O Brave New World

Cross-posted from: Abigail Rieley
Originally published: 19.06.16

Tattered-Union-flag

Nothing happens in a vacuum. My words are shaped by the experiences I’ve lived through. Everything has a cause and effect. Some events resonate so strongly within their own context that the echoes can be heard for years.

I moved back to England 5 months ago yesterday. My return was shaped by my departure many years before. I knew that the European Referendum would be the defining story of my first year. I was a journalist for a long time. I still think in stories. My own view of Europe is coloured by my experiences. While I was in college I produced and presented a European news show on community radio. I considered myself European, as a blow-in in a country of race memory it was the most comfortable choice. Europe was everywhere, the little blue plaques on public buildings, the awarding body for any funding. I visited Brussels on a press trip for local journalists, we all knew that the European funding for radio documentaries was so much easier to get than the Irish alternative and often more generous. In college I got the opportunity to mix with journalism students  from the Netherlands and and spent a semester in France with European funding. I studied French as part of my course, the better to read European documents and legislation. There’s an innate understanding in bi-lingual Ireland that translation can be a slippery thing and the devil’s in the detail.


Read more O Brave New World

Against the Party Line by @RoseAnnaStar

Cross-posted from: I am because you are
Originally published: 12.06.16

The IncomersThe Incomers by Moira McPartlin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 stars

I bought this book partly because I was so attracted to the beautiful manga style cover art centred on a gorgeously drawn black woman’s face. While her necklace looks African to me, her rakish curls of hair, sceptical eyebrow and thick gold earring give her a cartoon romantically piratical air! Meanwhile, two white women on the phone look as if they’re either dealing with a crisis or plotting some intrigue, but as it turns out, the protagonist, Ellie, isn’t a swashbuckling renegade and the other women are just gossiping. Their chatter, often cruel, is McPartlin’s vehicle for working through the harshness and bigotry of a rural mid-’60s Scottish setting. While the ‘pairty line’ vents toxic racism and ignorance, its status as a space for friends to speak openly enables some healing and changes of mind to take place. Religious fissures are bridged by family relationships, and the speakers feel comfortable enough to contradict each other and repent of previous convictions. 
Read more Against the Party Line by @RoseAnnaStar

Race, History, and Brexit: Black Scottish Identity by @ClaireShrugged

Originally published: 26.10.16

A brief foreword: the following was delivered at Glasgow Caledonian University on the 25th October, 2016, as part of Black History Month. The subject was Race, History and Brexit: Exploring the politics of erasure and documenting the experiences of Black and minority ethnic communities in Scotland post Brexit.

I was proud to speak alongside Dr Ima Jackson and Dr Akwugo Emejulu – both due to their scholarship, and because it was the first time in my career I had sat on a panel composed entirely of Black women.


 

brexit

I am Black. I am Scottish. To some, it’s obvious that the two are not mutually exclusive. To others, Black Scottish identity is a contradiction in terms: either you’re of this place, Scottish and therefore white, or Other, Black. Rest assured, the two fit together – admittedly there are tensions, but those mostly arise from the expectations of other people (read: white people) rather than any aspect of what it actually is to be Black and Scottish. The plurality of Black identity often gets lost in how this discussion is approached, because constructions of national identity are so often treated as binary and static.

“Where are you from, originally?” Five words that plague people of colour across Britain. It’s essentially code for “if you’re here, then why aren’t you white?” When I was a child that question left me feeling sick, scared. I dreaded it, and have developed something of a sixth sense for when it’s coming. What caused me discomfort was that it positioned me as Other, and was often asked because white people couldn’t wrap their heads around the idea of a Black child belonging in an otherwise white family. Now, having grown up and inhabited this world as a Black woman for 24 years, I have a much thicker skin when it comes to micro-aggressions. But people still ask it. Random strangers still feel entitled to ask that, completely out of the blue, their curiosity outweighing basic courtesy.
Read more Race, History, and Brexit: Black Scottish Identity by @ClaireShrugged

Reflections: Kizza Besigye And Uganda’s Unfinished Revolution

Cross-posted from: Uncultured Sisterhood
Originally published: 17.01.15

As the 2001 Uganda presidential elections loomed and the drama that came with it ensued, I hit voting age with no fanfare, rather, steadfast preparation for a matter of greater personal urgency – final examinations. It wasn’t up for discussion that I wouldn’t participate in the election fracas. Attempts at that debate came up again in 2006, and were avoided altogether by 2011. Being a woman, the right to vote isn’t something I take for granted in a world that is still as sexist today as it was centuries ago. But it always seemed piteous to stand in line for an ink-stained thumb and claims that one had exercised a constitutional right in a shady political environment.

Thus, although I have a high level of interest in Kizza Besigye, particularly the motivations for his campaign(s) against the presidency of Yoweri Museveni, it hasn’t materialized into actually voting for any of these men, or their opponents – seeing that members of the establishment and many of the so-called opposition seem to be cut from the same cloth; looking out for their personal share of “the national cake” to the continued exclusion of the bulk of the citizens of this country. Yet, choosing not to vote out of despair without committing any effort towards the solution, is not only unhelpful, it is in fact the head-in-sand attitude that has in some ways contributed to our present situation. 
Read more Reflections: Kizza Besigye And Uganda’s Unfinished Revolution

Whose story is it anyway? by @strifejournal

Cross-posted from: Trouble & Strife
Originally published: 09.08.16

The stewardship of feminism’s collective memory raises all kinds of ethical questions. Can our approach be based on trust alone?  Frankie Green shares some thoughts on feminism, archiving and accountability.

 

No need to hear your voice when I can talk about you better than you can speak about yourself. No need to hear your voice. Only tell me about your pain. I want to know your story. And then I will tell it back to you in a new way. Tell it back to you in such a way that it has become mine, my own. Re-writing you, I write myself anew. I am still author, authority. I am still the colonizer, the speaking subject, and you are now at the center of my talk (bell hooksYearning: Race, Gender and Cultural Politics).

The context in which bell hooks writes is very different from mine. Yet her words resonate strongly with me, illuminating some questions I want to explore here.

Archiving the history of the WLM is well-established, as we who experienced that era believe it crucial to ensure that our movement is not lost to history. The importance of taking this task seriously has been elucidated by Jalna Hanmer, and many have worked tirelessly on collecting and cataloguing information, making it available to new generations of activists, students and historians. Our collections provide insights into the aims, achievements and processes of the movement and show how it was sustained at grassroots level by thousands of women – many of whom did not become well-known, since they never attracted the attention of the mainstream media.
Read more Whose story is it anyway? by @strifejournal

Eat Your History by Jacqui Newling – Review and Interview

Cross-posted from: Adventures in Biography
Originally published: 16.12.16

eat-your-historyHands up if you love to cook? Keep your hand up if you are interested in Australian history? Still with me?  Then do I have the perfect book for you (or for someone you know – Christmas is just around the corner and books are ever so easy to wrap…)

Eat Your History: stories and recipes from Australian kitchens is a wonderful, and very beautiful, collection of recipes, social history and historical insights.

According to the author, “This book invites you to share forgotten tastes and lost techniques, and rediscover some of the culinary treasures that have nourished many generations of Australians. Rather than being a history of food in Australia, or a history of Australian food, it offers stories about Australians and the food they ate.”


Read more Eat Your History by Jacqui Newling – Review and Interview

Swellings and Seals: On the Origins of Bill

Cross-posted from: Glossologics
Originally published: 25.11.16

Well, here it is. Bill. Like it or not, we all have them, we all think about paying them.

I, of course, am no exception. Several kind people have asked me recently why I have been producing fewer articles for this blog. The main reason is that I do not receive an income from here, and I have bills to pay. Much as I would like to spend my time writing more and more articles, I have to do other work that actually pays. If you would like to help enable me to produce more articles here, please support my books; fiction and non-fiction.

Now, onto the matter of the etymology of bill.

If you look in the dictionary, you will find several definitions for the word ‘bill’. It could be a bill in parliament; a duck’s bill; a bill to be paid; a slang term for the police, as well as other usages. 
Read more Swellings and Seals: On the Origins of Bill

It’s all about St John the Baptist – or, how the Tudors celebrated the Midsummer Solstice

Cross-posted from: Katharine Edgar
Originally published: 21.06.13

The summer solstice was one of the pagan festivals taken over by the early Christian church, aligning it with the feast of St John the Baptist, on 24th June. So by the sixteenth century it had accumulated a lively mix of Christian and pagan meaning.

In town and country, fire was a theme of midsummer celebrations. In both places, people made bonfires and feasted and drank around them. In the countryside these bonfires were particularly valued to protect crops and lifestock. Fires were lit on the windward side of crops and animals, so the smoke would blow over them. In some places, people even drove animals through the embers of the fires. 
Read more It’s all about St John the Baptist – or, how the Tudors celebrated the Midsummer Solstice

Women Surfers in Old Hawai’i by Veleda

Cross-posted from: Veleda: SourceNet


Read more Women Surfers in Old Hawai’i by Veleda

Garlic

cross-posted from Glossologics

orig. pub. 16.2.15

Today I am excited to announce a new type of article. In collaboration with Nicola Miller, we have a glorious new mix of etymology, history and food and plant properties!

I am very pleased to have had the chance to work with Nicola on this. Nicola Miller is the editor of Bury Spy digit news and food editor for the Spy News Group. She is an enthusiastic amateur when it comes to etymology. She blogs at: The Millers Tale

Garlic

Such a small word, and yet such a long history! And so important in cooking, of course.

Etymology

The modern English form has not changed a great deal over the course of history. Taking a step back to Middle English, we can find it variously spelled as garlec, garleek and garlek, among others. Let’s take a look at an example from 1399, from the Forme of Cury:

Take Colyandre Powdour of Peper and garlec ygrounde in rede wyne.

This work translates as “forms of cooking” – the ‘cury’ is in fact from French cuire. It is a collection of recipes claimed to have been written by the Master Cooks of King Richard II.

Just a few years previously, Chaucer wrote in his Canterbury Tales:

Wel loued he gā̆r-lē̆k, oynons, and eek lekes.

Here, you can see that it has been written as two parts put together, and you might wonder why. The reason is, of course, simple. Garlic is indeed formed of two parts. It comes from Old English garleac or garlec in some dialects, which consists of gar and leac. We will start with the first element: gar. This meant ‘spear’. You have only to look at the shape of the cloves to see why it might be called a spear – they do indeed look similar to the shape of a spear-head. This term, gar, has of course become obsolete, but we can see a well-known example of it inBeowulf, from around the 10th century:

Hwæt! We Gár-Dena, in geárdagum, þeódcyninga þrym gefrunon

Lo! We have heard renowned the Spear-Danes’ great kings in days of yore

Let’s take a look at the second element: leac. There is nothing strange about this at all. Quite simply, it means ‘leek’, another word that remains little changed!

Ðæt greáta cráuleác; nim ðes leáces heáfda

That makes crow-garlic; take the leeks on the rise

From Leechdoms, Wortcunning, and Starcraft of early England, a collection of Old English source texts.

The Old English word is thought to derive from Proto-Germanic *lauka. There are cognates to be found in other Germanic languages; Swedish lök and Danish løg both meaning ‘onion’, Dutch look and German Lauch, meaning ‘leek’.

The Plant Throughout History

Allium Sativum, or Garlic as it is more usually known has a long and noble history as food stuff and an even longer one as a herbal medicine and tonic. Indeed, for a long period of our history, the eating of garlic for pleasure alone was eschewed by many different cultures although we can find much documented evidence in the form of almanacs, treatises and records for its use in medicine by herbalists, medicine men and other men (and women) who took responsibility for the health and welfare of their community.

The ancient Egyptians possessed a medical papyri, Codex Elsers, dating back to circa 1500 BCE recorded 22 formulas for medicinal remedies with garlic at their heart. This plant polymath offered up a cure for heart disease, worms, and tumors and has been cultivated for over 6,000 years and grown in Egypt since 3200 BCE.

The Ancient Egyptians have been described as being much enamoured of garlic and legend says that slaves put to work to construct the pyramids were fed large amounts of it to strengthen their bodies and prevent infection after they were injured (and one imagines this was a frequent occurrence). Surprisingly enough, when Moses led the Hebrew slaves from Egypt (around 1200BCE), garlic was one of the ‘finer things’ they complained of missing along with cucumbers, fish, leeks, onions and melons.

Centuries later and during the First World War, British physicians mixed garlic juice with water to create a topical antiseptic for wounds with Russian doctors following in their footsteps in the Second World War. The doctors took it a step further though in supplementing their soldiers diet with both onion and garlic, giving it its nickname of ‘Russian Penicillin.’ This more recent use of the bulb as a treatment for war wounds is strongly reminiscent of the faith placed in its talismanic protection against wounds inflicted by spears and Greek battalions were presented with it to give them courage and promise of victory too.

Of course we now know that this tacit knowledge has an evidence base. The essence of what Culpeper, the renowned herbalist and apothecary said in The English Physitian back in 1653, has been backed up by empirical research:
“In choleric men it will add fuel to the fire; in men oppressed in melancholy, it will attentuate [weaken] the [melancholic] humour, and send up strong fancies, and as many strange visions to the head; therefore let it be taken inwardly in great moderation; outwardly you may make more bald with it”

The adding fuel to the fire is Culpeper associating choleric humour with an elevated temperature (fever) and in humoral physiology, encouraging a sick person to run a ‘good’ fever was seen as therapeutic, encouraging the flushing of impurities from the body. We know that garlic reduces cholesterol, the viscosity of blood and its lipids and we also know that a melancholic disposition (according to Culpeper) can be linked to an increased risk of blood viscosity. Or to be more specific, a person prone to low mood or depressive disorder which causes them to reduce their activity is at increased risk of fatty build up in their circulatory system and disorders of circulation. Clever old Culpeper.

The spear shape of garlic shoots, from the above ground foliage to the tiny spear at the centre of the bulb which slowly greens up and becomes bitter after harvesting inspires its Old English name- garleac or garlec with ‘gar’ meaning ‘spear’ as Millie explains above. Culpeper ascribes a celestial ruler to all living plants and garlics ruler is the warlike, passionate and dominant Mars. This kingship may be inspired by the warrior like (and phallic) spear of those etiolated and pointed leaves which are analogous to the glyph for Mars. Additionally let’s look at where garlic originates from: the arid and scorching lands of the Middle East and West Central Asia, migrating east toward China and west into Southern Europe, Garlic thrives in soil which is sandy, thin and allows the bulb to push its spears straight and true, unhindered by clay sod which might cause it to deviate from its path to the sun. It is not a great leap of the imagination to see why its botanical requirements caused Culpeper to ally it to Mars, the hot, red planet- depicted as sere and superheated in its atmosphere and garlic also pushes its scape (a false flower stalk), towards the light in the northern hemispheres springtime which falls in the astrological house of Aries (ruled by Mars).

The tombs of Egypt probably contain the oldest records of the existence of what the French call the ‘Stinking Rose’ with clay sculptures of its bulbs dating back to 3700BCE and paintings depicting the plant in another tomb which have been dated to 3200BCE. The Greeks and Romans did not initially share in Egypts passion though, much less ascribing the bulb a place in its high culture. Initially the citizenry of Greece, and especially its aristocracy, refused to consume garlic, finding its aroma and after effects repugnant and vulgar and banning those smelling of it from entering temples. Aristotle flew in the face of this though and included garlic in his lists of foodstuffs he deemed to have aphrodisiac effects and Hippocrates prescribed it as a panacea albeit with reservations and contra-indications: “[it] causes flatulence, a feeling of warmth on the chest and a heavy sensation in the head; it excites anxiety and increases any pain which may be present.”

The Romans, like the Egyptians, fed garlic to their slaves and labourers hoping that they would be invigorated enough to do their (no doubt) arduous work. To smell of it was a sign of low status and class and Pliny the Elder stated, “Garlic has such powerful properties that the very smell of it drives away serpents and scorpions” although he then went on to list a humongous amount of conditions cured by it. This stimulating reputation is a familiar one across many different world religions: garlic was deemed to upset the spiritual balance of Buddhist practitioners, was rejected by Zen masters and both Hindu and Brahmin observants avoid it for similar reasons. Intriguingly the reproductive nature of the bulb is the reason why Jains do not eat it or similar vegetables such as onions. Garlic reproduces itself by producing a multiplicity of cloves in each bulb which detach and fatten up to form a new ‘head’. Jains believe that each one of these is a potential new life and feel that the destruction of a head of garlic is to destroy multiple lives.

Amusingly enough, the ever pragmatic faith of Judaism recommends the eating of garlic on Fridays, the day before the holy Sabbath in its Talmud (the book of rabbinical teachings) because of those same stimulating properties. Sex on a Sabbath is considered an act of both faith and good deed, especially garlic fuelled passion! Chaucers Sommour who was ‘lecherous as a sparwe’ agreed, as in the quote from above; “Well love he garleek, onions and eek lekes” and across Central Europe, the dog, gander, bull and cockerel would be kept fierce, strong and fit on a diet of fat garlic bulbs. Its fecund ability to produce many offspring from one tiny fingernail sized clove led to the most obvious of conclusions with regards to the potency of breeding animals but it was also administered to livestock as protection against the evil eye. For their human owners, to dream of garlic was said to be a sign of hidden treasure and a clear reference to its secret life underground, swelling, growing and dividing which must have been pretty mindblowing to those yet to discover the botanical science behind its reproduction.

 

Glossologics: a blog on language, with special emphasis on etymology, and including references to languages other than English.

Pieces of History by @histoftech

(Cross-posted with permission from White Heat)

In the middle of the woods in Durham, NC there is an abandoned dinosaur. It remains one of the greatest curiosities I’ve stumbled upon in my life, and it got me thinking about how we can tell history through objects.

So here goes: at over 100 feet long and 30 feet tall, the Durham dinosaur is probably the biggest thing I’ve ever walked by without seeing. It was part of an educational “dinosaur park” that was attached to the Durham Museum of Life and Science, but in the 1990s the rest of the park was severely damaged by Hurricane Fran. As a result the exhibit was closed and the remaining sculptures fell into disrepair as the forest grew to engulf them. The brontosaurus remained, but became largely invisible behind the trees and dense underbrush, despite its great size.

The Museum moved to a better building across the street, and on to other exhibits with a different focus. In fact, the museum had steadily expanded since the original dinosaur park was built in 1964 by a determined and energetic young man who started as a volunteer and then served as curator and director for many years.

Richard Wescott, born in England in 1924, joined the British Navy at 17 and served as a radio operator during World War II. While in the service, he met a young woman who was a lieutenant in the US Army’s Nursing Corps. He married her, and promptly came back to the U.S. as a “war bride.” Wescott and his wife settled in Durham, in aneighborhood that was itself largely a creation of the post-war boom years. Only a few years earlier, German prisoners of war had been kept in a camp in a nearby town.

When Wescott began working at the Museum, it was known at the “Children’s Museum.” It had only been started in 1946. Early memorable exhibits were said to include a stuffed wallaby and a 2-headed calf. With Westcott’s hands-on intervention, the museum grew from a small-town curiosity to a regional attraction–the jewel in its collection being the outdoor dinosaur park that Wescott planned and spearheaded, going so far as to design and sculpt the figures himself.  

In 1964, he completed the massive brontosaurus, the centerpiece of the park. In this picture, you can see Wescott working on its teeth, which he carefully sculpted out of chicken wire before covering them with plaster and paint. Unlikeroadside dinosaur parks, the life-size models in the museum’s park were meticulously accurate, reflecting the best paleontological knowledge available at the time. In addition, they were naturalistic–and artistic–in ways that helped visitors easily imagine, on humid North Carolinian summer days, how these animals had once moved across the same earth that we now occupy. When the dinosaur park opened in 1970, it had close to a dozen sculptures, and more were added in the next few years. None remain except as wreckage hidden in the woods today.  Except, that is, for the Brontosaurus.

Wescott and his family moved on to Georgia, where he headed another museum.After the park closed in the 1990s, locals in the know still delighted in catching a glimpse, or a snapshot, of the old dinosaur when winter thinned the trees enough for it to be seen. It became a quiet local landmark, but steadily fell into disrepair, its underside clawed open and its interior home to raccoons, and at one point, a homeless person.

Then somebody cut off its head. Using a chainsaw, the vandals ripped the concrete and fiberglass skin off the neck and face, and then carted it away in a pickup truck, dumping it in the woods near a local high school. Though the museum knew the identities of the high-school-age vandals they kept it secret–for fear the community would try to do the same to them. With the enormous steel infrastructure of the dinosaur now exposed, it became clear how this sculpture had survived so well, for so long. It seemed to mark the end of an era. Standing headless, the care and memories embedded in the brontosaurus seemed to have evaporated. In their place had been left a surly reminder of antisocial acting out.

As it turned out, this was perhaps the best thing that could have happened to the old dinosaur. The community rallied around it, demanding that it be fixed and accorded the proper respect for the landmark it had become, rather than continuing to be treated as a forgotten relic. It helped that the Museum was opening a new dinosaur park around the same time: this made it difficult for Museum officials to decide to dismantle the old dinosaur given the community pressure to fix it–it would have torpedoed their publicity for the new exhibit. The community raised thousands of dollars and the Museum hired an artist who works on large outdoor sculpture to not only repair the head and neck, but close up other tears that had developed, particularly the gutted belly area.

After that, improvements and beautification to the land around the dinosaur continued, rescuing it from the overgrowth that had obscured it. (The photos you see above show the dinosaur after this work had been completed.) During a celebration of the dino’s re-capitation, goats were brought in to eat away the underbrush, to the delight of the children in attendance. Shortly after, the trail on which it stands was renamed as a memorial to its creator, and a promise to the community that it would continue to remain a Durhamlandmark.

BONUS: Want to make your own “Durham Dinosaur?” Try this sewing pattern that I made. Print it at whatever size you like, and piece the pattern shapes together.

 

White Heat:  a blog about the history of technology and how to teach it. Women, gender and sexuality in history and technology. Queer and feminist analyses of the past. (@histoftech)

Naming the Problem: Women’s Identities and the Historical Record by @LucyAllenFWR

Naming the Problem: Women’s Identities and the Historical Record

wedding photo edit

The inspiration behind this post comes from a petition, started by a brilliant feminist. I urge you to read and sign it, if you’ve not already. The petiton states:

In England & Wales mothers’ names are not on marriage certificates.

This is not fair.

This is 2014.

Marriage should not be seen as a business transaction between the father of the bride and the father of the groom.

This seemingly small inequality is part of a much wider pattern of inequality.

Women are routinely silenced and written out of history.

As you can imagine, when I read this I was nodding along, especially when I got to the last line. Women are routinely written out of history. What’s even more disturbing is that, when women’s names are omitted from modern legal records, we come to expect that what we’re seeing is the result of ‘tradition’. We come to believe in this legal record, where the paterfamilias, the male head of the household, is the name and role that matters.

It’s no accident that these ‘traditions’ accumulate around the institution of marriage, because if anything attracts pseudo-traditional trappings, it’s marriage. If you believe the myths, white dresses are slut-shaming badges of virginity (not, y’know, conspicuous consumption), being ‘given away’ is an ancient and symbolic tradition going back to medieval times (it’s not), and it has long been the custom for the man to go with his betrothed even unto Tiffany’s, there to exchange one-third of his yearly stipend for the bling of tastelessness.

For a medievalist, knocking some of this tradition is pretty easy. Aristocratic medieval women didn’t exactly ‘change their names’. Women might display their identities in coats of arms that showed their maternal, as well as paternal heritage. In Books of Hours made to celebrate weddings, the brides might display both maternal and paternal heritage in their coats of arms.

The Hours of Catherine of Cleves

The Hours of Catherine of Cleves

The Hours of Catherine of Cleves, for example, shows Catherine’s arms in the big shield in the bottom margin, with the shields of her maternal and paternal grandparents ranged around the border. You can see how these designs are incorporated into the larger shield, forming part of Catherine’s composite identity.

What might seem more surprising is that women’s identities aren’t just visible in this sort of context, where displaying your good lineage is part of the patriarchial system in which women breed the next generation of aristocrats. Women could, and did, also display their occuptions, their professional identities.

The example I like best is one I came across a few months ago, reading a couple of articles about the first female printers in England – the women who came after William Caxton. Finding women who work in the book trade always fascinates me, because their professional lives were dedicated to producing the written material that constitutes so much of what we know about medieval history – yet often, these women’s own names and even the fact of their existance, is lost.

The reason we know about a few women printers is because printing, like most medieval businesses, was a family affair. As in many businesses, men married the daughters and sisters of their colleagues: it was a good way to cement business relationships, but we’re also beginning to recognize that some of these women also brought professional skills with them. So, it’s no surprise to find medieval women printers who kept their maiden names – as a way of advertising the professional background they brought to their husbands’ workshops.

Printing Workshop

One early woman printer goes even further: this is Elizabeth, wife of the printer Robert Redman, who lived in Fleet Street in London in the sixteenth century. When her husband died, she did not formally inherit the business and there’s no indication in Redman’s will that he expected her to carry on printing. But a series of books were produced by Elizabeth as a widow, and naturally they record who printed them: ’Elysabeth Pykeryng, late wife to Robert Redman’. Pykeryng uses what is presumably her maiden name, and certainly isn’t her husband’s name: it’s her professional identity.

An article on Pykeryng by Martha Driver, who’s an amazing scholar of medieval culture, raises the possibility that it was Pykeryng who’d been managing the press all along: her initials appear on some books printed before her husband’s death, and when she remarried, she continued to be involved in dealings with the printing press, even though formally a married woman should have been acting only through her husband.

This sounds like a success story for the medieval proto-feminists. Or, if you’re less inclined to hyperbole, a Good Example of Hardworking Female Industry (I think I’m channelling the bloke who gave the speech at my sixth form prize day, who jingled change in his pocket while telling those who’d done Home Ec what good wives they’d make).

But there’s something missing from Pykeryng’s story, even though her name and occupation survive in the historical record. She actually married at least four times, and had several daughters. But, while we can look up the relationships between children and their fathers in the official record, mothers’ names are not mentioned. So we don’t know exactly which children this inspirational sixteenth-century woman printer raised. In a reversal of our expectations of ‘woman’s history,’ we have her professional reputation, but not her personal history. We’re dealing with a record which, even at its most revealing, is full of silences when it comes to women.

This is a wider problem that has begun to affect not just the facts we know or don’t know, but also, the facts we remember, the facts we seek out from the historical record and publish, or talk about. When women’s names and occupations rarely appear in documents such as marriage certificates, we stop looking for them in the historical record. We stop expecting to find historical data about working women, and we begin to believe the myths that married women didn’t have jobs, that women in the past traditionally took their husbands’ names, or that mothers did not pass on their professional identities to their children. When women are consistently written out of the historical record, we come to expect not to find them.

When I looked at the Merriam-Webster for a definition of the word materfamilias – a woman equivalent of the patriarch, the head of the family – I found the dictionary gave the first known use as 1756. I happen to know this isn’t true: a medieval will of 1416 – over three hundred years earlier – includes a bequest of money given by a canon of York Minster to one ’Alicie matrifamilias’ (‘Alice, materfamilias‘). But even our records of language come to reflect what we expect of the historical record, not what is actually there. We expect women’s history to be shorter, humbler, and more basic than men’s. The current state of marriage certificates perpetuates both the omission of women’s names and details, and the culture of expectations that goes with this omission. It is a double form of silencing, a double erasure of women from history.

marriage certificate

Note

I base my comments on Elysabeth Pykeryng on two articles, both very well worth reading.

Martha W. Driver, ‘”By Me Elysabeth Pykeryng”: Women and Book Production in the Early Tudor Period’, in Manuscripts and Printed Books in Europe 1350-155o. Packaging, Presentation and Consumption, eds. Emma Cayley and Susan Powell (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2013), 115-119.

Barbara Kreps, ‘Elizabeth Pickering: The First Woman to Print Law Books in England and  Relations within the Community of Tudor London’s Printers and Lawyers,’ Renaissance Quarterly 56 (2003): 1053-1088.

 

Reading Medieval Books! I rant about women in literature and history, occasionally pausing for breath to be snarky about right-wing misogynists. I promise pretty pictures of manuscripts and a cavalier attitude to sentence structure. [@LucyAllenFWR]