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Mayflower 400: how we brought the pilgrims’ ship to life using VR technology



An image showing early VR models of the Mayflower and Speedwell. The Speedwell was left behind in Sutton Pool after two attempts to make the transatlantic crossing failed.
HIT Team, University of Birmingham, Author provided

Robert Stone, University of Birmingham

It’s almost impossible, 400 years later, to imagine the scene in September 1620, when groups of English Puritans took their last look at the land of their birth while descending a few damp, slippery steps in Sutton Pool (today, the Barbican), Plymouth. How they felt while being ferried out to the Mayflower, a cramped, creaking square-rigged merchant ship, moored outside the harbour – and what they thought of the vessel, with its basic facilities and cargo.

But after four centuries, thanks to virtual and augmented reality technologies, for the first time we are able to see what that departure might have been like.

The Virtual Mayflower project has been one of the most challenging we have ever undertaken, seeking credible, historical research and deciding how we can use interactive technologies for a broad range of end users of different ages and backgrounds.

The project took us from a beached wreck near Hastings to the Mayflower II replica in the US. Meetings ranged from demonstrations at the US ambassador’s London residence to visualisation trials on Plymouth Hoe and from the council chambers in Droitwich Spa to Canary Wharf in London’s Docklands. The Virtual Mayflower story spans six years of ambition, elation, disappointment and – ultimately – a respectable degree of success.

We have been involved with numerous Plymouth maritime heritage projects since 2005 – mainly undersea wrecks – exploiting VR to “render the invisible visible”, as we did in the 1990s with projects such as Virtual Stonehenge. The Virtual Mayflower effort was kickstarted 250 miles to the east of Plymouth, on Pett Level Beach near Hastings. The Anne, a warship built for King Charles II’s Royal Navy, was launched in 1678. She was deliberately beached and torched at Pett Level in 1690, during the Battle of Beachy Head, to prevent capture by the French.

There she remained until the storms of 2013 exposed her lower structures. Collaborating with the Hastings Shipwreck Museum, we developed a detailed and explorable VR model of the ship and undertook a world-first demonstration using AR techniques, visualising the ship from above through the cameras of a drone – in effect looking down through the Anne’s masts as she rested in situ on Pett Level’s sands.

VR depiction of 17th century sailing ship The Anne.
The Anne in a simple 3D harbour scene as recreated using VR and AR technology.
HIT Team, University of Birmingham, Author provided

Realising a vision

Our success in exploiting VR and AR techniques during the Anne project brought numerous requests to become involved in the 400th anniversary commemorations of the Mayflower’s sailing. The first major development for us was an invitation to visit the Mayflower II in Plymouth, Massachusetts (at that time being prepared for transit to Mystic Seaport in Connecticut for her major refit) and Plimoth Plantation, the original location of the Pilgrims’ first home in the New World.

We were able to use 360-degree spherical panoramic cameras to capture many areas of the ship (including views from the crow’s nest) and were also shown the impressive costume repository held by the plantation. This was to be invaluable during the later reconstruction of the virtual pilgrims and ship’s crew. Also presented was the Mayflower II’s “shallop” – a replica of a small boat that was, in 1620, shipped across the Atlantic in four pieces, reassembled to ferry the early reconnaissance teams to Cape Cod’s peninsula (known today as Provincetown Harbor), and later used to land the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock.

The data collected from the visit, plus a range of 3D assets available online, enabled us to recreate a VR scene featuring both the Mayflower and the smaller unseaworthy Speedwell (ultimately abandoned in Sutton Pool). We then set about developing more detailed versions of the ship and harbour. One of the biggest challenges we faced was how best to represent the passengers and crew of the Mayflower, and the Sutton Pool inhabitants.

In 2017 we acquired a new piece of wearable motion capture (MOCAP) hardware. The Perception Neuron was a flexible “exoskeleton” comprising small Inertial Measurement Units, data from which were transferred to a backpack-worn laptop. We undertook a unique trial of this technology on board one of the Jubilee Sailing Trust’s tall ships, the Lord Nelson, moored at London’s Canary Wharf. Despite appalling weather, the ship’s bosun’s mate, Beth Goss, climbed 34m of the vessel’s main mast, her every movement recorded by the suit and two 360-degree cameras.

But in the final evaluation, we decided that neither this, nor a more conventional optical MOCAP technique, provided us with sufficiently reliable, noise-free human movement data for use with virtual humans (“avatars”). So we approached game designer, Mike Acosta, from Royal Leamington Spa College, to develop the virtual passenger, crew and Sutton Pool inhabitants – with appropriate period clothing – for the VR scenarios.

As well as conducting research into how best to represent the humans of the time, including one of the more important of Pilgrim leaders, Edward Winslow (only one painting of whom exists, in the Pilgrim Museum in Plymouth Massachusetts), we also sourced many historic documents and maps, each providing different views of the Sutton Harbour area.

VR image of two 17th-century sailing ships in harbour.
A virtual view of Plymouth’s Barbican/Sutton Pool as it may have looked in the 1620s with the Mayflower moored out in the Cattewater.
Chris Harvey/ HIT Team, University of Birmingham/Modux Ltd, Author provided

These, as well as information from books and images by numerous authors and illustrators, enabled us to develop a detailed 3D model of the Sutton Pool area, complete with lighting, mist and other environmental effects. Users can now don VR headsets and explore the harbour before descending the original location of the Mayflower Steps. There, they will get into a small boat that will ferry them out to board the small ship that was to be home to 102 Pilgrims for 66 days in the most abominable of circumstances.

Visitors to our project website can read about the Virtual Mayflower story in detail. The hope is that our reconstruction of such an important historical event, emphasising not only the “here today, gone tomorrow” nature of the Mayflower’s visit to Plymouth, but the rich history surrounding that small, remote west country harbour, will provide a legacy contribution to the 400th anniversary commemorations and an inspiration to future generations of creative media students.The Conversation

Robert Stone, Chair in Interactive Multimedia Systems, University of Birmingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


The complicated legacy of the Pilgrims is finally coming to light 400 years after they landed in Plymouth



Plimoth Plantation, in Plymouth, Mass., is a living museum that’s a replica of the original settlement, which existed for 70 years.
Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Peter C. Mancall, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

The 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ voyage to Plymouth will be celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic with a “remembrance ceremony” with state and local officials and a museum exhibit in Plymouth, England. An autonomous marine research ship named “The Mayflower” has been equipped with an AI navigating system that will allow the ship to trace the course of the original journey without any humans on board.

Yet as a scholar of early 17th-century New England, I’ve always been puzzled by the glory heaped on the Pilgrims and their settlement in Plymouth.

Native Americans had met Europeans in scores of places before 1620, so yet another encounter was hardly unique. Relative to other settlements, the colony attracted few migrants. And it lasted only 70 years.

So why does it have such a prominent place in the story of America? And why, until recently, did the more troubling aspects to Plymouth and its founding document, the Mayflower Compact, go ignored?

Prophets and profits

The establishment of Plymouth did not occur in a vacuum.

The Pilgrims’ decision to go to North America – and their deep attachment to their faith – was an outcome of the intense religious conflict roiling Europe after the Protestant Reformation. Shortly before the travelers’ arrival, the Wampanoag residents of Patuxet – the area in and around modern day Plymouth – had suffered a devastating, three-year epidemic, possibly caused by leptospirosis, a bacterial disease that can lead to meningitis, respiratory distress and liver failure.
It was during these two crises that the histories of western Europe and Indigenous North America collided on the shores of Massachusetts Bay.

Despite a number of advantages, including less competition for local resources because of the epidemic, Plymouth attracted far fewer English migrants than Virginia, which was settled in 1607, and Massachusetts, which was established in 1630.

The Pilgrims, as they told their story traveled so they could practice their religion free from persecution. But other English joined them, including some migrants seeking profits instead of heeding prophets. Unfortunately for those hoping to earn a quick buck, the colony never became an economic dynamo.

A shaky compact

Plymouth nonetheless went on to attain a prominent place in the history of America, primarily due to two phenomena: It was the alleged site of the first Thanksgiving, and its founders drafted the Mayflower Compact, a 200-word document written and signed by 41 men on the ship.

Generations of American students have learned that the Compact was a stepping stone towards self-government, the defining feature of American constitutional democracy.

But did Plymouth really inspire democracy? After all, self-governing communities existed across Indigenous New England long before European migrants arrived. And a year earlier, in 1619, English colonists in Virginia had created the House of Burgesses to advance self-rule in North America for subjects of King James I.

So American self-government, however one defines it, was not born in Plymouth.

The Mayflower Compact nonetheless contained lofty ideals. The plan signed by many of the Mayflower’s male passengers demanded that colonists “Covenant & Combine ourselves into a Civil body politic, for our better ordering, & preservation.” They promised to work together to write “laws, ordinances, Acts, constitutions.” The signers pledged to work for the “advancement of the Christian faith.”

The signatories of the Mayflower Compact aboard the Mayflower.
Jean Leon Gerome Ferris’ ‘The Mayflower Compact, 1620.’
Library of Congress

Yet as the years after 1620 bore out, the migrants did not adhere to such principles when dealing with their Wampanoag and other Algonquian-speaking neighbors. Gov. William Bradford, who began writing his history of Plymouth in 1630, wrote about the Pilgrims arriving in “a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men” even though Patuxet looked more like a settled European farmland. The Pilgrims exiled an English lawyer named Thomas Morton, in part because he believed that Indigenous and colonists could peacefully coexist. And in 1637, Plymouth’s authorities joined a bloody campaign against the Pequots, which led to the massacre of Indigenous people on the banks of the Mystic River, followed by the sale of prisoners into slavery.

The Compact was even used by loyalists to the British crown to argue against independence. Thomas Hutchinson, the last royal governor of Massachusetts, pointed to the Pilgrims as proof that colonists should not rebel, highlighting the passage that defined the signers as “loyal subjects” of the English king.

History told by the victors

After the American Revolution, politicians and historians, especially those descended from Pilgrims and Puritans, were keen to trace the origins of the United States back to Plymouth.

In the process, they glossed over the Pilgrims’ complicated legacy.

In 1802, the future President John Quincy Adams spoke at Plymouth about the unique genius of the colony’s founders and their governing contract. He announced that the Pilgrims would arrive at the biblical day of judgment “in the whiteness of innocence” for having shown “kindness and equity toward the savages.”

In the mid-19th century, the historian George Bancroft claimed that it was in “the cabin of the Mayflower” where “humanity recovered its rights, and instituted government on the basis of ‘equal laws’ for ‘the general good.’”

Nineteenth-century anniversary celebrations focused on the colonists, their written Compact, and their contribution to what became the United States. In 1870, on the 250th anniversary, celebrants struck a commemorative coin: one side featured an open Bible, the other a group of Pilgrims praying on the shoreline.

Missing, not surprisingly, were the Wampanoags.

The front of the coin, which features praying Pilgrims reads, 'Pilgrim Jubilee Memorial,' while the back reads, 'Whose faith follow' above the Bible.
A coin honoring the 250th anniversary of the Pilgrims landing in Plymouth.
NGC Coin

A more nuanced view of the past

By 1970, the cultural tide had turned. Representatives of the Wampanoag nation walked out of Plymouth’s public celebration of Thanksgiving that year to announce that the fourth Thursday in November should instead be known as the National Day of Mourning. To these protesters, 1620 represented violent conquest and dispossession, the twinned legacies of exclusion.

The organizers of an international group called “Plymouth 400” have stressed that they want to tell a “historically accurate and culturally inclusive history.” They’ve promoted both the General Society of Mayflower Descendants and an exhibit featuring 400 years of Wampanoag History. Unlike earlier generations of celebrants, the organizers have acknowledged the continued presence of Native residents.

Prior celebrations of Plymouth’s founding focused on the Pilgrims’ role in the creation of the United States. By doing so, these commemorations sustained an exclusionary narrative for over two centuries.

Perhaps this year a different story will take hold, replacing ancestor worship with a more clear-eyed view of the past.

[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]The Conversation

Peter C. Mancall, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Mayflower 400: how the pilgrims coped with separation



Writing letters allowed the puritan community spread across England, Holland and the US feel a lot smaller continue practices that were important to their worship.
Scisetti Alfio/Shutterstock

Sarah Hall, University of York

Those who emigrated on the Mayflower in 1620 seeking religious liberty might not have realised the challenges that lay ahead of them. Roaring summer heat and bitter winters were only part of their test. Economic instability, disease and troubling encounters with the native population meant that the early years of the Plymouth colony were tarnished by hardship.

However, it was not only material and environmental adversity that faced the colonists or their friends and families back home. The distance stretching between those who stayed and those who sailed was felt painfully and persistently.

As such, correspondence played a central role in the pilgrims’ lives. It sustained friendships and kinship over immense distances. Letters extended social habits of communal worship, sharing spiritual knowledge and advice, and collective prayer that had once been practised in person.

Communal worship

Many of the Mayflower pilgrims had left England long before they set sail for the New World. They had radical religious beliefs and did not agree with the way the Church of England was run.

Looking for religious freedom, they fled to Leiden, the Netherlands. There, many worshipped at the Pieterskerk with their pastor, John Robinson. This group of refugees stayed in Leiden for 12 years. However, Holland was not as tolerant of their religious practices as they liked, and they began to fear the spread of the Thirty Years War that was overwhelming much of Europe.

In 1620, many of the group set sail again, this time for the New World. By then, they were a close community, and in 1625 those that had stayed behind expressed their grief that, “[they were] constrained to live disunited each from other, especially considering our affections each unto other”.

Puritans were intensely sociable in their worship. They believed that they belonged to a society of God’s saints. These were radical Protestants.

They had come together as minority groups in the face of criticism and ridicule from those around them. The name “puritan” was originally an insult, made by mocking neighbours poking fun at their intensely pious nature. With the sailing of the Mayflower, the separation of their close communities meant the disruption of the religious practices that defined them, particularly their emphasis on collective worship.

The Bible was a vital text for puritans and they felt strongly that they should study it together as often as they did privately. They did so constantly searching to learn more of God’s intentions for them.

In a practice called “gadding”, many puritans would travel to hear sermons given by ministers who believed the same things as themselves, since not everyone had access to a puritan preacher in their home parish or town. When unable to travel, they counselled each other. This happened in person where possible, but also in correspondence due to networks spread across Great Britain and the Netherlands.

Getting word across oceans

Puritan friendships were spiritual and social, and communion between friends provided emotional and material support. Their dispersal across England and the Netherlands made letter writing essential, even before emigration to the New World.

But these distances proved little in comparison to the Atlantic Ocean. With the prospect of a long term or permanent separation, puritans relied on their letters with increased urgency. Writing to her brother in law John Winthrop in 1629, Priscilla Fones expressed her fear at his impending departure:

… for though the bond of love still continues, the distance of the place will not let us be so useful one to another as now we are.

Correspondence provided the Leiden pastor John Robinson with a space to reassert his ties with his former congregants. In 1621, he wrote that “neither the distance of place nor distinction of body, can at all either dissolve or weaken that bond” between them. He vowed to maintain their spiritual connection with prayer and passed on well wishes from the wives and children of the emigrants, and others of the congregation who had stayed behind in Leiden.

Transatlantic correspondence came with many problems. Ships had to be available to carry these letters, while the journey was slow and the passage unreliable. Roger White, a citizen of Leiden, wrote to the pilgrims in 1625, lamenting that “I know not whether ever this will come to your hands, or miscarry, as other of my letters have done”.

Exercising caution, in 1630 John Winthrop, a leading figure among the Puritan founders of New England, sent news to his wife across two letters and sent it on different ships. These fears were not misplaced. News came to Massachusetts in 1633 that some other letters recently received in England had been washed “white and clean with saltwater” after the ship carrying them was wrecked.

Portrait of John Winthrop in a ruff.
John Winthrop, a leading figure among the Puritan founders of New England.
Author provided

The Mayflower pilgrims and those that later settled in other parts of New England were supported by their letters. They relied on them for the endurance of their friendships, and the lifting of their spirits. Words set in ink provided emotional support; letters were kept, stored, read and reread to bring absent loved ones to heart and mind.

Waiting aboard the Arbella at Southampton, on the eve of his departure for the new world, John Winthrop wrote to his wife. He told her that he often re-read her letters with “much delight”, although he found that he could not “read them without tears”. More than just words on a page, letters were an emotional and spiritual lifeline. Correspondence brought people together in familiar patterns of worship, despite their great distances.The Conversation

Sarah Hall, Postdoctoral Researcher in Early Modern Transatlantic History, University of York

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Mayflower 400: the science of sailing across the ocean in 1620


Jonathan Ridley, Solent University

It is July 1620 in Southampton, England. Arriving into port is the Speedwell, a ship carrying a small religious group from the Netherlands. Anchored just off of the west quay of the town is the Mayflower, a larger ship with more passengers aboard, which is loading for a transatlantic voyage with the Speedwell. The passengers have permission and funding to start a trading settlement in the Colony of Virginia (which at the time extended far further than the modern state of Virginia), under the control of the Virginia Company.

Despite the historical significance of the Mayflower, we know very little about the ship and its voyage. We only know its name from a document written three years after the voyage. At the time the Mayflower was not notable or special and – because some of the passengers faced persecution for their religious activities – they probably kept a low profile.

Evidence suggests that it was “burden about nine score” or 180 tons. “Burden” was a term for cargo capacity, while a “tun” was a large cask of wine. The ship could therefore carry the equivalent of 180 tuns of wine.

There are unfortunately no illustrations or plans of The Mayflower from the time, so we don’t even know for certain what the ship looked like. We do know, however, that ships around this time were built to a series of similar rules (outlined in Swedish shipbuilder Fredrik Henrik af Chapman’s Architectura Navalis Mercatoria, published in 1768). We can therefore begin to estimate the proportions for the cargo carried, but with a caution that the rules varied between shipwrights, with many details not recorded and drawings not made.

In fact, the famous 17th-century diarist Samuel Pepys tells us that shipwrights “depended on their eyes … never pretending to the laying down of a draught, their knowledge lying in their hands so confusedly”. Based on typical proportions from the time we could expect that The Mayflower would have been around 30 metres in hull length and about 7.5 metres in breadth.

English merchant vessels were also expected to form a navy to protect the country if required. From similar vessels of the time, we can therefore reasonably assume that The Mayflower had raised “castles” at the bow and stern. A height advantage from the castles would have been useful in battle to fight and resist boarding.

The ship would also have carried a small number of cannon – mainly for self-defence. These would have been on a cramped gun-deck (where the passengers would also live) with gun-ports.

The voyage

On August 15 1620, the two ships sailed for the New World from Southampton, but as soon as they departed, the Speedwell started leaking badly (despite some repairs already having been made in Southampton), requiring a diversion to Dartmouth to make repairs.

In mid-September 1620, they again departed England, but around 300 miles west of Land’s End the Speedwell leaked badly again, with the ship’s master complaining that “his ship was so leaky, as he must bear up, or sink at sea”. They returned to Plymouth, transferred as many passengers and stores as possible to the Mayflower, and set sail west again on 16 September. At the time it was suggested that the leaks were a plot by the captain and crew of the Speedwell to avoid a long and dangerous voyage.

Navigation in the 1600s was comparatively more advanced than many other sciences at the time. Sailors could measure their heading with magnetic compasses, and their speed with a log that was trailed behind the ship.

By measuring the height of the North Star above the horizon with instruments that were the forerunners of sextants, sailors could determine their position north of the equator (known as the “latitude”). However, on a rolling ship under cloudy skies taking accurate measurements and finding accurate positions was far from easy.

Knowing your position west or east of a point (“longitude”) was far more complicated. It could be found from measuring the local time when the sun reached its highest point in the sky, and comparing it to the time at a known point on land, as the local noon occurs four minutes later for every degree of longitude travelled west around the world.

Sadly clocks at the time were nowhere near accurate enough to measure this, and accurately measuring the height of the sun was difficult. Instead, sailors at the time used a combination of the compass, hourglasses and a log to record direction, time and speed, calculating a resulting position based on “dead reckoning”, which would become more inaccurate as the voyage progressed.

Despite some treacherous storms that nearly destroyed the vessel, The Mayflower arrived in North America after 66 days’ sailing. The ship was, however, just off Cape Cod, slightly north of the Colony of Virginia (which at that time extended north to Long Island Sound) where the colonists had permission to settle.

They tried sailing south, but encountered treacherous reefs and breaking waves and, low on provisions, they wisely headed north again, coming ashore initially at Provincetown, Massachusetts on November 21. But having landed outside of the Colony of Virginia, they had no contract to settle, or laws to follow.

Their solution was to draw up a democratic agreement (known as the Mayflower Compact), which governed them independently from England until they could obtain permission to settle where they landed. This was the first western example of a consensual government without a monarch. If their navigation had taken them just 65 miles further south, they would have landed in the Colony of Virginia, and history may have been different.

The Mayflower itself returned to England the following year, but sadly her Captain died in 1622. Left on the riverbank of the Thames, she fell into disrepair and was in such a poor condition that she was sold for parts in 1624. Ironically the Speedwell lasted far longer, sailing from Southampton to Virginia and back in 1635.The Conversation

Jonathan Ridley, Head of Engineering, Faculty of Creative Industries, Architecture and Engineering, Solent University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Mayflower 400: were the Pilgrims asylum seekers or subversives?



Principled revolutionaries: the Pilgrim Monument at Provincetown, Massachusetts.
TWA Photography via Shutterstock

Polly Ha, University of East Anglia

They were enemies of the state – religious malcontents and political subversives. This left England’s most radical puritans with just two options under Tudor treason law (besides execution, of course): either shut up or pack up and leave.

Elizabethan severity against Roman Catholics made sense, as Catholic powers across Europe were waging war against England. They united in a series of conspiracies to replace Elizabeth I with Mary Queen of Scots. The pope excommunicated Elizabeth and even ordered English subjects not to “dare obey her orders”.

But why would a Protestant queen outlaw zealous Protestants – and what was so subversive about worshipping the way they wanted?

The trouble was that some reformists went beyond insisting on minor improvements to the Church of England. They denounced it all together as false. They rejected the monarch’s supremacy over the church. And they widely publicised all this, calling bishops monstrous beasts.

When James VI of Scotland came to the English throne in 1603, his attempts to appease both ends of the spectrum fell on deaf ears. Disaffected Catholics hatched an elaborate plan to blow up the king and parliament in the Gunpowder Plot. On the other end of discontent, zealous Protestants separated from the Church of England and decided to pack up and leave. But they refused to shut up.

Many puritan dissenters headed to the Netherlands, where they exploited freedom of the press to print and distribute illicit texts from Leiden. They did so, according to the chief minister and leader of the core Mayflower migrants, John Robinson, because “lesse hurt comes by silence, than by speech” but so too “doth lesse good”.

New documents

Recently discovered manuscripts held at Trinity College Dublin Library shed new light on the pilgrims’ views and their later reception. Robinson himself had been strongly influenced by Henry Jacob (1562/3-1624), a Calvinist minister from Kent.

Jacob engaged in extensive underground exchanges with his fellow puritan critics. These hidden debates open up new ways of seeing how Jacob and Robinson played a far more radical role in one of the greatest political, military, and religious conflicts in British history.

According to his critics, Jacob was the first in the English-speaking world to espouse a view of ecclesiastical “independency”. Invoking the ancient Roman Republic’s idea of liberty as non-dependence, he argued explicitly that each particular church was free and not dependent on any higher ecclesiastical authority (whether the pope, bishop or church council). More importantly, he argued for the first time that any group of individual believers had the freedom to set up a new church society if they so chose.

Contemporaries feared Jacob would “begin a new world” by justifying the freedom to create new self-authenticating church societies. And that was exactly what he did. He migrated to Virginia after planting an independent church in London.

He also inspired Robinson, who cited Jacob to justify the freedom to establish new churches. Robinson further developed the idea of the freedom to discover the unknown, warning that injury from falling forward was less fatal than falling backwards.

Brave new world

Two decades after the Mayflower voyage to the new world, these ideas were threatening to create another crisis back in the old world.

Critics claimed that Robinson was responsible for spreading far more radical ideas back in England than in the new Plymouth colony. As the British Isles spiralled into civil war in the 1640s, radicals seized the moment to make new claims to liberty – which ended in the trial and execution of Charles I.

Painting of crowd watching execution of Charles I. Four figures in inset pictures including one of a man with king's head.
Regicide: the execution of Charles I on January 30, 1649, outside the Banqueting House in Whitehall, London.
Unknown artist/Scottish National Gallery

It was here that Robinson reappeared. His work was allegedly plagiarised by revolutionaries in parliament’s New Model Army who were fighting against royalist troops and threatening to dismantle all social hierarchy.

Edmund Chillenden was one such army agitator who appeared to silently lift Robinson’s arguments to make the case for any man – however humble and whether ordained as a minister or not – to preach publicly. No surprise that Chillenden was also a member of one of Jacob’s offshoot churches in London.

Jacob’s brand of independence did more than simply revive the Roman idea of freedom as non-dependence. He was the first person to argue that the church was defined in the New Testament solely as an independent congregation, as opposed to seeing each church as part of a single universal visible church.

This stretched independence beyond a political idea reserved for an elite group of men and made it universally applicable to every believer. This meant it could appeal to men lower down the social order and might even extend to women.

Robinson was careful to qualify the most egalitarian implications of his ideas. For instance, he denied that women had the right to speak and teach in public church assemblies ordinarily. (Exceptional women who were seen as prophetesses could speak openly in church, but this was rare.) New England colonists were at pains to deny their views would result in social anarchy.

But the Jacob connection again tells a different story.

Another member of the Jacob offshoot churches in London cited Robinson to stretch the social boundaries of freedom as independence. Katherine Chidley was one of the earliest and most vocal female writers and political activists in the English Revolution, leading an army of women in London to petition parliament.

She vigorously defended Robinson’s views in her Justification of Independant Churches. For Chidley, there was nothing exceptional about this. She believed in the freedom and natural ability of women to speak independently in public.

Following the Plymouth plantation in the new world, Robinson helped plant a new one in the old. Chidley used his ideas to justify female speech and dissent. Her public interventions were offensive – and even insulting – to many at the time because they challenged traditional hierarchy and overturned social conventions. They were pushing the same ideas in England that had prompted the Mayflower voyage.

One obvious difference, of course, was that she didn’t have to pack up or shut up. Instead, she spoke up.The Conversation

Polly Ha, Reader in Early Modern History, University of East Anglia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Mayflower 400: the English were relative latecomers to the Americas, despite the USA’s founding myth



Map of the New World from the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, believed to be the first true atlas in the modern sense.
Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598)/Boston Public Library

David Gehring, University of Nottingham

Popular anglophone histories tend to play up England’s settlement of the “New World”, but – in reality – England under Elizabeth I was, by comparison with Spain and France, a minor player on the European scene and for the most part non-existent in the New World.

Having lost Calais, its final territory in France, in 1558 – and having experienced the two short reigns of King Edward VI and Queen Mary – England could not compete with the strength, stability and financial resources of Spain. At that time Spain was vastly rich as gold and silver flowed from the mines of the New World, especially from Potosi, into Spanish coffers.

England and Spain had long been allies before Elizabeth’s reign – Henry VIII’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon, was Spanish, as was Mary Tudor’s husband Philip II. But animosities beneath the surface eventually boiled over into open warfare after England intervened in the Dutch Revolt to support the Dutch against Spanish control in 1585.

Philip had entertained the idea of aggression against England prior to 1585, but English engagement in the Netherlands along with piracy on the seas by the likes of Francis Drake provoked the launching of the Spanish Armada in 1588 in an attempt to invade and subjugate England to Spanish control. As the saying goes, “God blew and they were scattered”, and the 1580s mark a turning point in English ambition on the seas and relative to its European neighbours.

With adventurers such as Drake, Walter Raleigh and other privateers, soon independent Englishmen found private investors to finance their voyages to, and activity in, the New World. This was seen as a countermeasure to Spain and an opportunity to explore commercial ventures for trade.

The landing of the Mayflower in November 1620 is a significant historical marker. Its recognition is warranted because of the legacy that followed. But in many ways, the Mayflower represents not only the beginning of an Anglo-American story, for it is just one part of a wider European tale of exploration, settlement, and displacement and subjugation of indigenous populations.

The Mayflower followed the first successful English settlement at Jamestown in 1607, which itself was more than a century after the initial forays of the Spanish and Portuguese in the Americas.

‘In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue’

Christopher Columbus (Cristoforo Colombo) was Italian and sailed to the New World under a Spanish flag. Other Italians followed in his wake – including Amerigo Vespucci, under both Spanish and Portuguese flags shortly after Columbus, and Giovanni Verrazzano under the French flag in 1524. Zuan Caboto (Britain knows him as John Cabot) sailed under an English flag in the 1490s, but his efforts never resulted in any permanent settlements by the English. Spanish exploration and colonisation in the New World stretched thousands of miles from deep into South America to the plains of North America.

Set of Spanish stamps featuring explorers and monarchs involved in settlement of the Americas.
Spain was very proud of its role in colonising the Americas, as this set of stamps from 1987 suggests.
neftali via Shutterstock

New Spain (“Hispania Nova”) dominated early maps of the western hemisphere, and in these lands the Spanish government established colonial governance and administration, complete with churches and missionaries to attempt converting the indigenous. Lands claimed by Portugal in modern-day Brazil were also vast and easily recognisable on such maps.

International acknowledgement of Spanish and Portuguese territories and domination came with the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494 – which, in the years that followed, earned the pope’s approval in Rome. Not to be outdone, by 1550 the French explored and subsequently claimed massive lands in what is now Canada – “Nova Francia”, though active settlement by the French in this area was limited.

Spain’s activity was not restricted to Central or South America. Spanish exploration in North America continued to expand as the century progressed. Hernando de Soto explored Florida during the 1540s, while Francisco Coronado the south-west (and Grand Canyon) at the same time. What is today Mexico had by this point been thoroughly occupied by Spain, the colonial capital city of Mexico City being built upon the ashes of the former Aztec city of Tenochtitlan.

The Spanish empire expanded further and further across the globe under King Philip II during the second half of the 16th century, especially when all Portuguese lands came under his dominion in 1580. So mighty, so awe-inspiring was Spanish power in Europe and the New World that none dared question it, even if daredevils like Drake drew Spanish ire by plundering along the coasts of South America during the 1570s.

Statue of Francis Drake in armour at Plymouth Hoe in south-west England.
Hero or villain? Francis Drake is a bit of both.
ian woolcock via Shutterstock

So expansive, so far-reaching were Spanish lands that Europeans – the English very much included – knew how the sun never set on the Spanish empire in the 16th century (long before it never set on the British empire of the 19th).

Playing catch-up

By the early 17th century, England was more assured of itself on a European level than it had been since the reign of Henry VIII, but it still had a lot of catching up to do. Alongside Spain (especially having absorbed Portuguese dominions), the Dutch and even the Danish soon became active in exploring and claiming lands in the Americas.

The English, led by private companies or religious refugees, such as the Mayflower pilgrims, were in some respects on the back foot until the second half of the 17th century.

To situate the Mayflower within a broader context of European exploration and colonisation, and to understand early modern England among its mainland European neighbours, is not to belittle the achievements or significance of either. Rather, doing so helps us to see how a wide variety of countries and peoples came together – in commerce and trade but also in rivalry and war – to bring European cultures to the indigenous cultures of the New World with dramatic and often horrible effects.

And so began the great mixing and melding of peoples in the Americas.The Conversation

David Gehring, Assistant Professor in Early Modern British History, University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Scarabs, phalluses, evil eyes — how ancient amulets tried to ward off disease



An Egyptian winged scarab amulet (circa 1070 –945 BC).

Marguerite Johnson, University of Newcastle

Throughout antiquity, from the Mediterranean to Egypt and today’s Middle East, people believed that misfortune, including accidents, diseases, and sometimes even death, were caused by external forces.

Be they gods or other types of supernatural forces (such as a daimon), people — regardless of faith — sought magical means of protection against them.

While medicine and science were not absent in antiquity, they competed with entrenched systems of magic and the widespread recourse to it. People consulted professional magicians and also practised their own forms of folk magic.




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Possibly derived from the Latin word “amoliri”, meaning “to drive away” or “to avert”, amulets were believed to possess inherent magical qualities. These qualities could be naturally intrinsic (such as the properties of a particular stone) or imbued artificially with the assistance of a spell.

Not surprisingly the use of amulets was an integral part of life. From jewellery and embellishments on buildings, to papyri inscribed with spells, and even garden ornaments, they were deemed effective forms of protection.

Amulets have been around for thousands of years. Amber pendants from Denmark’s Mesolithic age (10,000-8,000 BC) seem to have been worn as a form of generic protection.

Jewellery and ornaments referencing the figure of the scarab beetle were also popular all-purpose amulets in Egypt, dating from the beginning of the Middle Kingdom (2000 BC).

A solar scarab pendant from the tomb of Tutankhamen.
Wikimedia Commons



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Two of the most common symbols of protection are the eye and the phallus. One or both amulet designs appear in many contexts, providing protection of the body (in the form of jewellery), a building (as plaques on exterior walls), a tomb (as an inscribed motif), and even a baby’s crib (as a mobile or crib ornament).

In Greece and the Middle East, for example, the evil eye has a history stretching back thousands of years. Today the image adorns the streets, buildings and even trees of villages.

A tree adorned with the evil eye symbol in a Turkish village.
Marguerite Johnson

The magic behind the evil eye is based on the belief that malevolence can be directed towards an individual through a nasty glare. Accordingly, a “fake” eye, or evil eye, absorbs the malicious intention in place of the target’s eye.

Wind chimes

Greek ‘herm’ (circa sixth century BC).

The phallus was a form of magical protection in ancient Greece and Rome. The Greek sculpture known as a “herm” in English functioned as apotropaic magic (used to fend off evil). Such artefacts, featuring a head and torso atop a pediment — often in the shape of a phallus and, if not, definitely featuring a phallus — were used as boundary markers to keep trespassers out.

The implicit threat is that of rape; come near a space that is not your own, and you may suffer the consequences. This threat was intended to be interpreted metaphorically; namely, a violation of another’s property would entail some form of punishment from the supernatural realm.

The phallus amulet was also popular in ancient Italian magic. In Pompeii, archaeologists have uncovered wind chimes called tintinnabulum (meaning “little bell”). These were hung in gardens and took the form of a phallus adorned with bells.

This phallic shape, often morphing into bawdy forms, presented the same warning as the herm statues in Greece. However, the comic shapes in combination with the tinkling of bells also revealed a belief in the protective power of sound. Laughing was believed to ward off evil forces, as was the sound of chimes.

Tintinnabulum from Pompeii (circa first century AD).
Author provided

One scholarly view of magic is that it functions as the last recourse for the desperate or dispossessed. In this sense, it presents as a hopeful action, interpreted by some modern commentators as a form of psychological release from stress or a sense of powerlessness.

Contemporary ‘magical thinking’

In the context of “magical thinking”, amulets may be dismissed by critical thinkers of all persuasions, but they remain in use throughout the world.

Often combined with science and common sense, but not always, amulets have made a resurgence during the COVID-19 pandemic. The amulets are equally as diverse, coming in all shapes and sizes, and promoted by politicians, religious leaders and social influencers.

A traditional form of adornment and protection in Javanese culture, now popular with tourists, “burnt root” bracelets, known as “akar bahar”, have been sold by community shamans. Indonesia’s Agriculture Minister Syahrul Yasin Limpo, meanwhile, has promoted an aromatherapy necklace containing a eucalyptus potion touted as a preventative against COVID (useless in terms of science but perhaps less dangerous than hydroxychloroquine).

This necklace prompts the question: where does alternative medicine end and magic begin? It is not a new question, since there has been an intersection between magical lore and medical knowledge for thousands of years.




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In Babylon, circa 2000-1600 BC, a condition known as “kuràrum disease” (identified as a ringworm, symptoms of which include facial pustules), was responded to by both magicians and doctors. And in one text there is a “healer” who appears to perform the role of magician and doctor simultaneously.

Other ancient cultures also practised medical magic through amulets. In Greece, magicians prescribed amulets to heal the wandering womb, a condition whereby the womb was believed to dislodge and travel throughout a woman’s body, thus causing hysteria.

These amulets could take the form of jewellery on which a spell was inscribed. Amulets were also used to prevent pregnancy, as evidenced in a recipe written in Greek from around the second century BC, which instructed women to: “take a bean with a bug inside it and fasten it to yourself as an amulet.”

In a contemporary religious context, written amulets replace spells with prayers. In Thailand, for example, Phisutthi Rattanaphon, an Abbot at Wat Theraplai Temple in Suphan Buri, has issued people with orange paper inscribed with protective words and pictures.

Designed to ward off COVID-19, the papers represent the crossover between magic and religion; a paradigm as entrenched as the blurring of magic and medicine in numerous historical and cultural contexts. Thankfully, face masks and hand sanitiser are also available at the temple.The Conversation

Marguerite Johnson, Professor of Classics, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


When it comes to economic reform, the old days really were better. We checked



National Archives of Australia

John Daley, Grattan Institute and Rory Anderson, Grattan Institute

It’s become a truism of Australian politics that important economic reform peaked in the 1980s and 1990s.

Sometimes the early years of the Howard government in the late 1990s are given credit as well.

This Grattan Institute map of important reforms illustrates the story.


Important economic policy reforms in Australia

Notes: Reforms that were not passed, or that were subsequently substantially wound back or repealed, are shown shaded out. A/T/M = Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison. FTAs = Free Trade Agreements. PBO = Parliamentary Budget Office. GBE = Government Business Enterprise. CBA = Commonwealth Bank of Australia. Airline IPO = the sale and Initial Public Offering of Qantas in 1993 and 1995.
Access Economics (2019); The Economist (2011); Grattan analysis

Indeed, it looks like Australian governments have merely ‘improved’ at unwinding the reforms of their predecessors, and the reforms they propose for themselves.

But it’s possible that this is all just the rosy-hued memories of former politicians, public servants, and journalists.

It might also be that today there are fewer policy reforms worth doing – perhaps most of the big ones have already been done.

To test whether previous governments really were better at reform than more recent governments, we would need a running list of reforms proposed in advance, so we could see what proportion were adopted.

Between 1972 and 2018, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development produced 31 Economic Surveys of Australia – roughly one every 18 months.

Each publication put forward reforms that the OECD believed would increase economic growth and living standards.

The good old days were better

Our analysis of the full series finds that between 1984 and 2001 the overwhelming bulk of these recommendations were taken up by the Hawke and Keating governments, and by the Howard government in its first two terms.

But from roughly 2003 onwards, the record is a lot more patchy: many more of the reforms recommended by the OECD have been either rejected, only partially implemented, or (in the case of carbon pricing) implemented and then unwound.


Fate of OECD Economic Survey recommendations

For more details on methodology, see Grattan’s blog.
OECD, Grattan analysis.

Policies that the OECD recommended but which ran into the sand include reducing the gap between the company tax and top personal income tax rates, implementing a mining resource rent tax, reviewing negative gearing, creating competitive neutrality among Australian ports, aligning the eligibility ages for superannuation and the age pension, including more of the value of owner-occupied housing when calculating eligibility for the age pension, and raising Newstart.




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A number of other proposed reforms continue to sit in the too-hard basket, including increasing the rate and coverage of the goods and services tax, swapping stamp duties for property taxes, congestion charging for roads, and the use of smart meters for time-of-day electricity pricing.

An imperfect measure, that tells us something

As a means to evaluate the history of reform, the OECD Economic Surveys aren’t perfect, but they’re guide.

It’s true that the scope and number of OECD recommendations has expanded over time, but that expansion was already underway during the Hawke/Keating and Howard eras.

And it’s arguable that these days, the OECD recommends smaller reforms – it certainly recommended many more between 1997 and 2010.

It’s likely that the OECD’s recommendations are partly influenced by the views of the government of the day. But many recommendations have been suggested under one government and implemented by the next.

And while OECD recommendations aren’t gospel, many policy experts support most of them. For instance, all of the policies that are on the OECD’s continuing wish-list are also advocated by the Grattan Institute.

Our review of what happened after the OECD surveys is broadly consistent with popular wisdom, or at least the recollections of old men (usually men) that the good old days really were better.




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And it is consistent with work in progress by Alphabeta reviewing the history of Australian economic reform.

Our review also shows that it often takes a long run-up of research, advocacy, and detailing before a government implements a major reform. Many reforms were only implemented after sitting on the slate for well over a decade, including the goods and services tax, lower tariffs, a more flexible award system, lower company tax, and competition in utility industries. Reforms often require patient advocacy.

It’s hard to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Australia has got worse at it. But our review of the OECD’s recommendations for Australia over the past 48 years is consistent with the oft-cited view that governments in the most recent 20 years have rejected many more significant reforms than governments in the 20 years before them.

There’s plenty still on the slate for the 20 years to come.




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The Conversation


John Daley, Senior Fellow, Grattan Institute and Rory Anderson, Researcher, Grattan Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Leprosy of the soul? A brief history of boredom



‘God, I’m just so bored.’
JeniFoto via Shutterstock

Wijnand Van Tilburg, University of Essex

We all respond to boredom in different ways. Some may find a new hobby or interest, others may instead rip open a bag of crisps and binge watch a new Netflix show. Boredom may seem to you an everyday – perhaps even trivial – experience. Surprisingly, however, boredom has undergone quite a metamorphosis over the past couple of centuries.

Well before the word “boredom” cropped up in the English language, one of the earliest mentions of boredom is in a Latin poem by Lucretius (99–55BC), who writes of the boring life of a rich Roman who flees to his country house … only to be find himself equally bored there.

The first recorded mention of the word “boredom” in the English language seems to be in the British newspaper The Albion in 1829, in the (frankly impenetrable) sentence: “Neither will I follow another precedental mode of boredom, and indulge in a laudatory apostrophe to the destinies which presided over my fashioning.”

But the term was popularised by Charles Dickens, who famously used the term in Bleak House (1853) where the aristocrat Lady Dedlock says she has been “bored to death” by, variously, the trying weather, unremarkable musical and theatrical entertainment, and familiar scenery.

In fact, boredom became a popular theme in English Victorian writing, especially in describing the life of the upper class, whose boredom may reflect a privileged social standing. Dickens’ character James Harthouse (Hard Times, 1854), for example, seems to cherish perpetual boredom as indicative of his high breeding, declaring nothing but boredom during his life as military dragoon and on his many travels.

The existentialists’ boredom

In the second part of the 19th century and during the early 20th century, boredom gained notoriety among existentialist writers. Their view of boredom was often less than flattering, and one that confronted all of humanity, not just the upper class with its presumably empty existence.

The early existentialist Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, for example, wrote: “The gods were bored; therefore they created human beings.” This was, according to him, only the beginning of the trouble with boredom. It would eventually lead Adam and Eve to commit their original sin.

Unsurprisingly, Kierkegaard declared boredom to be the root of all evil. Several other existentialists shared this unfavourable view. Jean-Paul Sartre called boredom a “leprosy of the soul”, and Friedrich Nietzsche, agreeing with Kierkegaard, remarked that: “The boredom of God on the seventh day of creation would be a subject for a great poet.”

Jean Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir surrounded by people in front of a plane.
Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir: often bored, but never boring.
National Photo Collection of Israel

Arthur Schopenhauer took the cake when it came to being gloomy about boredom. According to him, the human capacity for boredom was nothing less than direct evidence for life’s ultimate lack of meaning. In his fittingly titled essay, Studies on Pessimism, he wrote:

The truth of this will be sufficiently obvious if we only remember that man is a compound of needs and necessities hard to satisfy, and that even when they are satisfied, all he obtains is a state of painlessness, where nothing remains to him but abandonment to boredom.

A world of boredom, the existentialists seemed to warn, is a world without purpose.

The science of boredom

The 20th century witnessed the emergence of psychology as a scientific discipline. While our understanding of many emotions slowly increased, boredom was surprisingly left alone. What little psychological work on boredom existed was rather speculative, and more often than not excluded empirical data.

These accounts hardly painted a more positive picture of boredom than the existentialists. As recently as 1972, psychoanalyst Erich Fromm blatantly denounced boredom as “perhaps the most important source of aggression and destructiveness today”.

During the past few decades, however, the image of boredom has changed once more, and with it has come an appreciation of the hitherto discredited emotion. Development of better measurement tools allowed psychologists to examine boredom with greater accuracy, and experimental methods allowed researchers to induce boredom and examine its actual, rather than presumed, behavioural consequences.

This work reveals that boredom can indeed be problematic, as the existentialists assured us. Those who bore easily are more likely to be depressed and anxious, have a tendency to be aggressive, and perceive life as less meaningfull.

Yet, psychology uncovered also a much brighter side of boredom. Researchers found that boredom encourages a search for meaning in life, propels exploration, and inspires novelty seeking. It shows that boredom is not only a common but also a functional emotion that makes people reconsider what they are currently doing in favour of more rewarding alternatives, for example increasing creativity and prosocial tendencies.

In doing so, it seems that boredom helps to regulate our behaviour and prevents us from getting stuck in unrewarding situations for too long. Rather than merely a malady among the upper classes or an existential peril, boredom seems, instead, to be an important part of the psychological arsenal available to people in the pursuit a fulfilling life.The Conversation

Wijnand Van Tilburg, Lecturer, Department of Psychology, University of Essex

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Friday essay: vizards, face gloves and window hoods – a history of masks in western fashion



Shutterstock

Lydia Edwards, Edith Cowan University

Masks have emerged as unlikely fashion heroes as the COVID-19 pandemic has developed. Every conceivable colour and pattern seems to have become available, from facehuggers to Darth Vader to bejewelled bridal numbers.

Many show how brevity and style can combine to protect the wearer, offsetting the fear the sight of a respiratory or surgical mask usually inspires.

Some, like those produced by not-for-profit enterprises including the Social Studio and Second Stitch, use on-trend fabrics and benefit both the wearer and the makers. Meanwhile, an Israeli jeweller has designed a white gold, diamond-encrusted mask worth US$1.5 million (A$2.1 million).

Yet, masks remain fundamentally unnerving. Mostly intended to either protect or disguise, they are designed to cover all or part of the face. In societies where emotions are read through both eyes and mouth, they can be disorienting.

In many places around the globe, masks have played an important role in conveying style, spirituality and culture for thousands of years. They have been a part of western fashion for centuries. Here are some of the highlights (and lowlights) of masks as fashion items.




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Silenced by the vizard

“And make our faces vizards to our hearts/Disguising what they are”
– Macbeth

One of the most bizarre accessories in 16th-century fashion was the vizard, an oval-shaped mask made from black velvet worn by women to protect their skin whilst travelling.

A woman wearing a vizard, c.1581, France.
Wikimedia

In an age where unblemished skin was a sign of gentility, European women took pains to avoid sunburn or significant sun tan. Two holes were cut for the eyes, sometimes fitted with glass, and an indentation was created to accommodate the nose. Disturbingly, they did not always have an opening for the mouth.

To hold the mask in place, wearers gripped a bead or button between their teeth, prohibiting speech. To the contemporary feminist, the mask raises associations with the scold’s bridle: a method of torture and public humiliation for gossiping women and suspected witches.

During the following century, masks continued to be fashionable although the guise of protection gave way to mystique and desire. The small “domino” mask – seen in a 17th century Netherlands example below and still worn by superheroes from Batman to Harley Quinn – covered the eyes and tip of the nose. It was usually made from a strip of black fabric. For warmer months, a lighter veiling could be substituted.

17th century engraving of woman wearing black eye mask and period clothing.
The look for Winter by Wenceslaus Hollar (1643).
Rijksmuseum



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Masquerade and desire

Venice has long been associated with masks, thanks to its history of carnival and masquerade. Their theatrical nature might lead to an assumption masks were always worn to deceive or seduce. Travellers expecting a masked amoral free-for-all in the early 18th century were surprised at how “innocent” the accessory really was in everyday life.

When worn at a masquerade, masks encouraged “safe” contact between the sexes – bringing them close enough to mingle but maintaining the social distance between strangers that etiquette required. In this scenario, masks also encouraged a kind of egalitarianism by allowing people of disparate social classes to mix – a freedom never allowed in normal social gatherings.

The gnaga mask, with its cat shape, allowed men to dress as women and skirt Venetian homosexuality laws. Venetian prostitutes were at various times prohibited from wearing or required to wear masks in public, yet married women were required to wear masks to the theatre, fostering an association between masks and sex.

Venetian masks
Masquerades encouraged contact between the sexes while maintaining acceptable social distance.
Unsplash/Llanydd Lloyd, CC BY

Conversely, the infamous Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies, published annually between 1757 and 1795, provided a catalogue of prostitutes to hire in London. One entry from 1779 described a woman who …

by her own confession has been a votary to pleasure these thirty years, she wears a substantial mask upon her face, and is rather short.

John Cleland’s controversial 1748 book Memoirs of Fanny Hill describes Louisa, a prostitute, being made “violent love to” by a “gentlemen in a handsome domino” as soon as her own mask was removed.

Charming possibilities

“A mask tells us more than a face”, wrote Oscar Wilde in his 1891 dialogue Intentions, yet by the 19th century the mask as fashion accessory was démodé. Masks were generally only mentioned in newspapers and fashion magazines when referring to fancy dress and masked balls, which still took place in the homes of the wealthy.

“Society is a masked ball”, wrote one American columnist in 1861 mirroring Wilde’s famous quote, “where everyone hides his real character, and reveals it by hiding”.

Although masks were no longer recommended for maintaining a pale complexion, women’s faces were still covered by veiling in certain situations: including, for the first time, weddings. Ironically, one Australian fashion column in 1897 decried the fashion, stating:

Veils are largely responsible for poor complexions … This fine lace mask – for it is nothing else – hinders the circulation … but does far more injury by keeping the face heated.

As if this were not enough, veils blew dust from the street into “open pores” and retained dirt, redistributing it onto the skin every time it was worn.

Advertisement for Rowley's Toilet Mask shows woman with rubber face shield.
A precursor to today’s sheet beauty treatments.
Shutterstock

Veiling still had some fans, who touted its health and beauty benefits, and connotations of intrigue and excitement. “It suggests such charming possibilities beneath it”, a columnist in The Australasian wrote in 1897.

Fashionable or not, some masks were still worn behind closed doors. Enter the most bizarre masked accessory since the vizard: the toilet mask or “face glove”.

Devised by a Madame Rowley in the 1870s-80s, the rubberised full-face covering was advertised as an:

aid to complexion beauty … treated with some medicated preparation … the effects of the mask when worn at night two or three times in the week are described as marvellous.

Advertisements for these precursors to today’s sheet mask beauty treatments contained testimonials from women who claimed to be cured of freckles and wrinkles.

Veils and visors

The advent of the automobile in the early 20th century brought a whole new fashion range into the public arena. Motorists needed protection from weather, dust and fumes, so accessories had to be practical. For women, protection took the fashionable form of coats and face coverings.

Veils and hoods were wrapped around stylish large hats of the day, and fastened under the chin so that the entire face was safely covered.

Advertisements in the early 1920s describe a “complete face mask” for drivers – ostensibly men as the accessory “buttoned to the cap and [is] equipped with an adjustable eye shield against glaring headlights”.

A design for women in 1907 was described as a “window hood”, which completely engulfed the hat beneath and closed with a drawstring around the neck. It had a gauze “window” for the eyes and another smaller opening at the mouth.

By the swinging 1960s, the cultural and sartorial landscape couldn’t have been more different – and yet, masks made an unlikely appearance in “space age” fashion championed by designers such as André Courrèges and Pierre Cardin. Metallic mini dresses and one-piece suits were topped with “space helmets” that left an opening for the entire face or eyes.

More commonly adopted were plastic visors worn separately or as part of a hat, sometimes covering forehead to chin and taking on the appearance of a welders’ shield – or indeed, the face shields worn by health workers today.

Plastic fantastic looks of the sixties.

Sunglasses, a kind of mask in their own right, were taken to the extreme by Courrèges with his infamous solid white shades with only a slit for light. Life described this as a “built-in squint” in 1965 – a design that “dangerously narrows the field of vision”.




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The fashionable history of social distancing


What goes around …

Discussions during the 1918-19 Spanish flu pandemic around whether masks would be a fad, how long they would be required, and how to create your own at home, seem eerily prescient now.

This darkly comic mask from 1918 demonstrates the same wish for ingenuity and levity that exists today:

Man wears white face mask with black skull and cross.
The skulls and cross bones embellishment was a joke, rather than standard issue in 1919.
State Library of NSW/Flickr

Lebanese fashion designer Eric Ritter has sported a similarly macabre aesthetic. He was already thinking and writing about masks on Instagram in January before coronavirus spread around the world …

On growing up without a mask

On being forced to wear a mask

On ecstatically removing a mask

On picking a mask back up

Person in pink hood with decorative face covering
Beirut designer Eric Ritter.
ericmathieuritter/Instagram

In Australia, entertainer Todd McKenney has launched an online marketplace for costume designers to make and sell one-of-a-kind masks directly to the public.

Face masks don’t have to be created by artists, designers or couture fashion houses to make them appealing. But a look through our fashion history shows that ingenuity and humanity have long influenced our face wear – whether for the purposes of allure, space travel or pandemic protection.The Conversation

Lydia Edwards, Fashion historian, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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