Blogs > Cliopatria > Carnivalesque #6

Jul 5, 2005 4:01 am

Carnivalesque #6

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"I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, nor hate them, but to understand them." -- Baruch Spinoza, Tractatus Politicus (1677)
This is a roundup of the best blogging on Early Modern History (c. 1450-1850) since the last Carnivalesque in early May. In the process, I've read lots of stuff from historians, philosophers, art lovers, historical fiction aficionados and authors, scientists, literateurs and plain old fans of regions or periods. I'm grateful to the Mistresses of Misrule, Sharon Howard and Julie Hoffman, for the opportunity to turn this world upside down and see what shakes out.
"One of the disadvantages of wine [or blogging] is that it makes a man mistake words for thoughts." -- Samuel Johnson
Carnivalesque Button was a quarterly roundup of early modern blogging, but as the historical blogosphere has matured -- evidenced, I hope, by this collection -- it became apparent that there was enough material to expand. So Carnivalesque will now be monthly, alternating between Early Modern and Ancient/Medieval editions. The August edition will be an Ancient/Medieval roundup: (host and site to be determined; step up or at least) send nominations of the best posts you've written or read in the last few months to carnivalesque[at]hotmail[dot]co[dot]uk.
"A historian [blogger] has many duties. Allow me to remind you of two which are important. The first is not to slander; the second is not to bore." -- Voltaire
The usual rule of carnivals limits people to one nomination per blogger; that's a fine guideline when you're sending stuff to the host, but as host I'm going to shamelessly violate that with regard to a few truly remarkable early modernists. It's also traditional to be creative in organizing and presenting the posts: I'm going to shamelessly violate that guideline as well, limiting my creativity to the liberal display of early modern quotations from my personal collection [with blogworthy interpolations] of pithy wisdom.

Would Ben Franklin have Blogged?

"The old nobility would have survived if they had known enough to become masters of printing materials [or blogs]." -- Napoleon Bonaparte
The argument between blogging triumphalists and naysayers has become tiresome, but Caleb McDaniel injected new life into the discussion by comparing blogging with early American print culture, particularly the proliferation of newspapers and pamphlets of the early 19th century: in short, blogging is neither entirely new as reading and writing behavior, nor is it an insignificant change in social habits. Even academic blogging isn't really conceptually new. Michelle Francl noted Robert Boyle's"Invisible College," a distributed consortium of research laboratories, sharing information and techniques towards common understandings.

American Conversations

"Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man." -- Francis Bacon,"Of Studies"
Blogging is a fine way to carry on discussions. Ralph Luker and Manan Ahmed have invented a tradition here at Cliopatria: the symposium, starting with the American historiography of the American Revolution. That already contested territory is further complicated if you extend the field of view: Callimachus reminds us, for example, of what English conservative Edmund Burke thought of the American rebels, and Ben Brumfield has been sharing the writings of a Hessian mercenary on the origins of and conduct of soldiers in the Revolution.
"Doubt is not a pleasant mental state, but certainty is a ridiculous one." -- Voltaire
Getting past the revolution, the young United States had to define itself and also began to expand. Ralph Luker and Marc Comtois had a vigorous discussion of the secularity of the early Republic; James Oakes had a few words on the subject as well. And, in this 200th anniversary year of the Lewis and Clarke expeditions, it's fitting that there's some people thinking about our westward expansion: Geitner Simmons cites pre-Lewis and Clarke exploration of the upper Missouri River region, Carolyn Smith-Kitzer lives the French and Indian life, and Michael Benson shares some of his research on an early 19c trading post in Arkansas.

Matters of Faith

"Our God and soldier we alike adore
Ev'n at the brink of danger; not before:
after deliverance, both alike requited
Our God's forgotten, and our soldiers slighted."
-- Francis Quarles (1632)
There was a surprising (to me, anyway) quantity of early modern Judaism in the blogosphere this time around. Jonathan Edelstein cited an early 19c sexual harrassment case [no, they didn't call it that] which featured a Jewish employer and a Christian servant. Adam tackled a zombie error he encountered in a major daily newspaper, common misconceptions about medieval and early modern Iberia. And, as if Russia didn't have enough trouble, a Russian prosecutor investigated a compendium of Jewish law for saying, perhaps, nasty things about early modern Russian ancestors.
"The Christian religion not only was at first attended with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one." -- David Hume (1748)
Of course, one of the central moments in the Early Modern era was the Reformation (or Reformations, if you insist). Tim Burke, for fun, reviewed MacColloch's new survey, The Reformation and found it adequate: a good, if long, narrative reconstruction of the state of scholarship on the period; a useful book for professor and student alike. If you just want a small snippet, though, here's a bit of preaching from Luther himself, and in case you thought we'd put it all behind us, David Morgan draws historical parallels between our running evolution/ID debate and Copernicus' entry on the Index of Banned Books.
"Consider your origins: you were not made to live as brutes, but to follow virtue and knowledge." -- Dante Alighieri, Inferno
Of course, religion is supposed to be a guide to living, so sometimes, as in 1597, religious leaders had to remind the faithful of their moral responsibilities, and if that didn't work, they might actually have to read them the riot act. Sometimes religious definitions and rules change, and then we all have to take a deep breath....
"They called me mad, and I called them mad, and damn them, they outvoted me." -- Nathaniel Lee (late 17c), cited in R. Porter, A Social History of Madness (1987)
Long ago, people used to write letters to each other about what they read: now the blogosphere has book clubs, like the crew at 400 Windmills, working their way through Don Quixote. Cool! (maybe next time I'll get invited...) Bud Parr had the temerity to question Don Quixote's courage (to be fair, the question of whether it's really courage if you're actually nuts is worth some consideration), and fellow reader/bloggers Ana Maria Correa and Anne Fernald took up the question.

Knowledge and Beauty

"What can I know? What ought I to do? What may I hope?" -- Immanuel Kant
Nobody in the blogosphere handles philosophy, particularly early modern philosophy, with more grace and depth than Brandon Watson; now I find that he takes requests (and self-nominates, which is even rarer)! In this case, he works through Malebranche and Berkeley's attempts to solve the insoluble mystery of the Moon Illusion on the horizon.

Zheng He's voyages were discovered by another blogger: Yeah, technically it's the early 15c, but if Ming isn't early modern in China, I don't know what is; I certainly don't know how or why you would distinguish it from the pretty clearly early modern Qing. On the other hand, early modern in Japan doesn't start until after the 1590s invasion of Korea. I don't want to start another periodization fight; I'm just saying.

"Love, in the form in which it exists in society, is nothing but the exchange of two fantasies and the superficial contact of two bodies." -- Nicolas-Sébastian Chamfort, Maximes et Pensées (1796)
Natalie Bennett wrestled with some of the issues around historical fiction (and Mistress Howard in comments has some very useful tidbits, too). Naturally, it's still fiction, and some of it's awful, but not all. For real-life aventure, historical fiction writer Anne is moving, with her family, into an historic house built between 1790 and 1840.

Nobody in the blogosphere does early modern books and art like MisterAitch, so it's always hard to pick a favorite or a best. Mistress Howard suggested the 17c book on Atalanta, which does have some fantastic stories as well as images. My personal favorite was the 18-19c artist Leqeue, whose work looks a lot more surreal than you expect at that period. Then there's the 16c engravings, the 16c sketches and the series of Bruegel's Vices (and one virtue) and the discussion of the Michelangelo sketches. Leave yourself some time and some bandwidth.

"The discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a star." -- Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, Physiologie du Goût (1826)
There's a lot of interest in historicalcooking (I myself own a recreation of an early 20c Hershey's cookbook) Here's Alterior's recipe for Humble Pie. And if you're looking for tips on clothing as social history, our own Mistress of Misrule has links galore.

Down and Dirty

"Actions recieve their nature from the times,
and as they change are virtues made or crimes."
-- Daniel Defoe,"A Hymn to the Pillory" (1703)
One of the odder uses of history is what I like to call"beating over the head": you can use the historic sins of a nation, etc., against them in all kinds of debates. What used to be acceptable practice becomes outdated, even reprehensible, and then we all have a lot to answer for. Callimachus reviews the French slave trade and Alterior looks at English Slavery. It's very interesting, in the light of that, to read Ben Brumfield's explanation of criminal labor indentures and tickets of leave (a term I picked up from Les Miserables).
"He who would do good to another, must do it in minute particulars
General good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite and flatterer."
-- William Blake,"Jerusalem" (1815)
Alterior's idea of Fascinating History has a lot to do with pre-modern vice and sin, which makes it pretty good reading, if you're in the mood. In Europe, there's the transmission of disease by social kissing, the transmission of disease by London's prostitution districts, and grave robbing. There's even a survey of 17c Turkish vices, which played a role in the economic decline of the Ottoman empire.
"When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle." -- Edmund Burke (1770)
Finally, no sources are more rich, and more difficult to interpret, than those of our interpersonal conflicts and personal relationships. They are partisan, detailed, exciting and riddled with gaps. Sharon Howard's self-nomination for this roundup was the same post she featured in her last History Carnival, court records of livestock disputes. Rebecca Goetz's godparent records also gets a repeat mention. But the most fun has been the Archive Fever series about Star Chamber disputes and corruption and sources and all that.
"Not many sounds in life, and I include all urban and all rural sounds, exceed in interest a knock at the door." -- Charles Lamb,"Valentine's Day" (1823)
I can't wait for all the books and articles.... and more carnivals!

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More Comments:

Manan Ahmed - 7/5/2005

I must say, with no offense to those who came before you, that this sets the standard for all carny activities henceforth. Brilliant.

Ralph E. Luker - 7/5/2005

Excellent work, Jonathan. You make it very difficult for others to match something like this!

Julie A Hofmann - 7/5/2005

The other mistress concurs! And as a medieval person (conveniently with an Asian outside field), I completely agree on Zheng He!

Sharon Howard - 7/5/2005

Jonathan, this is absolutely fantastic. Wow. Many, many thanks for all your hard work.