A brief history of science writing shows the rise of the female voice



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Women played a role as both readers and authors in the history of science writing.
Shutterstock/Africa Studio

Robyn Arianrhod, Monash University

Three centuries ago, when modern science was in its infancy, the gender disparity in education was not a gap but an abyss: few girls had any decent schooling at all.

The emerging new science was clearly a male enterprise.

But it arose from a sense of curiosity, and women, too, are curious. If you look closely enough, it’s clear women played an important role, as both readers and authors, in the history of science writing.

New vs old ideas

Both science and science writing were up for grabs in the 17th century. Technology was rudimentary and researchers struggled to obtain even the simplest observational evidence, and then searched for ways to make sense of it.




Read more:
How not to write about science


You can see this struggle in the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei’s famous Dialogues of 1632 and 1638. He painstakingly and somewhat tortuously tries to justify his arguments for heliocentrism – in which the planets go around the Sun – and the nature of motion and gravity.

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642). Engraved by R Hart and published in The Gallery Of Portraits With Memoirs encyclopedia, United Kingdom, 1833.
Shutterstock/Georgios Kollidas

Tortuously, not only because he was bending over backwards to please the censors – heliocentrism was held to defy scripture – but especially because most of the experiments, methods, and even the mathematical symbolism of modern science did not yet exist.

So although yesteryear’s scientific content was simple compared with today’s overwhelming complexity, Galileo’s Dialogues show that the lack of data, methods and scientific language presented its own problems for science communication.

Conversation in science

Galileo resorted to the Socratic device of a conversation, in which he debated his ideas in a long dialogue between an innovative philosopher, Salviati, and two (male) friends.

In trying to convince even the least scientifically learned of his interlocutors, Galileo was writing what we might call popular science (although the more complex parts of the 1638 Dialogue read more like a textbook).

There were no scientific journals then, and there wasn’t quite the same distinction between the announcement of scientific discoveries to colleagues and the communication of those ideas to a wider public.

Perhaps the first mass-market popular science book was another dialogue related to heliocentrism, Frenchman Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle’s 1686 Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds.

It was a runaway success that helped non-specialists accept the Copernican system – a Sun-centred solar system – rather than the time-honoured, seemingly self-evident geocentric one with Earth at the centre.

The hero of Fontenelle’s story, too, is a male philosopher – but this time he is conversing with a pretty marquise, who is spirited and quick to grasp new facts. Although its style was flirtatious, Fontenelle’s book was a significant recognition that women are curious and intelligent.

Science gets complex

Then, the very next year, everything changed. The English physicist and mathematician Isaac Newton published his monumental Principia Mathematica. Suddenly science became a whole lot more complex.

Isaac Newton (1643-1727). Engraved by E Scriven and published in The Gallery Of Portraits With Memoirs encyclopedia, United Kingdom, 1837.
Shutterstock/Georgios Kollidas

For instance, Fontenelle’s explanation of the cause of heliocentrism had been based on Frenchman René Descartes’ notion that the planets were swept around the Sun by gargantuan cosmic ethereal vortices.

Newton replaced this influential but unproven idea with his predictive theory of gravity, and of motion in general, which he developed in 500 dense pages of axioms, observational evidence, and a heap of mathematics.

Principia provided the modern blueprint for experimentally based, quantitative, testable theories – and it showed the fundamental role of mathematics in the language of physics.

The trouble was that only the best mathematicians could understand it. It was so innovative (and tortuous in its own way) that some of the greatest of Newton’s peers were sceptical, and it took many decades for his theory of gravity to become universally accepted in Europe.

Science writers played a key role in this process.

Something ‘for ladies’

The earliest popularisations of Newton’s work were short or semi-technical, such as that by the French mathematician Pierre-Louis Moreau Maupertuis.

In the 1730s, Maupertuis tutored a real-life marquise, Émilie du Châtelet, but she was of a very different calibre from Fontenelle’s fictional student – or indeed the curious but rather flighty marquise in another mass market popularisation: the Italian Francesco Algarotti’s Newtonianism for “the ladies”.

Translated from the original French: l newtonianismo per le dame ovvero dialoghi sopra la luce e i colori.
Google Books

Newtonianism here referred not just to Newton’s theory of gravity. As its somewhat patronising title might suggest, it focused mostly on his more accessible 1704 work, Opticks, which explains his experiments on the behaviour of light and the nature of colour. But these, too, were controversial, and Algarotti was an expert in optics.

He had been inspired to address “the ladies” by two outstanding female contemporaries: his French mathematical friend Émilie du Châtelet, and the Italian physicist Laura Bassi. But both women disliked his book’s flirtatious style.

An oil painting of Madame Du Châtelet at her desk.
Wikimedia

Du Châtelet and her lover Voltaire were writing their own more serious (and non-gendered) popularisation of Newton’s work. Du Châtelet later wrote a very successful popular synthesis of the scientific ideas of Newton and his German rival Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz – Bassi used the Italian translation of it in her own teaching.

Du Châtelet then went on to produce the first translation of Principia outside Britain – an insightful work that is also interesting in the context of popular science writing. She appended a 110-page commentary, summarising Newton’s method in everyday language, and explaining more recent applications of his theory.

The self-taught science writers

Nearly a century later, the Scottish mathematician Mary Somerville felt the same compulsion to reach out to the non-specialist reader – male and female – in the introduction to her book explaining the latest developments of Newton’s theory, Mechanism of the Heavens.

Oil painting of Mary Somerville who was a largely self-taught in science.
National Galleries of Scotland

It is worth celebrating the fact that Somerville’s Mechanism was used at Cambridge as an advanced textbook in celestial mechanics – and at a time when women were not allowed to attend university.

Like Du Châtelet, Somerville was mostly self-taught. She understood the importance of science writing in educating the public, especially those denied formal education, and went on to write two best-selling popular science books: On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences and Physical Geography.

Another successful British female science writer in the early 19th century was Jane Marcet. Unlike those of Du Châtelet and Somerville, Marcet’s two books – Conversations on Chemistry and Conversations on Natural Philosophy – were aimed particularly at women.

They were built around conversations between two teenage girls and their female teacher. Unlike Fontenelle’s and Algarotti’s works for “the ladies”, these books were down-to-earth, non-patronising attempts to educate women in practical chemistry and physics.

But like those of Fontenelle and Algarotti, Marcet’s books proved popular with male lay readers, too – including the self-taught British physicist and chemist Michael Faraday, who went on to become co-discoverer of electromagnetism.




Read more:
Let there be light! Celebrating the theory of electromagnetism


Biology was also progressing in the 19th century, but this had a downside for women. The discovery that women had smaller brains was used to reinforce the stereotype that women were incapable of intellectual study.

Somerville wrote movingly on how this affected her life. She would have been thrilled to read this year’s book by female neuroscientist Gina Rippon, The Gendered Brain, which asserts that brain plasticity and connectivity should displace old notions of gendered brains.

Do women and men have different brains? An interview with Gina Rippon.

Rippon’s is one of a growing number of female-authored popular science books on all aspects of science, and it is also an example of how women can contribute important new perspectives to scientific topics.

Another example is the ecological perspective of pioneering biologist and science writer Rachel Carson, whose 1962 Silent Spring played a leading role in launching the modern environmental movement.

Scientific understanding is often driven initially by a reductionist approach, and Carson was the first to clearly point out the role of artificial pesticides on the whole food chain.




Read more:
Who writes science and technology stories? More men than women


Then there’s the question of ethics in science. Rebecca Skloot’s 2010 book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tells the little-known story of the 1951 illegal harvesting and selling of cells from poor black farmer Henrietta Lacks.

Having diverse voices of all kinds in science and science writing is a good thing for science, as even a brief look at history shows. As far as women’s participation goes, we’ve come a long way.

But we still need more women to help shape and tell the story of science.The Conversation

Robyn Arianrhod, Adjunct Associate , School of Mathematical Sciences, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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The History of Printing


History for Today

The link below is to an infographic that takes a look at the history of printing.

For more visit:
http://www.uk-featherflags.co.uk/blog/printing-history/

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Four women poets who will take you on an alternative journey through Welsh history



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Alexander Gold/Shutterstock

Rhea Seren Phillips, Swansea University

Poetry has played an important role in the history of Wales. From the medieval courts, to the ongoing National Eisteddfod (the largest music and poetry festival in Europe), writers have used verse to document the land’s culture. But while male writers, such as the 12th century poets of the princes and more recently Dylan Thomas, have presented one perspective of Welsh history and culture, female poets have documented a very different take on Wales through the centuries. Here are four who bring a different perspective.

1. Gwerful Mechain (est.1462-1500)

Gwerful Mechain is one of the few Welsh medieval poets from whom a substantial body of work has survived to this day. One of the loudest voices speaking up for women of the time, Mechain was also one of the first poets in Wales to write about domestic abuse. To Her Husband for Beating Her is a poignant and powerful poem full of enraged language and energetic imagery.

Born into a noble family, Mechain was free to explore her own poetic interests without the pressure of securing patronage, unlike many of her male contemporaries. She became a prolific writer who was not restricted to one style. Her work includes religious, humorous and socially conscious poetry. One of her most well-known works, To the Vagina, chastises her male counterparts for praising a woman’s body from her hair to her feet but ignoring one hidden feature. She was bold and did not shy away from what some may consider crude imagery, as in her poem, To the Maid as she Shits.

This extract, in Welsh then English, is from Cywydd y cedor (The Female Genitals):

Pob rhyw brydydd, dydd dioed,
Mul frwysg, wladiadd rwysg erioed,
Noethi moliant, nis gwarantwyf,
Anfeidrol reiol, yr wyf

Every poet, drunken fool,
Thinks he is just the king of cool,
(Everyone is such a boor,
He makes me so sick, I’m so demure)

2. Katherine Philips (c.1632 – c.1664)

Born in London, Katherine Philips – who later wrote under the moniker “The Matchless Orinda” – moved to Wales when she was around 15 years old. From her home in Cardigan she became a significant female British poet, as well as the first woman to have a commercial play staged, Pompey.

Despite the stigma against women publishing their work, Philips succeeded by circulating handwritten letters and volumes, as her male contemporaries did, while upholding supposedly feminine virtues such as humility and chastity in her works.

Though she was married with two sons, much discussion around Philips’ poetry and life concentrates on whether she was or was not a lesbian. The emotional focus of her poetry was often on women and the passionate relationships she had with them. Regardless of Philips’ own sexual orientation, her work was the first British poetry to express same-sex love between women.

3. Sarah Jane Rees (“Cranogwen”) (1839–1916)

Sarah Jane Rees (also known by the bardic name Cranogwen) is perhaps one of the most pioneering poets in this list. Born in Llangrannog, west Wales, she spurned all attempts to enforce gender stereotypes – her family wanted her to work as a dressmaker – and instead joined her father on board his ship for two years after leaving school. She continued her education, eventually gaining her master mariner certificate. Returning home by the age of 21, Cranogwen fought against opposition to run her old school, and taught children as well as providing navigation and seamanship education to young men.

In 1865 she entered the Eisteddfod festival as Cranogwen with
Y Fodrwy Briodasal (The Wedding Ring), a satirical poem about a married woman’s destiny. When she was announced as the first woman to win the prize, there was disgust from the established and renowned male writers who had been competing. Cranogwen became famous overnight and a collection of her poems was released in 1870.

The following lines are taken from My Friend:

Ah! Annwyl chwaer, ‘r wyt ti i mi,
Fel lloer I’r lli, yn gyson;
Dy ddilyn heb orphwyso wna
Serchiadau pura’m calon

Oh! My dear sister, you to me
As the moon to the sea, constantly,
Following you restlessly are
My heart’s pure affections

4. Lynette Roberts (1909-1995)

Lynette Roberts was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina to parents of Welsh origin. A friend of Dylan Thomas, during World War II Roberts moved to Carmarthenshire with her then husband, journalist and poet Keidrych Rhys, and stayed in Wales for the rest of her life.

Although now her work is seeing a resurgence, for a long time Roberts has been overlooked. She was a poet ahead of her time and her use of language is refreshing. Roberts was influenced by the rich colours and landscape of her childhood, which she entwined with the rural landscape and culture of Wales during a time of upheaval – World War II.

Roberts’s poem Swansea Raid is perhaps one of her most powerful and insightful works. It depicts a snapshot of a relationship between herself and fellow villager Rosie and the tension between war and home. The changing technological world of war brought out warm, colourful language in her work, setting the colloquialisms of quiet, rural Wales against the starkness of bombing and constant threat of loss. Her most influential work has to be the heroic poem Gods with Stainless Ears, on the war’s disruption of domestic life.

This verse is from Roberts’ 1944 Poem from Llanybri:

Then I’ll do the lights, fill the lamp with oil,
Get coal from the shed, water from the well;
Pluck and draw pigeon, with crop of green foil
This your good supper from the lime-tree fell.The Conversation

Rhea Seren Phillips, PhD Researcher in Welsh Poetry, Swansea University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Hidden women of history: Tarpe Mills, 1940s comic writer, and her feisty superhero Miss Fury



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Miss Fury had cat claws, stiletto heels and a killer make-up compact.
Author provided

Camilla Nelson, University of Notre Dame Australia

In this series, we look at under-acknowledged women through the ages.

In April 1941, just a few short years after Superman came swooping out of the Manhattan skies, Miss Fury – originally known as Black Fury – became the first major female superhero to go to print. She beat Charles Moulton Marsden’s Wonder Woman to the page by more than six months. More significantly, Miss Fury was the first female superhero to be written and drawn by a woman, Tarpé Mills.

Miss Fury’s creator – whose real name was June – shared much of the gritty ingenuity of her superheroine. Like other female artists of the Golden Age, Mills was obliged to make her name in comics by disguising her gender. As she later told the New York Post, “It would have been a major let-down to the kids if they found out that the author of such virile and awesome characters was a gal.”

Yet, this trailblazing illustrator, squeezed out of the comic world amid a post-WW2 backlash against unconventional images of femininity and a 1950s climate of heightened censorship, has been largely excluded from the pantheon of comic greats – until now.

Comics then and now tend to feature weak-kneed female characters who seem to exist for the sole purpose of being saved by a male hero – or, worse still, are “fridged”, a contemporary comic book colloquialism that refers to the gruesome slaying of an undeveloped female character to deepen the hero’s motivation and propel him on his journey.

But Mills believed there was room in comics for a different kind of female character, one who was able, level-headed and capable, mingling tough-minded complexity with Mills’ own taste for risqué behaviour and haute couture gowns.

Tarpe Mills was obliged to make her name in comics during the 1940s by disguising her gender.
Author provided

Where Wonder Woman’s powers are “marvellous” – that is, not real or attainable – Miss Fury and her alter ego Marla Drake use their collective brains, resourcefulness and the odd stiletto heel in the face to bring the villains to justice.

A WW2 plane featuring an image of Miss Fury.
http://www.tarpemills.com

And for a time they were wildly successful.

Miss Fury ran a full decade from April 1941 to December 1951, was syndicated in 100 different newspapers at the height of her wartime fame, and sold a million copies an issue in reprints released by Timely (now Marvel) comics.

Pilots flew bomber planes with Miss Fury painted on the fuselage. Young girls played with paper doll cut outs featuring her extensive high fashion wardrobe.

An anarchic, ‘gender flipped’ universe

Miss Fury’s “origin story” offers its own coolly ironic commentary on the masculine conventions of the comic genre.

One night a girl called Marla Drake finds out that her friend Carol is wearing an identical gown to a masquerade party. So, at the behest of her maid Francine, she dons a skin tight black cat suit that – in an imperial twist, typical of the period – was once worn as a ceremonial robe by a witch doctor in Africa.

On the way to the ball, Marla takes on a gun-toting killer, using her cat claws, stiletto heels, and – hilariously – a puff of powder blown from her makeup compact to disarm the villain. She leaves him trussed up with a hapless and unconscious police detective by the side of the road.

Tarpe Mills with her beloved Persian cat.
Author provided

Miss Fury could fly a fighter plane when she had to, jumping out in a parachute dressed in a red satin ball gown and matching shoes. She was also a crack shot.

This was an anarchic, gender flipped, comic book universe in which the protagonist and principle antagonists were women, and in which the supposed tools of patriarchy – high heels, makeup and mermaid bottom ball gowns – were turned against the system. Arch nemesis Erica Von Kampf – a sultry vamp who hides a swastika-branded forehead behind a v-shaped blond fringe – also displayed amazing enterprise in her criminal antics.


Author provided

Invariably the male characters required saving from the crime gangs, the Nazis or merely from themselves. Among the most ingenious panels in the strip were the ones devoted to hapless lovelorn men, endowed with the kind of “thought bubbles” commonly found hovering above the heads of angsty heroines in romance comics.

By contrast, the female characters possessed a gritty ingenuity inspired by Noir as much as by the changed reality of women’s wartime lives. Half way through the series, Marla got a job, and – astonishingly, for a Sunday comic supplement – became a single mother, adopting the son of her arch nemesis, wrestling with snarling dogs and chains to save the toddler from a deadly experiment.

Mills claims to have modelled Miss Fury on herself. She even named Marla’s cat Peri-Purr after her own beloved Persian pet. Born in Brooklyn in 1918, Mills grew up in a house headed by a single widowed mother, who supported the family by working in a beauty parlour. Mills worked her way through New York’s Pratt Institute by working as a model and fashion illustrator.

Censorship

In the end, ironically, it was Miss Fury’s high fashion wardrobe that became a major source of controversy.

In 1947, no less than 37 newspapers declined to run a panel that featured one of Mills’ tough-minded heroines, Era – a South American Nazi-Fighter who became a post-war nightclub entertainer – dressed as Eve, replete with snake and apple, in a spangled, two-piece costume.

This was not the only time the comic strip was censored. Earlier in the decade, Timely comics had refused to run a picture of the villainess Erica resplendent in her bath – surrounded by pink flamingo wallpaper.

Erica in the bath, surrounded by pink flamingo wallpaper.
Author provided.

But so many frilly negligées, cat fights, and shower scenes had escaped the censor’s eye. It’s not a leap to speculate that behind the ban lay the post-war backlash against powerful and unconventional women.

In wartime, nations had relied on women to fill the production jobs that men had left behind. Just as “Rosie the Riveter” encouraged women to get to work with the slogan “We Can Do It!”, so too the comparative absence of men opened up room for less conventional images of women in the comics.

A Miss Fury paper doll cut out.
Author provided

Once the war was over, women lost their jobs to returning servicemen. Comic creators were no longer encouraged to show women as independent or decisive. Politicians and psychologists attributed juvenile delinquency to the rise of unconventional comic book heroines and by 1954 the Comics Code Authority was policing the representation of women in comics, in line with increasingly conservative ideologies. In the 1950s, female action comics gave way to romance ones, featuring heroines who once again placed men at the centre of their existence.

Miss Fury was dropped from circulation in December 1951, and despite a handful of attempted comebacks, Mills and her anarchic creation slipped from public view.

Mills continued to work as a commercial illustrator on the fringes of a booming advertising industry. In 1971, she turned a hand to romance comics, penning a seven-page story that was published by Marvel, but it wasn’t her forte. In 1979, she began work on a graphic novel Albino Jo, which remains unfinished.

Despite her chronic asthma, Mills – like the reckless Noir heroine she so resembled – chain-smoked to the bitter end. She died of emphysema on December 12, 1988, and is buried in New Jersey under the simple inscription, “Creator of Miss Fury”.

This year Mills’ work will be belatedly recognised. As a recipient of the 2019 Eisner Award, she will finally take her place in the Comics Hall of Fame, alongside the male creators of the Golden Age who have too long dominated the history of the genre. Hopefully this will bring her comic creation the kind of notoriety, readership and big screen adventures she thoroughly deserves.The Conversation

Camilla Nelson, Associate Professor in Media, University of Notre Dame Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Crime of culture: American Animals and the history of rare book heists



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STX Entertainment

Leah Henrickson, Loughborough University

American Animals, a film recounting the true story of a 2004 rare book theft, was recently released in cinemas across the UK. The film is a dramatic retelling of events based on director Bart Layton’s interviews and written correspondence with the convicted book thieves – interactions which began while the thieves were serving seven-year prison sentences following their guilty pleas.

In 2004, four friends in their early 20s – Charles Allen, Eric Borsuk, Warren Lipka, and Spencer Reinhard – attempted to execute an elaborate plan to steal more than US$12m worth of textual treasures from Lexington, Kentucky’s Transylvania University (Transy) Special Collections.

After a year in the planning, the heist involved the men disguising themselves as elderly, shooting librarian Betty Jean Gooch with a stun gun and simply shoving valuables into backpacks. When the day came, the men managed to escape with approximately US$750,000 worth of books in their backpacks, including a first edition of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, an illuminated medieval manuscript, and a copy of John James Audubon’s A Synopsis of Birds of North America.

Rushing from Lexington to New York, the men attempted to appraise their loot at Christie’s, but never managed to sell their ill-gotten gains. They returned home with the books and were tracked down by the FBI within a matter of months. The entire ordeal was so poorly organised that Vanity Fair deemed it “one part Oceans 11, one part Harold & Kumar”.

Light fingers

But this was by no means the only notable rare book heist in living memory. Earlier in 2018, an audit of the special collections of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh uncovered a series of thefts of rare books and book pages with a total value of around US$8m over a period of more than 20 years. It turned out that the former manager of the Carnegie Library’s rare book room, Gregory Priore, and bookseller John Schulman had been working together to sell the stolen goods through the rare book trade and auction houses.

The books stolen from Carnegie included Isaac Newton’s Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, a first edition of The Journal of Major George Washington, and a first edition of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. Unaware of where these books came from, booksellers from across the globe bought and sold them on to their own private and institutional customers.

Sir Isaac Newton’s own first edition copy of his Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica with his handwritten corrections for the 20th edition.
Andrew Dunn via Wren Library, Trinity College, Cambridge, CC BY-SA

These sales can be difficult to track on such a large scale and, while some works have been recovered (often at the booksellers’ own expense), hundreds of the stolen items remain missing. An up-to-date list of those items believed to have been stolen is provided by the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America.

Library thefts are nothing new. Throughout the 1840s, Italian count Guglielmo Libri Carucci dalla Sommaja stole approximately 30,000 items in his job as chief inspector of French Libraries (he later made a comfortable living selling this loot in England).

More recently, in 1990, American bibiomaniac Stephen Blumberg was arrested for stealing more than 20,000 books valued at more than US$5m from more than 200 universities and museums across North America.

The Great Library of Alexandria, O. Von Corven, 19th century.
Wikimedia commons, CC BY-NC

He served four years in prison and became known as the “Book Bandit”.

But on a more systemic and institutional level one could go as far back as the ancient Library of Alexandria, which supposedly seized any books found on ships arriving at the port. These books were copied by professional scribes who then deposited the original works into the library and gave the copies to the books’ owners.

Book ‘em

While library thefts are commonplace, the release of American Animals and the news of the recent Carnegie Library thefts have made this crime front page news. After all, the sheer value of some of these books makes them a very attractive proposition for thieves. But it’s not always just about money – the young men in American Animals fantasise about getting their hands on culturally revered items, while Guglielmo Libri and Blumberg were bibliomaniacs with a recognised condition. And the Library of Alexandria had a larcenous ambition to become a “universal library”, gathering all of the known world’s knowledge under a single roof.

The rare book trade is lucrative, certainly. Individuals and institutions are willing to spend healthy amounts to enhance their collections. But books represent more than just profit. They are cultural artefacts that span space and time to carry the voices of those who have meaningfully contributed to the world’s knowledge. As the primary means of communication for thousands of years, books reflect and perpetuate cultural heritage and – ultimately – help us understand what it means to be human.

Whether someone is stealing books for financial gain, the thrill of the game, or the overwhelming love of these objects, library theft is always underpinned by an understanding of books as valuable cultural artefacts. The young men in the American Animals heists are animals because they tried to plunder these relics of human development.The Conversation

Leah Henrickson, PhD Candidate, Loughborough University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The History and Future of ‘Westerns’


The link below is to an article that looks at the history and future of ‘Westerns’ in 10 books.

For more visit:
https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/tip-sheet/article/77727-the-history-and-future-of-the-western-in-10-books.html

Humphrey Llwyd: the Renaissance scholar who drew Wales into the atlas, and wrote it into history books



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Abraham Ortelius’s 1570 world map.
The Library of Congress/Wikimedia

Huw Pryce, Bangor University

As a small country with less than 5% of the UK population, Wales faces major challenges in making its presence felt in the wider world – but this is something that scholars, politicians and the people themselves have been concerned about for centuries.

August 2018 marks the 450th anniversary of the death of Humphrey Llwyd, a remarkable Renaissance scholar who believed that Wales was fundamental to the history and identity of Britain. Llwyd not only drafted the first published map of Wales – which literally set the country on a global stage – but was the first person to write a history of Wales and a topographical account of Britain.

Born to a gentry family in Denbigh in 1527 and educated at Oxford, Llwyd went on to make his career in England, being employed in the household of the cultured and book-loving Henry Fitzalan, the 12th Earl of Arundel. This gave Llwyd the opportunity to develop his interest in learning. It also led to his marriage to Barbara, sister of the earl’s son-in-law, Lord Lumley (who himself was another enthusiastic book collector).

Humphrey Llwyd, as depicted in the 1799 book The Royal Tribes of Wales.
Philip Yorke/Wikimedia

By 1563 Llwyd had set up home back in Denbigh, within the walls of the town’s medieval castle. As MP for the borough, he reportedly facilitated the passage, through the parliament of 1563, of the bill authorising the translation of the Bible and Book of Common Prayer into Welsh.

In 1566–7 Llwyd joined Arundel on a journey to Italy. However, a little over a year after his return to Denbigh, he fell seriously ill, and died on August 21 1568. He was buried just outside the town at the church of Llanfarchell, where the fine monument erected to his memory can still be seen.

Mapping Wales

Like other Welsh Renaissance scholars, Llwyd welcomed the so-called “union” of Wales and England under Henry VIII. Yet precisely because the future of Wales lay in the wider orbit of Britain Llwyd was determined to promote its history and culture as integral parts of the island’s heritage.

That determination was sharpened by his experiences outside Wales. It is no coincidence that the first work conceived of as a history of Wales – Llwyd’s Cronica Walliae (“The Chronicle of Wales”) of 1559 – was written in England, very probably at Arundel’s palace of Nonsuch near London for antiquarian-minded members of the earl’s circle. (Despite its Latin title, the work was written in English.)

The chronicle struck a defiant tone:

I was the first that tocke the province [Wales] in hande to put thees thinges into the Englishe tonge. For that I wolde not have the inhabitantes of this Ile ignorant of the histories and cronicles of the same, wherein I am sure to offende manye because I have oppenede ther ignorance and blindenes thereby …

Llwyd’s final works resulted from commissions by the great Flemish cartographer and “inventor” of the atlas, Abraham Ortelius, whom Llwyd met at Antwerp on his way home from Italy in 1567. These included two maps, one of Wales, the other of England and Wales, which were eventually published in a supplement to Ortelius’s atlas, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (“Theatre of the World”), in 1573.

The map of Wales printed as part of Theatrum Orbis Terrarum.
National Library of Wales

Llwyd sent drafts of these from his deathbed in Denbigh, along with notes on the topography of Britain – Commentarioli Britannicae descriptionis fragmentum (“A Fragment of a Little Commentary on the Description of Britain”) – written in Latin and published in Cologne in 1572. This was soon followed by Thomas Twyne’s English translation, The Breviary of Britayne (1573). Significantly, about half of the work was devoted to Wales.

Defending history

One aim of the Breviary was to defend the traditional British history popularised by Geoffrey of Monmouth – which traced the earliest kings of Britain to the Trojan exile Brutus – against the Italian humanist historian Polydore Vergil, “who sought not only to obscure the glory of the British name, but also to defame the Britons themselves with slanderous lies”. Like his compatriot Sir John Prise of Brecon, Llwyd not only cited numerous classical sources but stressed the importance of sources in Welsh, which Vergil could not read.

The Cronica Walliae also took the truth of British history for granted. The work drew heavily on the medieval Welsh chronicles known as Brut y Tywysogyon (“The Chronicle of the Princes”), which were designed as continuations of Geoffrey’s history, though Llwyd also used other sources and imposed his own shape on the whole. In particular, he divided the history by the reigns of the kings and princes whose deeds he related, from Cadwaladr the Blessed in the late seventh century to the failed revolt of Madog ap Llywelyn in 1294–5. This allowed Llwyd to present the history of medieval Wales as an unbroken succession of legitimate rulers. It also allowed him to insert the first account of Prince Madog’s alleged discovery of America in the 12th century.

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His final sentence made clear, however, that a separate Welsh history was long over: after 1295 “there was nothinge done in Wales worthy memory, but that is to bee redde in the Englishe Chronicle”. Nevertheless, by commemorating their ancient and medieval history, Llwyd insisted that the Welsh could boast a unique pedigree and status as “the genuine Britons” in the Tudor realm.

Huw Pryce, Professor of Welsh History, Bangor University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.