Monthly Archives: July 2014

‘Interpreting the Body’

Interpreting the Body in Early Modern Europe guest post by P. Renée Baernstein When does human life begin and end? Advances in contemporary medicine press on life’s boundaries, extending viable life further and further past earlier limits.  But science does little to help us grasp the human implications of these possibilities. When may we justly end a life at its dawn or twilight?  Does a non-viable human fetus have subjectivity, an imagination, a history?  We aren’t the first to debate these questions, and it’s instructive to look to how cultures of other times and places have done so.   It’s not true, for example, that the Catholic Church has always categorically opposed abortion, as it does today.  Some medieval church fathers, and many ancient Greek medical writers whose works were staples in the Christian middle ages, saw abortion on a sort of sliding scale. While women should be discouraged from ending unwanted pregnancies, they wrote, the crime was minimal early in the pregnancy.  Authorities should exercise mercy and understanding, and give penalties proportionate to the extent of fetal development. One reason they did so was that women could be legitimately ignorant of whether they were pregnant up to the last […]

Cultures of Intoxication

Cultures of Intoxication supplement guest post by Phil Withington School taught me to separate the work of a particular writer – whether philosopher, novelist, or historian – from the life that the writer may have led. We learned that it did not matter how Jane Austen or Immanuel Kant behaved as a person; what mattered was the work they left behind. This has always struck me as an artificial and probably erroneous distinction – surely the life in some sense or other shapes the work and vice versa – and I was reminded of its flaws when researching the introduction to a volume of essays I’ve just co-edited on Cultures of Intoxication with Angela McShane.   The writer in question was Max Weber, one of the founding fathers of modern sociology. I was interested in Weber because of his importance in popularizing the assumption that a defining feature of modern western societies was the fetishism of values like sobriety, rationality, calculation, and self-control, and the stigmatization of contrary behaviour such as willful intoxication. The billions of dollars made each year made from the business of intoxicants (licit and illicit) hinted at another story; and I was delighted to find that so […]

From Past & Present to People Magazine: The Lives and Loves of Maximilien Robespierre

All of His Power Lies in the Distaff: Robespierre, Women and the French Revolution guest post by Noah Shusterman My article in the May issue of Past & Present discusses the rise of Maximilien Robespierre, the role of women in the French Revolution, and the way that those two questions were related. In the piece, I tried to draw attention to something that contemporary observers had remarked on and that nineteenth-century historians had discussed at great length, but that twentieth- and twenty-first century historians had largely ignored: the attraction that many Parisian women felt for Robespierre during the Revolution. Looking at the role that those women played can not only help us understand why Robespierre was so successful, but can also help rethink the question of women’s place in the Revolution.   These are issues generally accepted to be of historical and historiographical importance, ones that deserve a place in any history of the Revolution. But beneath these classic questions was a question that was not only less of a classic question of revolutionary historiography, but was also in some ways a much less appropriate question for a journal article: why did women like Robespierre?   One point right off the […]