Today, feathers are an extravagant accessory in fashion; 500 years ago, however, they were used to constitute culture, artistry, good health and even courage in battle. This unlikely material is now part of a project that promises to tell us more not only about what happened in the past, but also about how it felt to be there.
Rustic figurines of a resigned-looking Virgin clutching her child may have no obvious literary or artistic merit to us today. But understanding what they meant to the spiritual lives of their owners can offer a glimpse of the human hopes and fears that people have, for centuries, invested in inanimate objects.
Things structure our lives. They enrich us, embellish us and express our hopes and fears. Here, to introduce a month-long focus on research on material culture, four academics from different disciplines explain why understanding how we interact with our material world can reveal unparalleled insights into what it is to be human.
The unlikely coincidence of a local hospital record and a census led by a pioneering physician has enabled the first study charting rates of venereal disease in 18th century England, revealing high infection levels in the city of Chester at this time.
India’s booming business centres and gleaming shopping malls mask a grimmer reality. While one section of the population gets richer, another section gets poorer. In the countryside, farmers and others ‘left behind’ by the economic surge find themselves in increasingly desperate circumstances. In many cases their plight, exacerbated by crippling debt, has led to suicide.
The journals and scrapbooks of Pierre de L’Estoile have for generations provided a vivid picture of France in a time of religious upheaval. Now Cambridge historian Tom Hamilton has written the first book devoted to the life of L’Estoile as a diarist, collector and man about town.
The University of Cambridge is celebrating the recognition of four of its most distinguished female academics in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours.