art history · biography · european history · history

The Creation of a City of Ladies: Christine de Pizan and her Legacy

 

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The female sex has been left defenseless for a long time now, like an orchard without a wall and bereft of a champion to take up arms in order to protect it…

                                                          –The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan, 1405

Feminism in the 15th century? This is considered a rare concept during the medieval period. This was an era of serfs/lords, arranged marriages, and a time when women were viewed as little more than property. This period lacked champions to stand up to the patriarchy that dominated society. Well, such a champion did exist, though many may not have been familiar with her. She is considered France’s (even Europe’s) first profession female writer and was popular internationally. Her name was Christine de Pizan.

Christine is considered one of the first feminist figures as, through her work, she directly addresses many of the injustices her sex had been subjected to. She calls out the injustice of their treatment in a very progressive manner. This is evident in two of her most famous books, The Book of the City of Ladies and The Book of the Three Virtues. Christine’s version of feminism in the 15th century is still not like it is today (as she was still a woman of her time), but it was extremely radical for the period she lived through. I first learned about this amazing woman in an art history course in college and she has been a figure that I have wanted to highlight for a long time now.

Christine de Pizan went through much hardship to find that she had talent as a writer and to realize her purpose. Her early life began as many other young women’s lives did in the late medieval era. She was born in Venice around 1364. Her father, Tommaso di Benevenuto da Pizzano was an educated man who studied medicine and astrology at the University of Bologna. When Christine was four years old her father was offered a position at the court of Charles V in Paris and the family moved out of Italy into a completely new country. Tommaso changed his name to Thomas de Pizan. Due to her father’s position at court, Christine grew up with an admiration for Charles V. He was generous to her family and provided good financial compensation and access to the royal libraries and the fashionable French court.

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Charles V of France

Christine’s father, being an educated man himself, held the progressive view that women should be educated the same as men. Christine grew up surrounded by her fathers’ books and the royal library. He encouraged her lifelong love of learning and wanted Christine to have a formal education, but her mother held a different opinion. Her mother had the typical viewpoint of the era: young women should be taught practical household tasks, such a spinning, and avoid books and topics that belonged in the men’s sphere. How else was she supposed to be a proper wife for her future husband? It seems her mother’s influence won on this account and her formal education was brief. By 1379, she was married to a young royal secretary named Etienne de Castel. Christine was about fifteen years old.

Despite marrying so young (though it was common during her era) and participating in an arranged marriage, the couple’s life seemed to be very happy. In later years, Christine would write affectionately about this period in her life. Her husband had a prestigious career, had close access to the King and made a good salary. They had two surviving children together, Jean and Marie.

Everything changed when the Charles V passed away. This led to a destructive power struggle between the members of the French royal family. Charles V did leave behind a son (the future Charles VI, “The Mad King”) who was only eleven years old. This meant the regency was fought over by Charles V’s remaining brothers, Philip the Duke of Burgundy, Louis the Duke of Anjou, and John the Duke of Berry. The constant infighting would split the government. All three of these brothers would have influence on Christine’s future career.

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Portrait of Christine de Pizan in her study

 

Due to the change in power, Christine’s father received a significant pay cut and began to age quickly. Her father passed away by 1387. In 1390, Christine’s husband died suddenly due to a unexpected disease. This left Christine, at age twenty-five, with two young children, her mother, and a niece that she had to care for. Due to her sex and lack of education in financial matters, she was unable to collect the money she was due from her husband’s estate. Yet, Christine did not give up and became involved in suits in four different Parisian courts to obtain the money she believed was owed her. She wrote about this later in The Book of the Body Politic. She implored rulers to review their treatment of widows, women and orphans regarding financial matters. She advised those in power to stop taking advantage of people in need just for one’s own personal gain. She also gives advice to other widows in a similar situation (years after her own experience) when she writes the Book of the Three Virtues. She warns that people who were

in the habit of honoring you while your husband was alive are no longer very friendly and have little regard for you. The second evil that afflicts you is the various suits and many requests to do with debts or disputes over land or pensions. The third is the abusive language of people who in the nature of things are inclined to attack you, so that you can hardly do anything without people finding something to criticize.”

Clearly, Christine felt all these things first hand. Yet, she advises that giving oneself up to the pit of loss and grief is not the way to take charge of one’s family, household, and children. A widowed woman must begin a new way of life. She needs to safeguard her rights and make sure her children have what they are due.  Christine did not give up to her sorrow or give up after being cheated out of much of what she was owed. She needed to care for those who depended on her and provide a stable income. As a result, she began to write.

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Philip, Duke of Burgundy, one of Christine’s de Pizan’s patrons

She began writing for the court of the Louis of Orleans. Each of the three royal uncle’s had their own courts which had become the centers of culture in France (the royal court was in complete disarray). They held poetry competitions, poetry debates, and had writers recite ballads. All of these contests would have attracted Christine to the court of Louis. She would use these opportunities to make a name for herself and form a career.

Christine used poetry to manage her frustrations and the grief she was experiencing as a young widow.

“Alone am I, alone I wish to be,

                Alone my gentle love has left me,

                Alone am I, without friend or master,

                Alone am I, in sorrow and in anger,

                Alone am I, ill at ease, in languor,

                Alone am I, more lost than anyone,

                Alone am I, left without at lover…”

                                                            -“Seulette suy  et seulette vueil estre” Christine de Pizan

She also wrote the popular love poetry, which earned her favor at the court. Over the years, she studied and practice different styles (such as the rondeau and the ballade). Eventually, Christine started to create more complex poetry collections. A collection would involve a series of longer poems which were related by a common theme. One of her most famous collection started as “Cupids Letter” but would eventually factor larger in the “Debate of the Romance of the Rose” in 1402. This letter brought Christine out of the exclusive court circles and to a wider audience.

In “Cupids Letter” and the rest of the “Debate”, Christine disagrees with the popular Romance of the Rose by Jean de Meun. In this poem, Meun writes of courtly love, but also characterizes women as seducers and possessions. Christine’s public disagreement sparks the beginning of her first defense of women. This poem became very popular because a woman rising to the defense of her sex was extremely radical in the late medieval era. The debates continued for a period between Christine and other writers. Her “Cupids Letter” was quickly translated into English.

 

Yet, malicious slanderers who debase women in this way still maintain that all women have been, are now, and always will be false, asserting that they have never been capable of loyalty…At every turn, women are put in the wrong: whatever wrong has been done is attributed to them. This is a damnable lie, and one can easily see that the contrary is true.”

 

In this quote, Christine points out the problem with the way men have treated women. He considers all women to be natural liars and untrustworthy.

With this letter, Christine pointed out that an entire sex cannot be generalized. There is more to women than the opinion of the Church which controlled much of medieval society. It was the common belief that since Eve created the first “original sin”, all women were responsible for this burden. Women, as a sex, were viewed as inherently sinful, the weaker, lustful, and the Satan’s tool to stir men down the wrong path. Since the church was the center of medieval society, this idea naturally shaped the secular opinion of women as well. This contributed to the reason why women were so heavily controlled and held to impossible standards. This letter also brings to attention Christine’s opinion on the trend of “courtly love” (see my previous post on the subject: The Tradition of Courtly Love). She has a negative opinion of the fad as she believed women had nothing to gain from the practice but further criticism and accusations. Men could use this practice as “evidence” of the sinful nature of women. These debates brought Christine’s talent of writing into the forefront and made her known internationally. Christine even sent the collection of letters from the debate to Queen Isabeau of France.

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Christine presenting her works to Queen Isabeau

It is not surprising that others from high circles began to pay attention to her and patronize her works. During a time when the current King, Charles VI, was suffering from mental illness, the Uncles were attempting to establish dominance in the French court. Christine was commissioned by the Duke of Burgundy to write a full biography of his deceased brother, Charles V. This was to promote the Valois family, establish their power (despite the weakness of the current King), and make the Duke of Burgundy look good as well. Christine had to portray Charles V as an ideal and wise king. It was up to her to preserve the memory.

Christine highlighted the importance of Charles V’s education and how it contributed to his success. The choice of Christine as author is interesting because this would have been her first time writing a full-scale book. It was also written in prose and not the poetic style she was used to. This shows how she had successfully broken the barrier and became noticed in a male dominated career path. Christine even said herself that she had to take on a man’s role in order to change her life and make her children’s life better. The Duke of Burgundy passed away in the middle of the creation of the biography, so Christine had to present the work to his brother, the Duke of Berry. The Duke of Berry eventually accepted it and soon became a long-term patron of Christine de Pizan.

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John, Duke of Berry, another of Christine de Pizan’s patrons 

Christine would bounce around to different patrons. After, the Duke of Berry, she would perform services for John the Fearless (the Duke of Burgundy’s son) and even some of the royal household. She wrote The Book of the Body Politic with the dauphin in mind and dedicated the work to him. The book consists of three parts and details the proper education for princes, knights/noblemen, and, lastly, the commoners. This work was written during the Hundred Year’s War. This was a chaotic time riddled with conflict and rivalry among the French royal family, a ruling King who was suffering mental illness, they were losing the war against the English, and overall greed and ambition by those in power. The people of France suffered from a lack of strong leadership and were struggled with the high wartime taxes. Christine wrote this book on political theory to create an effective society during a time of difficulty and chaos. She wants to highlight that society needed to take on these challenges as a unified body. If everyone did their part, then there would be more stability. If those at the top could put aside their personal gain and focus more on the common good, then the world would not be as chaotic. It is an interesting political perspective from a woman of the 15th century.

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Christine de Pizan is most well known for her feminist writings. This included her two books: The Book of the City of Ladies and The Book of the Three Virtues. These works build off what Christine started in the Debate of “The Romance of the Rose”. The Book of the City of Ladies begins with a frustrated Christine who is tired of reading works by men which wrongfully slander women. “Oh God, why wasn’t I born a male so that my every desire would be to serve you, to do right in all things, and to be as perfect a creature as man claims to be?” she asks herself in the book. That night three ladies appear to her: Reason, Rectitude, and Justice. They task Christine with the mission of creating a walled city where she will invite all honorable women and defend them against the misogyny of their society. Throughout the book, Christine highlights the great women of history to evidence that the generalizations the male writers make are not true. These included the legendary Amazons and many strong and notable women from the ancient world. These examples proved that women could be strong, contribute to the written word, take part in judicial affairs, become inventors and could benefit from a good education. Women needed a chance to prove themselves and to show society that they are more than the male dominated opinions.

Christine encourages women to take the opportunity to use education to better themselves: “He [God] chose to endow women’s minds with the capacity not simply to learn and grasp all kinds of knowledge but also to invent new ones by themselves (The Book of the City of Ladies).” She expresses that women are the more generous ones and sacrifice much for the men in their lives: “They [the men who slander women] have no grounds for criticizing women: it’s not just that every man who is born of woman receives so much from her, but also that there is truly no end to the great gifts which she has so generously showered on him. Those clerks who slander women…really should shut their mouths once and for all. They and all those who subscribe to their views should bow their heads in shame for having dared to come out with such things…

Christine emphasized that women need to take lives in their own hands, contribute to the greater good of society and to take control over their own lives. After Christine’s experiences and struggles in the early years of her widowhood, she questioned why “women are allowed neither to present a case at trial, nor bear witness, nor pass sentence…?” She encourages women to learn the law and to be knowledgeable of their rights. Christine would have benefited greatly herself if she had this knowledge when she fought for her dues after the death of her husband.

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City of Ladies

In the Book of the Three Virtues, Christine instructs women from all classes (royalty to commoner) on how to improve themselves to become a worthy lady of her city and how to defend themselves against those who wish would insult them. Both books would go down in history as her most popular works. Though Christine’s writings are not quite as progressive as feminism is in the modern world, it was still very radical for her time. She dedicated the works to Marguerite of Nevers (the daughter of the Duke of Burgundy and recently married to the heir of France) to help instruct her.

Christine passed away, it is believed, in the 1430s. She had continued to write poetry until she was sixty-five (a good old age in the medieval era). She successfully supported her children with her writings and lived to see three grandchildren. Yet, the legacy she left behind was even greater.

Christine had become Europe’s first female professional writer and created many internationally known works. Her works would continue to be circulated in the centuries that followed. Elizabeth I had a copy of the Book of the City of Ladies in her personal library. If any is familiar with the work of art, The Dinner Party by the artist Judy Chicago, Christine de Pizan holds a place setting at this table. Chicago created this work of art to bring attention to great women who had been omitted out of history and it is considered a great feminist piece. There are 39 place settings, and each highlight a specific woman. I believe Christine de Pizan does deserve a place at that table. She was the one who finally stood up and brought attention to the ridiculous way medieval society was portrayed women. She proved it to be wrong. Christine was not afraid to call out those who slandered others, despite all she had to lose. I am so happy I was able to discover this women in history and I hope others will be inspired by her as well.

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The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago. Located in the Brooklyn Museum.
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Close up on Christine de Pizan’s table setting in The Dinner Party

Sources:

The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan, edited/translated by Rosalind Brown-Grant

The Treasure of the City of Ladies (aka Book of the Three Virtues) by Christine de Pizan, edited/translated by Sarah Lawson

Book of the Body Politic by Christine de Pizan, edited/translated by Kate Langdon Forhan

La Querelle De La Rose: Letters and Documents by Joseph L. Baird and John R. Kane

Christine de Pizan: Her Life and Works by Charity Cannon Willard

https://amedievalwomanscompanion.com/christine-de-pizan/

https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/dinner_party/place_settings/christine_de_pisan

http://www.as.wvu.edu/mlastinger/161/texts/pisan.htm

American History · biography · european history · history

Humboldt and the Natural World

“As our planet faces irreversible global heating, politicians and scientists are throwing statistics and numbers at us, but few dare to talk about our awe for nature, or the vulnerable beauty of our planet…”

-Andrea Wulf, author of The Invention of Nature, quote from “Alexander von Humboldt, an Intrepid Scientist who Re-imagined the Natural World” HistoryExtra magazine Sept 2019 edition

Climate change is an extremely important topic in our present-day world. Greta Thurnberg’s speech at the Climate Action Summit this year has inspired as she became a social media sensation. It has inspired people who may not have been as well informed, including myself.  Yet, did you know the dangers of human induced climate change were recognized by one of the worlds most famous scientists as far back as 1800?

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That scientist was Alexander von Humboldt, who was born on September 14, 1769 in Berlin to an aristocratic Prussian family. By the end of his life, he had become a world superstar. It is crazy to think that a scientist had become the biggest celebrity during the 19th century. In 1869, to celebrate one hundred years since the birth of Humboldt, thousands of people gathered in celebration in multiple cities worldwide. Humboldt has the most species and places named after him. He influenced so many people during his life which included Goethe, Simon Bolivar (the revolutionary who liberated many Latin American countries), Thomas Jefferson, Henry David Thoreau, and the great Charles Darwin. It was Humboldt’s famous, Personal Narrative, that inspired Darwin to go on his famous journey aboard the Beagle. Humboldt was his idol. By the end of Humboldt life, he was receiving over 5,000 letters daily and many came to visit the old man in his small apartment to discuss their scientific theories with him.

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Humboldt published many scientific books throughout his lifetime and was writing up until his death at age 89. He was completing his famous multi-volume work, Kosmos.  He had traveled extensively, noticed the effects of human induced climate change, and he was one of the first scientist to view the world as a “living organism”. This means that every species and every part of nature was all interconnected. This is still the way that scientists understand the world today. Humboldt also emphasized the beauty of nature in his work. He truly loved the natural world and wanted others to appreciate, just for a moment, the pure majesty of it. His most important contribution was to create “popular science”. He brought science to the masses. He wrote for a public audience that was outside of the closed group of university scientists. He allowed the poor and women to attend his lectures, despite not being allowed/able to study at university themselves. During this era, it was believed that the poor should not be educated to avoid false ideas of a life beyond their station. Humboldt thought education was the most important opportunity anyone could have, and all should be allowed to attain it. This was likely the greatest influence that Humboldt made on science, was that is should be accessed by everyone.

As stated before, Humboldt was born into an aristocratic Prussian family. He had an older brother, Wilhelm, who by the end of life would be his closest companion. Despite their privileged background, life was not all easy for Humboldt. His father died when he was nine years old and his mother was very distant. She held high expectations for her sons and provided them with the best education. This meant a very strict education, anything less than perfection was not good enough. Humboldt was a more outdoorsy type than his brother and preferred the hands-on study of the world rather than books. Humboldt always had the itch to travel and see more of the world. The tropics held an allure to him, and he became restless while the years went by. He was fulfilling his mother’s wishes for him to attend university and attain a government position. He found a way to compromise his interests in the natural sciences by obtaining a position with the Prussian Ministry of Mines as a mine inspector at the young age of twenty-two. With this job he would travel to various mines across Eastern Europe, study the soils/rocks, and assisted with making the working conditions better for all miners. This included inventing a type of breathing mask, writing textbooks, and creating a mining school to give the workers a better education and training.

Humboldt’s big opportunity came after his mother’s passing when he was twenty-seven. He was free from the expectations that had held him back previously and was able to resign from his government job. His goal was to finally set out on a travel expedition and begin his scientific work. In the meantime, Humboldt wrote about geology, botany and mining throughout Europe and the Alps. He became involved in intellectual groups that contained intellectuals like the poet Goethe. When he moved to Paris, he met the young French scientist, Aime Bonpland, who shared his enthusiasm for travel. The problem they faced was finding a “sponsor” for their voyage, someone who would issue them a passport to travel across the Atlantic. On May 1799, Carlos IV of Spain allowed them a passport to travel to the colonies in South America if the voyage was funded by them. Humboldt was finally going on the scientific expedition he had always wanted.

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Humboldt and Bonpland would travel on a five-year journey that would take them through Venezuela, down to Lima Peru, through Mexico, and ended in the United States where Humboldt would spend time in discussions with President Thomas Jefferson. Throughout this journey, Humboldt would collect over 60,000 plant, animal, rock, and seed samples (including many new species). He would take meticulous measurements of everything and kept up to date journal entries on his travels. His work during this journey would become internationally recognized, he would lay the foundation for the sciences of physical geography, plant geography and meteorology. His measurements were more advanced than the contemporary tools. His illustrations also became famous and the captions were translated into a variety of languages. After studying volcanoes, Humboldt began to support that theory that the Earth was created through massive volcanic eruption and he discovered the idea of a keystone species (one species than an entire ecosystem depended on). Most importantly, Humboldt wanted to express the connection between all the sciences and all of nature. How everything, organic and inorganic, had a purpose and were all interconnected. He compared everything new to what he had seen in Europe previously and noted the similarities and differences.

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Cotopaxi Volcano, Ecuador

Humboldt would experience earthquakes and climbed volcanoes such as Pico del Teide, Cotopaxi, and the daunting Chimbarzo. Though he may not have made it all the way up, he claims to have climbed some 5,000m (about 16,000 ft). He also experienced the culture and saw the effects of Spanish colonization first hand. He used his writings to bring attention to the conditions of slaves and indigenous people. He always was a staunch supporter of abolition. Most importantly, he spoke out about how the changes humans had made to the natural world would affect ecosystems forever.

At Lake Valencia in Venezuela, Alexander von Humboldt, first developed his theory of human-induced climate change:

When forests are destroyed, as they are everywhere in American by the European planters, with an imprudent precipitation, the springs are entirely dried up, or become less abundant. The beds of the rivers, remaining dry during a part of the year, are converted into torrents, whenever great rains fall on the heights. The sward and moss disappearing with the brush-wood from the sides of the mountains, the waters falling in rain and no longer impeded in their course: and instead of slowly augmenting the level of the rivers by progressive filtrations, they furrow during heavy showers the sides of the hills, bear down the loosened soil, and form those sudden inundations, that devastate the country.”

The problems the locals had been having was the water levels were decreasing, the forests undergrowth (mosses, brushwood and root systems) had disappeared and caused soil that could not retain water. The dryness of the land caused difficulties for planters and yielded less crop. As the planters moved to find more land, the forests in their paths were destroyed. The soil would also become dry due to the lack of trees blocking the sun. Humboldt could see the connection between all these things. Deforestation was, and still is, a big issue. Humboldt had seen this when he was in the mining business in Europe. He attempted to even suggest ways on reducing the need for timber during the mining process. Humboldt could already see that deforestation would have terrible consequences for future generations. His contemporaries were not seeing all the ways ecosystems were interconnected. They believed that the timber industry and “taming the wilderness” had a positive impact on the environment.

Humboldt was the beginning of the environmental movement. Humboldt listed three ways humans were affecting climate: deforestation, “ruthless irrigation”, and the “great masses of steam and gas” that were created due to the industrial revolution.

Today, Lake Valencia, is suffering from algal blooms which is caused from the dumping of wastewater from the urban/agricultural land uses. Per the wiki page, almost 60% of the native fish species were killed off between 1960-1990. It is not used as a tourist or recreation area. Humboldt’s predictions did prove to be true.

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After some time spent in Mexico and the United States of America, Humboldt returned home with his scientific haul after five years. He would begin a decades long process of compiling the information gained on his travels, studying the specimens that were brought home and would begin writing the 34 volumes of Voyage to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent / Essay on the Geography of Plants. This would be published in multiple languages and would include his own illustrations. It was in these writings he expressed his views of the beauty of nature and its connections. With his writings, Humboldt painted a picture of South America and used a poetic style to transport his readers. To encourage his readers to use their imagination and take in the majesty of nature. He wrote Views of Nature and his Personal Narrative (which inspired the great Charles Darwin) for a popular audience rather than the scientific elite, as he believed that everyone had a right to an education and that it was crucial for a happy society.

Later in life (1827), Humboldt gave free scientific lectures at the university in Berlin. Due to his celebrity status since his return to Europe, hundreds of people showed up and listened intently to his research, theories, and experiences. People showed up to the lectures from the highest classes to the common laborer. I found it interesting that almost half of the attendees were women! Free lectures that were opened to all members of the public was not typical in the scientific community. Again, this shows Humboldt’s dedication to offering opportunities for everyone and not just the elite. He wanted to inspire others and share knowledge.

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Pico Del Tedio, Canary Islands

Humboldt would eventually travel to Siberia as he had the opportunity to inspect the mines and advise the government about the proper mining techniques. Humboldt also used this time as an opportunity to complete his research and come full circle with his theories that the world was interconnected. He would have a chance to view and study the mountains of Central Asia. In particular, he studied the Altai Mountains along the Chinese border. Though almost 70 years old, he impressed his companions with his enthusiasm and energy. After obtaining the data from Asia, Humboldt felt as if he had enough to write his ultimate work, a work that he had begun all the way back in 1799 when he journeyed to South America. For the next 25 years, until his death, Humboldt would be consumed writing Kosmos. He would complete four volumes in his lifetime, and it was translated into nearly all European languages. 20,000 copies were sold in Germany in the first month of release. The fifth volume lay unfinished as Humboldt passed away at 90 years old in 1859. It would later be published posthumously.

 Kosmos was an ambitious work as Humboldt connected everything about our universe together, from the stars in the sky to the volcanoes on the surface, to the molten core of the Earth. He expressed his lifelong theory that all organic and inorganic things were connected. He created a “portrait of nature” and I believe that is what most of the readers truly enjoyed about his works. He took them on a journey, showed them the beauty of nature, and they felt like they were traveling right with him. They were following Humboldt up the rocky slope of the massive Cotopaxi, along the banks of Lake Valencia, and through the tropical jungles of the Amazon.

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Why has Humboldt been forgotten today, despite his celebrity? He was the man who inspired Charles Darwin! Humboldt brought together all the disciplines of science in his works to support his theory of nature’s inter connectivity. As the years went on, science became more specialized and individualized which pushed Humboldt’s vision to the side. There was also the effect of the World Wars on society. An anti-German sentiment swept through many nations, especially the United States, which caused the German-born Humboldt to fall out of style and many of his books were burned. Today, Humboldt may be making a comeback as his theories were advanced for his era and his predictions of climate change are quickly coming true. I hope to live Humboldt’s 160 year old vision of the world and take a step back to really enjoy the beauty of nature.

 

 

Sources:

The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldts New World by Andrea Wulf

Aimé Bonpland; Alexander von Humboldt. Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of America, During the Year 1799-1804 — Volume 1

“Alexander von Humboldt, an Intrepid Scientist who Re-imagined the Natural World” by Andrea Wulf. HistoryExtra magazine Sept 2019 edition

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Alexander-von-Humboldt

https://library.humboldt.edu/humco/archives/BaronProfile.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Valencia_(Venezuela)

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/alexander-von-humboldt-the-eccentric-explorer-was-the-most-famous-man-in-the-world-after-napoleon-a6703346.html

biography · english history · european history · history

Book Spotlight: The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

In this post I wanted to highlight a new book by author and historian, Hallie Rubenhold. The Five is a history that involves the now infamous story of Jack the Ripper. Jack the Ripper was a serial killer that terrorized Victorian London. In the modern area, it seems his killing spree has almost been glorified through the media and tourist attractions. It is all about Jack the Ripper, his mysterious identity, and his modus operendi. His victims are only remembered as “prostitutes”, but can any of us even recite their names?

Continue reading “Book Spotlight: The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold”

Asian History · biography · european history · history · ottoman history

The Rise of Roxelana

Roxelana’s notoriety has lasted long after the end of her life. Despite her status as a female slave in a patriarchal society, she would go on to make her mark in politics, break traditions, and create an example for royal women in the future of the Ottoman Empire. She also founded many charitable foundations throughout Istanbul and beyond. Roxelana would gain the title Haseki Sultan of and become the wife of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. To many, Roxelana may be an unknown figure in history, but she has always been a person of interest to me. I had watched the first season of the Turkish drama, Magnificent Century, and was inspired to learn more. I have been very excited to create this post and hope to bring more awareness to Roxelana’s impact in Ottoman history and women’s history.

16th century portrait of Roxelana titled Rosa Solymanni Vxor

Continue reading “The Rise of Roxelana”

biography · english history · history

Aethelflaed: The Heroine of Mercia

Aethelflaed has received a revival of interest with the popularity of the show The Last Kingdom and other media. She is a fascinating character, but, in this post, I wanted to answer two questions. Who was the actual Aethelflaed and why is she so important to English history? I believe she is an important female figure who is often overshadowed by others during the Anglo-Saxon period. In the year 911, Aethelflaed, known as the Lady of the Mercians, took over the command of the kingdom of Mercia after her husband’s death. She was not just a regent until the next male heir came of age but was viewed as the head of government by her own people. She is known as an effective military commander, diplomat, and a benevolent ruler. By the end of Aethelflaed’s reign, she contributed much to the eventual consolidation of Saxon England.

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biography · english history · european history · history

Add to Your Reading List: A Testament of Youth

I suppose it is better to have had such splendid friends as those three were rather than not to have had any particular friends at all, but yet, now that all are gone, it seems that whatever was of value in life has tumbled down like a house of cards.”

-Letter from Edward to Brittain in response to the death of their friend, Victor

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Edward Brittain, Roland Leighton, Victor Richardson

I have spent August reading a memoir from World War I, which really kept me thinking for days after. I believe this is a very important memoir and one most people should take the time to read. It is one of the few accounts from the era that is from a female point of view. Many accounts of World War I are from the men in the trenches, but what about the women they left behind? In Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain writes of her life during this era and a bit afterwards. Brittain was born in 1893 and had grown up in northern England. She had one brother named Edward and the siblings were very intelligent and talented. Brittain was very interested in furthering her education and in writing, while Edward was a musician. The two were part of a lost generation and much of the memoir focuses on how their generation was affected by a war of that scale. She discusses how the generations that came before or after could never really comprehend what they went through. They were on their own island.

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American History · biography · history

Victoria Woodhull: First Female Presidential Candidate and Activist

Victoria Claflin was born on September 23, 1838 in Homer, Ohio. She was the seventh of ten children and was closest to her youngest sister, Tennessee. She grew up in a very rural area and her parents were considered “undesirable” in society. Her father was a con man and her mother a religious fanatic. Victoria would learn the valuable trade of fortune telling and how to be a medium through her mother. Victoria had to drop out of school after only three years of elementary school in order to earn income for her poor family. She earned this through fortune telling. The family was exiled from Homer after her father burned down their gristmill to try and cash in on the insurance policy. From this moment on Victoria spent much of her time traveling with her family attempting to earn money. Through her difficult childhood, Victoria learned to be independent and find strength within herself.

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