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Victor and Victims: Women through Time

This image shows a female doctor with the International Medical Corps examines a woman patient at a mobile health clinic in the village of Goza.

Women as healers

Although women have had to wait until the modern era to be formally recognised as medical professionals, the model of woman as healer has a very long lineage. Explore the position of women in Ancient Greek and Roman civilization as healing practitioners and medical authorities and not merely as patients.

This image shows Hildegard of Bingen. Found in the collection of the Eibingen Abbey.

Representations of women in Medieval culture

Sources of information on women’s lives in the Middle Ages are few but medieval depictions of women, however stylized, remain an important source for understanding attitudes towards sex and gender. Discover the world of women not just as subjects but also as creators, patrons and consumers of art and literature.

Photo of two Victorian women see saw together, ca. 1902.

Gender politics in the Nineteenth century

The Victorian quest for respectability is considered in Teresa Mangum’s study of the way that femininity was framed in terms of cleanliness while Annette F. Timm and Joshua A. Sanborn examine the complex interactions between gender roles and colonialism.

Vintage illustration of a housewife, showing off her brand new kitchen to her neighbor friends, 1950.

Western women negotiating work and family lives in the twentieth century

What changed and what stayed the same for women living and working in the 20th century? Bronwyn Winter unravels the Western narrative of the advancement of gender equality in the 20th century, and Maggie Andrews explores how women in early 20th century British suburbia experienced and understood the rituals of the home place through the ‘domestic goddesses’ of broadcast radio.

A statue of a girl symbolizing the issue of

Japan and wartime comfort women

The Japanese military was responsible for the sexual enslavement of thousands of women and girls in Asia and the Pacific during the China and Pacific wars under the guise of providing 'comfort' for battle-weary troops. Campaigns for justice and reparations for 'comfort women' since the early 1990s have highlighted the magnitude of the human rights crimes committed against Korean, Chinese and other Asian women by Japanese soldiers after 1937. Explore the origins of the Japanese military's system of sexual slavery and how Japanese women were its first victims.


Luxury

ANJUNA, GOA, INDIA - 2013/12/18: Many different goods like typical Indian spices and curries are presented in bags for sale at the weekly flea-market. (Photo by Frank Bienewald/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Luxury and decadence in "the Orient"

Silks from China, incenses from Arabia, spices from India …. From the earliest times, “the Orient” has been identified with sensuality, luxury and decadence. Learn about the sensory pleasures of the trade in luxury goods in Imperial Rome (The Sensens in the Marketplace).

Picture of the ceiling and balcony inside Haghia Sophia Mosque, Turkey, Istanbul

City of wealth and wonders

In the medieval period, visitors to Constantinople were amazed by its opulence. But its fortunes were built less on its own trading activities than on its skill in exploiting its location to direct, organize and profit from the trade that was carried on by others. The story is explained in Two thirds of the wealth of this world.

Picture showing bottles of Fiji water

A Precious Commodity

We think of ‘designer water’ as a 21st century invention but water could be a luxury good in Early Modern Europe too. In Liquid Food: Drinking for Health David Gentilcore relates how named mineral waters became fashionable luxuries alongside ice, wine, chocolate and coffee.

Picture showing people gathered together in a saloon

Conspicuous consumption

In eighteenth-century Europe, rising social mobility and the expansion of world trade meant that items previously considered the preserve of the super-rich became accessible to those with more modest incomes. Discover how the increasing affordability of luxury attire, such as wigs, came into conflict with the sumptuary laws of the period in Status.

Picture of Castle Hill Mansion on The Crane Estate,designed by architect David Adler circa 1928.

What is luxury today?

What is luxury today? For Dieter Kienast, reflecting on the increased density of urban living, “the garden is the last luxury of our time because it claims what has become rare and valuable in our society: time, devotion and space.” Explore the development of landscape architecture over the 20th century in Use and Reception.


Plagues and Pandemics

Image showing flagellants in the Netherlands.

Beyond the black death

Between 1300 and 1500 the population of Europe collapsed. We know that the Black Death played a major part in this catastrophic decline but was it more important than war, or famine, or other diseases of the age such as leprosy? Learn about the many and varied causes of human mortality in the Middle Ages.

Picture of famine in the middle ages-nineteenth-century-trade-card-picture-id113451168

The wrath of god

There were few effective cures for the diseases of the Early Modern period. In the absence of scientific knowledge, people wanted plausible stories to make sense of recurrent outbreaks of infectious disease. And there was a simple explanation: epidemics were God’s punishment for the sinfulness of man. Margaret Healy offers an introduction to divine rage and human health in the Renaissance.

Copy of an albumen silver print by henry peach robinson.

What’s in a (medical) name?

Consumption, phthisis, pulmonary tuberculosis, TB … all these terms were used to describe the same disease over the course of the nineteenth century. Michael Worboys explains how these name changes reflected shifts in the medical understanding of the disease and in social attitudes towards it.

Picture showing soldiers during World War I, hunting the cootie in well constructed German trenches in the Vosges 1915.

Military combat and disease

Typhus was first described in the fifteenth century but has been especially deadly during periods of extended military conflict such as the Napoleonic Wars and the Crimean War. Read how the infection was passed from soldier to soldier through their lice-infested uniforms and learn how, in the trenches of the First World War, attempts to kill the lice by chemical means were as toxic to humans as they were to insects.

Photo showing 'Free HIV Testing' spelled out in blue & white neon letters hanging in a storefront window behind security gates in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, NYC.

Changing attitudes to HIV/AIDS

How have modern epidemics affected social values? Gender, Sex and the Shaping of Modern Europe reveals how attitudes surrounding the origins of HIV/AIDS evolved and were expressed in laws across the continent.


Children

Relief portraying a woman and a child at a feast.

Affection or indifference?

The “family” was central to ancient Greek and Roman societies. It was also understood to include slaves, property and land as well as parents and children and the extended kin group. Within such a large social unit and in circumstances where infant mortality was commonplace, was there a space for parents to love their children? Read the arguments for and against in this long-running historiographical debate.

Schoolchildren at their books, UK, AD 1338-1344. From Bodleian manuscript MS.

Preparing for a life of work in the Middle Ages

Imagine a young girl seated on the floor of a house in fourteenth-century London. With miniature pewter jugs, cups, and plates, she serves an imaginary meal for her younger siblings. Is she playing, learning, or working? In the eyes of her mother, she may be doing all three. Discover how parents in the medieval period regarded child education and how they saw learning and helping as interchangeable activities.

Portrait of Chiara Albini Petrozzani with their children in prayer. Painting attributed to Pietro Facchetti (1535 or 1539-1619).

Gender roles and expectations

How were girls and boys treated differently in Renaissance society? The French physician Laurent Joubert argued that strictness of discipline should be the only experience that was common to all children: “the boy ought to be well fed, well beaten and poorly dressed; and the girl, well dressed, well beaten and poorly fed.” Karen Raber and Stephanie Tarbin plot how attitudes around gender shaped the lives of children from baptism onwards.

Picture showing children working in a rope factory - from 18th century engraving.

Working children

We associate child labor with the factories and mines that sprang up with the Industrial Revolution but in earlier periods children from the age of six years onwards were expected to make a contribution to the family economy. Learn how their work was deemed both essential to the success of the household and central to their moral education in the years of the Enlightenment.

Picture showing A Giant Snowball, by William Weekes (Photo by © Fine Art Photographic Library/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Creating the modern family

For centuries, Christian teaching emphasized the innate sinfulness of children. But from the early nineteenth century, this attitude gave way to Romantic ideas of the child as an exemplar of innocence, virtue and hope. Explore how conceptions of childhood were reshaped in the Victorian era and how child-rearing then came to be regarded as the most important function of the family.

Photo of the costumes worn by the girls in Chelsea, London's Bohemia.

Youth culture and consumption

The term ‘teenager’ was coined by American market researchers in the 1940s and was linked from the beginning to the expansion of consumer culture and the creation of a youth market. Bill Osgerby explains how ideas of ‘teenagers’ and ‘youth’ came to carry other meanings, reflecting broader social and culture shifts in post-war Britain.


Costume and Dress

The sacred robe of Athena held up by cult officials, and Athena and Hephaistos, 438 BC. From the Elgin collection, British Museum.

Dress and belief in Ancient Greece and Rome

Dress was a dynamic part of the religious lives of ancient Mediterranean people: it fostered identity, reinforced community and group bonds and boundaries, displayed the values of community members, and solidified institutional structures. Discover the role of costume in demarcating sacred space and festive time, facilitating ritual experience and marking key rites of passage and initiation in Ancient Greece and Rome..

Antoine Verard (- 1573), Chronicles of Saint Denis, Full-length Portrait of Saint Louis (Louis IX) (1214-1270) holding a scale model of the Sainte-Chapelle, 1493, Paris, Bibliotheque Sainte Genevieve.

Sumptuary laws in medieval Europe

Every form of dress carries some indication of the status of its wearer. Status, defined as social difference, is a social relationship which dress makes visible to others. Beginning in the 13th century, sumptuary laws governing dress, food consumption, banquets, and ceremonies such as births, weddings, and funerals, were enacted across Europe to regulate public consumption and display in accordance with social status.Explore the changing relationship between dress and status in the period from the 12th century through the 14th..

Brera gallery, Milan. San Marco preaching in Alexandria (detail). Giovanni Bellini. (Photo by: Godong/UIG via Getty Images).

Costume and the identification of foreigners

In Renaissance Europe, costume became an important means of classifying people of different origins, especially Muslims or Turks (a term that extended to all members of the Ottoman Empire). A new kind of publication – the costume book – showed the plurality of Ottoman society. But it also contributed to the formation of racial and gender stereotypes. Learn how costume and costume books were used to identify foreigners in sixteenth-century Europe.

Portrait of the Marquise de Pompadour (1721-1764), ca 1758. Found in the collection of the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh.

Costume becomes fashion

The advance of global trade in the 18th century brought new luxury items to Europe and promoted a taste for the exotic: the Cabinet des Modes boasted that “French women, particularly those in the capital which is the centre of taste, know how to imitate and to appropriate the costumes of all nations.” Barbara Lasic explains how the fascination with luxurious novelties (often publicised through stage costumes) helped to nurture an emerging fashion industry.

Tokyo, JAPAN: In this file picture taken 17 Feburary 2006, Kei Aran (C) performs as Oscar Francois de Jarjayes

Costume and national identity

In theatrical productions, costume choices have often given expression to debates around national identity. Michelle Liu Carriger and Aoife Monks discuss how the contested terrain of identity has played out in two countries – Japan and Ireland – over the course of the 20th century.


Work

 CIRCA 2002: Relief from a sarcophagus depicting scenes of everyday life. Roman Civilisation, 2nd Century. Rome, Museo Della Civiltà Romana.

The Meaning of work in the Ancient World

As societies based upon slavery, Ancient Greece and Rome had no vocabulary to refer to ‘work’ or ‘labour’ in the way that those terms are understood today. Nonetheless, work was ubiquitous in Antiquity. Ephraim Lytle introduces us to the complexities of this world as revealed in literary texts, inscriptions, and archaeological data while Lena Larsson Lovén and Agneta Strömberg explain the interconnections between work, the family economy and social status in the ancient world.

Oil painting of two women milking cows in a barn, In the centre stands a white cow.

Portfolio working in the Sixteenth Century

In a famous survey conducted in 1688, English statistician Gregory King estimated that 88 percent of his fellow countrymen and countrywomen were engaged in agriculture. What this meant could vary hugely according to the season, the region and the demand for migrant workers. Explore the astonishing range of activities encompassed by the term 'agricultural labour’. in Early Modern Europe.

Picture showing the interior of an English factory. Late 18th century. Nineteenth-century colored engraving.

Adam’s curse redefined?

In the Christian tradition, work was God’s curse on Adam for his disobedience. But by the eighteenth century attitudes had changed: Voltaire argued in his novel, Candide, that work was the answer to the three major problems of life: boredom, vice and poverty. Discover how this more positive attitude was reflected in artistic representation of work during the years of the Enlightenment.

Engraving showing women inspecting newly made paper before dispatch.

Women on the move

Spurred by industrialization and urbanization, people of all social classes became more mobile over the course of the nineteenth century: between 1850 and 1913 about 30 million European migrants left for the United States and another 10 million for South America. While many moved much shorter distances in search of work, for women in particular migration was always both an opportunity and a risk. Learn about women’s patterns of work migrationin a period of rapid economic and social change.

Team of happy entrepreneurs having fun on a break while playing table soccer.

Balancing work and leisure in the modern era

With the growth of mass entertainment in the twentieth century, opportunities for leisure expanded hugely in the United States and Western Europe. Achieving a good balance between work and leisure proved much more elusive: periods of economic instability undermined workers’ successes while government- or corporate-sponsored leisure programs failed to recognize that a fulfilling leisure life was dependent upon a rewarding work experience. Randy D. McBee explains how leisure can be meaningful only if work is.


Emotions

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 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.

“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.

Shrouded with Sorrow

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.

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”.