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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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!)

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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!

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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).

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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

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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).

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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"']

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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.

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