LGBT History Month Poster: Charity Bryant and Sylvia Drake

This double silhouette portrait is of Charity Bryant and Sylvia Drake, two women who lived together in the small village of Weybridge, Vermont, USA, in the first half of the nineteenth century.  It is typical as a piece of sentimental, amateur art that, with its heart-twisted hairs, commemorates the devotion of a couple to one another.  The fact that both silhouettes portray women was less unusual than we might think.


Charity Bryant and Sylvia Drake, Wikimedia Commons

Rachel Hope Cleves, Charity and Sylvia’s biographer, explains how, living in a small village, surrounded by relatives and family-friends, the two women could live as a couple because it was an “open secret” that they were in a relationship.  Villagers were willing to abide by this “open secret” because the women were pillars of the church, economy, and society.  Training young people in tailoring and sewing, running Sunday schools, caring for their dozens of nieces and nephews, the women were celebrated for their devotion to each other.  A nephew, Cullen, who benefited from their tutoring wrote of “how, in their youthful days, they took each other as companions for life, and how this union, no less sacred to them than the tie of marriage, has subsisted, in uninterrupted harmony, for forty years, during which they have shared each other’s occupations and pleasures and works of charity while in health, and watched over each other tenderly in sickness”.

Source: Rachel Hope Cleves, Charity and Sylvia: A Same Sex Marriage in Early America (Oxford University Press, 2014)

Further reading: 

John D’Emilio & Estelle B. Freedman, Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America (New York: Harper and Row, 1988)

Lillian Faderman, Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women From the Renaissance to the Present (London: Junction Books, 1981)

Thomas Foster, Sex and the Eighteenth-Century Man: Massachusetts and the History of Sexuality in America (Boston: Beacon, 2006)

Richard Godbeer, Sexual Revolution in Early America (Baltimore & London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001)

“Death in the Pot”: The Long History of Food Adulteration

Blog written by Dr Claudia Kreklau

“Death in the Pot”—an appetizing title! In 1820, German-born chemist Friedrich Accum, known as Frederick Accum to his colleagues in London, published a monograph written to make your stomach turn. In early nineteenth-century Britain, an increasingly urban population relied on food vendors and a growing industrial complex to provide their daily bread. Accum revealed to them that their flour contained alum, their Gloucester cheese lead, and tea (good old British institution tea!) contained cherry leaves, acting as a rather unwanted, very strong laxative.

Inflammatory as Accum’s work undoubtedly was, “food adulteration” as Accum called it, was a problem, and in good German fashion, Accum criticized the condition in Britain relentlessly. His British colleagues and industrialists were of course delighted to be told off by the young German chemist-upstart. “If Mr. Accum were as accurate and perspicuous as he is industrious, his services to the science of chemistry would be less equivocal,” one critic wrote. He also found it particularly egregious that Accum “tried to give [his work] such ‘a popular form’ as to place” testing food contents “within the reach even of those who are unacquainted with the principles of chemical science.” Accum’s works gave the public a set of simple tests to make sure their own foods did not contain poisons. After all, lead, arsenic, copper, and chrome were popular colorings – the E-numbers of the nineteenth century, if you like. The use of such substances caused more than one child to end up unconscious after eating “poisonous custard” artificially flavoured with cherry laurel.

Image attrib. Leeds University, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

Accum was a pioneer in a discussion we are all familiar with today: food adulteration. Chances are that we have all watched the news at some point and wondered about what we ate the other day. The reasons for our worries are in essence the same one as in 1820 Britain. For one, we all need to eat, but most of us do not run our own farms, do not milk our own cow Daisy in the morning, nor do we pull our own carrots out of the ground. Modern consumption means being vastly dependent on agriculture and industry to keep us fed, and as consumers we have little control over what goes into our ready-made soup or can of beans. Furthermore, there are substances in our food that we would prefer not to be there: additives to give colour, texture, or taste. Substitutes can also prove tricky, as some of us may remember, horse-meat rather than beef may appear in last night’s lasagna  

All of these problems have a surprisingly long history, which is what my research on nineteenth-century food processing and consumption in Germany has explored over the past few years. Around 1870 in Germany, the food industry used, for example, potato syrup instead of real sugar, sick or dead animals to make sausages, and yeast extract to add flavour to food. The reason for this was simple: to decrease production cost and avoid financial loss. The same principles apply today. In the United States, high-fructose corn syrup is the twenty-first century cheaper sugar-alternative; the meat of sick or dying animals still end up in wontons in contemporary China; and it is hard to avoid monosodium glutamate used to mimic the savory taste of meat in the British ready-meal.

The important point is that food adulteration is not a story about contemporary China, early industrial Britain, the United States or even a rapidly modernizing Germany. It is a story about modernization more broadly. The moment a society moves from being a largely agricultural society to an industrial one with many of its people living in cities, the great majority of us outsource food-production, -processing and -preparation to agriculture, industry, grocery stores and eateries. At that stage, when we buy a sandwich, get fish-n-chips in a shop, or purchase a bottle of ketchup at the store around the corner, we have entrusted someone else with what goes into our stomachs..

Where industry rises (e.g. 1780s Britain, 1800s United States, 1860s Germany) food-changes quickly follow, at best quickly met by controlling legislation (Britain 1875, United States 1906, Germany 1878/9). Depending on how quickly lawmakers react, how much pressure they meet from their population, and how adamant consumers are about regulation, consumption habits will also change. In Britain, the United States, and Germany, for example, food industrialization was usually paired or soon followed by vegetarianism or back-to-nature movements. That was no coincidence. For consumers in Germany becoming a vegetarian in 1870 or even a vegan around 1890 was one way to reduce the risk of ingesting potentially harmful substances in a time before GMO (pesticides and fertilizers are another story!).

Accum’s story unfortunately had a sad ending: with a ruined reputation, he left Britain and it took the British government half a century to bring about the Food, Drink, and Drugs Act of 1875. However, Accum’s work simultaneous inspired one of the most comprehensive food laws in his own home country of Germany. The Food Law of 1878, paired legislation with a vast network of testing facilities, and even a food police that cracked down on reducing “bloody milk” and “urine-dyed pasta” on the market.


Frederick Accum, image attrib. Sidney Edelstein Collection, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

The good news is that we have made progress on the “food adulteration” front, and for those of us who are still worried, there are a range of ways to curb our anxiety without ruining our appetite. Examples include calling for better legislation, reading labels, and committing to a food-selection matrix (better known as diets) to reduce risk. As agriculture, industry, and our consumption habits continue to evolve globally, we will hopefully not repeat the mistakes of the past by testing rigorously before we allow a substance to end up on our plate. Lawmakers and consumers now have the benefit of hindsight, and especially up-and-coming industries with rapidly evolving markets today have the chance to avoid making the same mistakes Britain, the US or Germany did centuries ago. Keeping a collective eye on industry and food laws will ensure there will never again be any “Death in the Pot.”

Interested in the history of food? For further reading, see:

Deborah Blum, The Poison Squad: One Chemist’s Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century. New York: Penguin, 2018.

Corinna Treitel, Eating Nature in Modern Germany. Cambridge University Press, 2017.

Bee Wilson, Swindled: The Dark History of Food Fraud, from Poisoned Candy to Counterfeit Coffee. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008.

LGBT History Month Poster: James VI & I – King of Scotland, England and Ireland


James VI of Scotland, I of England and Ireland, Wikimedia Commons

James VI & I (1566-1625), the son of Mary, Queen of Scots and her second husband, Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, was crowned as King of Scotland in 1567, at only thirteen months of age. Following the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, the sixth James to hold the Scottish crown also became James I of England and Ireland.

James VI & I’s appointment of royal favourites – a practice entirely in keeping with other European monarchs of the age – has caused some modern scholars to speculate about James’s sexuality, particularly with respect to his relationship with his “greatest favourite”, George Villiers, who was appointed cupbearer to the king in 1614, gentleman of the bedchamber in 1615, knighted in 1616 and ultimately made duke of Buckingham in 1623. Whilst James made his affection for Villiers abundantly clear, and the relationship between monarch and favourite was necessarily one that was both deeply political and personal, the sources do not make explicit the nature of the two men’s intimacy. Rumours may have circulated – and been picked up on by later scholars – but these are difficult to disentangle from discourses on ‘court favourites’, from contemporary and later attempts to paint James’ court as sleazy and corrupt, and from practices that in the early modern context were commonplace, such as same-sex bed-sharing. 


Thumbnail of this poster. Click for larger version.

The problem of uncovering practices which would necessarily have been hidden, and in unpicking discourse from events, fall into especially sharp relief in this case. Whilst scholars disagree about how the evidence on James’s sexuality should be interpreted, this example is instructive for all historians as a reminder of the importance of seeking to understand the emotional lives and intimate relationships of past historical actors in their full complexity and contexts.

LGBT History Month Poster: Same-sex relations in the Vienna Bible moralisée

Bible moralisée (1220s); Manuscript (Codex Vindobonensis 2554); Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna
Wikimedia Commons

Welcome to the first of a series of postings about LGBT History Month posters going on display around the School of History. Read more here.

Bibles moralisées (“Moralised Bibles”) were illuminated manuscripts that provided commentaries on “biblical events and motifs as a means of passing moral judgement on contemporary society”. This image is taken from one of the earliest Bibles moralisées, produced in the 1220s-1230s and commissioned for French royalty. It depicts two same-sex couples, one male and one female, embracing and kissing, and was positioned in the manuscript immediately below a scene depicting Genesis 3:6, the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden

Because such depictions are so rare in the surviving source material of the middle ages, this and other similar images have been deployed by several scholars in recent publications on medieval sexuality, commenting on the way it sets alongside, apparently equitably, both male and female sexual activity.  It looks like what we now call homosexuality. At the same time, when we consider this image in its wider context, the images and text that surrounded it, and how it might have been ‘read’ by contemporaries, including its maker, the image must also be seen as a representation of contemporary notions of disorderly desires and of religious wrong-doing. Source: Robert Mills ‘Seeing sodomy in the Bibles moralisées’ Speculum 87.2 (April 2012) 413-468.

Thumbnail of this poster. Click for larger version.

Further reading:

Glenn Burger & Stephen F Kruger eds., Queering the Middle Ages (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001)

Jonathan Goldberg,  Sodometries: Renaissance Texts, Modern Sexualities (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992)

Mark Jordan, The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997)

Karma Lochrie, Heterosyncrasies: Female Sexuality When Normal Wasn’t (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005)

Robert Mills, Seeing Sodomy in the Middle Ages (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015)

James Saslow, Pictures and Passions. A History of Homosexuality in the Visual Arts (New York: Viking, 1999)

James A. Schultz, “Heterosexuality as a Threat to Medieval Studies” in Journal of the History of Sexuality vol. 15, 2006, 14-29

The History Society’s 2019 Interdepartmental Quiz

Blog written by Glenn Mills

The winning team!

January 30 saw the eagerly awaited return of the History Society’s Interdepartmental Quiz. The evening was a paradoxical mixture of light-hearted fun and ferocious competition as we pitted representatives from the Modern, Mediaeval and Classics departments against one another in a war of the wits for the prestigious IDQ Trophy. This year, Dr Bess Rhodes, Dr Sarah Frank and Dr Emma Hart represented the Modern History department; Dr Robert Cimino, Dr Alex Woolf, and Professor John Hudson defended the currently reigning mediaevalists; Dr Dawn Hollis, Dr Andrea Brock and Dr Jon Coulston formed the Classics team. Alex and Jon are veterans (having routinely competed to defend or retrieve their departments’ glory!) but it was equally pleasing to see so many new faces in the quizzing arena and we hope they will be keen to return next year.

The evening’s events took off with a general knowledge round in which the mediaevalists gained an early lead, correctly identifying cynophobia as the fear of dogs and Quagadougou as the capital of Burkina Fasco. The St Andrews round showed a balanced performance, with Alex Woolf naming St Peter as St Andrew’s brother, Bess Rhodes exhibiting a comprehensive knowledge of Andrew Melville Hall, and Jon Coulston demonstrating an impressive familiarity with the artefacts in the MUSA. The ancient and middle eastern rounds proved surprisingly perplexing for all of the teams. The precise date for the eruption of Vesuvius descended into loose guesswork, while the dissolution of the Knights Templar remains an area in need of some revision.

The three teams stumbled their way through an agonising pop culture round, in which only one of Ariana Grande’s ex-boyfriends in her song ‘thank u, next’ was identified by all nine contestants. However, Meghan Markle’s television career and the 2019 Oscars saw much wider success. The medieval round proved equally troublesome, although Alex Woolf and John Hudson’s knowledge of Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark and the Hereford mappamundi earned the mediaeval team a few points on their home turf. The music round witnessed a passable group performance of ABBA’s Super Trouper and Andrea Brock demonstrated the Floss dance with consummate skill. The final two rounds on modern history and science brought the evening to a tidy conclusion.

By the end of the night, the Mediaeval team achieved a decisive victory and the IDQ trophy has thus been returned to St John’s House, where it will stay under the guardianship of the school administrators, Dorothy Christie and Audrey Wishart. The IDQ continues to be a highlight for many students and we are pleased to say that this year saw a record turnout. Many thanks are due to the History Society Committee, who have offered invaluable help with the planning and logistics of the event. In particular Academic Officer Sophie Rees showed her diligent commitment, communicating regularly with staff, organising the venue and compiling questions, and President Harris LaTeef bravely took up the gauntlet of quizmaster. A final word of thanks must be extended to the academics who participated in the quiz, despite the administrative chaos of week one, and to all of the students in attendance. We hope next year’s quiz will be received with equal enthusiasm.

LGBT History Month 2019

LGBT History Month logo from lgbthistorymonth.org.uk

Today is the start of LGBT History Month.  This year, to mark the occasion, the School’s Equality & Diversity committee have put together a series of posters, each one dedicated to a particular historical figure or figures, event, or artefact that in some way is connected to LGBTQ+ histories and to histories – and historiographies – of sexuality. There are seven posters in total. These will be displayed in and around teaching rooms in both South Street and St Katherine’s Lodge from Monday for the rest of the month. See how many you can spot!

We hope that the posters will fire your interest to find out more about the fascinating people, moments and things they describe, so we’ll also release blog posts here over the course of the month which will set out some further reading related to each case. To wrap up the month, our School of History staff will share a reading list they have been putting together with a selection of related scholarship they have found especially important or interesting in their own sub-fields, periods and geographical areas.

Postgraduate Spotlight: Emily Betz

Blog written by Emily Betz

Emily is currently a second year PhD student in Modern History. She’s an international student at St Andrews, originally hailing from the small and very snowy city of Erie, Pennsylvania. Her fascination with history began at a young age, when she first became obsessed with the idea of becoming an Egyptologist after seeing a handful of Discovery Channel specials (and, let’s be honest, the Indiana Jones movies). She has switched her focus to a more modern time period now, but her early interest in history has never faded.

During her undergraduate years at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, Emily studied history alongside her major of German Literature and found a passion for traveling after studying abroad in Austria and Germany. Her travels inspired her to apply for a joint MA/MSc degree in Global Studies from the University of Roskilde in Denmark and Leipzig University in Germany. After graduating, she worked in a think tank in Berlin that researched higher education institutions for a year before deciding to go back to school for her true passion of history. This led her to begin an MPhil in Early Modern History from Trinity College Dublin. Her research in Dublin examined the spread of the Henrician Reformation in England in the 1530s-40s through in-depth analysis of churchwarden’s accounts of the period. She is now continuing her love affair with the early modern period at St Andrews under the supervision of Professor Rab Houston.

Emily’s doctoral research focuses on melancholy in England between c. 1550-1750. While it could be a rather dreary subject, she’s found that researching melancholy in the early modern period is far more than learning about a medical condition. Instead, it provides a reflection into the changing values and perceptions of society as a whole and is inextricably linked to the formation of English identity. What she hopes to elucidate with her research is just how the perception of the English as a particularly ‘melancholy’ nation came about, both within and without the country.

In addition to her PhD research, Emily is the editorial assistant with the School of History’s communications team. In this role, she prepares the fortnightly School of History Gazette and helps compile the annual alumni magazine with Dr Chandrika Kaul. In her free time, she loves dancing ballet, reading, and practicing her newfound love of horseback riding. This year she is moving to Edinburgh to try a taste of Scotland’s city life.