I am a lecturer in Ancient History at Cardiff University (United Kingdom). My research focuses on the history of Greek and Roman pharmacology and botany, with a special emphasis on gender. I have my personal blog, Concocting History, where I discuss more recipes and at times experiment with ancient concoctions: www.ancientrecipes.wordpress.com
Yesterday, British universities entered their fourth – and hopefully final – week of strike. Like Lisa Smith, I am member of the striking University and College Union, and I have decided not to cross picket lines, be they actual or virtual.
We hope to return very soon with our usual offering of twice-weekly posts. In the meantime, we wish to thank our contributors whose posts have been delayed. We are very grateful for your support!
Strikes in British universities are still ongoing. As explained in our previous posts, two of our editors (Lisa Smith and myself) are members of the striking University and College Union, and have decided not to cross picket lines, which also include virtual ones.
Today is International Women’s Day. I’m certain that Twitter and other social media will be full of information on inspirational women, historical or alive. While I welcome this, I think it is important to stress that women do not need to be inspirational to matter. It is fine not to be exceptional.
It is also important to stress collective women’s movements, and I guess many of you will know where I am heading here: women’s strikes. In fact, the 8th of March is also the day of the annual International Women’s Strike. Today I shall be doubly on strike then: I will be on strike from my university job, but I will also avoid doing household chores.
I shall also be re-reading Aristophanes’ comedy Lysistrata (first performed in 411 BCE).Lysistrata is an Athenian woman who encourages a group of women from various Greek city states to go on a sex strike, with the aim to persuade their husbands to end the everlasting Peloponnesian War. Here is how she introduces her plan:
If we sit around at home
with all our makeup on and in those gowns
made of Amorgos silk, naked underneath,
with our crotches neatly plucked, our husbands
will get hard and want to screw. But then,
if we stay away and won’t come near them,
they’ll make peace soon enough. I’m sure of it.
Aristophanes, Lysistrata 149-154 ; translation A. Sommerstein
The other women are reluctant at first, but soon follow Lysistrata’s advice and swear an oath to withhold sexual favours. This eventually leads to the desired outcome: peace.
It is tempting to read Lysistrata as a proto-feminist play, but Aristophanes clearly was more interested in lewd jokes than in the fate of real women. It’s also worth remembering that the play would have originally been performed by male actors only, adding another layer of slap-stick humour.
Perhaps Aristophanes is the arch mansplainer then? For how badly does he fail to imagine the daily, mostly invisible, labour of women. While there are historical examples of sex strikes, withholding from domestic chores and child-rearing duties is much more likely to yield results (see the examples of the 1975 Icelandic Women’s strike and of the 2016 Polish Black Monday). And frankly, Lysistrata’s strike sounds like a lot of emotional labour to me: all that preening to then have to push away one’s lover! And anyway, how feasible would that have been in classical Athens, where there was absolutely no concept of marital rape?
Much of what we do at The Recipes Project is to bring to light invisible labour, of women, of enslaved people, of marginalised people. We never forget that mission, and we thank you for bearing with us while we are on strike!
If you wish to read Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, you can do so on the website Perseus (translation by Jack Lindsay).
Today, British universities entered their third week of strike. Like Lisa Smith, I am member of the striking University and College Union, and I have decided not to cross picket lines, be they actual or virtual.
Lisa explained the reasons behind the strike in her post last week. I would have little to add to her clear exposition. She rightly stressed how activities such as blogging about our research and editing The Recipes Project are not counted in our workload:
This isn’t a complaint. You see, we love what we do: we really do. And the system depends on our love. But the pension cuts undermine our goodwill. And it is this that is integral to our willingness to work above and beyond for the sake of education.
The strike in itself, however, is a form of education for many. In most striking universities, there is a lively programme of ‘teach out’ or ‘teach in’ sessions (the choice of preposition varies). Staff and students reflect on important issues such as: how to deal with the marketization of education; how to build a sense of community withing universities; and how to improve mental health in the sector.
Many academics have also turned to blogging as a form of ‘teach out/in’. I have chosen to do so myself in my blog Concocting History, even though I realise that I sometimes come very close to crossing the virtual picket line by writing on topics quite close to my research.
Here is a selection of other blogs that are dealing with this unprecedented strike in British universities. The selection is of course highly personal, and I would love to hear about other wonderful blogs out there.
Peter Kruschwitz explores examples of strikes in ancient Greece and Rome in The Petrified Muse.
For a postgraduate project on material texts, I spent several chilly autumn weeks bundled in a scarf and coat in the Bodleian Library’s Special Collections, pouring over a small, leather-bound manuscript of medical receipts by Mary Napier (née Vyner)—a seventeenth-century English doctor’s wife. After an initial period of transcription, I felt compelled to understand Mary’s lived experience as best I could. How could the materiality of Mary’s manuscript—in conjunction with its contents—provide clues about her life, and, more specifically, her medical practice? When viewed in contrast to her husband’s writings (also housed in the Ashmole Collection), MS Ashmole 1390 establishes Mary’s engaged involvement in recipe collection and recording. Mary’s active role in her practice becomes especially clear when we look at her recipe for “the snaile milke”—a type of therapy which Jennifer Sherman Roberts has discussed here on The Recipes Project
Medicine brought together Sir Richard Napier and his first wife, Anne Tyringham—one of his patients, according to Richard’s casebook (MS Ashmole 177, fols. 2r-3r). After Anne’s death and during his courtship with Mary Vyner, Richard provided several therapeutic recipes of soothing baths and “distilled milk” for his soon-to-be second wife, in which Mary writes she “found great good” (MS Ashmole 1390, fol. 26r). The exchange of medical knowledge continued on throughout the couple’s marriage, evidenced in their recipes for snail milk in the diplomatic transcriptions below. This shared recipe highlights compositional similarities and differences between husband and wife’s written record of the cure:
Sir Richard Napier’s recipe for “The Snayle Milk” in MS Ashmole 1447 fol. 28r
Mary Napier’s recipe for “the snaile milke” in MS Ashmole 1390, fol. 63r
The Snayle Milke
Take nine shell snayles with their
shells on & then make a skillet of
water boyle & when it boyles put
in the snayles with their shelles
& let them boyle up, then take them
out & picke them out of their
shells & so put them in a pint of
milke ready boyleinge on the
fire against the snayles be
taken out, & so let it boyle till
it be a quarter consumed.
the snaile milke
take 9 shell snailes with theyr
shells on & make a skellet of
water boile & when it boiles
put in the snailes with theyr
shells on & let them boile
up & then take them out &
picke them out of the shells
& put these into a pint of
milke ready boileing on the
fire against the snailes
bee taken out & so let them
boile till it bee a quarter part
\wasted/ boiled away.
Despite the recipes’ close linguistic proximity, Mary’s spelling varies from her husband’s. Even her word choice differs in a particular moment—“so let it boyle till it be a quarter consumed” becomes, in Mary’s words, “so let them boile till it bee a quarter part \wasted/ boiled away”—the word “wasted” being an interlinear addition to the text. Mary paints a clearer, one could argue more exacting, picture of what happens to her ingredients as they undergo chemical transformation with applied heat, when compared to her husband’s elegant but less immediate “consumed.” The orthographic and linguistic peculiarities of Mary’s recipe indicate that she was not a passive receptacle for her husband’s cures and medical knowledge. Indeed, she could have been the originator of the recipe. Or, perhaps, the couple shared a printed source for this cure. Whatever the recipe’s provenance, Mary owned and adapted the recipe as it made sense to her personally during manufacture. A splotch on the right-hand corner of the page further attests to Mary’s use of the manuscript as a tool at her side while preparing recipes. We can envision Mary in her stillroom, concocting “snaile milke” with her trusty manuscript at her side, and penning in a line about how her materials transform when boiled, so she’ll know what to look for next time.
Viewing Mary’s “snaile milke,” especially within the context of the Napier family papers, allows us to make contact with Mary’s lived experience of practicing medicine. And if we can achieve this contact in Mary’s case, how many more experiences of healing remain to be discovered within the pages of other recipe books, and among domestic papers in the archival setting? And how can recovering texts of women like Mary—members of families prominent in medical or scientific fields—tells us about their experiences not just as daughters and wives, but as healing practitioners and authors themselves?
Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Ashmole 177
Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Ashmole 1390
Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Ashmole 1447
DiMeo, Michelle. “Authorship and medical networks: reading attributions in early modern medical recipe books.” Reading and Writing Recipe Books, 1550-1800, edited by DiMeo and Sara Pennell, Manchester University Press, 2013, pp. 25-48
Ezell, Margaret J. M. “Domestic papers: manuscript culture and early modern women’s life writing.” Genre and Women’s Life-Writing in Early Modern England, edited by Julie A. Eckerle and Michelle M. Dowd, Ashgate, 2007, pp. 33-48
Field, Catherine. “‘Many hands hands’: writing the self in early modern women’s recipe books.” Genre and Women’s Life-Writing in Early Modern England, edited by Julie A. Eckerle and Michelle M. Dowd, Ashgate, 2007, pp. 49-63
Alexandra Kennedy graduated with a Master’s in English (1550-1700) from the University of Oxford in 2016. She earned her Bachelor’s in English at Middlebury College in 2014. She enjoys researching seventeenth-century women’s writing across lines of genre, from drama to biography to medicine. Currently a schoolteacher and freelance writer, she composes book reviews and blogs about the early modern world at www.earlymodernallie.wordpress.com. You can find her there, or on Twitter @earlymodallie.