‘Women’s Weeds’ Research Journal

Week 6 Fun Fact: Well-behaved women seldom make history

Lead image ‘Well-Behaved Women’ by Barry D Bulsara
(Instagram: @barrydbulsara)
Available to buy: https://www.edinburghart.com/product/well-behaved-women/

Ah, the archive… That reliquary of truth and unbiased historical fact.

This week’s ‘fun fact’ is one of those research moments when another researcher points out a solution to your problem that actually should have been obvious from the beginning: if you’re looking for hidden histories, do not look at ‘official’ records, such as those kept by licensing guilds or at published works, nope. Look at court documents. Fines, punishments, incarcerations—executions. That is where you are going to find the true stories of what historical people—who were not White Christian Men (WCM)—were actually up to.

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Week 5 Fun Fact: The rise of the female saint led to the hunt for the witch

‘Joan of Arc at the Coronation of Charles VII’ by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, 1854

This week’s ‘fun fact’ has to do with one of my favourite research subjects—witches. Research into the history of women in medicine will inevitably lead us back to the witch hunts. (And yes, there will be ongoing research into this particular flavour of persecution still to come… )

There were many factors that contributed to the witch panics that cycled in waves over a 300-year period from the 15th to the 18th century. I discussed several of these—such as climate change and severe economic depression—in a post I wrote two years ago: ‘Ice & Fire: How a Folk Demonology in the ‘Little Ice Age’ Led to the Witch Hunts of the 16th & 17th Centuries’

But this week I learned of a new factor I’ve had yet to come across in my research: the resurgence of the ‘goddess’ in the guise of the ‘saint’.

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Week 4 Fun Fact: ‘Modesty is a code word for shame

Ok, so perhaps there isn’t much ‘fun’ in this week’s Fun Fact! This week, I’ve been marvelling at the notion of ‘modesty’. This concept has presented a huge stumbling block in medical care for women throughout history; but ‘modesty’ is just a polite word for shame. I’m currently reading about modesty from the mediaeval and early modern perspective, however the tendrils of this insidious concept can be felt in society today.

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Week 2 Fun fact: The rise & fall of the mediaeval female gynaecologist

Female healer, Trotula, holding urine flask, 14th C Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
Pen and wash drawing showing a standing female healer, perhaps of Trotula, clothed in red and green with a white headdress,
holding up a urine flask to which she points with her right hand.
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons

One thing I found fascinating this week, is in ancient Rome and Greece, up until the 2nd century, medical texts were written directly to midwives. It was expected that women would be taking care of women’s issues, but also that they would be literate (read Greek, Latin, and/or Arabic) and had knowledge of the full anatomy. They were respected medical practitioners. It was only after waves of plague hit north Africa and the Mediterranean during the 5th and 6th centuries that governments and organised education fell apart, entering in an age of chaos, which these various societies never quite recovered from for the next 600 years.

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WEEK 1 DONE! Research journals started!

Romany Reagan in the British Library, photo by Romany Reagan

Happy Friday! 🥂 This closes out my first week of research back at the The British Library working on my new Arts Council England project #WomensWeedsMoH for the Museum of the Home ! It’s great to be back at the BL, my old home away from home. 📚🤓 But what feels different now is I’m back in my old haunt this time as my own project manager. 💪🏻 And what a great first week it’s been! I’ll be sharing tantalising tidbits from my research journey under a this new tab ‘Women’s Weeds’

👀 Watch this space!!! 👀

#museumofthehome #britishlibrary #acefunded #artscouncilengland #heritagelotteryfund #bossbitch

Folklore, legends, myths, and lost histories from the British Isles – collected by Dr Romany Reagan

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