RSS feed has moved!


Wonders & Marvels
has been magnificently redesigned. You can still find us at

But, you will need to resubscribe to your RSS reader feed. You can do that at the website; see the RSS button on the top right-hand portion of your screen.

You'll also find an email subscription option. This will allow you to sign up for weekly digests, single posts, or our monthly newsletter. We never share email information with others, and you can change your subscriptions at any time.

Stumble Upon Toolbar


East of the Sun

By Julia Clegson 

My research for East of the Sun began when I was five years old and met a remarkable woman called Mrs. Smith Pearse.  She was in her sixties and had just returned from twenty years of living in India.

Superficially, she was a classic Memsahib- the literal translation means wife of the Sahib, the master.  She’d gone to India, aged eighteen, as a member of the Fishing Fleet, the slightly derogatory name given to the English girls who went to India for the social season in search of husbands.

I loved everything about her: the battered tweeds, the honking laugh, the wonderful stories about India: the snakes under the bath, the tiger hunts with Maharajahs, the three day treks on ponies up to Simla.  I dressed up in tiny silk saris, spice-scented tunics and salwar kameeze, produced from her mother of pearl trunk.

Four years ago, I met her nephew.  He had a box of tape recordings made by her. Listening to these tapes as an adult made me realize that the India that had given her pleasure had taken in equal measure.  My childhood heroine spoke on the tapes of the agony of missing children sent home to be educated.

“It was the biggest decision we all had to make: husband or child.”  Passionately fond of nursing- she’d served with distinction in France in 1917- in India, she was only allowed to run a few village clinics- working Memsahib were frowned on.

Other women of the Raj spoke to me of botched births in remote areas, of burying young children, of flies and heat and snakes, of runaway or workaholic husbands, of terrible homesickness.

Because the British suffer from post- colonial guilt the Memsahib is often portrayed in literature or films as a gin swilling, narrow-minded snob. Some, of course, deserve our contempt; many didn’t. It’s easy to forget how young and ill prepared and uneducated many of these women were.

East of the Sun is my raised glass to these women: to their friendships, their naiveté, to the men they loved, to the work they did, and for the price they paid in loving India.

Julia Clegson is the author of East of the Sun.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

King Charles II: One Merry Monarch

By Susan Holloway Scott

A great many important historical events occurred during the reign of Charles II (1660-1685), including the last outbreak of the plague and the Great Fire. But Charles himself is most remembered today for his love life, unique among English kings. Charles loved women, and women loved him. From high-born ladies to lowly milkmaids, women of every rank found him pretty near irresistible. It wasn’t just that he was king. Charles genuinely liked women, particularly clever, amusing women who could entertain them with their wit as well as in his bed, and they clearly returned the favor many times over.

No one knows the exact number of women Charles had sex with in his lifetime. It was not uncommon for him to call upon one mistress in the afternoon, visit his queen’s bed in the evening, frolic with another mistress after that, and then wind up the night at a brothel. The man famously required almost no sleep.

In addition to his wife and queen, Catherine of Braganza, Charles kept three main mistresses over the course of his reign: Barbara Villiers Palmer, Nell Gwyn, and Louise de Keroualle. These were the women rewarded with titles, houses, estates, incomes, and jewels, and political power. There were far more who only received the pleasure of the royal person, and perhaps a coin or two besides.

The greatest irony of Charles’s reign is that while he sired fourteen natural children (!) that he acknowledged with titles, his queen never bore him a legitimate son and heir. At his death in 1685, Charles’s crown passed to his incompetent brother James. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 followed soon after, and England never again had a ruler who was quite as merry as Charles, the “Merrie Monarch.”

Susan Holloway Scott is the author of The French Mistress: A Novel of the Duchess of Portsmouth & King Charles II. For more about her books, please visit her website at

Stumble Upon Toolbar


Here are a few of our favorite things...

Who can identify the edifice above? Send along your most interesting bit of lesser-known (and documented) trivia about it or a personal story. For the person who sends the best story, we'll arrange for a copy of a Wonders & Marvels featured book to be sent your way.

In the meantime, a few websites that history geeks simply don't want to miss:

History News Network

American Historical Society Blog

The Historical Society Blog

Curious Expeditions


For those who just can't get enough, check out this never-ending list of history blogs.
Who said folks aren't interested in history and the humanities anymore!

HNN history blogroll

Stumble Upon Toolbar


Renaissance Nose Jobs

By Holly Tucker

For your viewing pleasure: a classic illustration from Gaspare Tagliacozzi's De curtorum chirurgia per insitionem (1597, book 2).

Tagliacozzi 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.

Stumble Upon Toolbar


Henry Hudson's Lost Voyage

By Peter C. Mancall

On April 17, 1610, the English sea captain Henry Hudson maneuvered his small ship called Discovery out of St. Katherine’s dock in London toward the Northwest Passage, the water route Europeans believed connected the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. On board were twenty-two men and two boys, one of whom was Hudson’s seventeen-year old son.

In the late summer of 1610 the captain guided the Discovery into modern Hudson Bay. He decided to spend the winter in Canadian waters even though he knew the ship would become trapped in ice. At some point during the bitterly cold months, some crew members decided they had suffered enough. When June came and the bay thawed, rebels put Hudson, his son, and seven loyal or ill men on a small boat (known as a shallop) and set them adrift. According to the survivors, the mutineers soon met a just fate when a group of Inuit killed four of them. A fifth rebel died, apparently of malnutrition, as the boat sailed homeward.

Sixteen months after its initial departure the Discovery, its decks stained with blood, returned to London with seven men and one boy. The survivors blamed the mutiny on the five men who had since died, but lingering suspicions about the captain’s fate prompted the High Court of Admiralty to investigate further. The suspects could not be charged with mutiny, because there was no such crime in England yet. The sailors had not committed treason because private financiers, rather than the King, owned the ship. The court charged four of the survivors with murder for purportedly exposing those on the shallop. But the accused were exonerated, probably because the court lacked evidence to prove that they had caused Hudson’s demise.

The bodies of Hudson and his last companions have never been found. No one was ever punished for the crime.

Peter C. Mancall is the author of Fatal Journey: The Final Expedition of Henry Hudson.

Stumble Upon Toolbar


Was There a Scientific Revolution?

History has often been marked contrasts, "before's," and "after's." BC/AD, Medieval/Renaissance, pre-industrial/post-industrial, post-9/11...

The 17th and 18th centuries are linked, of course, to a big break: the 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 (image above) for one. But the question is: was it a specific moment of Revolution...or more of progressive sea-change in world view?

Scholars have spilled gallons of ink exploring this question: Michel Foucault, Frances Yates, Alexandre Koyre, Raymond Williams, just to name the few who come immediately to mind. And still more gallon have been spilled by the vociferous responses their works have elicited.

But what are your thoughts? Be sure to leave a comment!

Here at Wonders & Marvels, one of our favorite quotes comes from Steven Shapin's The Scientific Revolution.

"There was no such thing as the Scientific Revolution," he writes, "and this is a book about it."

Stumble Upon Toolbar


Magic and Medicine in Harry Potter

Do Mandrakes Really Scream? This was a question that the National Library of Medicine posed in their magnificent "Magic and Medicine in Harry Potter" exhibit awhile back. The exhibition takes a close look at the facts, fictions, and legends in references to the healing arts in Harry Potter. Very nicely done.

By the way, if you haven't yet explored the NLM's online exhibitions, you really should! Among the many highlights, is the "Dream Anatomies" exhibition. A visually stunning and informative look into early anatomy and dissection.

Another NLM favorite for us here at
Wonders & Marvels is the "Turning the Pages" project. Where else can you flip through a copy of Conrad Gesner's Historiae animalium while stretched out on your couch, laptop in hand? The image quality is extraordinary.

And to answer the question about whether mandrakes scream...first-hand experience suggests they don't. We tried it out at a local nature preserve, where mandrakes grow freely in the lush hills of the south. Darn!

Image: Gerarde, "Mandrake Root" (1636) from another impressive online collection of images, hosted by the University of Colorado: The World of Gloriana: Books and Manuscripts from the Age of Elizabeth I.

Stumble Upon Toolbar


Holy Foreskin!

By David Farley

When I first heard about the Holy Foreskin, I thought—like a lot of people—it was a joke, either the title of a foreskin fetish magazine or something straight from the mind of a perverted Batman fan. I’d majored in history—focusing on the medieval and Renaissance periods in Europe—and I had a particular interest in the saints and their relics. Yet, in the research I’d done for papers as an undergraduate and grad student, this once-rapturous remain had never come up. Which intrigued me because once I started doing a bit of research—blew a bit of dust off the documents, so to speak—I found out there was a lot of relatively buried material about the history of Jesus’ foreskin.

After moving to the village of Calcata, 30 miles of Rome, the last place the Holy Foreskin had been seen, I wasn’t sure if broaching the topic of the missing relic would be taboo. But, much to my surprise, pretty much everyone wanted to share their knowledge on the history of the relic and their theories on what happened to it. Everyone except the priest, under whose watch it disappeared. (I eventually did get him to talk, but you’ll have to read the book to find out what happened.) Then I talked my way into the Vatican Library and, after enough digging around, unearthed some centuries-old papal-approved booklets about the history of this miraculous membrane. All the documents—complete with an impratur that stated papal approval—put the Calcata foreskin at the center of attention, but they always dedicated some discussion to the other Holy Foreskins that were floating around Europe (though mostly in France) during the Middle Ages (most of the other foreskin relics were lost during the Reformation and French Revolution).

But the publications on the relic abruptly stopped after the 19th century. The reason? In 1900, Pope Leo XIII issued a decree stating that anyone who spoke of or wrote about the relic would face excommunication. I was officially intrigued. How did a relic go from being a major pilgrim magnet to being banned by the church centuries later? Factor in the mysterious disappearance of the relic from Calcata in 1983 and we’ve got a genuine historical mystery on our hands.

David Farley is author of An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church's Strangest Relic in Italy's Oddest Town.To learn more about David and his book, visit

Image: Calcata, Holy Foreskin Niche, courtesy of the author

Stumble Upon Toolbar


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.

Stumble Upon Toolbar


What's For Dinner? Porpoise anyone?

Time once again for this week's Marvelous Link...

From the BBC via the University of Manchester Library comes this short video and write-up on medieval cookery.

The Forme of Cury was published around 1420--and is now available online. My favorite quote in the interview was: "These aren't like a modern cookery book. This doesn't give you precise quantities or time. But great for experimenting."

From what I've read in the The Good Wife's Guide: A Medieval Household Book, I'll take a pass on whipping up some good medieval eats.

As tasty as that porpoise stew recipe sounds, it's just too hard to find fresh porpoise at my local Kroger (Publix, Dominicks, Harris Teeter, Piggly Wiggly, whatever).

So about the image: Porpoises are close enough to Dolphins for this Midwestern girl. Dolphins make me think of the French word dauphin. Dauphin makes me think that they called the heir apparent to the French throne, le Dauphin. And this makes me think of Louis le Grand Dauphin (above), who was Louis XIV's eldest son (1661-1711). See, there's always a 17th century connection... (Plus it's the weekend and 150 degrees here, that would make anyone a little punchy!)

Stumble Upon Toolbar


Literary Travels

By Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon

A century before we traveled to Brontë Country in northern England, Virginia Woolf embarked on her own literary pilgrimage to the heather-strewn Yorkshire Moors, once home to literary sisters Charlotte, Emily and Anne. In a newspaper essay, Woolf noted that her excitement upon approaching “had in it an element of suspense,” as though she were to meet a long-separated friend. We felt the same emotion while touring the parsonage where the three sisters spent most of their short lives, and while rambling along the moors most famously depicted by Emily Brontë in
Wuthering Heights.

When researching our book Novel Destinations: Literary Landmarks from Jane Austen’s Bath to Ernest Hemingway’s Key West, we were surprised to discover that literary travel is a tradition that goes back hundreds of years. Readers descended on Concord, Massachusetts, in the 1800s, hoping to catch a glimpse of Louisa May Alcott, the publicity-shy author of Little Women. Nathaniel Hawthorne visited Sir Walter Scott’s castle, Abbotsford, in the Scottish border country, and noted that the worn cuffs of the author’s old green coat on display in the study provoked a feeling that he was nearby. Writerly pals Henry James and Edith Wharton pilgrimaged to the French château of their literary idol, George Sand—and fittingly, modern-day bibliophiles can visit homes that once belonged to the globetrotting duo.

James’ red-brick house in the English countryside contrasts modestly with Wharton’s lavish Berkshire Mountains estate, The Mount, where her love of travel is on full display. She designed the centerpiece, a 42-room mansion, using classic European design principles, along with French- and Italianate-style gardens. Perhaps recalling their travels, James described The Mount as “a delicate French château mirrored in a Massachusetts pond.”

Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon are the authors of Novel Destinations: Literary Landmarks from Jane Austen’s Bath to Ernest Hemingway’s Key West.

Stumble Upon Toolbar


C-Sections Before Anesthesia

By Holly Tucker

C-sections were 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.

More on early c-sections

More on the history of anesthesia

Stephanie Snow on anesthesia's dark side

Image: Wellcome Library for the History of Medicine, London

Stumble Upon Toolbar


Wonders on the Web

By Holly Tucker

Lots of great finds this week on the, now without delay, here are some highlights for your reading pleasure.

History of Anesthesia
The use of anesthesia in medical procedures is an ultra-modern phenomenon--at least by my measure as someone who works in 16th to 18th century medicine.

Anesthesia did not come into being much before the mid-19th century. The Boston Globe had a great article this week on The Day that Pain Died, the story of the first use of ether in surgery (October 16, 1846).

You might also take a peek at Stephanie Snow's article here on Wonders & Marvels about Anesthesia's Dark Side. The advent of anesthesia was a boon for pain management--and for criminal acts...

History of Bookbinding
I will admit it openly and freely: I am a certified bibliophile. And I'm not alone.

The Telegraph published a fascinating article about the history of bookmaking and a couple of exhibits well worth attending. (Alas, if only I didn't live an ocean away...)

But, by far, my favorite weblink of the week has to be this one. I have found who shares my 17th-century book fetishes!

Daily Life in 17th Century England: 17th Century Book Bindings

I want her, I want her library!

Image: Ernest Board, "The First Use of Ether in Dental Surgery, 1846" (ca. 1920). Courtesy of the Wellcome Library for the History of Medicine

Stumble Upon Toolbar


History Resources

By Holly Tucker

As someone who works in early history, I often get asked where I find my books and information.

Things have changed dramatically since my grad school days when you had to pay a referen
ce librarian to run an online database search. To my delight, I've been finding more and more 17th-century texts online at specialized collections. This doesn't replace the thrill of the hunt in person. And I don't think that I could go too long without getting dusty in the archives, like I did just recently in Rome and in Paris.

Plus some places are just too amazing to miss.

But for those of us who are stuck to their computer chairs and can't venture out to exotic locales...let me recommend some of my favorite resources for history research in the earlier periods.

I have spoken to a number of friends who are writers outside of academe. I understand deeply the frustration of not having access to many of the resources that are available to college and university faculty. But do know that if you happen to live near a college, it is often possible to get research privileges there. You may or may not be able to check out books--but you will definitely be able to access the databases. And more and more, so much of what you'll need can be found online.

For databases, my first stops are always:

1. Historical Abstracts
2. History of Science, Technology, and Medicine
3. Modern Language Association (MLA) bibliography
4. Cambridge Histories

For full-text online resources, the choices have become plentiful in the past few years. Here are few of my favorites. Please do share others in the comments!

Open access collections include:

1. The Bibliotheque Nationale in France. Their Gallica collection is ever-expanding and its breadth often stunning. I have found books there that are so esoteric (a 17th-century treatise on snakebites, anyone)--but when you need them, it's always a treat to find them there.

2. Digital Book Index, supported by the National Union Catalogue (which catalogues holdings in libraries across the U.S.)

3. The British Library's "turning the pages" project

4. Project Gutenburg

Two subscription-based collections have saved my research skin when I needed something FAST:



Finally, I have two research crushes...

The first is the Bibliotheque interuniversitaire de Medicine (Paris), which is home to the archives of the University of Paris Medical School. The librarians there, including Mme Molitor and Mme Lambert, have been extraordinarily helpful in my quest to find needles in haystacks. The new reproduction service (OED) is very efficient and not exorbitantly expensive--which is a nice change from the status quo when it comes to French library reproductions.

The second is the Wellcome Library for the History of Medicine. Again, a great staff of incredibly knowledgeable librarians and bibliophiles. I've had the pleasure of working there twice during extended research trips. In fact, I couldn't have written my first book or be writing this latest book without the Wellcome. And truly, it's image collection is a marvel to behold.

Greedy for more library goodies? Take a peek at "Resources for Inquiring Minds" and "Cabinet of Images" in the side links.

Image: Catalogue card for Ambroise Pare, 16th century surgeon. BIUM

Stumble Upon Toolbar


Hendrik Cesars and the Tragedies of Race in South Africa

By Clifton Crais and Pamela Scully

When we began researching our biography of Sara Baartman we thought we knew what we would find. Two white men brought Sara Baartman to 19th-century London, where she was put on show in Piccadilly. Every study, every bit of popular knowledge representing Sara Baartman's life as the "Hottentot Venus," had said so.

Newspapers in London at the time described Hendrik Cesars as a colonist. The extraordinary efforts to return Baartman's remains, beginning soon after South Africa's first democratic elections and ending in her state funeral in 2002, had represented her life as that of a black woman taken advantage of by white men. President Thabo Mbeki has said as much in his eulogy, extending his comments to a denunciation of Western science, indeed the entire Enlightenment.

We would discover, however, that Cesars was, in the racial categorization of the Cape, a "free black." His descendants were slaves, brought forcibly to South Africa to work on the farms and in the city. Cesars's wife also descended from slaves. The couples' life in a poor section of Cape Town remained indelibly marked by slavery. Laws prohibited them from wearing fancy clothes. They had to apply for permission to leave the area. And they were barred from many of the economic opportunities "free burghers" enjoyed. One of the men responsible for Sara Baartman's exploitation was, himself, subjected to prejudice.

South Africans, and indeed most of the modern world, can only see others for the color of their skin. Modern racism and its many legacies seems to have forever shaped how one speak of others, our very apprehensions of past and present. This is not how the world always was. Hendrik Cesars's complexion was "white", even as he was known by others in the Cape as "free black." This is why when Cesars traveled
to England Londoners saw him as a white man, a colonial settler, a mean, violent master. They could not see him for what he was, could not understand his humanity even as they criticized his actions, the decisions he made. And this is how it remains, regrettably, today.

Clifton Crais and Pamela Scully are authors of Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus: A Ghost Story and a Biography.

Stumble Upon Toolbar


Midwives and Witches

by Bronwyn Backstrom (Vanderbilt University)

The ideas of witches and witchcraft have been around for centuries and were hot topics. Witches were typically identified as older single women of lower class. Throughout history, there has been a stereotype that only women, specifically midwives and other women-healers, were witches. Women were targets because of the tradition of misogyny; women's participation in folk-healing; and changes in the awareness of female nature, their family and economic roles, and ideas of women's social behavior.

Female witches were accused of three main things: female sexuality (this included every sexual crime against men), organization, and having magical powers (both good and bad) that affected one's health. Witchcraft was considered to go against the Catholic Church. It was considered a threat to God's holy order because it was not based on scripture or religion. In addition, all witchcraft was considered based off of carnal lust, or strong sexual desires, with evil spirits.

The Malleus Maleficarum, meaning "Hammer of Witches," was written in 1484 by two reverends: Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger. This book contains everything one needs to know about witches and witchcraft at the time, from what defines a witch and how they become one, to the sentences they would receive because of their participation in witchcraft. It also contains information on witch-midwives.

According to Malleus Maleficarum, witch-midwives were considered the most wicked and dangerous witches, who inflicted the greatest injuries. This is because they dealt with the health of others and had easy access to newborn children, who were used in offerings for the evil spirits. Witch-midwives were accused of causing miscarriages; however, if they allowed a child to be born, they would allegedly either feast on the child or offer it to the evil spirits, allowing the witches to infect the child and turn it into a witch.

The evil spirits called the witch-midwives to offer them newborn children for several reasons. One was for their pride. Another was to disguise the act of infidelity as a virtue. By associating children with the evil spirits, the witches drew in more innocent people, making it easier for them to turn into witches. Finally, they used the children to fill their ranks. When the evil spirits infected children at an early age, turning them to witches, they could set them aside to be used in the future as needed.

There was a decline in accusations against women as witches between the 17th and 18th centuries because of the increase in male midwives. Men began to replace women, resulting in fewer women in the field who could be accused of witchcraft.

Image: Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger. Malleus Maleficarum, 1669. (Courtesy of Wellcome Library, London.)

Brauner, Sigrid. Fearless Wives and Frightened Shrews: The Construction of the Witch in Early Modern Germany. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1995.

Ehrenreich, Barbara, and Deirdre English. Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers. Old Westbury: Feminist Press, 1973.

Kramer, Heinrich, and James Sprenger. Malleus Maleficarum. Trans. Reverend Montague Summers. Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 2007.

Stumble Upon Toolbar


Interview: Katherine Howe

Katherine Howe, the author of Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, was adventurous enough to do our first Author Interview for Wonders & Marvels.

Katherine and I had a chance to touch bases this week about her thoughts on the book and why the study of history should matter.

My favorite quote from the interview: "It's unfair to accuse people of being crazy just because they happened to live in the past."

Absolutely. The study of past lives demands a deep level of respect as well as a willingness to enter into a world that may not be at all like our own. It means trying to understand and inhabit the cultural, political, and economic logic of the time--as well as its inconsistencies.

It means listening to the dominant, as well as the silenced, voices. And to do this requires patience, aptitude for meticulous research, and a willingness to share with others (both inside and outside academe) the things that we have seen in our journeys to the past.

What are your thoughts about all of this?

Looking forward to your comments on this first interview. And as Katherine said, she would love to respond to any questions you might have. We'll forward them to her without delay.

Note as well that Harvard University Bookstore will be hosting a book signing with Katherine on June 23 at 7pm.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday Marvels

Two articles caught our attention this week. The first was this story about a “
17th-century Urine Filled Witch Bottle.

Apparently, according to the latest issue of
British Archeology (and as reported by MSNBC), “this spell device, often meant to attract and trap negative energy, was particularly common from the 16th to the 17th centuries, so the discovery provides a unique insight into witchcraft beliefs of that period.” Looks like we’re not the only ones fascinated with witches!

And from the Wellcome Library for the
History of Medicine London comes some thoughtful reflections on a painting by the 19th century Solomon Hart depicting an encounter between Galileo and Milton (Galileo and Jewish Emancipation).

If you haven’t subscribed to the Wellcome’s blog, be sure to do so. The Wellcome Library is a simply magnificent collection for anyone interested in the History of Medicine or early cultural history. For the cooks among us, they also have a great collection of 16
th and 17th century cookbooks.

Heads up: there’s a new book out called
Galileo Goes to Jail with top-notch articles by many of the most renowned historians of science today. Be sure to have a look.

Image: Courtesy of

Stumble Upon Toolbar


Our Marvelous New Editorial Assistant

Please give a warm hello to Jennie S., our new Editorial Assistant for Wonders and Marvels. Jennie is finishing up a degree in Art History and will soon be headed off to Italy to sniff out the wonders for us there.

What drew you to art history?

I fell in love with art history when I was 16. I spent a summer in Florence, Italy studying Italian language and the city's vast history of art. It didn't take long before I was head over heels for this city. It seemed like every turn I took led me to another beautiful Cathedral, or a piazza filled with statues and fountains. To say the least, it was one incredible summer. When I got to college and had to decide what my focus might be, the choice was pretty clear--my heart had settled on art history years ago. I'm ecstatic to be returning to Italy to study this Fall.

Who are your favorite artists or compositions?

I have many among the Renaissance art I studied--Botticelli's The Birth of Venus, Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam, and Fra Angelico's Annunciation, to name a few. However, I consider Degas to be my favorite artist of all time. I know, I juxtapose. But I have always loved his dancers and find him brilliant in the way he captures their movement and spirit.

And in the W&M spirit, what's the your favorite wacky history story?

Well, in the spirit of witch week here at W&M, I'd definitely have to say the Salem Witch trials. Such off the wall accusations about innocent people, but done with a chilling passion and conviction. I've read Arthur Miller's The Crucible over ten times and each time Abigail seems more villainous and the Proctor's fate more tragic, but I am hauntingly enthralled nonetheless. In my art history studies I've learned many more wild history tales, but that's fodder for another post. So stay tuned!

Jennie S. can be contacted at:
editorial.assistant [at]

Be sure to let her know what you'd love to see here at Wonders and Marvels!

In the meantime, be sure to take a look at some of our favorite witch tales from

Katherine Howe, author of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

Kathleen Kent, author of The Heretic's Daughter

Thomas Robisheaux, author of The Last Witch of Lagenburg

And the Salem Witch Trials Documentary and Transcription Project

Image: Sandro Botticelli, Primavera (detail) Uffizi Gallery, 1482.

Stumble Upon Toolbar


Heads Up

Big changes are afoot at Wonders and Marvels! We've hired two new Editorial Assistants as well as an amazing web designer to spiff things up around here.

In the meantime, there is a possibility, however small, that Wonders and Marvels may go dim, for short sojourns.

Please be patient. Good things come to those who wait, or so we've heard!

Stumble Upon Toolbar


Can Witch Trials Be Reasonable?

By Katherine Howe

No matter how many Salem books appear, the question of New England witchcraft never seems to be exhausted. It forces us to confront the fragility of some of Americans' dearest assumptions about ourselves: that we are tolerant, that we value the socially marginalized, that we are rational and can be persuaded by reasoned argument. Salem means that we can't take our toleration for granted. Instead, we hunt for justification. Usually we point to “hysteria,” as though living in the past, according to a past set of beliefs, automatically makes one crazy.

But it is not so. They weren't crazy at all.

In 1690s New England, Salem was only the most extreme example of an otherwise common legal problem. We don't bother to legislate against imaginary threats, after all. The Salem participants – accusers, accused, judges, jury, theologians, the lieutenant governor – all lived in a religious system which assumed witchcraft to be real. The Salem episode was unusual for its breadth and longevity, facts not lost on observers at that time. But for people who believed themselves to occupy still-new lands “that were once the Devil's territories,” the presence of Satan working through earthly interlocutors was a credible, and terrifying, threat. Looked at from this perspective, the Salem trials resemble the most rational response available to a community struggling to free itself from the ravages of evil incarnate.

The idea of witch-hunting as rational, however, might be too chilling to contemplate. A mere decade after the panic ended, several participants began to regret their role in the trials; Samuel Sewall, a judge, and Ann Putnam, an afflicted girl, both made humble public apologies for their participation in what they now felt was a miscarriage of justice. The speed with which Salem was reconsidered, even in the colonial world, is itself reassuring – even they thought they were being crazy! Phew.

And yet, for the first many months of 1691/92, inquiry into the presence of witches in Essex County was anything but crazy. In fact, it was imperative, given the cultural and religious structures in place in that community at that time. One wonders what other assumptions, imperative in our own time, will be hysterical in another?

Spread the Wonder, email this to a friend

Katherine Howe is author of The Physick Book Deliverance Dane, just published by Voice (Hyperion).

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Question of the Week

Ok folks, it's Witch Week here. We're needing your thoughts on this one:

Are you a good witch or a bad witch? If you could cast any spell, what would it be?

For the witchly readers among us, we're always looking for great titles about magic! So bring it on...

And speaking of magic, Katherine Howe's
Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is among our top reads right now. Be sure to take a peek at her post on Wonders & Marvels: Can Witch Trials be Reasonable?

Spread the Wonder, email this to a friend

Stumble Upon Toolbar


History as Mirror

By Edith B. Gelles

There are parallels between Presidents Adams and Obama, ways in which our current president can take comfort and, perhaps, learn lessons from this long gone predecessor. Strange as this coupling may appear, there are overarching similarities between them that should offer lessons from history for the new president.

Unlikely though real, both Adams and Obama come to their ideological commitment from similar backgrounds, common experiences that fundamentally shaped their thinking. First, both were “outsiders.” No need rehearse the President’s background that has brought a deep cultural shift in this country. But, as John Adams liked to say about himself: he was a duck among swans. The most popular and influential politicians of his age and four of the first five presidents hailed from the South.

Second, both John Adams and Barack Obama were trained in and practiced law. Training for the bar produces a method of thinking. It is a discipline that is learned and forms an automatic means of responding to problems. But neither Adams nor Obama was comfortable with the practice of law and each found a way out of its standard professional performance. “O that I was a soldier,” moaned Adams at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, but since he lacked the background to become a general, he became a politician. Mr. Obama came to politics via community organizing.

Religion created for both men not just a lifelong belief system, but a moral code and ethical approach that became part of their natures. In fact, Mr. Obama’s now more conservative religious stance conforms in many ways to John Adams’s then liberal religious approach: belief in God, in a hereafter, and the preciousness of the individual life. Moreover, their religion taught them that the divine spark in a person mandates devotion to public service, and service implied the duty to make the world a better place than they found it.

History provides a mirror, not just for us ordinary citizens to understand our own era by seeing it in context with the past with its similarities and differences, but for our leaders in their quest for solutions to their daunting challenges. President John Adams, by his example, provides some perspective to his distant successor President Barack Obama.

Edith B. Gelles is Senior Scholar at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University. She is author of Abigail and John: Portrait of a Marriage (William Morrow).

Stumble Upon Toolbar


Question of the Week

We're still trying to work out the kinks on the Question of the Week feature. By George, I think we're close! So please indulge a duplicate post--and if you haven't left YOUR two cents, then why not do it now?

If you could witness any historical event, which one would it be?

[Image: Jacques-Louis David, "Coronation of Napoleon"']

Stumble Upon Toolbar


Medieval Women's Magazines

The Toronto Star published an interesting article last week on the discovery of what looks to be one of the earliest examples of a woman's magazine. No glossy images of waif-life models in heavy makeup in the Middle Ages, apparently.

Head here for the full article
. A nod is due to Slate's new Double X website (http:// for the lead.

Stumble Upon Toolbar


Inquiring Minds

Wonders & Marvels has been around now for about 9 months and has developed a strong and devoted following of readers who have plenty to say.

Take a look at the "Question of the Week" feature over there on your left. This week's question:

"If you could witness any historical event, what would it be?"

Just click on the link, and it will take you to our new discussion page. Here's the place to share thoughts/ideas/questions with other history/bookish/historical fiction folks.

And while we're at it, can anyone suggest a good image for this post?
I'm afraid my clever creative juices have run dry on this hot weekend afternoon.

Can't wait to get the discussion going!!

Stumble Upon Toolbar