the slavery of African populations, the civil and military dictatorship of the late twentieth century, and surely the history of the separation of Brazil from Portugal in the early nineteenth century, which resulted in the creation of a new sovereign state and a new nation, both of them still prevailing.

Throughout the Western world, the first years of the nineteenth century are special: relevant events abound, each one seeming to “pull” another toward a more integrated world, producing new conditions that accelerate the process of dramatic, affecting, and sometimes hopeful historical transformation. The changes during the early nineteenth century were profound and enduring, and often political. Brazil, then part of the Portuguese Empire, transformed during this time. While the wars between Napoleonic France and other European powers spread throughout most of the European continent, a particularly pivotal event took place in Portugal: to avoid confronting the enemy, the Portuguese court abruptly chose to leave Lisbon and, under protection of the British Navy, flee to Brazil. On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, a contradictory movement started to develop.

Departure_of_H.R.H._the_Prince_Regent_of_Portugal_for_the_Brazils_(Campaigns_of_the_British_Army_in_Portugal,_London,_1812)_-_Henry_L'Evêque,_F._Bartollozzi

The departure of the Portuguese royal family for Brazil, as depicted by Henri L’Evêque

With its new headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, the Portuguese Empire avoided the risk of fragmentation, which was extinguing the Spanish Empire, and escaped French domination. While the empire secured its survival during chaotic wartime Europe, the relocation wrought profound changes and consequences. Rivalries between Portuguese people in Brazil and Portugal, conflicts of interest, and new political expectations prompted a new idea: the assembly of a government and a state in Brazil, separate from Portugal. With Brazilian Independence in 1822, this idea became reality. Now, thanks to this process, there is a country named Brazil, with its own political, economic, military, administrative, juridical, and electoral institutions—its own 210 million citizens.

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The declaration of Brazilian independence, as depicted by Pedro Américo

Myriad works have already been written on this subject. And still, it compels the minds and imaginations of professional historians and social scientists, amateur researchers, and laypeople. My article in the January 2018 issue of the Journal of the History of Ideas discusses one of the historiographic renovations that contributes to the ongoing significance of Independence as a theme integral to Brazilian history. “Conceptual history” or “Begriffsgeschichte”— which attends to the words, languages, and political ideas that made history—is not a new approach. But when applied to Brazilian Independence, the history of concepts casts new light on overlooked elements of the event, and reveals its significance not only to Brazilian history, but also to our shared global history.

João Paulo Pimenta holds a Ph.D. in History from the Universidade de São Paulo, where he has been a professor in the History Department since 2004. He has also been a visiting professor at El Colégio de México (2008, 2016, 2017), at the Universitat Jaume I, Spain (2010), at the Pontifícia Universidad Católica de Chile (2013), at the Universidad de
la República, Uruguay (2015) and at the Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar, Ecuador (2015, 2016). His work explores the history of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, especially the relationship between Brazil and Hispanic America; the national question and collective identities; and the history of historical times in Brazil and the wider Western World.

A Garden is not a Metaphor

By guest contributor Timothy Young

PopeGarden

Plate from: A Plan of Mr. Pope’s Garden: as it was left at his death, with a plan and perspective view of the grotto / all taken by J. Serle, his gardener . . . (London, Printed for R. Dodsley, at Tully’s Head in Pall-Mall; and sold by M. Cooper in Pater-noster-Row, 1745). Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

A garden is not a metaphor. A garden is actual. It is literal – in all the best senses of that word. It may carry meaning, but most importantly, it makes its own meaning.

Much of the writing about the garden tends to be rhetorical — in an attempt to tie the beauty and harmony found in great landscapes to higher artistic pursuits thus reducing it, however unintentionally, to a level of secondary import rather than accord it its own value. There is, however, ample historical reason to reclaim garden and landscape design as a core pursuit expressive of ideas and aesthetics.

MillerFigs

Plate from: I. Miller, Figures of the different parts of plants (manuscript), 1781–83. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

The easy positioning of the garden as a Western rhetorical trope likely extends before recorded history but it was placed there most firmly in the early modern era. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the schism between utilitarian agriculture and the pleasure garden – both public and private – came clearly into in practice. (Useful histories include: Christopher Thacker’s The History of Gardens and John Dixon Hunt’s Greater Perfections: The Practice of Garden Theory.) Francis Bacon’s influential essay “Of Gardens” [1625] jump-started a social trend across Europe for garden-making. Bacon characterized the practice as “. . . the purest of human pleasures . . . without which buildings and palaces are but gross handy-works”.

This bifurcation – the separation of the “useful” from the purely “pleasurable”— arguably biased academic approaches at the time and set scholarship in garden history apart from more strongly supported fields of study. Plant husbandry was not a part of the trivium nor of the quadrivium, nor is it commonly accorded a role as one of the practical arts.

DashDesign

Detail of garden sketch made by Robert Dash for Madoo, 1968. From the Robert Dash Papers, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

In academic work, gardening is described using the vocabulary of craft – not necessarily a bad thing, but a distinction that brings shadings of lesser importance. More generally, mentions of gardening in the lives of artists, writers, and other noted aesthetic creators are framed largely in terms of the work being avocational, a past-time, a distraction from real, useful work. (For an example, see: “Appreciating Edith Wharton’s Other Career” New York Times, August 29, 2012.)

Edith Wharton’s dual careers were contrapuntal to the reductionist categorization of gardening. It is easy to fall into seeing Wharton’s garden-making as what was done after her main occupation, writing, was accomplished. But for Wharton, the creation of aesthetically well-wrought spaces, both interiors and exteriors, was arguably her life’s goal. We should remember that the first volume of her adult life to bear her name as an author (with Ogden Codman, Jr.) was The Decoration of Houses in 1897 (two years before her formal literary debut, with The Greater Inclination, in 1899.) Might it be too bizarre to suggest an alternate classification of her genius – that the design and cultivation of houses and gardens were her first and longest-lived vocations, while writing was her second career? For Wharton, houses, plants and garden weren’t simply touchstones for her writing; they were the foundations for her work.

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Edith Wharton’s Blue Garden at Pavillon Colombe, ca. 1920s. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

William Carlos Williams had a life-long attachment to plants and their cultivation. A scan of his poetry shows that plants appear with great frequency. True, he was using them for their metaphorical intent, viz: “The shad bush is in the edge / of the clearing.  / The yards in a fury / of lilac blossoms are driving me mad with terror.” [from “Light-Hearted Author”] but his work is also observational and testimonial. The shadbush, or serviceberry (genus: Amelanchier) was Williams’ favorite plant, one that he tended to and nurtured at his home in New Jersey for years. It had a place in his life as a continual presence, not simply as a source for inspiration.

Vita Sackville-West, a writer on most lists of gardener greats, pretty much occupies her own category in the genre. Her career resists easy categorization both because her biography overshadows her literary output and due to a refocusing of her energies towards the end of her life. While she was celebrated during her lifetime for her works of poetry, novels and various literary-historical works, the last two decades of her life were mostly spent working in her gardens and publishing writing related to gardens – their cultivation and preservation. Though Sackville-West, in the 1950s and 1960s, persisted in the eyes of many of her admirers as the strong-willed heroine who doubled as Orlando in her one-time lover Virginia Woolf’s classic novel-cum-love-letter, various demands of her later life stripped away much of this daring persona and saw her withdrawing to the one project that remained with her throughout her life. Sackville-West spent much of her adult life tilling, sowing, planting, and nurturing two gardens – Long Barn and then the monumental Sissinghurst- in an effort to find a home and natural space that brought her comfort similar to the estate in which she was raised (and ultimately denied possession because of primogeniture). Her work with gardens can be read similar to Wharton’s – as her principal biographical arc, the prime accomplishment of her life. Poetry and novels were her hobbies.

Shurst

Sissinghurst garden, as seen from the tower, 2017. Author’s photograph.

But while these cases may have enough pre-existing academic interest to be argued seriously, other writers whose reputations today are based almost solely on their garden writings – Beverley Nichols, Robert Gathorne-Hardy, Gertrude Jekyll –require much deeper resuscitation for their work to be taken seriously on their own terms.  (If you haven’t yet read Beverley Nichols – and you’ve had more gardening disasters than you care to admit – prepare to be won over.)  I would suggest that the overall disregard for these authors in literary circles reflects the same academic dismissal of gardening that leads to its secondary import in discussions of Williams, Wharton, Sackville-West, and others.

gardenerslabyrinth

Plate from: Thomas Hill, The gardeners labyrinth (London: Printed by Adam Islip, 1594). Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

In terms of the actual garden space, the language around gardening readily slips into rhetoric because of a much older literary antecedent. Hovering above any discussion of plant husbandry is the view that every garden is attempt to create a version of Paradise – the perfected place that is the landing spot for worthy souls, forever and ever. No more labor; no weeding; no mulching . . . But any gardener, from the simple window-ledger to the committed root-and-baller, will tell you that gardening is not actually about attaining perfection. Even as you think you’re getting close to making something that’s just right, blossoms fade and fall. The garden as a creative project cannot be accomplished – and sustained – to the level of a book or an artwork – things in fixed forms that can be kept for hundreds of years. The art of garden-making suffers from a deficit of organic survival.

Perhaps, then, we should consider a reversal to my original assertion.  Gardens, given their temporality and changeability, are bound to rhetoric. Their substance can only be described for posterity through photographs or illustrations(feeble substitutes) and language. (“You should have seen the Martagon lilies that finally opened last week . . .”) Works made out of organic material – works that have a life-span beyond our control, must be experienced in their own time frame. Communicating the aesthetic sense of a garden to those who weren’t present at the time of its flourishing demands language – a less organically bound medium that can refer and compare in ways that attempt to give a feeling of what something was like.

A garden is not a metaphor, but it is served by metaphoric language. Because its essence cannot be carried forward easily, it must be transformed and imperfectly fixed through the act of referral. But we can rectify how we see the art of gardening in the field of intellectual history by according a greater value to the craft it demands and the language it evokes .

The garden is not just a place for selected cutting. It lives on its own independent means and purposes. The language that hovers over it has its own grammar, expressive vocabulary, and forms of argument, even while it is abstracted and sharpened in an attempt to record the essence and our reactions to it.

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Rupert Barneby and Dwight Ripley’s garden in Greenport, Long Island, ca. 1965. From the Douglas Crase and Frank Polach Papers, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

Timothy Young holds the title of Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts at Beinecke Library at Yale University. While focusing on contemporary literature and intellectual and avant garde movements of the past two centuries, he also oversees specialized components of the library’s collections including economic history and children’s literature. He is the author or editor of several books including: The Great Mirror of Folly: Finance, Culture, and the Crash of 1720 (2013); The Uncollected David Rakoff (2015) and Story Time: Essays on the Betsy Beinecke Shirley Collection of American Children’s Literature (2016). He contributes regularly to The Yale Review, writing on music and books.

What We’re Reading: Week of 12th March

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Some reading gathered for you from around the web by members of the JHIBlog team. Let us know what else has caught your eye this week in the comments!

Kristin:

Mary Beard, “Sex and Death in the Classical World” (New Statesman)

Jonathan Carey, “The Africans Who Called Tudor England Home” (Atlas Obscura)

Graeme Smith and Louisa Lim, “Policing the Contour Lines: China’s Cartographic Obsession” (Chinoiresie, The Little Red Podcast)

 

Derek:

Doreen St. Felix, “The National Geographic Twins and the Falsehood of our Post-racial Future” (New Yorker)

Martin Jay, “A History of Alienation” (Aeon)

Andrew Dole, “Could there be another Billy Graham?” (The Conversation)

 

Spencer:

Amy Murrell Taylor, “The historian who admired slavers” (TLS)

Josephine Quinn “Caesar Bloody Caesar” (NYRB)

Becca Rothfeld, “A Day at a Time” (The Nation)

Kyla Marshell, interview with Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (Guardian)

Heroes, Identity and the Realm of History

By guest contributor Meg Foster

Heroes are big business in popular culture. From ancient Greek and Roman legends, through to the popular Marvel comic figures of our own time, we have spent centuries on the lookout for exceptional men and women to emulate, inspire and move us beyond the familiar rhythm of our daily lives. As folklorist Graham Seal notes, heroes embody the hopes, aspirations, values and longings of their followers. They are important not so much for their existence, as their supporters. One person is negligible compared to the legion who mimic them and incorporate their views of the world into their own. Hero worship affects how people think, feel and relate to one another, but it is not just about personally held values. It also affects how people act. Our heroes affect our sense of belonging, who we feel connected and responsible to, who we are apathetic towards and who we feel the need to protect. In this way legendary figures have influenced and continue to shape the course of history. But because of their associations with mass popular culture, low brow entertainment and parochial myth making, they are frequently regarded as beyond the realm of historical inquiry.

In Australia, the heroic figures that feature heavily in the national imaginary are ‘bushrangers’. Not to be confused with park rangers or game keepers, bushrangers were nineteenth century criminals who were on the run from the law. Bushrangers were Australians’ unique brand of highwaymen; thieves who committed ‘robbery under arms’ and roamed throughout the Australian bush. Even today, white, male bushrangers are lauded as national icons, associated as they are with bravery, chivalry and ridiculing inept or corrupt authorities. Ned Kelly is the most famous of this band of celebrated white men, and despite the affiliation with crime, Kelly is a veritable national icon. To give just one example, at the opening of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, hundreds of figures clad in his famous armour ran onto the stage and introduced Australia to the world. In rural Australia in particular, there is a roaring bushranger tourist trade, and locals still commemorate significant events in the lives of their fallen heroes.

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Bushrangers, Victoria, Australia, 1852 (1887, oil on canvas, 29.7 x 61. cm) by William Strutt (1825–1915).

Much work still needs to be done untangling where the history of these characters has become entwined with exaggeration, fabrication and myth. But even more pressing is an exploration of the ‘other bushrangers’; bushrangers who were not white men, and never became a part of the national mythos. The fact that these figures even existed is met with surprise by most Australians (even academics) who hear about my PhD research. For bushranging to be so much a part of national identity, so pervasive in popular culture, and then to have these ‘other’ characters concealed from view shocks the sensibilities of many. There were African American, Chinese and Aboriginal bushrangers, as well as white and Aboriginal women who took up this nefarious trade; and these are only the people I have uncovered so far. When I speak about my research, people’s incredulity is usually quickly matched by enthusiasm. “Isn’t that great!” they exclaim. “A black bushranger, and women too, who would have thought?!” There is a strong push to include these ‘hidden’ figures in the national mythos, to place them as heroes alongside the likes of Ned Kelly and remark that the nation has always had a multicultural past. And while proffered in good faith, this approach is extremely problematic. ‘Other’ bushrangers were deliberately excluded from the burgeoning bushranging legend. Their uncritical, posthumous inclusion in this narrative does not reflect the reality that they lived in. And it overlooks what their experiences can tell us about colonial society.

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‘Bushrangers Stuck Up’ Australian Illustrated News, 1870.

Colonial understandings about race and gender already positioned ‘other’ bushrangers on the lower rungs of the social and evolutionary ladder. That they then engaged in crime only reinforced their inferior position compared to white men. And yet, these bushrangers also disrupted colonial narratives of inferiority as they operated outside of the law and undermined white power. Aboriginal bushranger Jimmy Governor was so feared that whole towns were left deserted in anticipation of his arrival, and he survived on the run for almost three months. This was despite thousands of police and civilians joining the chase, resulting in what Laurie Moore and Stephen Williams have described as the “largest manhunt in Australian history” (iv). However, no bushranger was ever the same. While there are signs of agency and personality in the records of some ‘other bushrangers’, I am more often confronted with their absence. Other bushrangers were deliberately marginalized in their own times, and remain so today because they challenged colonial Australians’ ideas about race, sex, and gender, as well as how they saw their place in the world. But this makes the process of recovery even more important.

‘Other’ bushrangers disrupt pre-existing narratives. They complicate the idea that colonial power was ever absolute, natural or just. And their lives provide a unique lens through which to view national and transnational history. Although white, male bushrangers were (and remain) national heroes, there are other traditions that influenced the bushranging phenomenon. Sam Poo, the Chinese bushranger, was more likely to be influenced by Chinese legends of outlawry (that circulated from the twelfth century) than any emergent Anglo tradition. Mary Ann Ward may have seen her actions in light of Aboriginal strategies of resistance and freedom fighting, rather than solely in relation to her white bushranging spouse.

Heroes are important. They embody the hopes, aspirations, values and longings of their followers. They represent who we are and who we want to be. People who are excluded from this heroic status are excluded for a reason. And exploring their stories shines a unique, if not always complimentary, light on both national history, and Australia’s place in the world. Heroes are important. And challenging, analyzing and expanding upon popular mythology should be within the realm of history.

Meg Foster is a PhD candidate in History at the University of New South Wales. Under the supervision of Grace Karskens and Lisa Ford, Meg is investigating the ‘other’ bushrangers (Australian outlaws who were not white men) in history and memory. After completing her honours thesis on Indigenous Bushrangers in 2013, Meg worked as a researcher with the Australian Centre of Public History at the University of Technology, Sydney. She is the recipient of numerous awards and prizes, and was the inaugural winner of the Deen De Bortoli Award in Applied History for her article, ‘Online and Plugged In?: Public history and historians in the digital age’ featured in the Public History Review (2014). As well as her PhD, Meg works as an historical consultant and has a particular interest in making connections between history and the contemporary world.

 

What has Athens to do with London? Plague.

By Editor Spencer J. Weinreich

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Map of London by Wenceslas Hollar, c.1665

It is seldom recalled that there were several “Great Plagues of London.” In scholarship and popular parlance alike, only the devastating epidemic of bubonic plague that struck the city in 1665 and lasted the better part of two years holds that title, which it first received in early summer 1665. To be sure, the justice of the claim is incontrovertible: this was England’s deadliest visitation since the Black Death, carrying off some 70,000 Londoners and another 100,000 souls across the country. But note the timing of that first conferral. Plague deaths would not peak in the capital until September 1665, the disease would not take up sustained residence in the provinces until the new year, and the fire was more than a year in the future. Rather than any special prescience among the pamphleteers, the nomenclature reflects the habit of calling every major outbreak in the capital “the Great Plague of London”—until the next one came along (Moote and Moote, 6, 10–11, 198). London experienced a major epidemic roughly every decade or two: recent visitations had included 1592, 1603, 1625, and 1636. That 1665 retained the title is due in no small part to the fact that no successor arose; this was to be England’s outbreak of bubonic plague.

Serial “Great Plagues of London” remind us that epidemics, like all events, stand within the ebb and flow of time, and draw significance from what came before and what follows after. Of course, early modern Londoners could not know that the plague would never return—but they assuredly knew something about its past.

Early modern Europe knew bubonic plague through long and hard experience. Ann G. Carmichael has brilliantly illustrated how Italy’s communal memories of past epidemics shaped perceptions of and responses to subsequent visitations. Seventeenth-century Londoners possessed a similar store of memories, but their plague-time writings mobilize a range of pasts and historiographical registers that includes much more than previous epidemics or the history of their own community: from classical antiquity to the English Civil War, from astrological records to demographic trends. Such richness accords with the findings of the formidable scholarly phalanx investigating “the uses of history in early modern England” (to borrow the title of one edited volume), which informs us that sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English people had a deep and sophisticated sense of the past, instrumental in their negotiations of the present.

Let us consider a single, iconic strand in this tapestry: invocations of the Plague of Athens (430–26 B.C.E.). Jacqueline Duffin once suggested that writing about epidemic disease inevitably falls prey to “Thucydides syndrome” (qtd. in Carmichael 150n41). In the centuries since the composition of the History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides’s hauntingly vivid account of the plague (II.47–54) has influenced writers from Lucretius to Albert Camus. Long lost to Latin Christendom, Thucydides was slowly reintegrated into Western European intellectual history beginning in the fifteenth century. The first (mediocre) English edition appeared in 1550, superseded in 1628 with a text by none other than Thomas Hobbes. For more than a hundred years, then, Anglophone readers had access to Thucydides, while Greek and Latin versions enjoyed a respectable, if not extraordinary, popularity among the more learned.

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Michiel Sweerts, Plague in an Ancient City (1652), believed to depict the Plague of Athens

In 1659, the churchman and historian Thomas Sprat, booster of the Royal Society and future bishop of Rochester, published The Plague of Athens, a Pindaric versification of the accounts found in Thucydides and Lucretius. Sprat’s Plague has been convincingly interpreted as a commentary on England’s recent political history—viz., the Civil War and the Interregnum (King and Brown, 463). But six years on, the poem found fresh relevance as England faced its own “too ravenous plague” (Sprat, 21).The savvy bookseller Henry Brome, who had arranged the first printing, brought out two further editions in 1665 and 1667. Because the poem was prefaced by the relevant passages of Hobbes’s translation, an English text of Thucydides was in print throughout the epidemic. It is of course hardly surprising that at moments of epidemic crisis, the locus classicus for plague should sell well: plague-time interest in Thucydides is well-attested before and after 1665, in England and elsewhere in Europe.

But what does the Plague of Athens do for authors and readers in seventeenth-century London? As the classical archetype of pestilence, it functions as a touchstone for the ferocity of epidemic disease and a yardstick by which the Great Plague could be measured. The physician John Twysden declared, “All Ages have produced as great mortality and as great rebellion in Diseases as this, and Complications with other Diseases as dangerous. What Plague was ever more spreading or dangerous than that writ of by Thucidides, brought out of Attica into Peloponnesus?” (111–12).

One flattering rhymester welcomed Charles II’s relocation to Oxford with the confidence that “while Your Majesty, (Great Sir) shines here, / None shall a second Plague of Athens fear” (4). In a less reassuring vein, the societal breakdown depicted by Thucydides warned England what might ensue from its own plague.

Perhaps with that prospect in mind, other authors drafted Thucydides as their ally in catalyzing moral reform. The poet William Austin (who was in the habit of ruining his verses by overstuffing them with classical references) seized upon the Athenians’ passionate devotions in the face of the disaster (History, II.47). “Athenians, as Thucidides reports, / Made for their Dieties new sacred courts. / […] Why then wo’nt we, to whom the Heavens reveal / Their gracious, true light, realize our zeal?” (86). In a sermon entitled The Plague of the Heart, John Edwards enlisted Thucydides in the service of his conceit of a spiritual plague that was even more fearsome than the bubonic variety:

The infection seizes also on our memories; as Thucydides tells us of some persons who were infected in that great plague at Athens, that by reason of that sad distemper they forgot themselves, their friends and all their concernments [History, II.49]. Most certain it is that by the Spirituall infection men forget God and their duty. (8)

Not dissimilarly, the tailor-cum-preacher Richard Kingston paralleled the plague with sin. He characterizes both evils as “diffusive” (23–24) citing Thucydides to the effect that the plague began in Ethiopia and moved thence to Egypt and Greece (II.48).

On the supposition that, medically speaking, the Plague of Athens was the same disease they faced, early modern writers treated it as a practical precedent for prophylaxis, treatment, and public health measures. Thucydides was one of several classical authorities cited by the Italian theologian Filiberto Marchini to justify open-field burials, based on their testimony that wild animals shunned plague corpses (Calvi, 106). Rumors of plague-spreading also stoked interest in the History, because Thucydides records that the citizens of Piraeus believed the epidemic arose from the poisoning of wells (II.48; Carmichael, 149–50).

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Peter Paul Rubens, Hippocrates (1638)

It should be noted that Thucydides was not the only source for early modern knowledge about the Plague of Athens. One William Kemp, extolling the preventative virtues of moderation, tells his readers that it was temperance that preserved Socrates during the disaster (58–59). This anecdote comes not from Thucydides, but Claudius Aelianus, who relates of the philosopher’s constitution and moderate habits, “[t]he Athenians suffered an epidemic; some died, others were close to death, while Socrates alone was not ill at all” (Varia historia, XIII.27, trans. N. G. Wilson). (Interestingly, 1665 saw the publication of a new translation of the Varia historia.) Elsewhere, Kemp relates how Hippocrates organized bonfires to free Athens of the disease (43), a story that originates with the pseudo-Galenic On Theriac to Piso, but probably reached England via Latin intermediaries and/or William Bullein’s A Dialogue Against the Fever Pestilence (1564). Hippocrates’s name, and supposed victory over the Plague of Athens, was used to advertise cures and preventatives.

 

With the exception of Sprat—whose poem was written in 1659—these are all fleeting references, but that is in some sense the point. The Plague of Athens, Thucydides, and his History had entered the English imaginary, a shared vocabulary for thinking about epidemic disease. To quote Raymond A. Anselment, Sprat’s poem (and other invocations of the Plague of Athens) “offered through the imitation of the past an idea of the present suffering” (19). In the desperate days of 1665–66, the mere mention of Thucydides’s name, regardless of the subject at hand, would have been enough to conjure the specter of the Athenian plague.

Whether or not one built a public health plan around “Hippocrates’s” example, or looked to the History of the Peloponnesian War as a guide to disease etiology, the Plague of Athens exerted an emotional and intellectual hold over early modern English writers and readers. In part, this was merely a sign of the times: sixteenth-century Europeans were profoundly invested in the past as a mirror for and guide to the present and the future. In England, the Great Plague came at the height of a “rage for historical parallels” (Kewes, 25)—and no corner of history offered more distinguished parallels than classical antiquity.

And let us not undersell the affective power of such parallels. The value of recalling past plagues was the simple fact of their being past. Awful as the Plague of Athens had been, it had eventually passed, and Athens still stood. Looking backwards was a relief from a present dominated by the epidemic, and from the plague’s warped temporality: the interruption of civic and liturgical rhythms and the ordinary cycle of life and death. Where “an epidemic denies time itself” (Calvi, 129–30), history restores it, and offers something like orientation—even, dare we say, hope.

 

What We’re Reading: Week of 5th March

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Here’s what our editorial team has been reading this week—let us know what you think and what you’ve been reading!

Brendan:

Tim Rogan, Why Amartya Sen remains the century’s great critic of capitalism (Aeon)

Jamie Fisher, The Left-Handed Kid (LRB)

Adam Roberts, Till Tomorrow (New Atlantis)

 

Sarah:

Heather Bowen-Struyk and Norma Field, ““Art as a Weapon”: Japanese Proletarian Literature on the Centenary of the 1917 Russian Revolution,” (The Asia-Pacific Journal)

Anne Enright, “The Genesis of Blame,” (LRB)

Jiayang Fan, “Can Wine Transform China’s Countryside?” (New Yorker)

Anne Mette Lundtofte, “The Kim Wall Murder Trial,” (New Yorker)

Manisha Sinha, “Today’s Eerie Echoes of the Civil War,” (NYRB)

 

Derek:

Marta Figlerowicz, “The Disillusionment of Post-Soviet Europe” (Boston Review)

Cassidy Faust, “7 Activists of Color You Should Read This International Women’s Day” (LitHub)

Allison Keyes, “Two Museum Directors Say It’s Time to Tell the Unvarnished History of the U.S.” (Smithsonian)

 

Spence:

Paola Bertucci, “It Wasn’t Just Philosophers Like Diderot Who Invented the Enlightenment” (History News Network)

David A. Bell, “The PowerPoint Philosophe” (The Nation)

Ian Campbell Ross, “Alas, Poor YORICK!” (Public Domain Review)

James Campbell, “Jimmy is Everywhere” (TLS)

Dana Fishkinn, “Magic and Science in Medieval Ashkenaz” (Marginalia)