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Posts Tagged ‘anthropology

“I said to a bartender, ‘Make me a zombie.’ He said ‘God beat me to it.'”*…

 

Wharram Percy, aerial view

Archaeologists investigating human bones excavated from the deserted mediaeval village of Wharram Percy in North Yorkshire have suggested that the villagers burned and mutilated corpses to prevent the dead from rising from their graves to terrorise the living.

Although starvation cannibalism often accounts for the mutilation of corpses during the Middle Ages, when famines were common, researchers from Historic England and the University of Southampton have found that the ways in which the Wharram Perry remains had been dismembered suggested actions more significant of folk beliefs about preventing the dead from going walkabout.

Their paper, titled “A multidisciplinary study of a burnt and mutilated assemblage of human remains from a deserted mediaeval village in England,” is published in the Journal of Archaeological Science

Dig in at “Mediaeval Yorkshirefolk mutilated, burned t’dead to prevent reanimation.”

* Rodney Dangerfield

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As we anticipate the apocalypse, we might recall that it was on this date (as tradition would have it) in 1387 that 30 pilgrims gathered at the Tabard Inn in Southwark to embark together the next day on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral.  They agreed to a story-telling contest to be held along the way on their journey, the prize being a free meal on their return.

The pilgrims were, of course, fictional, the product of the glorious imagination of Geoffrey Chaucer.  But their stores– The Canterbury Tales— delight to this day.

A woodcut from William Caxton‘s second edition of The Canterbury Tales printed in 1483

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Written by LW

April 13, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Man is the only animal that likes Tabasco sauce”*…

 

For years culinary detectives have been on the chili pepper’s trail, trying to figure out how a New World import became so firmly rooted in Sichuan, a landlocked province on the southwestern frontier of China. “It’s an extraordinary puzzle,” says Paul Rozin, a University of Pennsylvania psychologist, who has studied the cultural evolution and psychological impact of foods, including the chili pepper…

How the chili pepper got to China (and lots of other stops around the world): “Why Revolutionaries Love Spicy Food.

* “Philosophers have often looked for the defining feature of humans–language, rationality, culture and so on. I’d stick with this: Man is the only animal that likes Tabasco sauce” – Yale psychologist Paul Bloom, quoted in The New York Times

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As we remind ourselves that water doesn’t help, we might recall that it was on this date in 1858 that John L. Mason of New York was issued U.S. patent No. 22,186 for a Glass Jar,  “Improvement in Screw-Neck Bottles”– forever after known as “Mason jars.”  That same year he also invented the first screw top salt shaker.

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Written by LW

November 30, 2016 at 1:01 am

“In a house where there are small children the bathroom soon takes on the appearance of the Old Curiosity Shop”*…

 

The first-prize design in Popular Science’s 1941 medicine cabinet contest. The improvements submitted by readers—drug lockboxes, his-and-her drawers, inner and outer mirrors—give some idea of the complex private-public boundaries that governed the use of medicine cabinets.

A ubiquitous element of our modern-day bathrooms, the medicine cabinet is also one of the home’s most particularized containers—stocked with substances and technologies used in healthcare and grooming, it functions both as personal pharmacy and private salon. Indeed, the medicine cabinet emerged across the early part of the twentieth century not just in tandem with public health policy initiatives but also, importantly, with the developing consumer market for the goods and tools of personal care. Its signature aesthetic—mirror, glass, and gleaming metal—would seem to have as much in common with the presentational seductions of the department store display case as with the sanitary spaces of the physician’s examining room.

As historian Deanna Day has written, stewardship of this container—as with so many of the domestic responsibilities associated with practices of health and bodily maintenance—has long been understood to be a task to be undertaken by women. A well-stocked and carefully curated medicine cabinet conveyed care and successful home management, while an overstuffed or unconsidered one ran afoul of received ideals of motherhood. Yet while women were responsible for the cabinet’s care and contents, certain products essential to their own health and hygiene were long thought to be inimical to it. Jeffrey Kastner spoke with Day, currently a research fellow at the Chemical Heritage Foundation…

Explore the history and meaning of (what are arguably) our most intimate containers at “Bringing the Drugstore Home.” [Via]

* Robert Benchley

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As we clean our mirrors, we might recall that it was on this date in 1963 that the first residential Trimline telephone in the U.S. was placed into service by the Michigan Bell Telephone Company. It was rolled out across the country by ATT in 1965 (for an optional $1 monthly extra charge).

The dial and hang-up button were no longer on a remote base, but instead integrated into the handset, midway between the microphone and speaker. A call could thus be dialed from the handset alone– more convenient in the kitchen or while in bed (though still at that time rarely in the bathroom). In 1977, Fortune selected the Trimline as one of the country’s 25 best-designed products.

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Written by LW

October 21, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Babies don’t need a vacation, but I still see them at the beach”*…

 

“Beach at Bologne,” Edouard Manet

This summer, millions of Americans will flock to the beach, taking advantage of long days, warm weather and the end of classes. From Coney Island and Venice Beach to the shores of Lake Michigan and the Gulf Coast, bags will be packed, coolers dragged, sunscreen slathered, and sandcastles built. Similar scenes will be repeated around the world. In Rio de Janeiro, Sydney, Barcelona, and Beirut, children will be splashing in the waves while sunbathers doze on the sand. A day at the beach is a cultural ritual.

But it hasn’t always been this way. From antiquity up through the 18th century, the beach stirred fear and anxiety in the popular imagination. The coastal landscape was synonymous with dangerous wilderness; it was where shipwrecks and natural disasters occurred. Where a biblical flood engulfed the world. In classical mythology, the wrath of the ocean is a major theme; the beach a bearer of misfortune. Tears flow on Homer’s shores while monsters lurk in the surf: Scylla surrounded by her barking dogs and Charybdis swallowing the sea only to spit it out again in a boiling whirlpool. “With few exceptions,” writes Alain Corbin, professor emeritus of modern history at Paris’s Sorbonne University and author of The Lure of the Sea: The Discovery of the Seaside in the Western World, 1750-1840, “the classical period knew nothing of the attraction of seaside beaches, the emotion of a bather plunging into the waves, or the pleasures of a stay at the seaside.”

The specter of Leviathan or Kraken gave the beach its threatening aura, but so did real hazards that arrived on the shore: pirates and bandits, crusaders and colonizers, the Black Death and smallpox. No wonder Dante’s third circle of hell is lined with sand. On the beach, terror strikes Robinson Crusoe, the first of many castaways to confront destiny on the sand. In Western literature, the shoreline has served as a boundary; the beach the symbolic edge of the unknown.

How was the beach transformed from perilous place to preferred vacation destination — its white sand and rolling waves becoming the ultimate landscape of leisure? The modern embrace of the beach for the purposes of health and hedonism, recreation and retreat, came with the rise of urban, industrial society. The European “discovery” of the beach is a reminder that human ideas about nature have changed over time — with real consequences for the environment and the world…

The story in all it’s white-sand wonder at “Inventing the Beach: The Unnatural History of a Natural Place.”

* Stephen Wright

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As we prepare in plunge in, we might spare a thought for King C. Gillette; he died on this date in 1932.  An American businessman popularly known as the inventor of the safety razor (although several models were in existence prior to his design), Gillette’s true invention was an inexpensive, high margin stamped steel disposable blade– and the business model that later became known as Freebie Marketing: “give away the razor, sell the blades.”

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Written by LW

July 9, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Time is a game played beautifully by children”*…

 

Readers will recall our earlier adventures in space and scale (e.g., here).  Now, from Wait But Why, a trip through time.  Starting with the near-in (above), Tim Urban has created a series timelines, each of which nests into the next…

Until one has “traveled” all the way to the entirety of time.

See them all (and larger) at “Putting Time in Perspective.” (G-rated version here)

* Heraclitus, Fragments

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As we check our watches, we might send culturally-relevant birthday greetings to James Mooney; he was born on this date in 1861.  A pioneering ethnographer, he started working in 1885 with the Bureau of American Ethnology in Washington, D.C.  He compiled a list of tribes and their members which contained 3,000 names, but quit after the US Army’s 1890 massacre of Lakota people at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.

Mooney did extensive work with the Cherokee and Kiowa tribes.  His most notable works were his ethnographic studies of the Ghost Dance after Sitting Bull’s death in 1890, a widespread 19th-century religious movement among various Native American culture groups, and his deciphering of the Kiowa calendar.

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Written by LW

February 10, 2015 at 1:01 am

Going, going…

Goroka, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea

Before They Pass Away is a powerful documentary series by photographer Jimmy Nelson featuring dozens of cultures around the world whose people live in seclusion and are at risk of fading away. Traveling across five continents, the English photographer manages to embrace the various cultures he has encountered and highlights each of the 35 tribes’ unique beauty.

From Ethiopia and Nepal to Papua New Guinea and Siberia, Nelson exhibits a wide array of environments that these diverse tribes inhabit.The refreshing project goes beyond exhibiting humans across the globe, though, documenting their culturally rich lifestyles and appearances. Each community displays their own means of survival while retaining their distinct spirituality and exhibiting their diverse decorative adornments.

There is a very human appeal to viewing Nelson’s series. Though modern civilizations are equipped with technology and an abundance of unnecessary possessions, the photographer digs deep into the remote tribes of the world, finding something far greater than gadgets and gizmos—a sense of humanity…

Kazakh, Eastern Europe and northern parts of Central Asia

More of the story– and many more photos– at My Modern Met.

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As we celebrate diversity, we might send snappy birthday greetings to Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre; he was born on this date in 1787.  An accomplished painter, Daguerre became fascinated by the work of Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, who took the very first photograph in 1826.  Niépce’s camera obscura shot took eight hours’ of exposure time; Daguerre was able to develop a process that cut the exposure first to 20 minutes, and ultimately (using better lens and different chemistry) down to several seconds.  His technique, known as the daguerreotype process, was the first practical photographic process.

Before turning to photography, Daguerre partnered with Charles Bouton to create the Diorama, a theatrical experience viewed by an audience in a specially-constructed theater next to Daguerre’s studio in Paris.  As many as 350 patrons would file in to view a landscape painting that would change its appearance both subtly and dramatically.  The show lasted 10 to 15 minutes, after which time the entire audience would rotate (on a massive turntable) to view a second painting.  The Diorama was a huge hit– it’s estimated that, at its height, Daguerre’s Diorama had 80,000 visitors a year (at an entrance fee of 2.50 Francs).  Daguerre and Bouton opened a second show in Regent’s Park in London, which was similarly successful.  But that success attracted imitators, who became competitors; Daguerre’s interest wained…  and he turned to photography.

The earliest reliably dated photo­graph of a person, taken in spring 1838 by Daguerre. Though it shows Paris’ busy Boul­e­vard du Temple, the long exposure time (about ten or twelve minutes) meant that moving traffic cannot be seen; however, the two men at lower left (one apparently having his boots polished by the other) remained still long enough to be dist­inctly visible. The image is laterally (left-right) reversed, as were most daguerre­o­types, as seen in the build­ing signage at upper left.

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Written by LW

November 18, 2013 at 1:01 am

Inside the Wienermobile…

 

Every year, a dozen “Hotdoggers” drive six Wienermobiles around the country, and each almost-identical giant hot dog van (the fleet gets updated in waves; the newest models are 2012s, but 2009s are still on the road) is assigned to a particular region. According to Oscar Mayer, thousands of recent college graduates apply to be Hotdoggers, giving it a lower acceptance rate than Princeton, Harvard, or Yale…

More frank talk about what’s between the buns at Bon Appetit‘s “Behind the Hot Dog: What Goes On in the Wienermobile.”

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We we read with relish, we might spare a thought for Clyde Kluckhohn; he died on this date in 1960.  An anthropologist and cultural theorist, Kluckhohn is probably best know for his ethnographic work on the Navajo.  His fundamental ideas on culture are articulated in Mirror for Man (which won the McGraw-Hill prize for the best popular work in science in 1949): he argues that, despite material differences in customs, there are fundamental human values common to the diverse cultures of the world.

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Written by LW

July 29, 2013 at 1:01 am

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