“Children of devils or Spirits”: History in the Media

rueffHistory is hot property: it’s on TV and in the news constantly, and even where the focus might not be rigorously academic it’s important to step out of the ivory tower and both understand how history inspires and inform how it is used.

Most recently, a friend spied this piece in the Daily Telegraph and made a cutting for me, since the document whose sale the news story reports is of real relevance to my particular historical interests. I can’t now find it online, but here’s the full text:

Devils and Potions: tips for childbirth in 17th century

A rare 17th century book on childbirth, which has a chapter dedicated to whether it is possible to conceive “children of devils or spirits”, has gone up for auction.

Written by a surgeon James Rueff, the volume is expected to fetch up to £4,000 when it goes under the hammer in Dorchester next month. Published in 1637, it includes primitive diagrams of the reproductive system and babies in the womb together with recipes for potions that could be used to assist child bearing.

Human dissection was forbidden by the Church in the medieval period and theories of anatomy were wide and varied.

Points worth noting: the article may be seen to imply that the medieval period and 1637 were rather close together, which of course they were not; ‘primitive’ is a pejorative term we should avoid; and one hopes that, whoever has the £4,000 to spare takes their responsibility to the document’s preservation seriously. Of course, we can all read the volume via Early English Books Online, to which students and staff at Gloucestershire have access: here’s the link to the digital edition.

When you start looking for history, it’s everywhere – and this year we’re going to try and keep an eye out on this blog. Join in – comment with your finds and thoughts!

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