Our next seminar is on Monday 16 January, 18:00 (tea and biscuits from 17:40). Louise Garner will be giving a talk entitled “Bringing up the Flowerers’: Recipes for Conception, Miscarriage and Abortion in Seventeenth-Century England.”
Below we chatted to Louise about East Asia, early modern women and family medicine.
Tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from?
I’m from Leicestershire, but haven’t lived there for a long time. Before I left Britain I lived in Pendle, near the Witches. After Lancashire I moved to The Falkland Islands, and then lived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for four years and then lived most recently in Kathmandu, Nepal for a few years.
What brought you to Durham?
Moving back to the UK from living abroad was like a blank canvas, I could go anywhere and do anything! I decided to indulge a passion and study for Masters in Medieval and Early Modern Studies at Durham. I’d been to Durham as a visitor and liked it, and the university setting and expertise seemed perfect.
I intended to stay just for a year, but ended up buying a house here and starting a PhD.
What is your favourite thing about the medieval/early modern period?
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t drawn to the high drama – Kings, Queens, executions, battles, plague etc.
However, I’m really interested in medicine and actually think that Medieval and Early Modern people probably knew a lot more than we give them credit for, in fact they could probably teach us a thing or two. The knowledge they had was just “known” I think and has been lost because no one thought it even needed to be recorded.
I’ve recently had a baby and I’m sure an Early Modern midwife had a few tricks and tips up her sleeve, particularly with regards to breastfeeding, that has been lost. As a society we’re expected to mistrust our bodies – I think the EM woman was certainly more in tune with hers.
What does your research focus on?
My current research is on non-destructive identification of pigments used in illuminated manuscripts. However, the knowledge of which pigments were used means nothing without context so although I’m based in the Chemistry department I am also in History – I have a supervisor in each camp! I’m delighted to be able to utilise my physical sciences degree and my history based masters together.
What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?
My MEMSA talk is on my masters’ research which was regarding reproduction and childbirth in the Early Modern. Specifically, I narrowed the reproductive field down to conception, miscarriage and abortion in my dissertation and then used household medicine and family recipe books as a lens through which to explore these concepts.
If you were not in academia, what would you be doing?
I’m a qualified teacher, and before I left to come to Durham I was a head teacher. So I’d probably be teaching somewhere, probably in South East Asia, perhaps in Myanmar or South Korea. Although I hear the Seychelles has a lovely little school…
Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?
No not really, I love medieval manuscripts, but more as beautiful objects. I particularly like the little notes and marginalia scribbled in them, particularly curses to people who don’t return books! I’d like to learn Old English, so maybe ask me next year and I’ll have a favourite OE text.