Let Them Eat Hair Garnishes

By Carlyn Beccia (Guest Blogger)

What does Marie Antoinette's infamous pouf and the starchy tuberous crop fruit known as the potato have in common? Read more to find out...

We tend to associate the potato more with Ireland and England than we do with France and that may because the humble spud had a very rocky start with French Parisians. Although already widely accepted in England, the potato did not come to France until around 1600.1 Still, no respectable royal would dare to eat the strange, dirty, lumpy looking spud. The potato became so feared that in 1619 it was banned from Burgundy, France because it was rumored to cause leprosy. It all made perfect sense to 16th century scholars. A potato looked like leprosy so therefore it must cause leprosy.2

The leprosy spud finally got an image makeover in the 18th century with the help from a potato propagandist and French chemist named Antoine-Auguste Parmentier. Parmentier threw some fabulous parties and invited the French upper class to taste his potato creations. At one of these parties, Parmentier gave Louis XVI a bouquet of potato flowers. Knowing his wife's proclivity for putting vegetables in her hair, Louis thoughtfully placed one delicate, purple sprig in Marie Antoinette's pouf. Thereafter, the potato may not have become a fashion accesory, but it did become the new, hot foot delicacy among the upper class.

The potato then went on to feed the French peasants and everyone loved their queen and...lived happily ever after.

Ok not exactly. Unfortunately, it took a few bread shortages, a nasty revolution, and some beheaded monarchs for the government to finally see the potato's full potential for feeding the rest of the starving country. In 1794, a year after Marie Antoinette was beheaded, the queen's beloved flowerbeds in the Tuileries were plowed over to make way for the purple blossoms that would feed a nation and become one of France's biggest exports.

Carlyn Beccia is author of The Raucous Royals and
Who Put the B in the Ballyhoo? She writes about the scandals, rumors, and gossip of royalty over at The Raucous Royals.

(1) Some historians have blamed the slower populations grown of France in the 18th century to their dependence of grain while other countries had the starchy potato to fall back on. In reverse to France’s grain dependency, reliance on the potato backfired in Ireland during the Great Potato Famine. (2) This was at a time when walnuts were eaten to treat headaches because they looked like a brain and eating the brains of another animal would make you smarter.

Sources and Further Reading:

Langer L. William, "American Foods and Europe's Population Growth 1750-1850." Journal of Social History 8.2 (1975): 51-66.

Salaman N. Redcliffe, The History and Social Influence of the Potato, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

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Midwives and Witches, oh my!

Witches can be nasty creatures...and doubly so anywhere near newborns. Just think about the evil fairies in Sleeping Beauty or Snow White. Nothing to trifle with!

If witches and mean fairies seem to be circling baptisms and childbeds in fairy tales, it has a lot to do with the fact that--according to popular legends--they were in need of supplies for their devilish rituals.

According to early-modern writers like Jean Bodin, Cardano, and Della Porta, the fat of newborns was a vital ingredient in magical flying potions. Witches were also said to make candles from an infant's umbilical cord.

Other byproducts of labor were also reported to have great mystical properties. The placenta was considered by some to be an aphrodisiac and, if eaten, could be used to treat infertility, a practice that the church condemned.

These and other concerns regarding what the midwife-witch might do with human flesh and body fluids motivated regulations in German (Wurzburg, 1555) that clearly specified how the midwife was to dispose of all biological bi-products during the delivery. Morever, frequent laws were passed in France that dictated that only woman of good Catholic faith could help a birthing mother.

Lifted from my Pregnant Fictions: Childbirth and the Fairy Tale in Early-Modern France
(p. 67)

Image: The History of Witches and Wizards (1720)

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Are You A Witch?

Take this quiz to find out!

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New Subscription/Digest Option

If you're enjoying Wonders and Marvels, you might think about subscribing. An easy sign-up form is on your left. A blog digest will be sent once weekly, on Mondays.

I'm feeling pretty proud of my technological feat. Not bad for an academic who specializes in 17th century history! The Sun King would think me to be a witch--which leads us to our next post.

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Book of the Week

Anyone who is a regular reader of Wonders and Marvels knows that we take a knowledgeable--but irreverent--stance toward history. I have found a kindred spirit in Carlyn Beccia!

Raucous Royals: Test Your Royal Wits, Crack Codes, Solve Mysteries, and Deduce Which Royal Rumors are True is a book that I would have read from cover-to-cover at least 600 times when I was young. Now, keep in mind that it's not always for the weak at heart. The first entry is on Vald the Impaler. But the gore is done in such a lighthearted, nutty way. Can't believe I just said that, but it's true.

The Raucous author herself will be joining us on Thursday for a guest post on, yes folks, the creepy history of the early potato. It is the week of Halloween after all! Carlyn will also send an autographed copy of her book to one lucky
Marvels & Wonders reader.

To register, simply click HERE.
Deadline: Saturday, November 1 at midnight [CST]

Now get thee immediately over to Carlyn's website. It is also a marvel to behold!

And congratulations to LAURA CHRISTENSEN, the happy winner of Catherine Delors' Mistress of the Revolution!

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Gangraena or pernicious practices of bloggers

Wonders and Marvels hath captur'd the attention of the most honourable Mercurius Politicus . The aforemention'd chronicler delighteth the mind and the spirit with his most wondrous and noble of posts. The marvels and wit of said blogger are verily seen above. Discover'd herein:

"There is one Holly Tucker, who dwells at Wonders and Marvels. Very Erroneous, Strange Doctrines are vented there continually. The latest Preaching is of early midwifery."

Image: from Mercurius Politicus with permission. It's a great blog; do visit!

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Fellow Travelers

I'm delighted to report that Namibia, Singapore, Kenya, Ukraine, and Bangladesh have checked in. We've covered Scandinavia as well.

For anyone out there who has contacts in Central America or Africa, please send the link along. And if you haven't yet left a note in the guest book, we'd love to hear from you--even if you're from a much less exotic locale! And for the curious, we've posted a list of the countries that have checked in. Myanmar, Montenegro, Malaysia...

Image: Nicolas Sanson, "Mappe Monde" (1678). Note California depicted as an island. Sanson was one of the premier map-makers of 17th-century Paris. From the National Library of Australia.

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MerMEN and now...MerDOGS!

Did you know that October has been officially declared the "Odd Creatures from the Sea" month ? Something must be in the water! (Ok, I couldn't resist the pun.)

It began simply enough when our friends over at Curious Expeditions posted a delightful, but not entirely lovely, tidbit on the Feejee Mermaid. I followed up with a story of Renaissance Sea Devils. And now we have Sea Dogs, courtesy of and the National Library of Wales.

For the especially inquisitive, you will find the full text of Sea Dog pamphlet at: A Most Strange and True Report of a Monsterous Fish (1604)

In parting, I am curious to know how many of you use "fish" in the plural? Is it "fishes"?

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18th Century Contraception: Catherine Delors

As Holly noted in her guest post on my blog, married women, in the 17th and 18th centuries, would become pregnant on average five or six times. This is far less than “natural” fecundity. So what was happening?

For one thing, people married relatively late. In 1789 France, the average age of first-time couples was 26.5 for brides and 28.5 for grooms. True, nobles married much earlier, generally as teenagers, but they represented only about 1% of the population, a tiny minority. For most French people, at least 10 years of reproductive life were thus “lost” to late marriages. The tremendous social stigma attached to out-of-wedlock births made them accidents to be avoided at all costs.

Once women married and gave birth to children, the most widely available birth control technique was breastfeeding. Peasant women in particular nursed their children--and served as wetnurse to others--well into toddlerhood, which allowed them to space out their pregnancies. Rousseau, for reasons independent from contraception, strongly advocated breastfeeding in his very influential Emile (published 1761) and the practice soon became fashionable among upper-class women as well.

Even the illiterate knew empirically about the contraceptive effect of breastfeeding. Other techniques, however, required an advanced understanding of conception. This was reserved to the more educated segments of the population. Pornographic novels (a thriving genre in pre-revolutionary France) extolled the virtues of the withdrawal method, and barrier devices like sealskin condoms and sponges dipped in an acidic liquid such as vinegar.

Catherine Delors is author of The Mistress of the Revolution. She connects with readers via Versailles and More.

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The Art of Dialing: Telling Time in Early Europe

What time is it, you say? If you were living before the 18th century, you would not look at your wrist watch. No, you'd slip a portable sundial out of your pocket. The more complex sundials could also be converted to moon dials that indicated the time according to the amount of moonlight expected on a clear, starry night.

Although town squares began constructing clocks beginning somewhere in the 14th century, sundials remained in the picture well into the 18th century. Mechanical clocks were exorbitantly expensive and could be found only in the most noble of homes. And they were notoriously unreliable--telling time only within an hour, give or take. They also needed to be reset frequently. Of course, with the help of a sundial.

A well crafted sundial was the mark of good birth and high culture. One of the most famous sundial makers of the late seventeenth century was the Englishman Michael Butterfield, who set up shop along the riverbanks of Paris. His top-of-line sundials were made of silver, not brass, and were engraved with beautifully elaborate designs.

Sundial preferences were also gendered. Men went for larger sundials of about 2 1/2 inches nested in a silver box, that itself was nested in a brass exterior box. Women reached instead for daintier, 1 inch models in gold cases that could be slipped more easily in a purse.

Now I'm not a specialist of time telling in the early-modern period. Hardly! Much of what you have here is a distillation of Sara Schechner's outstanding article: "The Material Culture of Astronomy in Daily Life: Sundials, Science, and Social Change" (Journal for the History of Astronomy, 2001, 189-222). Well worth the read!

And for anyone near Chicago and interested in time keeping, a visit to the Adler Planetarium is well worth the trip. Their historical collections are remarkable. Any readers out there with a big checkbook? Take a peek at the sundial collections here. Feel free to ship one to me!

Image courtesy of the National Maritime Museum. For more information on the sundial above, click here.

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Book of the Week

Geography Project Update: We're now at 30 countries and 40 US States! Please do leave a message here. And ask friends from odd places to stop by! My family and I are having a lot of fun visiting the wonders and marvels of the world without leaving home.

Back to business...
Each Monday, I'll announce the book that I've selected as "Book of the Week," along with the winners of the previous week's book gifting. On most Thursdays, we'll be treated by a guest blog by the author. Each author will provide a short and peppy informational bit about medical or scientific history related to their work. I'll alternate between historical nonfiction and serious historical fiction.

Catherine Delors, author of
The Mistress of the Revolution, will be popping in on Thursday to talk about birth control in the eighteenth century. Be sure to have a peek at her wonderful blog: Versailles and More. You may even see someone over there you know!

Here's a bit about the book:
Against the backdrop of the leadup to the French Revolution, Delors's mostly successful debut follows the life of Gabrielle de Montserrat, a feisty young woman forced by her meddling brother to forsake her commoner true love and marry the Baron de Peyre, a wealthy, older man. The baron is abusive and cruel, but the short-lived marriage produces a daughter before the baron dies. A widowed Gabrielle travels to Paris and enters the heady world of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, where, with a sparse inheritance and the responsibility of a young daughter, Gabrielle becomes the mistress of Count de Villers. Delors shines in her portrayal of the late 18th-century French women's world (she has a rougher time with the men), though the amount of political-historical detail covered overshadows the tragic love story that develops once Gabrielle reunites with her first love, Pierre-André Coffinhal, who is now a lawyer. The appearance of historical figures sometimes comes off awkwardly (as when Gabrielle meets Thomas Jefferson or has a private audience with Robespierre), and the ending is marred by a too-convenient and seemingly tossed-off twist. Nevertheless, the author ably captures the vagaries of French politics during turbulent times and creates a world inhabited by nicely developed and sympathetic characters. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

“Definitely a contender for one of the best reads of the year.”
Associated Press

“A most impressive literary debut, this outstanding novel of the French Revolution is well worth reading.”
Historical Novels Review (Editors’ Choice Title)

“Delors shines in her portrayal of the late eighteenth century French women’s world.”
Publishers Weekly

“Delors does an admirable job of depicting the tension, confusion, and volatility of an era.”

AND now: Without further ado, the winners of last week's gifting are...Jessica Franken (Putting Science in Its Place) and Mandy de Jager (The Lace Reader). I'll explain the highly scientific process I use for determining winners next week!

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Children...then and now

Gentle readers, I have a favor to ask of you. My third-grade daughter is working on a geography project. And I'm delighted for the bonding experience. Please leave a comment and take a peek at the countries we're missing. We're hoping to get at least one visit from every country in the world!

The project will result in
a Power Point presentation using the data. My how times have changed! Third grade!

By the way,
Wonders and Marvels now has a strong following in the UK, Australia, and California. Thanks guys! (Through Google Analytics, I can see what city readers are from...nothing else, never fear.)

Would you all be kind enough to share a link to this blog with as many friends as possible--and especially in these far flung places? Just click on the envelope under the post to email the link to your friends.

New Guinea
much of Africa
much of the Middle East

And don't worry, I'm not letting her read the blog entries. I'm not ready AT ALL to give the "Birds and the Bees" talk just yet!

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Was there a Scientific Revolution?

You may have picked up on the fact that I'm a little uneasy with the term Scientific Revolution--big S, big R. Of course, some Very Big changes--big V, big B--took place in the early-modern era. Copernicus's heliocentrism up here for one. But the question is: was it a specific moment of Revolution...or more of progressive sea-change in world view?

But I'll leave that discussion to the pros. For the inquisitive, I recommend Steven Shapin's The Scientific Revolution. "There was no such thing as the Scientific Revolution," he writes, "and this is a book about it."

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The Chicken or the Egg

Open an introduction to genetics textbook, and you'll find a few preliminary pages on preformationist theory. The underlying message is: Look here, look how far we've come. Look at how silly early embryological theory was.

The fact of the matter is that preformationism made perfect sense at the time--and it was a theory that dominated the embryological landscape for well over 100 years. Ovism (the idea that preformed humans existed in eggs) is what made the most sense to early-modern philosophers. It would take Kant and Blumenbach's theories in the 1780s for theorists to be able to imagine the idea of something coming from nothing, that an organism can form from disorganized matter.

So here's the question: How will history judge us in a few hundred years? What do we know for sure, right now, that is destined for the joke books of the future?

Image: Wellcome Library for the History of Medicine

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Little Men in Sperm

Speaking of seeing what you want to see..

Something major happened during the scientific "revolution" of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-centuries. Telescopes, barometers, blood circulation, air pumps, vacuums, early calculating devices, discovery of planetary systems...yes, yes, we know all about that.

The discovery of the egg and the sperm in 1672 and 1677 changed the way people understood babies--and how. Heated debates took place about whether possibly, just possibly, humans existed preformed in either the egg or the sperm. Animaculists argued that shrinky-dink-sized beings lay wait in the head of each sperm.

Ovists argued that tiny humans sat in each egg. At the end of the day, the ovists won out. One of the most difficult aspects of spermist theory to reconcile was the knowledge that there are millions of sperm in a single ejaculation. Surely God would not allow the genocide of all of those beings in a single embrace! And imagine what they had to say about going solo...

The best study out there on preformation is, without a doubt, Clara Pinto-Correia's The Ovary of Eve: The Egg and the Sperm and Preformation.

Want a weekly dose of wonders?
Sign up for the Wonders & Marvels newsletter here!

IMAGE: Antonio Vallisnieri,
Histoire della generazione dell'uomo e degli animali

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Seventeenth-Century Math

I have to admit that the History of Math is one of my biggest gaps--or lacunes as they say in French--in my education as an early modernist. That probably has something to do with the fact that I barely survived my college math classes. Maybe I would have done better if Pascal or Fermat had been teaching...

To my delight, the good publicist fairies over at Basic Books had this gem delivered to my doorstep yesterday: Keith Devlin's
The Unfinished Game: Pascal, Fermat, and the Seventeenth-Century Letter that Made the World Modern (A Tale of How Mathematics Is Really Done).

Yes, it's a mouthful of a title. But it looks like a great read for number-challenged folks who want to know more about why the early history of mathematics matters to us even now.

Here's the publishers blurb:

Before the mid-seventeenth century, scholars generally agreed that it was impossible to predict something by calculating mathematical outcomes. One simply could not put a numerical value on the likelihood that a particular event would occur. Even the outcome of something as simple as a dice roll or the likelihood of showers instead of sunshine was thought to lie in the realm of pure, unknowable chance.

The issue remained intractable until Blaise Pascal wrote to Pierre de Fermat in 1654, outlining a solution to the “unfinished game” problem: how do you divide the pot when players are forced to end a game of dice before someone has won? The idea turned out to be far more seminal than Pascal realized. From it, the two men developed the method known today as probability theory.

In The Unfinished Game, mathematician and NPR commentator Keith Devlin tells the story of this correspondence and its remarkable impact on the modern world: from insurance rates, to housing and job markets, to the safety of cars and planes, calculating probabilities allowed people, for the first time, to think rationally about how future events might unfold.

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Take a Peek at This Line-Up!

Keep an eye out for the following authors. They'll be joining us at Wonders and Marvels very soon!

Carlyn Beccia, Raucous Royals
Catherine Delors, Mistress of the Revolution
David King, Vienna 1814 and Finding Atlantis
Tilar Mazzio,
The Widow Clicquot
Michelle Moran, The Heretic Queen and Nefertiti
Stephanie Snow, Blessed Days of Anaesthesia
As well as the good folks at Morbid Anatomy

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Early Surgical Tools

C-sections were, again, the surgery of very last resort and rarely performed until the mid-to-late eighteenth century. While they were not common, this does not mean that the procedure did not take up good-sized sections of obstetrics texts. In fact, the more difficult and horrific the procedure...the more often you'll get to read about it in early manuals.

You have here an inventory of the tools required for a caesarean section in the very early eighteenth century. This is taken from Pierre Dionis's
Course on Surgical Operations [Cours d'Operation de Chirurgie], published in 1708.

Dionis (pronounced Dee-oh-nees) was an innovator in surgical instruction and ushered in a new emphasis on formal training of surgeons. He began his professional life as a surgical and anatomical demonstrator at the Jardin du Roi--now the Paris Jardin des Plantes. Open-air dissections were performed at the gardens and usually drew a large crowd of spectators.

Dionis later became a court surgeon. He documents the work he did at court and describes the demonstrations that he performed at the request of Queen Maria Theresa (Louis XIV's wife). One that sticks in my mind is the dissection that he did following the death of a pregnant woman. The Queen requested that he give her a lesson on the anatomy of the womb and specifically demanded that he bring in specimens from the newly dissected corpse.

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Sea Monsters and Mermen

Is seeing believing? Or does believing mean seeing only what you want to?

A post over at Curious Expeditions on the fascinating story of the Feejee Mermaid, a merman with a long history, made me think about some earlier beasts of the sea. Ambroise Pare's 16th- century Monsters and Prodigies includes a number of illustrations of aberrant fish monsters, mermen, and this stunning "sea devil" (above).

The Feejee Mermaid was eventually outed as a hoax, and one of several mermen sits in an Austrian folklore museum. I'm having a hard time figuring out which one is ugliest. This guy up here or the one in living color. Care to share your opinion?

For those of you looking for more info on the Feejee Mermaid, Google Books will let you read Jan Bondeson's chapter in the Feejee Mermaid and Other Essays In Natural and Unnatural History. For the sea devil, Janis Pallister's translation of Pare's "Monsters and Prodigies" should give you plenty to marvel at.

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Harry Potter's Renaissance World

Those cute mandrake babies in Harry Potter have a long, very long history. So do Rowling's references to herbals, unicorn horns, and philosopher's stones. The National Library of Medicine is hosting an exhibit that puts Harry back into the Renaissance. While early-modern culture hardly needs the Harry Potter series to be interesting, it's an ingenious way to get the library's collections out in front of a larger audience. And if it helps convince young readers and other curious minds that there is much to marvel at in early-modern medicine and science...I'm all for it!

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Book Review

My latest review in the San Francisco Chronicle

'iBrain' examines digital era's mind games

Sunday, October 12, 2008

iBrain by Gary Small and Gigi VorganGary SmallGigi Vorgan

By Gary Small and Gigi Vorgan

Collins Living; 240 pages; $24.95

Technology has changed the world. But has it changed our brains?

Doom and gloom warnings have long been a standard critique of the technological age. To be sure, we pay the price for our attachments to computers, cell phones and Internet connections. The effects are physical, social, emotional and especially - as Gary Small and Gigi Vorgan argue - neurological. "iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind" explores what growing up digital means not just for an entire generation of young users but also for those who share their world.

Writing with his wife, Vorgan, Small is director of the Memory & Aging Center at UCLA's Institute for Human Neuroscience and Human Behavior. Together they track the ways in which malleable young minds respond to a constant flow of stimuli. They explore how technology influences language acquisition, intelligence, empathy, emotional well-being and social interaction.

Vorgan and Small worry that the digital age may disrupt in subtle - and not-so-subtle - ways normal neurological development from infancy to adulthood. They offer, for example, a discussion of the midlife brain. Between ages 35 and 55, the mind is remarkably elastic and at its prime. The hemispheres of the brain begin to work in concert, thinking becomes more nimble, and social skills are at their peak.

The authors argue that, in these early generations of techno-brains, we cannot know what the long-term implications of neurological changes will be. The "future brain is yet to emerge" - and what will be gained or lost as young brains evolve more rapidly than in any other time in history is anyone's guess. Case in point, it's not clear how technology use is linked to a rise in autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other syndromes.

In the meantime, some good news: Your brain on Google has promise. Vorgan and Small reassure us that Internet use activates the part of the brain involved in decision-making and the assimilation of complex information. Digital technology has also been associated with a marked and consistent rise in IQ scores.

But as always, too much of a good thing is too much of a good thing. Surgeons who play video games may make fewer errors, but Vorgan and Small stress the fine line between using technology to challenge your mind and being in a spaced-out trance as you play during a weeklong binge.

"iBrain" is at once provocative and pedestrian. Perhaps better monikers could have been found to describe the gaps that exist between the "digital natives" (those who grew up surrounded by computers) and the "digital immigrants" (the rest of us who arrived late to the party).

The book dips, at times, into stereotypical descriptions of generational clashes. Anecdotes describe the challenges that employers will face as they hire computer-savvy youngsters who are plugged in 24/7. Are there still tech-phobic fuddy-duddies who grouse that no one takes dictation anymore? Just in case, the book offers up a chapter on how to send e-mail and instant messages, a glossary of "high-tech" words and a primer on text messaging and emoticons: remedial language lessons for the "immigrants."

But is the generation gap as wide as this? Small and Vorgan acknowledge that, once thrown into the digital world, we all risk being sucked in. And in this new pounding, digital world we inhabit, it is crucial that we find ways to maintain the human connections - and by extension, neural connections - that help distinguish us from the machines to which we're attached. Perhaps we're all natives after all. {sbox}

Holly Tucker is associate professor of medicine, health and society and associate professor of French and Italian at Vanderbilt University. E-mail her at

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The Facts of Life: 17th-Century Style

Forget Cosmo. Forget Maxim. Anyone looking for sex advice in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-centuries would head straight to Nicolas Venette's The Mysteries of Conjugal Love Reveal'd.

Take a look at the two cupids uniting their hot torches to one another. That gives you a sense of the titillating tips that Venette's books contained--all for the purpose of making babies, of course!

So where
did babies come back then?

Until the late seventeenth century, humoralism was the primary way of understanding conception. Humoralism is associated with Galen, a second-century ACE Greek physician who lived in Rome. His work was substantially influenced by his predecessor Hippocrates.

Galen held that the body was governed by a system of fluids, of "humors": blood, phlegm, yellow bile, black bile. Each body had a "complexion" that was specific to the individual--and reflected a greater tendency toward one of the four humors. This complexion helped determine the overall health of the person, as well as their character. "Sanguine" folks were upbeat and energetic. "Phlegmatic" folks were lethargic and sad. Yellow bile led to "choleric" folks who flew easily off the handle. And depressed "melancolics" suffered from an over-abundance of black bile.

Men and women were very different from one another. Men were hot and dry; women cold and wet. (This helps to explain why men have private parts outside their bodies, more on that another time.)

For Galen, both men and women contributed "seed" in the sex act. The seeds mixed--and their overall quality of the mixture would determine whether a girl or a boy would be born. The birth of a boy was proof of the father's virility (his seed won the battle). The birth of a girl called the father's macho-ness into question.

In fact, the birth of a girl was frequently associated with marital sterility in the early-modern era.

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Putting Science in its Place

From time to time, I'll be offering up a spare advanced reader copy (ARC) or faculty review copies of books that will interest Wonders and Marvels readers. I get more of these than I know what to do with.

David Livingstone's Putting Science in Its Place is a great book. Well-researched, engagingly written. It has been especially helpful to me in my own research--which covers medical practices in seventeenth-century France, England, and Italy.

From the jacket: We are accustomed to thinking of science and its findings as universal. After all, one atom of carbon plus two of oxygen yields carbon dioxide in Amazonia as well as in Alaska; a scientist in Bombay can use the same materials and techniques to challenge the work of a scientist in New York; and of course the laws of gravity apply worldwide. Why, then, should the spaces where science is done matter at all? David N. Livingstone here puts that question to the test with his fascinating study of how science bears the marks of tis place of production.

Putting Science in its Place establishes the fundamental importance of geography in both the generation and the consumption of scientific knowledge, using historical examples of the many places where science has been practiced. Livingstone first turns his attention to some of the specific site where science has been made--the laboratory, museum, and botanical garden, to name some of the more conventional locales, but also places like the coffeehouse and cathedral, ship's deck and asylum, even the human body itself. In each case, he reveals just how the space of inquiry has conditioned the investigations carried out there. He then describes how, on a regional scale, provincial cultures have shaped scientific endeavor and how, in turn, scientific practices have been instrumental in forming local identities. Widening his inquiry, Livingston points gently to the fundamental instability of scientific meaning, based on case studies of how scientific theories have been received in different locales. Putting Science in Its Place powerfully concludes by examining the remarkable mobility of science and the seemingly effortless way it moves around the globe.

Click here to send an email if you'd like to put your name in the random drawing for this title.

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Gross Anatomy

This one goes out to all of the first-year medical and nursing students I know. The Dittrick Medical History Center at Case Western has an online exhibit on the history of gross anatomy classes--Haunting Images: Photography, Dissection and Medical Students. Just know that you're not alone as you memorize ever single, solitary, teeny-tiny anatomical structure imaginable. You're part of a very long history.

For those who can't get enough of this gross stuff, you might head over to the Morbid Anatomy website. It's a smart, well-researched site by someone who knows her stuff. And I thought that I had some peculiar interests!

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Need a haircut ?

I stumbled onto this illustration while I was doing some research on telescopes for my book. A woman is having her wig shaped by a French hairdresser on a step ladder. And the husband looks on, through a telescope.

The image is dated 1771, so I'm venturing into the 18th century--which is less familiar territory for me. But I have a sneaking suspicion that this is not an especially accurate representation of Enlightenment style. Anyone care to weigh in? Or want to offer some web links for the real scoop on hair just before the French Revolution?

For those content to remain safely in the Old Regime,
I can't recommend Joan De Jean's The Essence of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafes, Style, Sophistication, and Glamour highly enough. The title is a mouthful, but the book is a rousing (and well-researched) romp with the greatest Parisian trend-setters of all: the court of Louis XIV.

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Pig-Faced Lady of Manchester Square

"Teratology" is the big word in my class this week. We're focused on early-modern monsters. The term "monsters" is used very loosely to include anomalous flora, fauna, humans, and other worldly beasts. The ones that fascinate me most are the many creatures--part human, part other--that populate travel writings from Marco Polo to Mandeville; medical writings by Liceti and Pare; popular broadsides; and, of course, fairy tales.

Miss Piggy from Manchester Square up here delights the eyes and tickles the imagination. But I did have to chuckle awhile back at the publicity for one of my talks. Friends, I can tell you that I look nothing like her. She's much more sophisticated than I will ever be--and dresses much better to boot!

For those craving more: The most impressive book on early-modern monsters and marvels has to be Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park's Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150-1750. Jan Bondeson's books come in close second. Who knew that there were people who can spontaneously combust or that, still now, there are people who are born with tail-like appendages? A doctor and a sleuth extraordinare, Bondeson is on the case.

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What are your five favorites?

Stephanie Snow offers up a good start on the classics in Saturday's Wall Street Journal. Click on the WSJ link for detailed summaries of each.

What titles would you add?

Roy Porter, The Greatest Benefit to Mankind (Norton, 1997)
Paul Starr, The Social Transformation of American Medicine (Basic, 1982)
Nancy Tomes, The Gospel of Germs (Harvard, 1998)
Michael Bliss, The Discovery of Insulin (Chicago, 1982)
W.F. Bynum, The History of Medicine (Oxford, 2008)

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Early Midwifery

This image is by Abraham Bosse (ca. 1602-1676), whose engravings offer detailed glimpses into the daily life of early France.

Male midwives-surgeons did not enter the birthroom regularly until the late seventeenth century. More on that in another post. Until then, a new mother was surrounded by women and, occasionally. her husband. In this illustration, that would be the anxious man who looks out directly toward us, the viewers. He is clearly wondering what he got himself into!

At the first signs of labor, a fire would be started in the fireplace to keep the birth room warm. The fire would also ensure that no evil spirits could enter the space and wreak havoc on the labor. The windows would also be shut tight for that very reason.

The midwife carried just a few tools and supplies: butter, scissors, needle, and thread. The butter would be used to grease the wheels, so to speak, as the child emerged. The remaining items were for cutting and tying off the umbilical cord.

Speaking of umbilical cords...the talent of the midwife in this area was crucial for the future fertility of the family. For a girl, it was important to tight the cord off very closely to the baby's body. This would ensure that the girl's womb--as an adult--would hold tight to her fetus and allow her to take a pregnancy to term. And for boys, a good amount of cord should be left to dangle. Yes, you guessed it, so that his "yard" would also be nice and long. In the past as is now, size matters, I suppose.

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C-Sections before Anesthesia

By Holly Tucker

In 1581, Francois Rosset was one of the first surgeons to claim that the procedure could be done successfully. We know, however, that he never tried it himself. This did not, however, keep him from describing the case of a women who presumably survived the surgery not just once, but six times.

For as optimistic as Rosset may have been, he was something of a renegade thinker. More established surgeons like Ambroise Pare argued vehemently against the idea in 1585.

Almost 80 years later, doctors still considered the c-section to be a "great excess of inhumanity, of cruelty and of barbarity" (Mauriceau 1668). And others felt that performing a c-section would be the surest road to hell possible.

Now, keep in mind that anthesthia and antisepsis are nowhere near the medical radar in the 17th century. There were plenty of painful, unmedicated, surgeries performed at the time. But this one was particularly concerning because of high death rates. And, of course, not one--but two--lives were at stake.

By the 18th century, caesarian sections became increasingly common as surgeons refined the procedure. Early c-section incisions (despite the illustration above) were often done across the belly horizontally. Surgeons shifted from the paramedial incision to a central vertical incision, one that did not slice through quite as many muscles. By the end of the 18th century, surgeons such as Andre Levret were claiming that the procedure was "praticable on living women"--and argued that it was at times absolutely necessary.

Image: Wellcome Library

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Nose Jobs

As promised, a classic illustration from Gaspare Tagiacozzi's De curtorum chirurgia per insitionem (1597, book 2). Tagliocozzi shows autografting--grafts using the patient's own skin. In addition to the ravages of syphilis, nose jobs were needed to repair injuries in battle, but also after duels.

The question that I always get is: Did they work? The problem is that we do not have a lot a data on survival rates after such surgeries. We have a good number of case histories, but often there is more information about the specifics of the surgery--rather than the post-op outcomes.

I can say that it's important to remember that antisepsis and anesthesia were 19th-century discoveries. This means that surgery had an even more complex set of potential complications than it does today. Like most of the early-modern folks, I would certainly not line up to get a nose job or breast enhancement surgery just for the heck of it. Come to think of it...I wouldn't do that now anyway!

For more on all of this, I recommend Sander Gilman's excellent Making the Body Beautiful: A Cultural History of Aesthetic Surgery. Gilman is on the faculty at Emory and a top cultural historian.

Image courtesy of: Lilly Library, Medical Collections.

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Renaissance Plastic Surgery

I have a lot of former students who are either physicians or who are in medical school. In many ways, you guys provide the inspiration for these blogs!

Case in point. A former student just told me over Facebook (yes, Facebook--even I can't believe I use it) that she is doing a clinical preceptorship in plastic surgery. She'll be scrubbing in for the first time tomorrow morning. This one's for you, SD!

We can find illustrations of plastic surgery going back to the 16th century, particularly in the works of Gasparo Tagliacozzi (1546-1699). The most famous images from his surgical manuals have to be the nose jobs. Rhinoplasty remains front and center in the early-modern surgical imagination for one primary reason: syphillis. From what I understand, highly advanced cases of syphilis--as many were--can devastate the membranes around the nose. Tagliacozzi was among the first to attempt skin grafts. I'll post some pictures on that tomorrow.

One of my favorite medical figures, though, has to be the inimitable Ambroise Pare (1510-1590)--and I'm certain that he will show up on these pages frequently. Pare was a self-trained surgeon (as nearly of them were). A battlefield surgeon, Pare had an intense interest in helping restore lost limbs and mangled bodies more generally. His works are full of beautiful illustrations of mechanical limbs, prostheses, and techniques for what we'd now call plastic surgery.

Note to SD: here's an image to help you prep for your first surgery. Tell me if it looks anything like what you see tomorrow. Something makes me think it's a little more complicated than this!

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