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Picturing a World

Mayhew's street sellers

Blog post alert: Henry Mayhew's Street Traders reproduces a few of the engravings in London Labour and the London Poor of men and women who made a living on the streets in the Victorian era and quotes the text that accompanies each. The passage that accompanies this picture, for instance, begins, "I am a seller of birds'-nesties, snakes, slow-worms, adders, "effets"–lizards is their common name–hedgehogs (for killing black beetles), frogs (for the French – they eats 'em), and snails (for birds) – that's all I sell in the Summertime."

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Labor Day, 2022

Blog post alert: A National Park Service post on Women in the Labor Movement can boost our spirits at a time when Amazon and Starbucks are fighting as hard as big business can against unionized workers' rights, librarians are under attack, and teachers are leaving their jobs in droves. This moment in history may be discouraging, but let's not lose faith that there is strength in numbers if we only pull together. Happy Labor Day!

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Medieval window panes

Accounts of medieval windows generally focus on stained glass, and no wonder—they're very beautiful. But, of course, not all windows were tinted. Recently, I came across a complicated allegorical frontispiece on fol.1r of a French Mirror of History. Half the picture depicts a church being built with various kings, saints, and biblical figures as craftsmen—including these two monks. They grabbed my attention because I had never seen a depiction of glaziers installing windows.

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Labor Day, 2021

Frankly, recent news for women, workers, minorities, and democracy has been largely discouraging. Still, let's buck each other up and remember the struggle is long. Happy Labor Day!


Via the National Archives.

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Pigs and lace

Serendipity: Cold weather sent me searching for images of hot-water "pigs," ceramic bottles used as foot warmers (my old dissertation director once told me about how the monks in an Irish monastery provided her with one when she was doing research in their unheated library).  A thumbnail at Foot warmers: hot coals, hot water sent me next on a hunt for an enlargement of a Dutch painting that shows a family using boxes of hot coals to warm their feet. No luck. What I found instead is a different painting by the same artist, Quirijn van Brekenlenham of a family in an interior. No foot warmers, but wow! what an exquisite depiction of lace-making. In this time of pandemic and Zoom, a reminder that we should all find time to work with our hands.

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Labor Day, 1908, 2020

'Nuff said? Not quite: a special Labor Day thanks to the essential workers who have put their lives on the lines for the rest of us during the pandemic. They should be paid what they are worth. (One other message this year: vote.)

Via the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

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Fluffy Ruffles

And now for a working woman of a different sort: Meet Fluffy Ruffles, heroine of a weekly syndicated feature of the New York Herald. An heiress who has lost her fortune and keeps trying out new jobs to make a living, she first appeared in 1906. By 1908, she'd had musical written about her—with music by Jerome Kern, no less. Read More 
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Situation wanted

Situation Wanted seems perfect for a follow up to Labor Day. When I first saw this picture, it interested me that illustrator Walter Appleton Clark has included a woman as one of his job-seekers because fear of losing her job drives some the  Read More 
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Labor Day

If you write historical fiction set in Progressive-Era New York City, there is a good argument for setting it a little later than 1908. The Masses, for instance, began publication in January 1911; and the great suffragist parades were staged in New York City in 1912 and Washington, D.C. in 1913 (with Inez Milholland on horseback). In 1908, however, the ideas, unrest, and hope for a better future that blazed out in the coming years were already stirring. To help me imagine what they felt and looked like from 1900 through World War I, I’ve just discovered a wonderful resource, The Modernist Journals Project from Brown University and The University of Tulsa. It supplied this iconic cover—and has complete digitized issues of several important magazines of the period. Read More 
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