Sunday, January 31, 2010

Pre-Shaped, But Not Pre-Carved?

Yesterday, I presented some examples of gravestones made from  pre-carved blanks. It's also possible that some stones had custom-carved borders, but were made from pre-shaped blanks.

This possibility is visible when a stone looks like a standard, one-person, tripartite stone, but commemorates more than one person in both its text and its tympanum design.

In many cases, 18th-century gravestones have one lunette for each person named. Examples:
Gove Children
Cambridge, MA

Worthylake Family
Copp's Hill, Boston

Sometimes, you find stones that have the shape typical of an individual stone, but multiple soul effigies corresponding to multiple burials:
John & Mary Watson
Newport, RI

Roby Green & Child
Newport, RI

These make me think that, in some cases, customers may have chosen stones that had already been hewn into the standard shape, but were not yet embellished.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Custom-Made Gravestone?

Were 17th- and 18th-century gravestones custom carved or did customers purchase pre-carved blanks and pay for a custom epitaph? This is an important question for anyone who wishes to argue that the iconography of a particular stone is connected with the person buried under it.

The evidence seems to indicate that many stones were custom-made, but many (most?) were pre-carved.

It is easiest to argue that a stone was custom-made when it is of an unusual size/shape, when it displays a portrait of the deceased, or when the iconography is directly related to something mentioned in the text. If a stone is custom-made, there should also be consistency between the hand that carved the words and the iconography.

Thus, there little doubt that the Langley children stone and the Childs children stone are custom-made: they are too large, unusual, and specific to be pre-carved. Similarly, I would wager that the Jonathan Pierpont stone is a custom stone due to the minister-specific iconography and the correspondence between the letterforms and iconography. The stone for Desire Tripp's arm is definitely one-of-a-kind.

On the other end of the spectrum, it is easy to argue that a stone is probably pre-carved when its iconography is standard for a particular workshop, the text does not fit particularly well, or the hand carving the iconography seems different from the hand carving the text.

For example:

The Lee children stone (Phipps Street Cemetery, Charlestown, MA) looks like every other Lamson shop stone carved between 1730 and 1750 and the names of the children are squished into a space that is much too small. To me, this looks like a (rather large) blank that was intended for a single person, but purchased by the Lees for their children.

The Thomas Brown stone (NCBG, Newport, RI) is typical of William Stevens' early work, but the text does not fill the space allotted, suggesting that the border and tympanum carvings may have been done before the epitaph.

On the Sarah Rogers stone (NCBG, Newport, RI), there is a profound disconnect between the style of the borders and the style of the lettering, indicating that the work was divided between two carvers.

Next time: pre-shaped, but not pre-carved

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Every Christmas, we go to a park in Rochester to feed the birds.

This year, we got video of several different species eating out of our hands.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Forgotten Legion: A Thought Experiment

Union soldier

The controversy over "Black Confederates" seems unlikely to die anytime soon. Recent posts by Kevin Levin and Ta-Nehisi Coates (and the comments on those posts) have inspired me to ponder the possible tactics for combatting the myth that tens thousands of slaves willingly served the Confederacy as enlisted soldiers and its implications (i.e. that slavery was incidental to the Southern economic/social/political regime, that a large number of slaves were unfailingly loyal to their owners, that the war was not about slavery, etc.).

As Ta-Nehisi Coates has rightfully observed, the evidence supporting the "Black Confederates" argument is both anecdotal and incidental. Among the thousands of slaves who were forced to serve the Confederate army and its soldiers as teamsters, manual laborers, cooks, body servants, and orderlies, some may have served willingly and some may have taken up arms at some point. Yet, it would be foolish to turn scattered stories of slaves retrieving their masters' bodies from battlefields or protecting their homes from foraging troops into legions of armed slaves recruited by the Confederate government and willingly fighting to preserve the Confederacy.

Thus, I propose a thought experiment. Anyone who accepts the idea that a significant number of black men fought for the Confederacy must also accept the "fact" that all Civil War armies were chock-full of women. We'll call this the Forgotten Legion Theory.

Dream Anatomy

Dream Anatomy, an online exhibit from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, showcases the library's collection of anatomical drawings, models, and prints.

I remember the first time I saw a 16th-century copy of Vesalius' De Humani Corporis Fabrica (1543) in real life — it was so beautiful and so sturdy that I couldn't believe it wasn't a reproduction. If you ever have the chance to see one of these early anatomical texts in person, take it. For now, just enjoy this digital treasure trove.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Curious Expeditions

While doing some background research on a new course about the history of life and death issues, I came across an intriguing blog: Curious Expeditions.

It specializes in documenting strange and extraordinary objects, places, and events. Many of the entries tend toward the macabre — ossuaries, medical museums, mourning jewelry — and might hold some interest for those of you interested in the material culture of death.

In Which I Will Hold My Nose and Vote for Martha Coakley

I do not like Martha Coakley. From the first time I saw this fear-mongering ad back in November, I have not been a fan. The more I read about her, the less I like her. Every time she opens her mouth, I am embarassed to be a Massachusetts Democrat.

I voted against her in December, but I will suck it up and vote for her today. I had a brief moment of thinking that I couldn't possibly vote for someone so odious, but I eventually decided that if there is even a tiny chance that her losing might hurt health care reform, I could not afford to stay home.

I will do the wrong thing for the right reasons and vote for Martha Coakley.

But here's the thing — if Martha Coakley loses today (and she might), I do not want to hear national Democrats talking about how the people of Massachusetts have sunk health care reform. I don't want to hear them whining about needing the 60-vote majority or about how losing the seat is what killed the bill. The Democrats have had an entire year with a 60-vote majority in the senate and they have not accomplished the reforms that Obama promised would be done by August. Coakley losing might be the last straw, but this camel has already been overloaded with 1,000 tons of bullshit.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Loring Silver Bowl at Boston 1775

If your interest in material culture runs toward the finer stuff, check out J.L. Bell's series of posts about Joshua Loring's silver bowl over at Boston 1775.

Hats of the DeAngelis Family

This week's edition of "Kids in Hats" features some good hats from my own family. The dashing fellow in the fur-lined cape and jaunty fedora is my great-great-grandfather, Benjamin DeAngelis. My great-grandfather, Americo Ilario DeAngelis, is the young teenager in the middle of the back row. He was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1892, so this photograph was probably taken between 1905 and 1910. The other people in the picture are my great-great grandmother, Maria Carmine Venditti, and my grandfather's aunts and uncles: Maria Antonia (the eldest), Andia (the scowling 11-year-old), Giovanni, Manfredo, Italia, and Reno. The man second from the left is Maria Antonia's husband.

Besides Benjamin's sartorial splendor, there are several notable hats in this photo. I am particularly fond of the Pillsbury doughboy look on Italia (bottom left).

Friday, January 15, 2010

Name of the Day

Sometimes, transcriptions of 18th-century records have hiccups in them. When I come across a typewritten account of a baby named "Jamas," I take it with a grain of salt — it's more likely "James" + a handwriting issue.

Yet, sometimes there is a name so strange that I am forced to accept its legitimacy, if for no other reason than that I can't imagine what else the writer could have been aiming for. For example,

Tregoweth Tilbort

source: Boston Birth Records, 1700-1800

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Lost Cause Nostalgia Again

Tami at What Tami Said offers a trenchant critique of the pop-country band Lady Antebellum that may be of interest to some readers (cross-posted at Racialicious).

Though it sounds like Lady Antebellum's Lost Cause Nostalgia doesn't extend much beyond its appellation, I'm glad to see other people calling out the casual romanticization of the antebellum South. This is not a case of over-the-top neoconfederate fantasy like Gods and Generals, but it's important to recognize that casual references that idealize the antebellum South are a symptom of something fairly odious. It's easy to laugh at something as epically ridiculous as Mary Fahl's Going Home, but Lady Antebellum might slip under the radar.

I love this video. Seriously, try to keep a straight face past the 2:15 marker. It gets me every time.

Name of the Day

While doing data entry for the recent posts on Boston names, I came across some strange appellations. Like our old friends Wigglesworth Switser and Belcher Noyes, most of the interesting names result from the use of a surname as a first name.

For example,

Spiller Munden

source: Boston Birth Records, 1700-1800

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hot Baby Names for 1710, Continued

I've compiled the name data from the Boston Birth Records for the years 1710-1715 in order to get a better picture of the popularity of given names as mentioned in my earlier post. I have a much larger sample this time: 818 girls and 885 boys.

Top 25 Names in Boston, 1710-1715

Pat Robertson on the Haitian Revolution

Apparently, the most successful slave rebellion in the history of the American colonies succeeded because its leaders made a pact with the devil. Juan Cole offers an informed dissection of this racist version of history.

Donate to the Red Cross here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Go, Nancy!

Today, Professor Nancy Cott will use her expertise as an historian of marriage in America to testify for marriage equality in Perry v. Schwarzenegger.

As someone who has personally cowered under the withering gaze of the formidabe Prof. Cott, I extend my sympathies to the attorney who will have to cross-examine her. I'm sure the anti-Prop 8 legal team chose her for her world-class expertise, but it's her presence that will make her an amazing witness. For someone who is barely 5 feet tall, she can be incredibly intimidating — she has this way of smiling that conveys her infinite patience for your mindboggling stupidity.

If the reports about pro-Prop 8 lawyer Charles Cooper's opening statement are correct, he'll be seeing a lot of that smile.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Hot Baby Names for 1710

Over the past few weeks, the onomasts on the internet have been publishing their lists of the top baby names of the past decade and their predictions for 2010's hot trends.

Reading these lists got me wondering about the top names of 1710. I'm usually on the lookout for unusual names (Orange Wedge, Belcher Noyes, Fanny Forward, etc.) and pass over the Johns and Marys without comment. But what better way to engage the  modern interest in classic (and faux-classic) European baby names than to run the numbers for the 18th century?

Without further ado, the top baby names of 1710 Boston*:

1. Mary
2. Elizabeth
3. Sarah
4. Abigail
5. Susanna
6. Hannah
7. Ann/Anna
8. Rebecca

10. Jane
12. Johanna

1. John
2. William
3. Thomas
4. James
5. Samuel
7. Nathaniel
8. Jonathan
9. Richard
10. Abraham


Beware the Tassel

This daguerreotype (ca. 1855) of George Leverett Stowell is part of the Library of Congress' American Memory Collection. If you click through, you can view over 700 early daguerreotypes in their online exhibit, America's First Look Into the Camera. Be careful, though. They might force you to wear a monkey-armed coat and a hat left over from the BPOE parade.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Age at Death

It's common knowledge that children under the age of 5 suffered terrible mortality rates in the 18th and 19th centuries. Recently, I have been wondering whether infants were commemorated with gravestones at a rate proportionate with the frequency of their deaths. I'm still not sure whether they were, but I have been crunching some numbers.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Back from Break

I've been enjoying a leisurely vacation, but now I'm back from my travels and looking forward to blogging regularly once more. I hope to start up the presses over the next few days.

In the meantime, enjoy this horrifying artifact: a tooth and ear pick excavated at Jamestown, VA and featured in National Geographic in 2002:

Don't mix up the ends.

Monday, January 4, 2010

In Which a Classy Hat Brightens Up a Dull Backdrop

According to the Duke University Digital Collections, Hugh Magnum was an itinerant photographer who carted his mobile portrait studio all over the upper South between 1890 and 1922. Some of the photos in the collection show his outdoor setup. The juxtaposition between this little girl's elaborately trimmed hat and her makeshift surroundings struck me as particularly stark.