About manyheadedmonster

The many-headed monster is a collaborative blog focusing on English society and culture in the early modern period, very broadly conceived.

What’s in a name? Fact and Fiction in Family History: Part II

This is part 2 of a couple of posts written by guest blogger Robyn Noble. You can view the first post here

Laura Sangha writes: I am delighted to introduce a very special pair of posts written by guest blogger Robyn Noble. Robyn currently works at the London Palladium but not so long ago she was studying for her BA in History and Philosophy at the University of Exeter, where I had the great fortune of teaching her sixteenth- and seventeenth-century religious history. Robyn and I have stayed in contact since her graduation and recently we have been discussing her exploration of her family history. Fascinating in isolation, it became clear that Robyn’s research touched on many of the regular themes discussed on the many-headed monster, particularly relating to life-writing, history from below, and social identity. Robyn was enthusiastic when I suggested that she should write something about it for the blog, and these two posts are the result. Whilst not an early modern life, by drawing on and contextualising one extract from her great-grandfather’s journal, Robyn’s posts complement our ongoing ‘Page in Life’ series, since it explores a text that tells the story of a life in a self-conscious way.

Portrait

Bharat Chandra Nayak was born in March 1887 and was one of seven siblings. He married Sakrabati Devi and the family he created with her was orthodox in some ways, yet very progressive in others. For Bharat believed that independence for women could only be attained if they were given a modern education, which was unheard of in India at the time. From an early age, his daughters were given a lot of literature to read, and as a result they all had a love of the written word. Indeed, this is a trait which is still very much evident within the family, including for myself. Bharat later admitted them into a school where English was taught and both he and his daughters were subjected to shaming and social boycott as a result. All of the daughters went on to become at least post-graduates, with some becoming doctors, teachers and university professors. It seems unlikely then, that someone with Bharat’s broadminded view of women would have cared so little for his daughters that he would have believed his lack of sons to be a family curse. Rather, we find that Bharat was a man who was so devoted to his daughters that he was willing to face social ostracization if it meant that he could give them a modern education.  Continue reading

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What’s in a name? Fact and Fiction in Family History: Part I

Laura Sangha writes: I am delighted to introduce a very special pair of posts written by guest blogger Robyn Noble. Robyn currently works at the London Palladium but not so long ago she was studying for her BA in History and Philosophy at the University of Exeter, where I had the great fortune of teaching her sixteenth- and seventeenth-century religious history. Robyn and I have stayed in contact since her graduation and recently we have been discussing her exploration of her family history. Fascinating in isolation, it became clear that Robyn’s research touched on many of the regular themes discussed on the many-headed monster, particularly relating to life-writing, history from below, and social identity. Robyn was enthusiastic when I suggested that she should write something about it for the blog, and these two posts (the second part will be published tomorrow) are the result. Whilst not an early modern life, by drawing on and contextualising one extract from her great-grandfather’s journal, Robyn’s posts complement our ongoing ‘Page in Life’ series, since it explores a text that tells the story of a life in a self-conscious way.

Robyn Noble

Last year, whilst researching my grandfather, an Indian man whom I never knew, I stumbled upon his whole extended family. An avid diary writer myself (I have filled nineteen notebooks in just under ten years), I was ecstatic to learn that my great-grandfather, Bharat Chandra Nayak, kept a diary which he wrote in every day. These diaries went on to form the basis for his published memoir, a book which my new-found family assured me would shed a lot of light on these relatives I had just discovered.

Bibhus book

Bharat’s memoir, Mora Purbasmruti Katha (Tales of My Past Recollections) was written in 1964, and in 1967 it went on to receive the Orissa Sahitya Academy Award as a work of high literary value. As well as an autobiography, it is also a travelogue and a description of the social, political and economic circumstances in India throughout his life. In many ways, it is also an ode to topics very dear to him, including higher education for all members of Indian society, female emancipation and social reform in general. As it is written in Odia (or Oriya), the predominant language of the state of Orissa in which my extended family live, I am sadly unable to read the book myself, but I have slowly been receiving English translations of certain passages from various members of the family. The first passage I received throws light on one of the great family mysteries: why it is that my grandfather, Bibhu, had the surname ‘Dash’ as opposed to the family surname ‘Nayak’? Continue reading

A Page in the Life of Elizabeth Jeake: unfeigned love among mercantile matters

[In our mini-series ‘A Page in the Life’, each post briefly introduces a new writer and a single page from their manuscript. In this post, Anne Murphy offers a loving letter from a seventeenth-century merchant’s wife, who Anne has discussed in more detail in a recent article and whose letters will be included in a forthcoming edition.]

I first encountered Samuel Jeake through his Astrological Diary, edited by Michael Hunter and Annabel Gregory. As the only ordinary investor in the financial revolution of the 1690s who had left a record of his actions, he formed an invaluable case study for my PhD.

Later, when I needed a sample module to talk about at job interviews, ‘The Jeakes’ seemed a perfect fit. A module exploring the seventeenth century through the eyes of an ordinary family looked great presented on one side of A4. When I got a job and actually had to start teaching the module I quickly realised I was going to need much more than was contained in the diary, so I turned to the family’s letters. There are hundreds of them preserved in the East Sussex Record Office and the Rye Museum Archive.

And the more I read, the more I realised the family, especially its female members, offered fascinating insights into early modern life. I encountered Frances Hartridge, Samuel’s mother, who resisted marriage and insisted on a contract before agreeing to a betrothal. Then came Barbara Hartshorne, his mother-in-law, who struggled to keep her teenaged son from the gallows, a task that left her ‘afflicted tormented without any relief’.[1] And there was Samuel’s wife, Elizabeth Hartshorne, a thirteen-year-old bride, whose labour was essential to every aspect of the marital economy. For this post, I have chosen to focus on a page in Elizabeth Hartshorne’s life.

Rye, Sussex null by William Daniell 1769-1837

The Jeakes’ hometown of Rye, from William Daniell, A Voyage Round Great Britain (1815-25)

In the absence of her own writings and her virtual absence from the many pages of Samuel’s writings,  Elizabeth’s life can only be reconstructed from the letters she left behind, both those she wrote and those she received. Much can be recovered from these letters. Like most early modern correspondence, they covered a wide variety of topics. Family matters sat easily alongside business and were generally intertwined with spiritual contemplation, an ever-present concern for the health of all correspondents and their connections, and the exchange of news, especially on religious or political matters. Yet, emotions have been somewhat harder to find. The Jeakes rarely wrote of love and never exchanged letters just for the sake of being in touch. Continue reading

A Page in the Life of Thomas Parsons: Masculinity and the Lifecycle in a Stonemason’s Diary

[In our mini-series ‘A Page in the Life’, each post briefly introduces a new writer and a single page from their manuscript. In this post, Tawny Paul introduces us to a frustrated eighteenth-century artisan whose life she explores in more detail in her new article on ‘Accounting for Men’s Work’.]

In 1769, Thomas Parsons, a young stonemason in Bath, penned a daily account of his life. He may have written quite a lot over the years, but only one volume of his diary survives, covering a period of eight months. Though relatively modest in size, the text provides an entry into the world of a young man at a formative stage of life.

Parsons was twenty-five years old when he produced the diary. At this age, many young people in the eighteenth century married, finished training, assumed occupational status, and became more independent. Parsons’ diary therefore gives us insights into many themes related to lifecycle. This makes the text extremely valuable, because while histories of women have done remarkable work in uncovering the nuances of female lifecycle experiences, we know rather less about how men transitioned through life’s stages.

His entry for 13 April 1769 shows this in vivid detail as it centres on his struggles with his father: Continue reading

The Monster @ 5

Well, well. It was five years ago today that the many-headed monster first reared it’s head in the blogosphere. It all started with a pithy welcome post advising our readers that this blog was unlikely to feature Henry VIII’s wives, swiftly followed by Brodie’s first ever post – about a monstrous hairy child who was put on show for the entertainment of the citizens of 17thC Norwich – and by Mark’s first foray into blogging – a short think-piece on the 17thC hangover.

Pepys_1_0434-0435_iBaseIn the following half-decade ‘the monster’ grew two new heads – Laura and Jonathan – and between us (and a few guests…) we published 260 posts on various aspects of early modern society and culture: an average of one per week. Collectively they have been viewed over 236,000 times, by over 123,000 visitors, and been subject to thousands of comments. We would like to say a big thank you to everyone who lurks somewhere in those statistics for their interest in, and support of, this blog. We drink your health, dear readers!

One of the great things about having been around for a while is that we can now lay claim to having our very own ‘archive’. Every post we have published is still openly available for all and sundry to peruse, and we would like to take this opportunity to encourage our readers to do what many of you love to do best – delve into the archive!

If you’re looking for bite-size chunks of early modern history to fill your lunch hour – or perhaps to set as introductory reading for your students – then there are a number of ways to search through our past posts. First, you can use our ‘Browse by Theme‘ option to browse our archive by – you guessed it – specific themes. Second, you can visit our ‘Monster Mini-Series’ page to find some collections of some our most popular posts, which include things like useful introductory reading lists (‘Marooned Monographs‘) and posts relating to ongoing debates about issues like periodisation. Third, you can simply stick a keyword in the ‘Search’ box on our homepage to see if we have any posts touching on whatever it is you are interested in (‘drink’ brings up quite a few hits…).

And of course we will continue to add many more posts to the archive over the next 5 years…

Fake news: a very (early) modern problem

Fake news and misinformation have hit the headlines recently as concerns grow about its extent and impact. In this guest post, Dr Francis Young examines the parallels between contemporary digital fake news and English civil war newsbooks. Dr Young is a historian of early modern England and the Catholic Record Society’s Volumes Editor. You can follow him on twitter @SuffolkRecusant.

In the immediate aftermath of the US election, Facebook came under fire for allowing ‘fake news’ to dominate its platform, and there was much lamenting that traditional print media – which, in theory, at least tries to verifies sources and stories – has been replaced by social media as the source of ‘news’ for many people. The ‘fake news’ problem raises many profound and interesting questions about what ‘news’ really is, and what makes it ‘real’ as opposed to ‘fake’, but commentators have perhaps been too hasty in assuming facebook-fakesthat fake news is something new and something alien to the ‘traditional print media’. In fact, the pattern of user-generated news that we see on contemporary social media platforms is closer to the original pattern of dissemination of news in the first age of print.

Defining what counts as ‘fake news’ is not straightforward, given the traditional print media’s overt political bias, spinning of rumours, wilful misinterpretation of statistical data, and editorial decisions to foreground minor stories and ignore many newsworthy ones. However, a strict definition of ‘fake news’ would exclude speculative stories that might be true and are supported by anonymous sources. The reporting of such stories with the implication that they are fact may be dubious journalism, but it is the longstanding practice of the tabloid press. ‘Fake news’, in the strict sense, would have to be the kind of story that no conventional newspaper or news website would run because it directly contradicts easily verifiable fact: for instance, the report that Donald Trump won the popular vote in the US election as well as the votes of the electoral college. No conventional media would run with a story that is demonstrably false; to do so would run the risk of being discredited as a news outlet or sullying the ‘brand’ of a conventional newspaper. Continue reading

Riches, Poverty and Pollution: Living with Coal Smoke in Early Modern London

One of the recurring questions on the many-headed monster is how the world is experienced by people at different levels of the social heirarchy. In this guest post, William M. Cavert looks at the unequal impact of pollution, drawing on his new book: The Smoke of London: Energy and Environment in the Early Modern City (Cambridge, 2016).

“Poverty,” wrote sociologist Ulrich Beck, “is hierarchic, smog is democratic.”[1] Pre-industrial cities, according to Beck, were full of dirty and unpleasant dangers, but the wealthy could escape or avoid them easily because such hazards smelled badly and looked ugly. In the modern world risk is invisible, and is everywhere.

A working replica of the first Newcomen steam engine, 1709, built and operated at the Black Country Living Museum, Dudley. The engine is a similar size, and uses a similar amount of mineral coal, as many of the facilities that produced beer, spirits, glass, and bricks in early modern London

A working replica of the first Newcomen steam engine, 1709, built and operated at the Black Country Living Museum, Dudley. The engine is a similar size, and uses a similar amount of mineral coal, as many of the facilities that produced beer, spirits, glass, and bricks in early modern London

London during the early modern period offers an interesting test for this idea because it was at once clearly pre-industrial and yet it also developed one of the hallmarks of the modern, industrial urban landscape: pervasive air pollution.[2] The “smog” that Beck suggests envelopes industrial cities became widespread in London by about 1600, caused not by great factories as in 19th-century Manchester, but by the domestic coal fires of 200,000 people, as well as coal’s importance in every industry that involved boiling, heating, or melting.[3] During the 17th and 18th centuries, pre-industrial London struck residents, rulers, and visitors as a smoky, dirty place. Modern scientific modeling suggests that their impressions were accurate, and that the concentrations of pollutants like sulfur dioxide in 18th-century London are matched today only in the world’s very dirtiest cities.

Did early modern Londoners experience this smoky air as yet another aspect of a deeply “hierarchic” society, as Beck suggests? Continue reading