In this image a clergyman reads the sermon with the aid of a magnifying glass to a sleeping congregation while another clergyman ogles a sleeping woman.
The sleepy congregation (Wellcome Collection)

The Birth of Boredom

When did boredom become a thing? People have found themselves in boring situations from time immemorial but the word “boredom” did not enter the English language until the 19th century. Peter N. Stearns explains how boredom as a recognised emotional state emerged in the Victorian era as a result of cultural shifts (such as the rise of individuality and the increasing expectation of happiness) as well as of changing circumstances (such as access to new and more varied kinds of entertainment).

Image showing a bewildered doctor checking the pulse of lovesick young woman, while her concerned mother comforts her.
The love sick maid, or the doctor puzzled (Wellcome Collection)

“There are as many forms of love as there are moments in time.” – Jane Austen

We think of love as a constant but what it feels like, how it should be expressed on the body and in language, and who should experience it (and towards whom) has varied hugely over time and place. In medieval Europe, love of God took precedence over love for a spouse or a child but this did not preclude passionate attachments between elite men that were considered “ennobling” because they were based on the love of virtue in another person. In the 19th century, by contrast, romantic love was promoted as a desirable state in itself but it also had practical and moral advantages: it discouraged sex before marriage (particularly for women) and it helped to limit birth rates after marriage at a time when restraint was the only sure method of birth control. 

The mezzotint illustrates Achilles mourning the death of Patroclus.
Achilles mourning the death of Patroclus (Wellcome Collection)

Shrouded with Sorrow

In Ancient Greece and Rome, grief was more than a private sentiment – it had a social function. The rituals and behaviours of mourning were ruled by social status and gender. Propriety and modesty dictated that principal mourners of high status would be restrained in the expression of grief: the wearing of a veil signalled their sorrow while allowing them to maintain their composure. Discover more about the rules and rituals of mourning in antiquity and how the tradition of veiling has echoed down the centuries.

Six faces expressing human passions.
Works of the late Professor Camper (Wellcome Collection)

Ew! Manufacturing Disgust for non-French Foods

Disgust evolved in humans, at least in part, as a protective response to the risks involved in eating foods which might endanger us. But disgust is also a cultural product and has been used throughout history as a distancing mechanism whether of geographically remote cultures or of minorities within a majority culture. From couscous to dog-meat, learn how home-cooking magazines in Paris between the wars portrayed disgusting foods from colonial cuisines, reinforcing negative stereotypes of the “other”.