This summer, I had the pleasure of hosting Jessie Foreman as an Undergraduate Research Opportunity Programme student at the University of Essex. Over the summer, she worked on transcriptions for several manuscripts, tweeted occasionally about her findings, developed an instructional video, and tested a recipe… It was a busy summer!
She’s kindly taken a few minutes out of her busy start of term to answer a few questions about her placement.
How many manuscripts did you work on, and which was your favourite?
While contemporary discussion of “health” revolves around one’s dietary and physical habits, recipe-writers of the 16th and 17th centuries held a much more serious understanding of health and its preservation. To be “healthy” was not a physical matter, but a spiritual one: to have “health” often meant aligning oneself with God and abdicating sin. The word “health” was also used analogously with a Christianized notion of salvation, which stipulates that belief in Jesus Christ’s divinity and message yields entry into heaven. This analysis explores how receipt-writers discussed the concept of health, which will provide a better sense of what the authors originally meant to convey when they wrote about sustaining one’s health during this time period. Maintaining health was exceedingly more important to these writers than our current standards of preserving health – doing so was a matter not just of wellness or sickness, but of salvation or damnation of the soul itself.
Although health is currently understood as “Soundness of body; that condition in which its functions are duly and efficiently discharged,” (“health, n.1”) the meaning of health for writers of the 16th and 17th centuries referred more to “Spiritual, moral, or mental soundness or well-being; salvation” (“health, n.4”). Here, the OED demonstrates that our modern understanding of health is that which is constricted to the body, to the “soundness” of the body; but the archaic definition of the word illustrates a transcendence of the corporeal to the spiritual, in such a high degree that having “health” means having salvation – a spiritual, Christian sense of salvation. One example of the importance of health in this context derives from Anne Wheathill’s A Handful of Wholesome (Though Homely) Herbs, in which she prays that “Wherefore in thée my hart shall be joifull, and in thy saving health, which is thy sonne Christ our Saviour and redéemer” (Wheathill sig. B5r). The phrase “saving health” occurs three times in this text, while the word “salvation” or words referring to God often appear alongside the word “health.” This treatment of “health” indicates a heavily spiritual connotation drawn from the word. In this passage, “thy saving health” is equated directly to Christ and his status as savior.
Health not only constitutes salvation, though, but also represents a spiritual notion that one must strive for, to retain a connection with God. In her A Booke of Hearbes and Receipts, Elizabeth Bulkeley includes a recipe titled “A Speciall meanes to preserve health.” This recipe provides metaphorical directions that exemplify how one can develop a better connection with God. In the format of a recipe, the text instructs readers to undergo a variety of spiritual experiences to become more Christ-like, so that they can:
rise from syn willinglie, take vp Christes Crosse
boudlie, stand to gut mornfullie, bere it pacient,,
lie & rest thankefully & then shalt thou lyve ever,,
lastinglie & come to heaven safelie vnto whiche
place hasten vs lord speedilie Amen / (MS Digital Image 169/38).
Preserving health, here, illustrates an end goal of acquiring salvation and entry into heaven. Throughout this recipe, readers are called to commit themselves to various acts of worship in order to relinquish worldly desire and vice for the end goal of attaining redemption. These acts are represented as if they were ingredients in a recipe, with materials such as a “quart of Repentance of Ninyvie” or a “spoon of faithfull prayers,” and the recipe not only confirms a spiritual understanding of the word “health,” but also serves as a creative way of instilling guidance for those who want to preserve their spiritual salvation (MS 169/38).
It is also important to contextualize this analysis with the fact that many recipes of this time, including recipes in Bulkeley’s manuscript, were meant to stave off the plague. Due to a limited understanding of the plague at the time, people were often led to believe that this disease was the result of God exacting punishment upon sinners of the world. In having this belief, the relationship between one’s moral purity and one’s physical health becomes much clearer and more intimately intertwined. By preserving one’s moral sanctity, one would be alleviated from a divinely inspired punishment against humanity and would thus be able to survive during the plague. By indulging in sin, though, one risked being struck down with the life-threatening Black Death.
While these texts provide compelling evidence for the spiritual connotation derived from the word “health,” the word was still fairly versatile and retained its current definition in other usage. In her analysis of Caterina Sforza’s Experimenti, Meredith Ray points out that “[a]t the turn of the sixteenth century, Caterina recorded over four hundred recipes for beauty and health,” and further discusses how Sforza’s manuscript focuses on the physicality of beauty and health (Ray). Thus, health retained its current definition in other usage during this time, while the largely spiritual dimension of the word has greatly dissipated as the centuries have progressed. Despite the evolved nature of this word and its multifaceted use, the important takeaway is that many authors of the 16th and 17th centuries utilized the word “health” in a far different way, equating the word to salvation. Understanding the contextual cues of this word in reading literature of this time period will enable individuals to better distinguish if the text is discussing matters of the body, of the soul, or both.
Bulkeley, Elizabeth. A Booke of Hearbes and Receipts. 1627. Wellcome Library MS 169. 22 Apr. 2016.
“health, n.1.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2016. Web. 22 April 2016.
“health, n.4.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2016. Web. 22 April 2016.
Ray, Meredith K. “‘The Alchemist’s Desire’: Recipes for Health and Beauty from Caterina Sforza.” The Recipes Project. 03 Mar. 2015. Web. 22 Apr. 2016.
Wheathill, Anne. A Handful of Wholesome (Though Homely) Herbs. London, 1584. Women Writers Online. Women Writers Project, Northeastern University. 22 Apr. 2016.
Jonathan Powers just received his B.A. in English from the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. He worked with Professor Rebecca Laroche in a course on Digital Research Methods in Historical Recipes.
In my previous post, I discussed Mistress Vernam and her contribution to Lady Frances Catchmay’s Booke of Medicins (http://emroc.hypotheses.org/879). I had run across a single possible match for Mistress Vernam in the genealogical database Ancestry.com: the search pointed to Jess Cox, a woman who was married to John Vernam in Hardwicke, Gloucestershire in 1613 (Ancestry.com). Despite this find, however, I was hardly closer to discovering her connection to either Lady Catchmay or seventeenth-century medical practice.
I used the result from Ancestry.com to try and locate Mistress Vernam in other contemporaneous medical books. Unfortunately, her lack of genealogical records makes Jess Vernam’s possible medical connections difficult to pinpoint. There are quite a few references to various doctors named “Cox” in several early modern databases; but without a record of Jess’s birth, there is no way to know if these doctors were related to her. Rather than continuing to search for Mistress Vernam by her name, I decided to look for her through her recipes.
At the present moment, searching for recipes across texts is a messy and imperfect process due in part to the fact that we as a scholarly community are still in the earlier stages of transcribing and coding these early modern books. As this process comes closer to completion, it will be much easier to search through them in a thorough and efficient manner. What the Wellcome Library has transcribed into their database thus far, however, is absolutely invaluable: I was able to look for Mistress Vernam’s recipes via their titles by breaking each title into its keywords and searching for their variant spellings.
My search revealed a link between the penultimate recipe within Mistress Vernam’s medicines and a recipe in MS 373. Mistress Vernam’s “A medicine to Clarifye the Eyesighte” instructs to “Take the gaules of swine, of an eele, & of a cocke, temper them well together with honney & fayre water & keape it in a cleane glasse, for your vsse: when you haue neade annoynte the eyes therwith” (MS184a/34)
MS 373/121 contains a nearly identical recipe called “To Clarifie the Sight”:
MS 373 belonged to and was written by Jane Jackson in 1642 (MS 373), meaning that it was compiled almost twenty years after Lady Catchmay’s Booke of Medicins. Unfortunately Jackson does not give any attribution for this recipe, nor does the book contain any of Mistress Vernam’s other medicines. Still, this find suggests one possible connection between Mistress Vernam and the wider medical community. With this new insight, the next step would be to find out who Jane Jackson was and whether or not she was connected to Lady Catchmay and Mistress Vernam. And if she was not, then what might Jackson and Vernam’s common source have been?
This line of inquiry is outside the scope of this post, although it is certainly one that should be pursued at some point in the future. For now, I will leave you with this: it is likely that I missed several matches for Mistress Vernam’s recipes and thus I likely also missed several connections. Although I only found two iterations of the above recipe in my own searches, it is quite possible that versions of “A medicine to Clarifye the Eyesighte” appear in other manuscripts beyond the two mentioned here. I encourage my fellow scholars to look for this recipe elsewhere so that we can discover more connections between Mistress Vernam and the medical community.
As evidenced by the two recipes above, titles can vary between sister recipes both in terms of spelling and phrasing; it is simply not possible for a single person to account for every variation. A much more detailed method of search would look not only for titles, but also for ingredients. Searching for uncommon ingredients would help scholars to find connections between medical texts, their authors, and their contributors. This type of search will not be possible for several years yet. When it is possible, it will be a powerful tool for piecing together an accurate picture of the vast early modern medical community. Searching for recipes in addition to names will allow us to see connections and relationships within the medical community that might not have been apparent otherwise. And it will hopefully some day allow us to find out the true identity of the mysterious Mistress Vernam.
Monterey Hall, is an undergraduate at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs and is a student of Rebecca Laroche.
Ancestry.com. Ancestry, 2015. Web. 10 Dec 2015.
Catchmay, Lady Frances. A Booke of Medicins, preserues and Cookerye. 1625. Wellcome Library MS 184a. Web. 2 Nov 2015
Jackson, Jane. Booke of Medical Receipts. 1642. Wellcome Library MS 373. Web. 16 Dec 2015.
Monterey Hall is a student at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. She worked with Professor Rebecca Laroche in an independent study on the Catchmay Manuscript in Fall 2015.
Once again, EMROC enters a new term filled with exciting discoveries and steady progress toward our collective goals. Through our teaching and research, we look to transcribe, vet, and tag as well as present our findings and our progress in various conferences in North America and Europe. This work reinforces EMROC’s aims in forging links between individual and collaborative research and connecting both with our energizing classrooms.
This semester, three EMROC members are linking the project with their classes. At North Carolina State University, Maggie Simon is integrating recipes from Constance Hall’s collection into a discussion on country house poems in her course “Delighting in Disorder: Seventeenth Century Poetry and Prose.” The unit abuts another on verse miscellanies, and she anticipates that the juxtaposition will fit nicely with considering other types of manuscript transmission, collaboration, and compilation. In a course entitled “The Global History of Food, 1450–1750,” Lisa Smith at the University of Essex considers with her students how recipes fit within global culture as commodities and as transmitted texts as they transcribe into DROMIO. Concurrently, Rebecca Laroche appropriately connects her online students with Digital Humanities questioning as they explore recipes from Margaret Baker’s and Elizabeth Bulkeley’s collections. Combined, these courses are engaging the minds of more than sixty students with EMROC’s purpose and goals.
Students previously energized by their classroom experience continue to “spread the love.” On April 8, members of the Early Modern Paleography Society (EMPS) at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte who participated in the fall International Transcribathon, will be hosting the first student-run transcribathon. They are looking at the recipe book of Lettice Pudsey (Folger v.a.45) as their possible focus. Continue to monitor this space for further details.
While graduate students at the University of California-Davis, University of Maryland, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and the University of Texas-Arlington chip away at the transcriptions of Catchmay, Hall, and Granville this spring, research assistants at the Max Planck Institute, the University of Essex, and the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs will be vetting and tagging the Winche manuscript completed during fall’s transcribathon. The goal is to get the transcription fully database ready as a model for other texts that are reaching triple-keyed closure.
In these first months of 2016, it is clear that EMROC has fully entered the scholarly conversation. Early in January, Rebecca Laroche participated in a roundtable at the Modern Language Association about the “Myth of Post-Canonicity,” highlighting EMROC’s potentials within the larger Digital Humanities arena, while Elaine Leong presented research on paper as an ingredient for “Working with Paper: Gendered Practices in the History of Knowledge” project, research that she was able to complete because of the St. John and Winche transcriptions. Hillary Nunn has organized a recipes team for the “Networking Early Modern Women” day for the revisions of the Six Degree of Francis Bacon DH venture and has attained a place at the Folger’s “Digital Agendas” roundtable on Scholarly Conversations & Collaborations as part of the Renaissance Society of America’s April meeting in Boston. She and Jennifer Munroe have been invited to represent EMROC at the Shakespeare Association’s Digital Showcase in New Orleans at the end of March and have also committed to sharing EMROC’s work at a conference on cookbooks in New York City in May. Speaking to the German Shakespeare Association in April in Bochum, Amy Tigner will discuss EMROC’s work and its connection to early modern culinary gardens.
As CFPs and course schedules circulate for the 2016-17 academic year, the collective can only anticipate that its efforts will grow and its presence will intensify. The logic of the task is so clear, the feedback from classes and presentations so positive. With many thanks to all who participated in the collective in 2015, all look to continuing this work with enthusiasm and dedication. If you would like to be a part of the conversation, EMROC now has a listserv; just send an email to email@example.com with the expressed desire to join.
As part of my Book in Society class, thirteen students took part in the Transcribathon on Wednesday, October 7th, For this group, transcribing Winche’s work was the culmination of a two-week unit on paleography, which covered italic and secretary hands as well as early modern print and manuscript culture. (This unit was also part of a larger historical trajectory for the course itself—which, by December, will have covered artifacts from scrolls to iPads.) Because of this context, my students experienced the Transcribathon as a reflection of a particular historical moment—but also as an intersection between three communities: our own class group, the larger EMROC consortium, and the early modern communities of recipe writers that we’ve been studying. In this post, I’d like to explore the intersections between some of these historical and community contexts, and then to share some questions that these intersections helped us investigate in our class.
Until we began the transcription unit, my students had read about the communities that spring up around books (for example, groups of monks in a scriptorium, or professional Torah scribes)—but we hadn’t experienced a textually-rooted community firsthand. EMROC was a fantastic community to start with, because it not only unites scholars from around the world but provides electronic forums (Twitter, blogging, etc.) that students can easily access and participate in. During the Transcribathon, for example, my students quickly started tweeting their findings, and they were delighted to experience instant dialogue with scholars from different time zones:
Using Twitter was particularly compelling for a couple of reasons. First, many of my students are Communications Studies majors, interested in examining community discourse (and the role of technology in that discourse). Second, Twitter allowed us to interrogate the relationship between the manuscript and the digitized version(s) of that manuscript in a new way. While we had used the work of Heidi Brayman Hackel and Ian Moulton to discuss the digitization of early modern archives, we hadn’t experienced manuscript digitization in a realtime, community-centered format. The Twitter feed allowed us to ask how social media technology enables (re)iterations of a text in a way that recontextualizes not only the words, but the history and signification of each recipe.
This led us to start asking some important questions—both during the Transcribathon and in its aftermath. If a word is clipped out of a manuscript, how does it signify differently? What happens when that word is placed into a new context—not only the context of the Tweet itself, but the context of EMROC’s work, or a laptop (or, indeed, IHOP?) What’s the relationship between the recipe part (word or ingredient) and the recipe or manuscript whole? Sharing pictures of specific textual snippets allowed us to start asking these questions, and to ask what the ramifications of social media might really be for signification, writ large.
Because it enabled these questions, linking the topics of historical and community context, the Transcribathon was a compelling wrap-up for our early modern unit. For the students, the project also drove home the notion that historical texts aren’t frozen in a particular historical or geographical spot. Instead, early modern manuscripts inspire ongoing scholarship and conversation, allowing us to ask what the effect of our own technology might be, and how intersecting contexts might ultimately re-inflect meaning.
Nancy Simpson-Young teaches at Pacific Luthern University.