Philobiblon: February 2006

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Polly Tonybee has a blog ...

... or at least she is writing on one of the Guardian's. Who'd have thought it?

And she makes a very good point: if women rush out of being nursing aides and into plumbing, who is going to do the nursing? A lot of the answer has to be more than a simple rebalancing; rather it has to be the allocation of a lot more money.

But the elephant is this: women are lower paid than men because the work they do is undervalued. Why should the valuable work a woman does caring for small children in a nursery or looking after the bedridden in a nursing home be rewarded at a far lower rate than, say, a lorry driver? Pay rates are set by pure tradition and prejudice, nothing to do with skill and certainly not social value.
If women all do as they are instructed, retrain and move "upwards" to higher paid work, then who will clean the hospital floors, take classroom assistant jobs and serve in restaurants? Presumably yet another wave of new immigrants, destined to be just as poor, and probably mainly women too in these service sector jobs. It is no answer to gross inequality. The only answer is to pay people fairly.

It is pleasing to see that the report about women's pay deficit - still 17 per cent below men's, which is costing the country £23bn a year has been getting a lot of attention.
Elsewhere, the Pergamon Museum in Berlin which I recall as being spectacularly wonderful when I visited some 15 years ago, is to get a major revamp:
The neoclassical museum will gain a new wing during the overhaul, which will cost a maximum of €351m (£240m) and be financed by the federal government....
The new fourth wing, which will be built across the entrance to the museum's massive courtyard, "will allow us to show all major cultures on a single level," Klaus Dieter Lehmann, the head of Berlin's Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, told a press conference yesterday. "You will then have, on one level, everything from Mesopotamia, through Egypt, Greece, Rome and classical antiquity up to the Islamic era."

I can feel a trip to Berlin coming on ...

Early modern breast cancer: be thankful for modern medicine

To the Institute for Historical Research last week for a seminar,'The Worst of All Her Afflictions': Experiencing Breast Cancer in Early Modern England', presented by Marjo Kaartinen. It almost took me back to my agricultural science days in its goriness - horrible surgical implements and blood-soaked descriptions - one of the younger participants was turning distinctly green as she listened to Fanny Burney's description of her masectomy (carried out of course without anaesthetic) and the picture of a breast dissected by an 18th-century surgeon circulated remarkably quickly ...

Nonetheless it wasn't all gore. There was also an interesting debate on the likely incidence of the disease then compared to now. Of course it will never be possible to get statistics, but it might be possible to get an impression from contemporary accounts, and particularly women's level of fear of the disease (given all of the other deadly dangers around). And the impression was that it was quite high, particularly given that the number of women over 40 in the population was low.

But very few records survive in women's own words. There are a couple of reasons for that. Due to - understandable - fear of the operation, women usually did not approach surgeons, or decide to have it, until the disease was very far advanced (although surgeons did understand that it was important to operate early). So they didn't survive long afterward - usually only a few months. (If, of course, the operation didn't kill them.)

Also some facts (that you might not want to know) about breast cancer. Untreated breast cancer presents as black growth and produces dark, evil-smelling liquid; in 60 per cent of cases it ulcerates. This was a smell that early modern physicians and surgeons recognised. They understood that the disease tended to spread into the lymph nodes (which they would check while performing a masectomy, but metastising was not yet understood). Untreated, the disease usually killed in about three years.

In the early modern era some thought it came from environmental factors, some thought sex life or lack of it - it was well known that nuns were prone to it. Some thought sour milk to blame, others lack of exercise, melancholy, green sickness. Breast-feeding was thought by some to be a cause, and this was one reason for the use of wet-nurses.

"Treatments included all of the usual herbal remedies, usually applied topically, and often caustics, which must have been hugely painful. Books of medicine often contained receipts for "canker in women's breast".

But women victims often seem to have kept their condition secret until it was utterly impossible to hide. By that time, often, surgeons would not operate. The traditional Hippocratic view was that if the cancer did not move - was attached, presumably to the breast bone or ribs? the patient would only die faster if operated on. This may have been the reason why the Machioness of Northhampton, a waiting lady in Elizabeth (I'm not sure which one), went to Antwerp to consult doctors there.

There's one final irony: Fanny Burney survived many years after the operation, so it is likely that her illness was not cancer, and the operation was unnecessary.

Monday, February 27, 2006

A play for the Iraq squaddies

The artistic form of choice to express the horrors of the First World War was poetry. Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Rupert Brooke brought home the misery, terror and boredom of life in the trenches, and the recurring nightmares it induced. We have not, as yet, seen an emergence of a literary oeuvre of what history may well call the Iraq wars, but no doubt time will cure that. Could it be theatre? I'd like to think so.

Christmas is Miles Away, now at The Bush Theatre, will then have a place, albeit, I'm afraid, a small place, as an early attempt to tell - if only from the perspective of the home front - of the effects of the first Gulf War on one young squaddie, a young man, still a boy really, who was messed up enough even before he arrived at the war.

But that's not how Chloe Moss's third play, which debuted at the Royal Exchange, Manchester last year, starts out. We are in the middle of what seems like a classic coming of age story. Christie (David Judge) and Luke (Paul Stocker) are ill-matched "best friends"; the former the teachers undoubtedly call "the smart one"; the words they use about Luke are probably unprintable.

He's your classic inarticulate, angry, bottled-up teen - not that, in his company, Christie is much better. They communicate through grunts, shrugs and monosyllables: "nothin'", "what?", "yeah". But Moss, and the actors, do a good job of ensuring that the audience still finds this perfectly clear.

Into this rather volatile, conflict-ridden relationship comes the inevitable problem, a girl, Julie (Georgia Taylor), who's winningly naive, nervously adventurous, and well-intentioned. Inevitably, however, her presence means problems, particularly when a drunk Luke, thrown out of his own house, wants to hang out at Christie's at 4am. READ MORE

A question for the early modernists

Does anyone know of a book/article with a list of initials used by pamphlet writers in late Elizabethan/early Jacobean London? I'm looking for an S.P. in 1594, and it is hard to know where to start!

Being a 'Public Feminist' can only be a good thing

The story goes that tight-fitting T-shirts with the slogan "This is what a feminist looks like" are highly popular on US campuses. Great, I say.

Unfortunately some are complaining:

"I think these T-shirts feed into anti-feminist rhetoric that says that women who stand up for their rights are somehow unattractive, not sexy, humorless and not getting any," [Pamela] Paul told Women's eNews. "It may look like a proactive gesture, but what else should a feminist look like? Why shouldn't a strong woman look good? It's giving legitimacy to the criticism that is so ludicrous that it doesn't merit acknowledgement. I think it's kind of a sad way to represent power."

Pluh-leese! Someone is supporting feminism, publicly saying: "I am a feminist". There couldn't be a better message. And the shape of the T-shirt they put that message on, be it XXXL, or super-tight cropped, does not matter in the slightest, in fact it helps to say "feminists come in different shapes, sizes and lifestyles", as, of course, they do. And they should support each other in making whatever choices (wardrobe or more serious) they make.

The London community

The general view is that the residents of London are isolated, self-focused, uncaring individuals, not a community. Nonsense.

My lovely neighbour and dog-sitter, already working for a tiny hourly rate, insisted on giving me back £10 of what I paid her yesterday (which included an overnight stay), and has volunteered to have Champ for a small sum each week - "the gas money" she calls it.

I already had considerable faith in human nature, but this has further boosted it.

(Unfortunately, with Champ in terms of leaving him on his own, it is one step forward and one back. He is a little better about being in the room on his own, and I can get out the door for about 30 seconds before he starts whining, but I did a 30-minute test with a tape-recorder running this afternoon and he howled and whined loudly at regular intervals - 30s to a minute - throughout. He just is not happy on his own.)

Nice words, now where's the action?

In an interview with The Times, Malcolm Wicks, the Energy Minister, said: "There is crass irresponsibility in some of the larger monstrosities people drive around suburbia and in London. We have to move against this kind of thing."

Nice words from the minister, and he is promising an increase in taxes to discourage this anti-social behaviour, but there's nothing concrete there. A government that can dream up new repressive, police-state legislation at the drop of the prime minister's hat seems to be taking an astonishingly long time over a simple change in charges.
The Guardian's Reader's Editor, Ian Mayes, for whom I have enormous respect, today brings up the interesting issue of "corrections and clarifications" on news stories in an online archive.

The paper's policy is that these should always be immediately visible on a story (at the top) and kept to a minimum. When you think about it, there is a powerful possible shadow of 1984 over the fact that our archives are increasingly electronic - far, far easier to airbrush inconvenient pieces out of history.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

A voice of humanity: an 18th-century voice against FGM

I'm sometimes accused of naivety, but I tend to think that human nature, given the chance, tends towards the humane, the caring and the sensible. And sometimes those voices gain power. It is thus lovely to read about the 18th-century West African Islamic scholar, Sheikh Uthman dan Fodio.

Female circumcision was another major social issue the Sheikh delved into. This practice was in the Sudan, Somalia and was going across to his country and he stopped people from doing it. He brought the hadith of the Prophet showing that only a little bit was allowed to be removed from the tip of the clitoris, but was by no means necessary as it wasn't really part of Islam. His argument against it, once again went into graphic details of how if men allowed this to happen then a woman would not be able to achieve her climax in a physical relationship, which would then cause their relationship to deteriorate. To have a more fulfilling relationship, they should allow her to retain what Allah gave her. This obviously was a heavy argument for the Sheikh to be making, especially in the 18th century!

A dose of theological controversy for a widow

Miss Frances Williams Wynn is today reproducing two letters to a bereaved young widow in India by Bishop Reginald Heber, who seems to have been best known has a writer of hymns.

Heber seems to be a rather better theological controversist than consoler, however, since he spends most of his time in arcane points, particularly on the state of the soul after death and on the power of prayers for it (on which he is certainly unsound in CofE terms).

But perhaps the most fun is to be had from speculating about the cause of the young husband's death - "the fatal accident ... an instantaneous death without pain, and while engaged in innocent amusement". Hunting maybe? The bishop would probably have considered that innocent amusement, even if we do not.

Cavewomen and wives

With typical sensitivity and intellectual rigour, The Sunday Times today reports Cavegirls were first blondes to have fun. There is, however, an apparently peer-reviewed science story behind it:

According to the study, north European women evolved blonde hair and blue eyes at the end of the Ice Age to make them stand out from their rivals at a time of fierce competition for scarce males.
The study argues that blond hair originated in the region because of food shortages 10,000-11,000 years ago. Until then, humans had the dark brown hair and dark eyes that still dominate in the rest of the world. Almost the only sustenance in northern Europe came from roaming herds of mammoths, reindeer, bison and horses. Finding them required long, arduous hunting trips in which numerous males died, leading to a high ratio of surviving women to men.
Lighter hair colours, which started as rare mutations, became popular for breeding and numbers increased dramatically, according to the research, published under the aegis of the University of St Andrews.

I think, however, there are more than few unanswered questions here. Do we know that only the men hunted? No. Do we have any indication that such societies practiced monogamy? No.

And quite what the quote on the end from Jilly Cooper about getting her bottom pinched has to do with paleoloithic hunters, I'm not quite sure.

The "cavewomen" might anyway have been better off on their own, judging from this study:

Marriage helps husbands to an extra 1.7 years, but it knocks 1.4 years off the average wife's lifespan, according to the study of more than 100,000 people across Europe.

For more intelligent, but highly entertaining reading, I'd recommend an account of hominid fossil-hunting in Ethiopia.
(Hat-tip to John Hawks.)

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The journalist's excuse

In the British Library, a chance discovery, on the back of An Account of the Proceedings at the Guild-hall of the City of London on Saturday, September 12 1678 with the substance of Sir Thomas Plater's Speech and the Lord Mayor's Answer Thereunto.

At the centre of the large format pamphet is the claim of "the Duke of York being a PAPIST" - so we are of course in the "exclusion crisis".

But what I liked was that the entire back page of the four-page pamphlet is taken up by:

It cannot reasonably be expected the the Speech of this Worthy and Deserving Knight, nor the Lord Mayor's generous Reply thereunto, should be published exactly, since in so great a Concourse it was hardly possible to be taken; however least so considerable Transaction should be altogether buried in silence, we have endeavoured to give as full an Account thereof, as could be done by strength of memory, which we hope will therefore be kindly accepted instead of a more Correct Copy.

You might call it an early "collections and clairifications column", or rather a pre-emptive one. Some newspapers might want to try it today.

Should wilderness contain humans?

Mathew Parris in The Times this morning laments the creation of human deserts, wild spaces where there are no humans.

In the beginning, man is expelled from the Garden of Eden. In the end, perhaps, we shall leave it of our own accord, closing the gate behind us.

Disconnection from the wild and "the natural" is indeed a problem, but there is, I'd suggest, an equally powerful argument for leaving parts of the Earth alone. The human species has managed to invade, to change, and often to damage, every aspect of the world. Giving nature, some rest, some space, allowing for biological diversity by the exclusion of us, will help to ensure the differing ecosystems that might just save life on earth.

(I've always thought there's something powerful about the line in one of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books that has a planet expel all of its "telephone sanitisers", advertising executives and similar "useless" individuals. And then the humans are wiped out by a disease spread through dirty telephones ... In a world full of telephones (as a "human" world must be today) that disease is a hideous danger.)
But good on the "bedroom blogger", as the media has inevitably dubbed the 16-year-old who has organised a protest in Oxford in favour of animal experimentation. Having done some animal experiments in my agricultural science days (although luckily in ours the goat kids had a very pleasant life), I've seen some animal experiments that should never have been allowed. (A lively, intelligent, interested goat kid, in a metabolism cage 24 hours a day, like a battery hen, is not a pleasant sight.)

But there are some experiments that have to be done on animals - that can save large numbers of human lives (and often other animal lives too). Provided experiments are tightly supervised, the best possible welfare conditions are maintained, and the tests have a clear objective, they have to go on. And those who terrorise anyone associated with them - down to the cleaners and builders - have to be stopped.

Friday, February 24, 2006

A feminist Chekhov?

Olga Ivanovna is animated, clever, pretty, passionate and trapped in a small town, in a country that views another state, and another language, as holding the key to all elements of high culture. What is she to do? She twirls, she glows, she leaps around, collecting every visiting "star", every scrap of local talent, shining desperately as the life of every party.

You might remember the actress Amy Stratton from Brookside and Coronation Street (as Jenny Gibson and Davina Dawes respectively, so I'm told), but at the Union Theatre in Southwark now she is Olga, a spectacular, sparkling, but oh-so-fragile Olga.

And she's the undoubted shining light of an ambitious production, The Little Dressmaker, which Linnie Redman has adapted from Chekhov's short story "The Grasshopper". This is commonly presented as a morality tale about the dangers of thoughtless following of emotion, but, taking a feminist slant on the story, my sympathies are with Olga.

Perhaps the men in the town have few opportunities, certainly there are few for her friend "the Musician", played here in a technically virtuoso performance by David Laughton (on piano, violin, squeeze-box and balalaika). Despite his skills, he is reduced to camp posturing and disappointed flouncing, but how much fewer are the chances for women?READ MORE

Green dogs and green buses

Of course the Guardian has not been able to resist making it into a joke, but it makes perfect sense: San Francisco is planning to use dog faeces to generate energy. The city already recycles 60 per cent of its waste, but plans to further reduce the total by 75 per cent by 2010. Four per cent of the residential waste now is dog faeces, so this is obviously a problem to address.

Sunset Scavenger will place biodegradable bags and what are tastefully called dog-waste carts in a popular San Francisco dog park. The dog poo will then be put into a methane digester, where bacteria will eat away at it for two weeks before it turns into methane gas. The gas can then be used to power appliances such as cookers and heaters that currently run on natural gas. It can also be used to generate electricity.

Of course it is a gift to cartoonists, but it also sounds perfectly sensible to me, particularly having just been down to Regent's Park, where I noticed what someone was complaining about in the local paper - dog-owners who "scoop the poop", then dump the plastic bag on the spot. Of course you couldn't collect all dog faeces, but I'd bet the daily quantity across Regent's Park would be quite significant. And a lot of it already goes into specially designated bins.
There seems to be some confusion about when it started - according to Green Party sources it is today - but anyway, finally London is getting some (reasonably) green buses, which arehybrids that run a lot of the time on battery power. When running on diesel, they are charging the battery and braking also helps to charge it.

Pensions: the simple story ...

Get a pension, they say. Invest for the future. We're making it simple, they say.

Ha, I say.

The Independent was in the process of changing pensions schemes when I left. I went with the new one, because there was supposed to be extra back-pay paid into it. Whether or not I got that money who knows; it all got so complicated I gave up worrying about it.

So I'm with the new scheme, and I continue that as a stakeholder pension, contributing a modest amount myself each month.

But the money from the old scheme was not - for reasons I've given up trying to obtain - paid into the new one. So I've already got one scheme, my ex-Times one sitting around (which I haven't heard from for a couple of years - must chase that down), and I think I might as well amalgamate these two newest ones, to make it easier to keep track of them, and hopefully ensure I'm not paying too much in fees.

Current tally of phone calls: eight; current tally of letters: six. Have I managed to transfer the money yet? No.

Got to write another letter.


Friday Femmes Fatales No 45

Working on the final century of a collection of 500 female bloggers. Where are they? HERE!


Who could resist a blog called "Granny Gets a Vibrator"? Not me, and there's some great reading there, including an account of how Liz is starting a weightlifting revolution.

After that, it seems appropriate to point to - I think - the youngest-ever blogger on FFF: On My Life As A Vegan, 13-year-old Allie from Vermont sets out her anger at the use of pets as fashion accessories.

Turning political Agnostic Mom explains very clearly how Intelligent Design is philosophy, not science, but it is a philosophy that aims to destroy science. Meanwhile in Australia, Miss Eagle on Volunteer sets out how demands on parents for involvement in schools are growing.

On the professional side, Satellite Heart sets out why she doesn't like 18th-century British literature, but has to mark 33 under-graduate essays on the subject. Sounds like something close to hell ... She might not want to read Mary V. on OneWomanWreckingCrew, who is away from her blog at the moment, since she's set out to live her dream - life in a private wilderness.

But Chick with a Gun is enjoying a thousand-year-old Iranian story about the dangers of deceit. Gillian Pollack is meanwhile contemplating historic chapbooks, and helping children to write about wizards.

Then an interesting idea: Barbara Bellissimo, on Creating an Ideal Life Wearing a Tiara, was fed up that "experts" presented to us always seemed to be male. So she's creating podcasts of female experts. It's a commercial proposition - there's a small payment for the full podcast, but you can listen to a preview.

Then for something completely different: knitting is not my thing, but if you could knit a whale ... that's what the author of Raptures of the Deep, appropriately enough, has done.


You can find the last edition of Femmes Fatales here.

Nominations (including self-nominations) for Femmes Fatales are also hugely welcome - I'll probably get to you eventually anyway, but why not hurry along the process?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Put your thinking cap on ...

... although I doubt you'll have to think long and hard, to find a topic appropriate for International Blog Against Sexism Day. Whether you vent your speen on the subject just about every day (like me), or usually fume in silence, this is a day to put your heart where your brain is ...

And the day - March 8. International Women's Day, of course. But you knew that.

Men are particularly encouraged to participate.

Who says these are the arcane, unemotional arts?

Dry, serious scholarship, disapassionate criticism - that's the theory of research and reviewing of the arts. But emotion it seems, is breaking out all over.

First, a German academic has claimed that not only does she know with certainty what Shakespeare looked like, she also knows how he died.

Prof Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel said she could prove that there were at least four surviving portraits of the playwright. ... Startlingly, she said swellings close to Shakespeare's left eye, which she says are clear in several of the contested portraits, are evidence that he had lymph cancer. By dating the portraits, she said, it was likely that he had suffered for around 15 years in increasing pain and died from it.

Now of course, what Shakespeare looked like on one level doesn't matter one jot, but there is human curiosity - and an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery opening soon, which happens to claim that only one of the portraits is actually of the bard.

So distinctly unacademic language - "rubbish" is not usually an academic word, at least in reference to a scholar's work.

Then in Germany, a critic has been punished for a nasty review by having a dead swan dumped in his lap. After this his notes were snatched and he was chased from the theatre in the middle of the performance, in fear at the least of his bodily integrity.

The unfortunate critic, Gerhard Stadelmaier, of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, became a target because of his old-fashioned ideas about how theatre should be staged.
“This rubbish theatre has gone too far,” he said yesterday. “It is robbing us of our imaginations. When blood is called for you do not have to squirt syrup. Sex and desire do not have to be made flesh. You don’t have to show everything, but you do have to act.”

The actor claimed that he was merely trying to involve the audience.

I hereby put it on notice that although I'm a theatre critic, I'll pass on the swans, or even sparrows, thanks.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Ninth Carnival of Feminists ...

... is now up on Mind the Gap, and the team in Cardiff have done a spectacularly good job. There's a feast of good writing there, and some startling ideas: I had never heard of "Prozac feminism" before.

The number of new (to me) bloggers there is delightful - one of the main reasons why I started the Carnival of Feminists was to try to get different groups and networks in touch with each other, and I hope it is achieving that.

Mind you, contemplating this carnival left me wondering "how many feminist blogs are there in the world?"

If you take a baseline figure for total blogs of somewhere north of four million, (yes I've seen much larger, but I'm trying to get at an "active" figure), combine that with the fact about 60 per cent of those are run by women, that produces 2.4 million blogs.

Now I don't think I'd be going too far - in fact I'm probably being conservative, in saying that 10 per cent of those women, at least, must be feminist, whether they'd use that label or not. (If they occasionally post "it's not fair" in relation to gender - or proclaim their right to be who they want to be, and to do what they want to do, I'd class that as feminist.)

So there must be at least 240,000 feminist blogs out there. Well we've highlighted a few hundred in the editions thus far, but there are still plenty yet to be "discovered" by the carnival.

Perhaps you could tell the next host, Uma on Indian Writing, about one you know. (Email indianwriting AT gmail DOT com, or use the submission form.)

Turning history to gravel

It is astonishing that anyone should even think that destroying a 5,000-year-old large and complex religious site to make gravel was an acceptable option - but the Thornborough Henges are still not definitively safe:

A full public inquiry is now likely over the fate of land surrounding Thornborough Henges, three giant discs encircled by earthen ramparts which have survived from a complex of eight erected around 5000BC in the Vale of York.
The quashing of the plan by North Yorkshire county council was welcomed by English Heritage and the British Council for Archaeology which have ranked the complex as a "northern Stonehenge". Although short of dramatic stone relics, the area is rich in burial mounds, traces of settlements and an formal avenue which may have been used for ceremonial funerals.

Archaeology now can out of very faint evidence make a great deal, and imagine how much more could be done in 50 years' time ... there don't need to be great lumps of stone lying around for a great deal to be learnt.
Not in the news again: a 76-country study, the Global Media Monitoring Project, has found "women continue to be underrepresented, and sometimes outright ignored, as subjects of and sources for news".

"From Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe, we see the same patterns of under-representation and stereotyped portrayal of women in the news," said Anna Turley, coordinator of the most recent monitoring effort. "The reason for these patterns is complicated. From the story angle and the choice of interview questions to the use of language and the choice of images; all these have a bearing on the messages that emerge in the news. These patterns are deeply rooted not only in professional practice, but in wider social assumptions about female and male attributes, roles and competencies."

Don't know how I've missed it, but the Guardian has a cycling correspondent. This week was, apparently the start of the racing season - brrr, I shiver to think of it - and there's also a complicated debate about how inflated your tyres should be when travelling in the cargo hold of an aircraft. For those who like trivia.

A small thank you

The latest Carnival of the Vanities , No 179,is now up on A DC Birding Blog. Why am I mentioning this particularly? Because John very kindly made my Old Bailey Women Burglars post, the first "editor's pick". Thanks!

There are also excellent science posts - particularly the Darwin one - and a generally interesting collection. Do check it out.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A glimpse into the history of women's boxing ...

"The future George IV loved such social occasions, and in the Battle Royal (1788)...he is to be seen watching the match he has arranged between a working woman, 'Big Bess,' and his hanger-on Major William Hanger. The match fought at Plymouth lasted only five minutes, concluding with a knock-out blow and Big Bess being carried in triumph through the town exclaiming, 'I have done the Major!'"
This is from, I believe, the essay "Equivocations of Gender and Rank," Eighteenth-Century Life 16:1 (Winter 2002), 70-93. It was posted to the 18th-century email list by the author, Betty Rizzo.

Chimps: more like us than we've cared to admit

"Secret filming" (there is some point in CCTV!) has shown the complexity of chimpanzee tool use in the wild, and the way different troupe's "cultures" is passed along.

"The film shows the moment when a chimpanzee goes searching for a meal at a nearby termite mound. A male scrapes away some soil and takes a thick stick left nearby and thrusts it into the ground, grasping it with his hands and a foot, throwing his full body weight behind it. .. After making a hole a foot or so deep, the chimpanzee pulls the stick out and puts it to one side. He then takes a long, thin strand of grass from his mouth, chews the end to fray it, then feeds it down the hole to fish for termites. Meanwhile other chimps sit, strands of grass in their mouths, waiting for their turn."

In the "must be an amazing woman" category is Bibi Ayisha, 55, billed by the Telegraph as "Afghanistan's only female warlord".

Kaftar joined the resistance during the Soviet invasion, she claims. Her father was a powerful tribal leader and she had a naturally warlike temperament.
"It makes no difference if you are a man or a woman when you have the heart of a fighter," she said. Kaftar claims to lead 150 men and her only concession to gender roles on the battlefield is that she requires a male relative to be present when she is fighting, in line with Afghan tradition for women outside the home.

Pure barbarism: a US execution has been delayed, because doctors have pulled out of involvement. (What the hell were they doing there is the first place?!) So now officials are racing to complete the execution of Michael Angelo Morales before the warrant expires. But if it does, there's a good chance he'll survive.

Vernell Crittendon, a prison spokesman, confirmed that the prison has until 11.59 pm tonight (0759 GMT Wednesday) to execute Morales. After that, the death warrant expires and officials would have to go back to the trial judge who imposed the death sentence in 1983 for another warrant.
Seeking another warrant could prove difficult for the state, however, since the original sentencing judge, Charles McGrath, joined Morales this month in asking Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for clemency in the case. Judge McGrath said that he no longer believed the credibility of a jailhouse informant whose testimony helped to send Morales to death row.

So pure accidents of logistics will decide if a man lives or dies, a man whose guilt is now doubted by the judge who sentenced him ... US "justice"!

Monday, February 20, 2006

How women disappear from history: an Elizabethan example

In 1597 churches in England were ordered to keep their official registers (baptisms, marriages and burials) on parchment. The originals earlier in Elizabeth's reign had been written in paper.

In Rolleston, Nottinghamshire, the vicar, Robert Leband (in post between 1583 and 1625) often recorded details of the lives of the people he buried. One of this small obituaries was about the centenarian Joane Caley. It ran to 81 words in the original. In the official parchment copy the entry read "Joane Caley an ould woman".

Only the lucky survival of the original paper means that Joane has not been lost forever. The vicar who knew her thought she was important, some clerk who may not have didn't think an "old woman" worth any special notice.

From Beliefs and the Dead in Reformation England by Peter Marshall, OUP, 2002, p. 292. (Which is, by the way, excellent.)

A Champ 'separation anxiety' update

If you are not a dog person, feel free to look away now ...

Well after my temper had cooled I sent Battersea an email explaining that I felt disappointed in them (two days of frantic phone calls to the behaviour hotline not having produced any result), and they were immediately helpful. The story is that they thought the answerphone was working, after a period when it hadn't been, but maybe it wasn't. That is these days a pretty simple piece of technology, but anyway, these things do happen.

So I had a good long chat with a behaviour guy, and he broadly agreed with what I'm doing in terms of using the crate most of the time when I'm home (for no more than four hours at a time), spending time in the bedroom when he's in the living room, and trying going out for short periods.

What worried him, as it is worrying me, is that Champ doesn't seem to be happy about this at all, and is looking more stressed than before. The Battersea guy, unlike other sources, agrees with my view that separation anxiety isn't always (despite what most of the books say) about a dog that has put itself too high in the status hierarchy and therefore feels it has to protect the rest of its pack.

Instead it can just be a dog that is unhappy alone, nervous and insecure, which to my mind is Champ to a T. When we're out walking if something frightens him - and it doesn't have to be much, a flapping bit of tape will do it - he cowers into me for protection.

Anyway, I got the feeling he is expecting to see Champ back at Battersea soon, and it may well come to that, but I am going to give it another two weeks, in the hope Champ might suddenly decide to grin and bear it ...

No excuses: it has to be the Prius

Government ministers in the UK are being given a choice:

All members of the Cabinet have been told by the government car pool that when their car is up for renewal they can swap it either for an XL Jaguar or a Toyota Prius.
The Jaguar costs £50,000 and is regarded by environmentalists as a "gas guzzler", although it runs on biodiesel, which contains a 5 per cent blend of vegetable oil. The Toyota - priced at £17,500 - has a "hybrid" engine, running on petrol and electricity, which cuts its carbon emissions.

The Independent reports that at least one, unnamed, minister, has already said that he'll go for the Jag on the basis of "security".

Complete bosh! (A discussion on Five Live this morning suggested that "security" came down to it being a bigger car, and hence more collision-resistant, and more powerful, so "able to get out of trouble". Two questions: How much risk are ministers at? Not great - since Northern Ireland has calmed, anyway. How often has "a powerful car" saved a politician's life? No examples that I can think of.

Any minister who opts for a Jag should be named and shamed, embarrassed out of the government.

Elsewhere Caitlin Moran - a sort of poor-woman's Julie Burchill - has some interesting thoughts, amidst the sarcasm, about the apparent rash of people being convicted of varying offences that they filmed themselves on their mobile phones. Not that I'm a Baudrillard fan, but he might have something to say about it ... simulation and reality and all that.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

My first academic publication

It has taken a while - I wrote the piece the best part of 18 months ago - but my first academic article has just been published, Resurrecting Our Foremothers: My Hopes as a Biographer, Journalist, and Blogger. It is on Thirdspace, a feminist internet journal "for emerging scholars". (You might call mine a slow hatching, since I suspect most of the other contributors are rather younger.)

It draws for theory on my Mass Comm thesis, and in practice on my early experiences of blogging. Were I to be writing it now, it would include of course references to the Carnival of Feminists, but re-reading it now (when I'd pretty well forgotten what it contained) I am struck by the fact that there is a single theme in what I do, even though it is not obvious. From Miss Frances William Wynn's account of Princess Caroline and the pumpkin, to Friday Femmes Fatales, what I am trying to do is bring women to greater prominence, to preserve and propagate their words and thoughts.

Gosh, there is some sort of coherence after all ...

Do look too at other items in the journal, particularly "Writing Bridges: Memoir’s Potential for Community Building".

Elsewhere, I recently came across a more literary feminist journal, Trivia: Voices of Feminism. (I think they are taking postmodern irony too far in the title, but there is some interesting stuff there.)

Final call for the next Carnival of Feminists

Entries need to be in today (or perhaps early tomorrow). Winter on Mind the Gap is particularly asking for posts on Feminism and the Body, although any other feminist subject is also welcome.

Submissions to:

The baby choice, not the baby gap

You really do have to worry about the Observer, which is sounding more like the Daily Mail every week. It might want to adopt a new slogan - "Women must be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen".

The splash today is "UK baby shortage will cost £11 billion · Career pressures blamed for shortfall · Early motherhood cuts women's salaries". The story itself is not so bad, in fact has some sensible stuff about the need for childcare, flexible working etc, but most people will, of course, only absorb the headline.

It also persists in the "women just stupidly forgot to have children" trope:

"If women had had, by the age of 36-38, the number of children they wanted when they were aged between 21 and 23, the birth rate would be 13 per cent higher, it calculates. Only five per cent said they did not originally want children, yet four times as many were childless by their late thirties."

Well I wanted many things when I was 21 - although I didn't want children - and I don't now want many of the same things. I didn't want many of the same things when I was 25 or 30. At 21 you are still chiefly the product of your conditioning and upbringing - you are only just starting to grow up and construct yourself as an independent individual.

No doubt many of those women later changed their minds, or decided that while a baby might be nice, it wasn't their top priority. Also, no doubt, when they asked those early twenties women the question, they were thinking of having a baby as something that would happen in the far distant future - it is not a serious practical prospect.

With, as I've reported before, 30 per cent plus of women in Scotland chosing not to have babies, when are the researchers (and the newspaper editors) going to recognise that this is a valid, sensible, entirely normal choice?

Meanwhile, while I think Labour's focus on "choice" in schools and hospitals is ridiculous - you just want a good local one, I have to strongly disagree with the complaint about "too much choice" in general life. It is the same as information; you just need to turn the statement around. In the past we were information/choice poor - now we are rich.

Of course both personal and societal structures need to adapt, and there's likely to be some tension in that adjustment, but we don't want to go back to poverty. Certainly thousands of types of breakfast cereal might be ridiculous, but you can choose to ignore most or all of them, and if enough people do that there will be an immediate corrective effect. We've just got to celebrate good ranges of choices (such as whether or not to have babies), and ignore the silly, corporate ones.

But choice is yet to reach Wi-Fi A Times writer has a great idea for small businesses to get ahead of the big boys ... And I wonder if local government shouldn't play a role here too.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Friday Femmes Fatales No 44

Working on the final century of a collection of 500 female bloggers. Where are they? HERE!

(Apologies for missing an edition last week - the over-commitment to various projects got a little out of control. And yes I am a day late this week; will do better!)


First, the post of the week, from Stella on Where the Cornflakes Are. It is an account of her visit to the gynaecologist. Stella uses a wheelchair. So how is that relevant to the gyno? Well you wouldn't think it was.

But a close runner-up is from The Perorations of Lady Bracknell. The post is setting out her very firm views on grammar. "Should an individual say that he is "feeling down", he should be aware that what he is actually saying is that he is currently enjoying a somewhat intimate relationship with a duck."

And for a nuanced, sophisticated view of the still-raging cartoon controversy, on Nzingha's Soapbox of the moral dilemma in buying butter to bake cookies.

Inevitably there have been quite a few Valentine's Day posts this week. (Call me unromantic - because I am - but I've never got it: what is the point, except to sell lots of ridiculous expensive pieces of cardboard?)

A few women bloggers might be joining me in that view:
* On Turtle's Page of Joy that "what are you doing?" phone call turns awkward.
* Foto Fox on I am, Therefore I Date, doesn't believe the 'why I didn't call" story
* The Trail Guide on The Organ Trail, meanwhile, has another reason to call it V-day, although she's got some thoughts on the traditional celebration as well.

But lest I be accused of being a total cynic, I guess I'd better bring you one "good" V-day story, even if one from the past: On Testing the Cultural Divide, an account of "How a Red Commie hooked up with a True-Blue American".

In the "people abroad" category, Miss Prism, a Scot in the United States, might surprise local readers by finding good things to say about the American education system. (Well at least the higher education sector.) Have to agree with her, as someone who went to university to study science when I definitely should have been in the humanities. Had I started out with a bit of each, it would have been a lot easier to switch.

On Fumbling Towards Geekdom, meanwhile, StyleyGeek is wondering if anyone is actually born in the Australian town where she is now living, giving the stock set of "meet and greet" questions. (I reckon I could narrow it to at least a state, having spent some time in various Australian backblocks, but given the interests of pseudonymousness, I won't.)

Then, finally, the writer's/blogger's dilemma. A Wandering Woman on People Become Stories muses on how how to define work if you are an artist.


You can find the last edition of Femmes Fatales here.

Nominations (including self-nominations) for Femmes Fatales are also hugely welcome - I'll probably get to you eventually anyway, but why not hurry along the process?

Weekend reading

The Blair government is hell-bent on introducing more nuclear power, yet it can't even properly oversee the use of medical radiation (which as a life-saving measure is no doubt necessary).

A LETHAL beam of radiation was emitted from a casket containing highly radioactive waste on a three-and-a-half-hour road journey across England, it was disclosed yesterday.
Thousands of people were put at risk by the “cavalier” attitude of workers for the privatised company in charge of transporting the hospital waste.
Anyone standing one yard from the beam and in its direct path would have felt sick within ten minutes. After two hours they would have been dead.
Only by “pure chance” was no one directly exposed to the high concentration of cobalt-60 gamma rays that streamed from the container because of the failure to install a lead safety plug.

Something of a theme emerging here, given that the government has just privatised the supply of medical oxygen, and that system is also in chaos.

More cheerfully (well unless you were around at the time), it seems T. rex might after all have been the fearsome predator of childish imaginations, rather than the sober scavenger of scientific thought.

"A team of US scientists has produced detailed models of dinosaur brains, from which it concludes, from the shape and size of components of the dinosaur's brain linked to hearing, balance and the co-ordination of head and eye movement, that its sensory system was clearly that of a predatory rather than scavenging animal."

Meanwhile in New Zealand schoolchildren found the remains of a giant penguin, which would have stood to look us in the eye. Don't tell Disney!

The Guardian online editor's view of the blog.

So what is a blog? Let's just say it is an opportunity, not a threat.

A gift to an historical mystery writer

"Elizabeth Emma Thomas, buried 29th October 1808
The following extraordinary circumstance took place on interment of this person; viz:
On Saturday the 29th of October, the corpse was brought from a house in Charter-house-square, and buried in the Church-yard; on the following Monday A Head Stone was placed over her grave; with the following inscription:

In memory of
Mrs Elizabeth Emma Thomas,
who died the 28th October, 1808,
aged 23 years.
She had no fault, save what travellers give the moon:
The light was lovely, but she died too soon."

Commonplace enough. But then the locals of the parish of St Mary's Islington thought there was something odd about the way this had all happened so fast, so eventually - no doubt after much local excitement - an exhumation order was obtained. And when Mrs Thomas's body was examined, it was found there was a thin wire run through her ribs and into her heart.

Ahh, but then the explanation came. She had been buried fast and it all sorted out because the relatives were off to Paris. The wire had been inserted at their request, because they were worried about the possibility of her being buried alive ...

Mmmmmm ....

The History of Islington
, John Nelson, 1980, Philip Wilson, fascimile of the first edition of 1811, p. 364.

Friday, February 17, 2006

A play about a great woman

Isabelle Eberhardt was one of those Victorian-era women who did not so much throw over the traces as fling them to the heavens, then run away laughing. Born in Switzerland, to an eccentric, drunken anarchist father and a inept German mother who had fled to him from her Russian general husband, Isabelle grew up, at least on the account of New Anatomies, the play that has just opened in London, addicted to fantasies of the desert and Islam that had been her childhood refuge.

As a young woman, with both parents dead, she visited, with her staunchly conventional sister Natalie, her beloved brother Antoine in Algiers, where he had run away to the Foreign Legion. There she adopted male dress, the name Si Mahmoud, and took to the desert in the company of members of a Sufi mystic order. Despite her Islamic faith, she also, said one acquaintance, "drank more than a Legionnaire, smoked more kif than a hashish addict, and made love for the love of making love".

Forced back to Paris, she can only return to the desert as a French spy. But can she be truly free? Somehow you know what the answer is going to be, even if you haven't cheated by reading the biography first. READ MORE

Stop thinking and emote ...

An interesting study from Science is reported today in the Guardian. A study has found that snap decisions - the sort of thing traditionally called "emotional" and products of "women's intuition" - are often better than those that involve careful weighing of the facts of a problem, i.e. "rational" decisionmaking.

"Conscious thinkers were better able to make the best choice among simple products, whereas unconscious thinkers were better able to make the best choice among complex products," wrote Dr Dijksterhuis ...
The problem with thinking about things consciously is that you can only focus on a few things at once. In the face of a complex decision this can lead to giving certain factors undue importance. Thinking about something several times is also likely to produce slightly different evaluations, highlighting inconsistencies."

It makes me think of the real estate theory that people decide within two minutes of reaching the front door whether or not they are going to buy a house - surely this sort of decision. It might not be as silly a method as it sounds.

So perhaps we could all just feel that global warming is happening, and dangerous, and do something about it?
In The Times today:

If mankind does not put its house in order, temperatures could have risen by 15C (27F) by the year 3000 and sea levels by more than 11 metres (36ft), flooding much of London, the team, from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, says in a report for the Environment Agency. Abrupt changes could make Britain much hotter, or even — such is the uncertainty of the predictions — first colder and then hotter.
This could happen if the North Atlantic current system collapsed, denying Britain the warming effect of the Gulf Stream. Ocean surface temperatures would fall by 3C (5.4F), but as the Arctic sea ice melted, they would rise again by 8C (14.4F) in an abrupt turnabout over a period of no more than about 20 years.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

A sudden outbreak of good judgement in Australia

The Australian lower house of parliament has voted overwhelmingly to strip licencing power for an abortion drug from a health minister unable to separate his private religion from his public duty (so overwhelmingly that there wasn't even a vote - which was a bit of a pity really -it would be nice to have the numbers. The picture of two women parliamentarians, from different parties, celebrating with champagne, is a powerful argument for more women in parliament - when it comes to the crunch they can at least sometimes make a real difference.

Former Victorian premier Joan Kirner said the decision was "almost as important as the right to equal pay".
"In my generation in the Parliament it was still the blokes making the decisions and mainly doing deals between themselves, as in the Harradine case, rather than involving the people who were most affected by the decision, and that is women. This time it was women leading the debate …"

And a judge has order that anti-Iraq war protesters who painted their message on the Sydney Opera House should get their pot of paint back - it is thought likely headed for a museum. Nice to see history being preserved for posterity.

A "pumpkin head" - gossip about Queen Caroline

My 19th-century blogger, Miss Frances Williams Wynn, is today indulging in what can only be described as pure gossip - albeit it delicious gossip, about Queen Caroline of Brunswick, who was, you might say, a character. A sample:

When the Princess was at Baden and the Grand Duke made a partie de chasse for her, she appeared on horseback with a half-pumpkin on her head. Upon the Grand Duke's expressing astonishment, and recommending a coiffure rather less extraordinary, she only replied that the weather was hot, and nothing kept the head so cool and comfortable as a pumpkin.

A powerful contribution to Australia's abortion debate

A British study has found that chemically induced abortion can be safely completed at home.

Shirley Butler, the project manager of one pilot which has tested the abortions with 172 women patients since 2004, told the Guardian: "We haven't had any significant problems apart from one woman who had a slightly heavy bleed. In my opinion medical abortions outside of acute hospitals seem to be safe." She added that women who took part in the trial were positive about it.
...Chemical abortions are available before the 12th week of pregnancy. Women who request it take one tablet of mifepristone at a hospital then return two days later to take four doses of misoprostol which causes a termination within hours. Usually women remain in hospital after taking the second pills until the abortion is complete. Under the trials they took both sets of pills within local community clinics to test the theory that it is safe to be outside hospital, and therefore at home.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

A pub with fresh air - finally civilisation

Well the MPs have got it wrong on ID cards and terror "glorification", but they got it right at least on the smoking ban - yahoo - I'll soon (well "summer 2007" - why SHOULD it take so long) be able to go into a pub without making myself ill with second-hand smoke.

And what is interesting is the lack of fuss; despite Blair's timidity, everyone knew this had to be the decision, and England is only just catching up with the rest of the UK.

Health officials proclaimed the vote a historic victory, to be compared with the 1948 NHS Act or the clean air legislation which ended city smog in the 50s. ... That should cut the 85,000 smoking related deaths a year, pro-ban MPs believe. Scotland and Northern Ireland have already enacted public bans and the Welsh assembly has agreed in principle.

A judge has also been seeing sense, in refusing to direct that the NHS supply a drug as yet unproven for the proposed use - early-stage breast cancer. The word that keeps popping into my head on this is "thalidomide". The approvals process is there for a reason, having been slowly and painstakingly assembled over decades to avoid disasters. Yet the problem is now that as soon as a drug starts to look promising, patients are going to demand it - hey, if it were me I might be doing the same thing, but the fact is checks do have to be maintained, to ensure the benefits do indeed outweigh the risks.

London a century ago

If you're depressed at the state of the world, I'd suggest a quick read that illustrates how far we've come. The complete text of Jack London's The People of the Abyss is online (and unusually weel-presented for easy reading). A small sample:
Mr. A. C. Pigou has said that the aged poor and the residuum which compose the `submerged tenth,' constitute 7 and 1/2 per cent of the population of London. Which is to say that last year, and yesterday, and to-day, at this very moment, 450,000 of these creatures are dying miserably at the bottom of the social pit called `London.' As to how they die, I shall take an instance from this morning's paper.

Yesterday Dr. Wynn Westcott held an inquest at Shoreditch, respecting the death of Elizabeth Crews, aged 77 years, of 32 East Street, Holborn, who died on Wednesday last. Alice Mathieson stated that she was landlady of the house where deceased lived. Witness last saw her alive on the previous Monday. She lived quite alone. Mr. Francis Birch, relieving officer for the Holborn district, stated that deceased had occupied the room in question for 35 years. When witness was called, on the 1st, he found the old woman in a terrible state, and the ambulance and coachman had to be disinfected after the removal. Dr. Chase Fennell said death was due to blood-poisoning from bed-sores, due to self-neglect and filthy surroundings, and the jury returned a verdict to that effect.
The most startling thing about this little incident of a woman's death is the smug complacency with which the officials looked upon it and rendered judgment. That an old woman of seventy-seven years of age should die of self-neglect is the most optimistic way possible of looking at it. It was the old dead woman's fault that she died, and having located the responsibility, society goes contentedly on about its own affairs.- Chapter 4

So the classic "died alone and body not found for x months" that causes great fuss today is in fact nothing new - except then landladies collected their cash in person.

History Carnival No XXIV

Welcome to the carnival. I'd recommend the library, a leather armchair, a long winter evening (you might want to draw the blinds in the southern hemisphere), a dog to keep your feet warm, and a glass of whatever tipple takes your fancy - or you might want to bring the bottle ...

In part inspired by the loss in one week of two great women, I called for posts celebrating the lives of women achievers. Ralph E. Luker on the History News Network provided an appropriate place to start, putting the lives of Coretta Scott King and Betty Friedan in context.

Robert Tatum on The Information Junkie concludes Scott Kinghad a tremendous influence over the civil rights movement. On Friedan, Intellectual Conservative accepts she "was a remarkable woman who deeply influenced the culture of her time", but says "women's liberation" would have arrived without her.

But so many great women never had the chance to be famous, to write their name on what's usually called history. Jennifer, on Penguin Unearthed, digs out the story of her father's mother. "At the end of her high schooling, she sat for a University Scholarship, an exam for the whole of New Zealand, to decide who got put through university by the state. That year, nine scholarships were awarded (all to boys), and she came 10th. The year before and after that, there were more scholarships awarded (also all to boys)." It is a story that, in varying forms, you read and hear so often.

And that's been the case throughout written (and pre-written) history, a point that Alun makes in his excellent post on feminist archaeology. "I don’t think the real question is 'is a "feminist archaeology" needed at all?' It’s 'is a "feminist archaeology" inevitable?' "

But lest I be accused of being unbalanced, I will note that some women found fame for all of the wrong reasons. Laura James on CLEWS: The Historic True Crime Blog has found a picture of one of them, Countess Marie Tarnowska. Laura says she was "one of the world's worst women".


Now, a light interlude ... but no you can't make anything so prosaic as a cup of tea, for Other Men's Flowers has a small selection of recipes from a 1923 cookbook assembled from the suggestions of 400 actresses. Go on - you know you want to collect half a pint of rose petals ...

Or if you would prefer a musical break, Diamond Geezer explores the white cliffs of Dover. You will, however, have to find your own MP3 of Vera Lynn. (Go on - leave one in the comments.)

For some visual stimulation, the always stunning Giornale Nuovo offers a "paper museum" that blooms, and crouches and growls.

But if you want to go highbrow, I'm going to use the host's privilege of one link here to point you to one of my other blogs, My London Your London, where I reviewed an amazing theatre performance that blends ancient Greek music and Cheironomia with the stories of the classical world. It sounds inaccesible, but if Gardzienice ever come your way, I'd say you have to see them.


Break over, I turn back to the weighty, geopolitical stuff. On The Moor Next Door, Nouri Lumendifi offers a theory of nationalism. The English/French/American model developed to legitimise pre-existing structures; the "eastern" model as a reaction to this. As someone who considers themselves a "citizen of the world", I'm always interested in explanations for what I consider a curious phenomenon.

Sticking to the "nation-building theme", on CLASSical Liberalism (yes those caps have meaning) Kenneth R. Gregg introduces Tadeusz (or Thaddeus) Andrzej Bonawentura Kosciuszko (pronounced KOS-CHOOS-KO. (But being Australian, I knew that - our biggest mountain, which Europeans would call a hill - is named after him.)

But is the American nation living through a giant Groundhog Day? That old question - can you use the past to predict the present? - is explored with more than usual sophistication by "the editor" on the OUPBlog: perhaps the nation really is re-entering the political world of 1976?

If you can't answer that, the problem might lay in the lack of theory. On Blog Them Out of the Stone Age, Mark G. concludes that military history still sucks. (Correction, apologies, this was a guest post on Mark's blog by Nicolas Palar.) It needs to look beyond the battlefield, he suggests. Tom, on Big Tent Extra, however, sounds like a man who's entered this fight once or twice before: It is s a dynamic, complex, interesting, and important field of study, he says. And on goes the debate: Alan Baumer on Frog in a Wall (China) suggests historians are prepared to show their "ignorance" in this field in a an odd way.

Now I've whipped that old argument up nicely, I'll switch my stirrer over to another bubbling cauldron, that of colonialism, or subaltern studies, or Orientalism or ..... (fill in your term of preference). On Frog in a Wall, Jonathan Dresner has a go at coining a new term - colonialogy - for the field. Owen Miller responded to that from the perspective of the continuing Korean/Japanese historiographical struggle.


Whew, after all of that, I feel the need for a bit of nicely digestible narrative.

I'll begin with another time and another place, far, far away ... Laputan Logic is travelling the Indian Ocean with a 10th-century sea captain, Buzurg ("Big") ibn Shahriyar. (The book survives today in one copy in an Istanbul mosque - the sort of fact that immediately make me wonder how many similar wonders have been lost to us.)

Since I'm (roughly) in the vicinity, I'll then point you to The Palm Leaf's account of the dynasties of southern India. I immediately want to know more about "the revered elder sister of Raja Raja Chozhar, the consort of Vallavarayar Vandiyathevar, Azwar Paranthakar Kundavaiyar", but I'm not sure that's possible.

Turning back to the military, on The Dougout, Grant Jones has an account of the chequered career of Gregory "Pappy" Boyington. Again on the Korean Frog in a Well (could I put in a plea for Latin font blog heads on these, BTW, to make them easier to sort apart?) K.M. Lawson allows us to follow his explorations of the archives of the early postwar US occupation of Korea There seem to be lots of minutes of meetings involved; just the thought sends a shiver down my spine ...

On Airminded, there's an explanation of some poignant Japanese ARP posters. It reminds me of an English account of the immediate pre-WWII period, when multiple references are made to "gas chambers", which then meant rooms sealed in the home of surviving a poison gas attack. There's a second set of Japanese posters here.

Now you are not allowed to pull out the tapes until you've finished with the carnival, but on Memorabilia Antonina, Tony Keen is shocked to find that Boris Johnson (the British Conservative Party's resident buffoon) has presented a decent account of Ancient Rome and its meaing for the EU.

Boris as a good "small government" Tory wouldn't agree, but I can't help thinking that an official town historian, required by statute - wouldn't it be nice if London had employed one of those? Well, Blake Bell on Historic Pelham reports, New York State has required that from at least 1913.

I said "no tapes", but you might want to turn to check out your bookshelf at this moment. On Nomadic Thoughts, Will says there's only one text you should have for Meso-America, The Ancient Maya, now up to its sixth edition. On A Canadian Lefty in Occupied Land, Scott, meanwhile recommends Sex, Dissidence and Damnation: Minority Groups in the Middle Ages. (You can't say the carnival isn't a broad church.)

If you're feeling like taking up your pen yourself a retro-blogger, the gorgeously named The Rev. Vicesimus Knox, has some suggestion on the personality you need if you want to be a satirist.


Now, are you sitting comfortably? Well I'm about to really transport you far, far away ...

On "The Official and Unofficial Weblog of the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project" (no, I don't understand how that works) there's an invitation not just to visit, but to get digging ...

On the Portable Antiquities Blog, however, the digging has already been done. The work is all in the interpretation, of a mysterious runic fragment of gold. The conclusions are considerably more extensive than you might expect. (For those who don't know, this is the blog of the scheme that encourages members of the public to present for recording archaeological objects that they have found. I hear regularly that it is throwing up vast amounts of information, as well as the occasional bobby pin.)

Glaukopidos is meanwhile wondering about the nature of archaeological evidence. How can you tell what an armless, legless, headless statue was?

But false identification can be a problem in lots of places. Now I'm sure you've remembered Valentine's Day - you have remembered, haven't you? - but if you need to send a belated apology, what could be better than turning to the words of Sappho. But whose words are they? Classics in Contemporary Culture has the answer.

If you're going travelling, you'll want the right wardrobe - BibliOdyssey offers some suggestions from the 19th-century Le Costume Historique.


Not being a teacher myself, I'm afraid for all those academics straining at the leash I've left the "professional" section to last ...

First up here, on Logan Lounge, Jeremy reviews a book on "the origins of us" - in other words a history of universities.

Then, a lament with which I'm sure many researchers will be familiar - The Little Professor finds she has too many Hermentrudes and too few Catholics. Data sets just never arrive in neat, appropriate quantities.

But this seems an appropriate point to mention something new and even revolutionary in the research world - research built around what was once a vast and unwieldly body of data, the records of London's Old Bailey court, which have suddenly been made astonishingly accessible and usable through the internet. That inspired Jonathan on The Head Heeb to organise the First Online Symposium on the Old Bailey Session Papers. Eight researchers participated, yours truly among them, and I think I can say entirely fairly that the standard is excellent - and the range of papers illuminating. Conclusions were drawn on everything from the Polynesian community in early 19th-century London to the evolution of new forms of policing through word proximity searches. (Those into number-crunching will want to check out that paper.)

But what caused the murder in the university? History: Other suggests the victim was probably one of that dreaded breed, the seminar mutterer.

Finally, I'll admit that Bardiac drew me in with his intro - anyone for a ovarium instead of a seminar? - but there are some excellent ideas in his post about teaching Chaucer. And that seems a nice point to finish the carnival on ...

Thanks very much to everyone who contributed - particularly the carnival founder Sharon Howard, Alun and Jonathan Dresner; all errors are of course mine. If you find them, please tell me and I'll fix them ASAP.

The next carnival will be on hosted by Miland Brown on World History Blog on March 1. Email: miland AT usa2014 DOT com. Or you can use the Blog Carnival submission form.

UPDATE, 11.30am: Just realised I missed a nomination: Blood & Treasure is enjoying some Aubrey blogging. Among the highlights, Mary, Countess of Pembroke, the greatest Patronesse of witt and learning of any Lady in her time. But of course, that means she must have been sexually deviant ...

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A great girls' night out - for one week only

The five women playing all of the parts, including the male parts, might have reminded me of my school days, and as for the song and dance sections - well they might have been better sticking to taped music - but it is a long time since I've laughed so much in an hour as I did tonight at the opening of It's a Girl! at the White Bear Theatre.

The conceit behind the production is that this is being presented by The "Bradshaw Regain Your Shape After Pregnancy Coffee Circle". "Bradshaw" - somewhere Londoners call "up north" and northerners call "down South" - has, at the beginning of the play, been selected as the site for a "low-level" nuclear waste dump. They're "trying to twin us with Chernobyl," one of the circle complains.

But at first the identified heroine of the piece, Linda Bragg (Joanna Doyle, who does a nice line in pony-tailed vulnerability) is more concerned about getting pregnant, with her husband Melvyn (played to full comic effect by Marie Blount), who's enthusiastic about the project. But when she succeeds, without the help of the American gangster-style doctor (Margaret-Ann Bain), her husband loses interest: "You've got a full tank and you want me to squeeze in a gallon", he complains. Then he's horrified at her sudden desire for a home birth: the bed's "not even orthopaedic", he exclaims.

The apparent frail Linda, while offering a social history in a sentence - "Me Mum had one in a prefab, two in a back-to-back and three on the 19th floor of a tower block" - sticks to her guns, and with the sometimes reluctant support of the coffee circle - an appropriately ill-matched group thrown together simply by the accident of date of conception - stands up for the village against the waste dump.

This is sketch comedy rather than drama, so the characterisation is Spice Girls-simple. There's the pink-tracksuited, hoop-earringed Mary (who is always trying to get the "girls" to go down the pub) - played with verve by Sarah Armstrong. She has only to say "I think you have to be philosophical", to crack up both her fellow coffee circle members and the audience. Celia, the grumpy opera-lover is the determined loner; Eve is the smart, cool one who does the "presentation" of the play within the play (and Bain does a good job stepping in and out of the two "roles"); and Mina is the middle class one who is into yoga and rose-hip tea.

Then there's the histrionic, distinctly odd, childless spinster midwife (Avril Poole), who starts off on the doctor's side but is won over to the women's cause - of home birth and Greenpeace-style protest against the construction of a dump.

The wisecracks fly thick and fast, the tears are jerked for all their worth, and its hardly surprising that there's a happy ending to love, and life and babies.

It's a Girl! would make a great "girls' night out", although the boys in the audience were laughing just as hard last night. But it is only playing until Sunday, so you'll have to arrange it quickly. And you might want to watch out for the production company, Pedlar - I have a feeling they'll be good at entertainment.

The White Bear Theatre is two minutes from Kennington Tube. Tickets can be booked on 020 7793 9193.

Final reminder - history carnival

You've only got about eight hours to get in your nominations for the next Carnival of History, which will be here tomorrow.

I'm particularly looking for celebrations of women's lives - and we've lost several feminist icons in the past few weeks, so you shouldn't be short of ideas for subjects. They just need to be written with a broadly historical approach.

But if you've written a neat little post on any other subject, then please do send that along to, whether it be about Neanderthals, (yes I consider "history" to include "prehistory" - since I don't think it has got a carnival of its own), Nigeria or No Man's Land.

The nomination address: natalieben AT journ DOT freeserve DOT co DOT uk. (But any other of my addresses will find me.)

The world's new female leaders are doing well

Bronwen Maddox in The Times today reports that Angela Merkel is doing "astonishingly" well in running Germany.

Just months after an election Merkel barely won, over Gerhard Schroder, Chancellor for seven years, she now has the approval of an astounding 80 per cent of Germans. They seem pleased that their unorthodox choice -— female, from the East, Protestant, divorced, and childless -— has proved a success. "She'’s seen off the men in suits," said one Western official. "It is a central moment in German unification."

I'm not really sure that this should be a surprise. Given all of the obstacles - particularly the extremely patriarchal structure of German society - that she had to surmount to get where she did, she's probably finding actually running the country a breeze.

That prompted me to go looking to see how other recently elected women leaders were doing.

In Liberia, there is controversy because Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has appointed the head of the electoral commission as justice minister.

The BBC's Jonathan Paye-Layleh in the capital, Monrovia, says it is almost certain that [Frances Johnson-Morris'] nomination will be backed by the senate.
She would become Liberia's first female justice minister - named by its first elected female leader.

Perhaps it would be better not to have done that, but I don't suppose the country is exactly over-supplied with qualified people unsullied by contact with previous regimes.

In Chile, meanwhile, Michelle Bachelet, has kept her pledge in select a gender-balanced cabinet.
The 54-year-old pediatrician and president-elect designated her cabinet of ministers, which for the first time in history will be made up of equal numbers of men and women ... Several of Bachelet's 10 women ministers have been appointed to key portfolios, including the General Secretariat of the Presidency, in charge of relations with Congress, to be headed by socialist lawyer Paulina Veloso, and the Defence Ministry, under economist Vivianne Blanlot of the Party for Democracy (PPD).

There's even talk that France might soon see its first female president, Segolene Royal.

And maybe America? Well I don't believe the Hillary Clinton versus Condoleezza Rice scenario, but, hey, it would certainly make for an interesting race. Just imagine all those old white males in suits spluttering in indignant incomprehension.

Monday, February 13, 2006

How to translate Latin the hard way

Well I've put out begging letters everywhere I can think of, and no one has volunteered to translate my early modern Latin about Dame Helen Branch. But the fates must be telling me I should do it myself, since I've in recent days stumbled across The White Trash Scriptorium (including a list of Latin-English names, which I badly need), and the National Archives' Beginner's Latin.

Well my French studies aren't going anywhere at the moment ....

Hat-tips to Glaukopidos and Early Modern Notes.

Weep for Australia. Weep

Australia was once a country that led the world in human rights law, and where racist comments were simply laughed out of court. Its "femocrats" were world-famous for their influence.

AUSTRALIA could become a Muslim nation within 50 years because "we are aborting ourselves almost out of existence", a Government backbencher says.
The former minister Danna Vale is one of five Coalition women proposing an amendment to the private member's bill that seeks to remove ministerial veto over abortion drugs such as RU486. At a news conference called by the five yesterday, she said it was important politicians considered the ramifications "for the community and the nation we become in the future".
"I have read … comments by a certain imam from the Lakemba Mosque [who] actually said that Australia is going to be a Muslim nation in 50 years' time," said Mrs Vale, MP for the southern Sydney seat of Hughes.
"I didn't believe him at the time. But … look at the birthrates and you look at the fact that we are aborting ourselves almost out of existence by 100,000 abortions every year … You multiply that by 50 years. That's 5 million potential Australians we won't have here."

Oh, but the opposition to the drug is purely on health grounds, the religious lobby says. It isn't about abortion at all, really, really.

What went wrong with Australia? I really don't know any more. I used to have theories, but it has now gone so from bad to worse they no longer seem adequate.

Beware the fervent host

My 19th-century "blogger" Frances Williams Wynn is today telling a gorgeously Gothic tale of long-delayed revenge. The message seems to be beware the overly generous host.

It also contains a lovely usage of a word I've never seen in this context before, "peached", meaning in Australian "dobbed", or for those who need a further translation "told tales about/reported to the authorities".

The Mail's new leaf?

I find it extremely hard to believe, but the Media Guardian is reporting that the Daily Mail editor "Dacre ... may now suspect that some women readers could be wearying of the masochistic hatred of their own gender that the Mail has enticed them with". No don't get too excited, the basis of the argument is Allison Pearson. Still, given its influence, any move towards a little humanity has, I suppose, to be a good thing.
Bernard-Henri Levy has issued a call to arms to the American Left. He wants them to oppose the death penalty ... here, here - but is there the courage to do that? What would happen if politicians actually acted on their convictions? Interesting question, since pandering to opinion polls seems to have been notably ineffective.
The revenge of the quail: it is a rule of thumb in newspapers that you can't make fun of something when someone is seriously injured, but since Dick Cheney's hunting partner, and target, is about to be released from hospital, I guess I'm allowed a chortle. And to wonder if a man obviously unsuitable for being in charge of a shotgun should really be playing with nuclear weapons ...

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Women's History/Literary Links, plus bonuses ...

Trying to clear out my Gmail account at least (if I haven't emailed yet I should get to you soon-ish), and am reminded of lots of excellent recent links:

Brilliant, early feminist essays (pub. 1886-1915) on Emily Dickinson's life, letters, & poetry by: (1) Emily Fowler Ford, (2) Ella Gilbert Ives, (3) Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant, (4) Thomas Wentworth Higginson, (5) Susan Huntington Dickinson, (6) Lilian Whiting, and (7) Martha Dickinson Bianchi

Ellen's recent post on the artist Angelica Kauffman. Ellen has also revamped her web resources on the poet Anne Kingsmill Finch.

A complete academic book, Historicizing Romantic Sexuality online. The site doesn't really describe why, but hey, it is a great idea.

Then a whole journal online, the Medieval Forum. In the latest issue are articles including "Chaucer and the early Church" and "The Interactions of Papal and Royal Power in John Capgrave's Abbreuiacion of Cronicles".

I may have pointed to this before, but it is brilliant Internet Shakespeare editions.

The letters of an Elizabethan "intelligencer", William Herle.

Web resources for 18th-century studies.

A few Old Bailey symposium notes

You'll see the post immediately below is my contribution to the Old Bailey Session Papers symposium. I've been enjoying reading the other contributions - do follow the link and check them out. They include other pieces that might be generally described as "social history", like mine, and also a quite astonishing piece of statistical work for those who prefer numbers.

I didn't want to get distracted from the point in my main post, but what was noticeable, as I conducted the research for mine, was how hard the Old Bailey juries tried to avoid reaching verdicts that would result in the death penalty. Frequently burglary charges were downgraded by say concluding that 4am was not "in the night" and therefore the charge could not be burglary, or coming to the same conclusion because a homeowner could not swear that a door or window had been locked. That's in addition to the well-known practice of greatly downgrading the actual value of the stolen goods.

In Penny Richard's piece there is the case of a man acquitted of stealing a ring because of mental disability, caused by medical and personal problems; in Sharon Howard's an account of an arson case: "In the 1737 trial of John Wright it emerged that he had told the examining JP that "he had been in a melancholy Way, and that he did this [i.e, started the fire], in Order to be Hanged he seeme’d to be in a very heavy dull Condition, and said, he wanted to get out of this Life." This was corroborated by other witnesses and John was acquitted." (Shows that the "death by police" practice about which there was a panic a couple of years ago is nothing new.)

But overall, despite the prevalence of the death penalty, the impression is certainly of juries trying to be as merciful and humane as they could possibly be, and recognising the circumstances that diminished responsibility.

Rather good for your faith in human nature, really.

The women burglars of the Old Bailey Online

This post (which is very long - sorry - on Blogger you can't put things under the fold, at least as far as I know) is part of the Old Bailey Session Paper Symposium, which has been organised by Jonathan of The Head Heeb.

On August 23, 1676, what was reputed to a long criminal career of a "young" woman, Martha Harman, was cut short. The Proceedings of the Old Bailey online record that she had "broke open a house at Islington; a Crime rarely attempted by that Sex". (u16760823-1) An alternative account (t16760823-1) says that she had gone to Islington with two "Gronies", and at midnight they tried to use to use a picklock to break into a dwelling within a house in which the mother of one lived. (The record is not entirely clear, but it seems likely the ringleader, whose mother's house it was, was Martha. The names of the other two are not recorded.)

This failed, so they went to the mother and got from her a key, which they used to lever open a casement. Then,

Whilst one stood ready at the Window to receive the Booty, and the other was very advantageously posted in the Street, to give notice to the Attacquers, if any Alarm hapned. They stole a considerable quantity of Linnen and Cloaths, and had done more mischief, had they not been frighted with a noise, as if somebody were stirring in the Chamber; however they got away safe, but with such unlucky haste, that they left the Key in the Room, which the Woman of the house next Morning finding, and knowing it to be her Neighbours, whose Daughter was noted to be of an ill repute, she seized them upon suspicion; and they in effect confessed the Fact before the Justice: but the Jury found only two Guilty, so that their Scout was acquitted.

Despite the suggestion of Martha being a hardened criminal, she hardly fits our profile of such. And the comment of the Old Bailey recorder of burglary being a rare crime for women seems to fit with modern statistics.

But I was interested in early modern women burglars, after learning about possibly the most famous of them - Mary Frith, as she styled herself, although she's better known as "Moll Cutpurse". She first makes an appearance on the criminal record living up to that traditional tag: On August 26, 1600, she and two other women were indicted for snatching "a purse kept in a breast pocket and containing 2 shillings and 11 pence from an unknown man at Clerkenwell". The court records that she confessed, but the 15-year-old Mary and her companions were found not guilty. Two years later she was again in trouble, suspected of taking of purse containing 25 shillings.

But then her criminal career seems to have turned more serious. (Or she finally got caught.) The Surrey Assizes recorded a charge that on September 8, 1609, "Frythe, Mary of St Olave, Southwark … burgled the house of Alice Bayly at St Olave and stole £7 7s in money, two gold angels, a gold 20-shilling piece, 2 gold half-crowns, a gold ring (6s) and 2 crystal stones set in silver (20d)". Quite a haul. Moll, however, escped with a not guilty verdict (not as surprising as it sounds, for juries were reluctant to convict women for capital offences). She went on to a lively career and died in a comfortable bed in her old house in old age.

But in her memoir*** (The Life and Death of Mrs Mary Frith), Mary makes no mention of this. She proud explains her link with the "cutpurses", although claims to have always been a fence rather than a practitioner; she admits to being a bawd (for men and women she says), but on burglary, nothing. That set me wondering: why would she leave this out of the highlights of her life? Then, further, was she exceptional in being a female burglar? (I hadn't read of any others.)

The perfect tool for answering at least the second question was readily at hand, in the form of the Old Bailey online (about which I wrote for The Times a few years ago, while seeking my criminal "relatives"). So I set to work on the nicely intuitive search engine. (It has definitely improved since the last time I used it.)

The search was for the crime of burglary, between the start of the records in 1674 and December 1693 (to stay broadly within Mary Frith's period), and for female defendants. That produced 128 results. (A comparable search for males produced 457 - not so great a difference as I had expected.)

Not all of these, however, are accused of being what you might describe as the traditional "burglar" - the person breaking into a house and taking what they find. A number of cases are more complicated, such as that of Margaret Slath (t16840515-19), whose employer, the distinctly uncharitable Minister of Elin, claimed "when four Men, in the Dead of the Night, broke in and Rifled his House, that he had found her to be so ill a Woman, he greatly Suspected she let in the said Thieves, or left the Door open for them". Happily Margaret was acquitted, and one assumes she found a new job. The accusation against her seems, however, to have been a common one. (Another example is Martha Tanner t16870406-32.)

So, I went through those 128 cases to identify those that seems to fit a "traditional" burglary charge - the breaking into a house or shop (not a distinction that always means much in this period) and taking away of valuables. I excluded those where so little information is provided that it is hard to get any idea of what happened, or even allegedly happened, (e.g. t16760510-8). Those in which the women seem to have been taken up simply because they were with male sexual partners when they were arrested (often no evidence is provided against them and they are acquitted on that basis) I also excluded. Of course they may well have been as, or more, involved, than their men, but there seems to be no way of recovering that now. To some extent one has to trust the juries to have made reasonable judgements, and in general it seems from the surviving evidence that they did so.

For what I primarily wanted to do was get a sense of how women burglars operated - whether they had "careers", whether they tended to use particular tactics, or target particular sorts of victims, whether they worked alone, or in all-female or mixed gangs. I came up with 33 crimes in which it seemed reasonably clear what had happened. Of those cases, in 14 the women appeared to be working with men (often their sexual partners), in eight cases two or more women were working together, in nine cases they appeared to be acting alone, and in two cases there were accomplices whose sex was unknown.

Given the limitations of the data (and the fact that the vast majority of crimes in London were unsolved, so the criminals who got caught might not be representative), I'm not going to make too much claim for those figures, but nonetheless, they do suggest that women burglars were far from just accomplices of men, but acted independently, alone or with female compatriots.

Some were so inept that it is tempting to think they were simply desperate women who hardly cared if they got caught or not. The case that comes to mind is that of Anne Miller, who on November 2, 1691 broke through a door and snatched some clothing, but was seen by a man sitting by the fire. As defences go her "she was troubled with the Falling Sickness, and so fell into the house, the door being opened", unsurprisingly didn't stand up.

Some seem to have been pure thugs, such as Margery Yoel (t16831212-27), who with another woman ("both disguised in Mens Clothes") broke into the house of Edward Stone "a poor ancient Man that lived alone" and by threats extracted from him everything of value that he owned. Other cases, like that of Martha Harman with which this article began, were perhaps more youthful larks gone wrong, possibly fueled by alcohol.

But there are cases that look calculated, and might well have generated large profits, enough indeed to support a "career" in burglary. Thomazine Tally (t16871012-21), who seems to have worked alone, was convicted for three thefts of items of considerable value - typical targets for burglars from silverware to clothing. Abigail Hansley and Ruth Night (t16900115-22) were well on the way to robbing a rich clothing shop, equipped with picklocks and a "dark Lanthorn" (common equipment for such endeavours) when disturbed, while Ruth Herne (t16920629-8) had developed her own modus operandi, of breaking glass to get at keys kept inside, then using those to gain access to premises.

So broadly it seems that, perhaps more so than today, burglary was a crime that women could turn to in a wide range of circumstances, and for reasons ranging from desperation to taking up a "profession". It was, if not an equal opportunity "career", certainly an option available to female criminals. I concluded that in being a female burglar Mary Frith was unusual, but not so singular as she was in other aspects of her life. That, and the fact that a real contempt for burglars comes through in the text of the Old Bailey records, probably explain why she did not include any reference to this aspect of her life in her memoirs.

* J.S. Cockburn (ed) Calendar of Assize Records Home Circuit Indictments Elizabeth I and James I, HMSO, London, p. 56.
** ibid., p. 113.
*** There are debates about how "authentic" this memoir is. This is not the place to discuss it, but I believe the main section of it to broadly be the product of her dictation.

More about Mary Frith online:
The Case of Moll Frith:
Women's Work and the "All-Male Stage
, Natasha Korda
The Newgate Calendar