Tag Archives: culture

Witches, Charms & Rituals: Top Titles With Spirit For Your Halloween List

Trick or treat? That depends on your reading list…

This week, we’re counting down to Halloween with spirited titles on everything from ghosts to witchcraft to Canadian horror films. We’ve rounded up some of our favourites – just in case you want a couple of treats for your shelf.

Ghostly Landscapes: Film, Photography, and the Aesthetics of Haunting in Contemporary Spanish Culture

“To speak of ghosts is to always speak of a loss that returns. Loss can tell us something not only about the distant past but also how we live in the present and imagine the future.”

Revisit twentieth-century Spanish history through the camera lens. Ghostly Landscapes reveals how haunting serves to mourn loss, redefine space and history, and confirm the significance of lives and stories previously hidden or erased. A significant re-evaluation of fascist and post-fascist Spanish visual culture from Patricia Keller.

The Canadian Horror Film: Terrors of the Soul

Welcome to a wasteland of docile damnation and prosaic pestilence where savage beasts and mad scientists rub elbows with pasty suburbanites, grumpy seamen, and baby-faced porn stars.

Highlighting more than a century of Canadian horror filmmaking, The Canadian Horror Film offers a series of thought-provoking reflections that promises to guide both scholars and enthusiasts alike. Unearth the terrors hidden in the recesses of the Canadian psyche from editors Gina Freitag and André Loiselle.

Magic in Medieval Manuscripts

Exploring the place of magic in the medieval world through an exploration of images and texts in British Library manuscripts, Sophie Page reveals a fascination with the points of contact between this and the celestial and infernal realms. Find magicians, wisewomen, witches, charms, and rituals in Magic in Medieval Manuscripts.

Ghostly Paradoxes: Modern Spiritualism and Russian Culture in the Age of Realism

“The spiritualist trend played a significant role in the ideological and social life of the realist age. The reality of the soul was a major issue of the time. Physicists, physiologists, theologians, mystics, and, of course, writers all took part in this debate.”

Surprisingly, nineteenth-century Russia was consumed with a passion for activities such as séances and summoning the spirits. Ghostly Paradoxes examines the relationship between spiritualist beliefs and the mindset of the Russian Age of Realism. Newly released in paperback – now that’s a treat!

Awful Parenthesis: Suspension and the Sublime in Romantic and Victorian Poetry

“Suspension rejects the impulse to cling to the known and the knowable.”

Whether the rapt trances of Romanticism or the corpse-like figures that confounded Victorian science and religion, Awful Parenthesis reveals that depictions of bodies in suspended animation are a response to an expanding, incoherent world in crisis. Examining various aesthetics of suspension in the works of poets such as Coleridge, Shelley, Tennyson, and Christina Rossetti, Anne McCarthy shares important insights into the nineteenth-century fascination with the sublime.

European Magic and Witchcraft: A Reader

“Those who have picked up this book are about to fly through a mirror, back through time, and look down upon an unfamiliar terrain.”

What’s really behind our fascination with magic and witchcraft? Editor Martha Rampton demonstrates how understandings of magic changed over time, and how these were influenced by factors such as religion, science, and law. By engaging with a full spectrum of source types, learn how magic was understood through the medieval and early modern eras.

Astrology in Medieval Manuscripts 

Medieval astrologers, though sometimes feared to be magicians in league with demons, were usually revered by scholars whose ideas and practices were widely respected. Explore the dazzling complexity of western astrology and its place in society, as revealed by a wealth of illustrated manuscripts from the British Library’s rich medieval collections.

 

Turkey, Tradition, and the National Fabric: An Excerpt on the Origins of Canadian Thanksgiving

The air is cooling, scarves are knotting, and across the country Canadians will gather ‘round autumnal tables for their annual Thanksgiving dinner. And though some Canucks may be deciding on a side dish and how to skirt political debate, there’s another question on many minds:

What exactly are we doing here? 

While the American Thanksgiving is steeped in nationalism, ritual, and history, the origins of the Canadian version are a little less clear, with few of us actually knowing where the holiday comes from. If this makes you feel mildly guilty, focus that energy on your cranberry sauce instead. We’ve got you covered with the context you’ll need to impress your guests this Thanksgiving weekend.

For answers, we turned to Celebrating Canada: Holidays, National Days, and the Crafting of Identities, from editors Matthew Hayday and Raymond B. Blake. From the pages of Peter Stevens’s essay on where it all began – think church, Brits, and our neighbours to the south – learn how Thanksgiving was always meant to be a day to celebrate being Canadian.


Excerpt from “‘Righteousness Exalteth the Nation’: Religion, Nationalism, and Thanksgiving Day in Ontario, 1859–1914”, by Peter A. Stevens 

In the United states of America, few annual events stir the national imagination as thoroughly as Thanksgiving Day. The holiday’s rituals and symbols harken back to the nation’s founding fathers, evoking images of pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock and sharing a harvest feast with the surrounding Native peoples in 1621. The myth of this first Thanksgiving, which is a staple in the education of every American schoolchild, informs U.S. citizens that their country is a land of opportunity and new beginnings, a place of piety, abundance, and inclusivity. Other Thanksgiving customs uphold family, consumerism, and competition as core American values. The holiday is a favourite occasion for get-togethers with friends and relatives, with festivities revolving around turkey dinners, Santa Claus parades, and football games, all unfolding against the backdrop of autumn leaves and newly gathered crops. Scholars have parsed American Thanksgiving in considerable detail, and there is a lively debate over which Thanksgiving traditions are rooted in historical fact and which are based in fiction. What is beyond dispute, however, is the overtly nationalistic character of the day.

In the Canadian context, by contrast, Thanksgiving Day is surrounded by ambiguity. Media reports regularly express doubts about the meaning and purpose of the holiday, while Canadians themselves often seem unsure about how their Thanksgiving differs from the American one, and why the two holidays do not share the same date. Thus far, scholars have offered few answers to these questions, as academic treatments of Canadian Thanksgiving are scarce, speculative, and limited in their analysis. Significantly, these works downplay the holiday’s importance as a patriotic celebration, making only passing reference to a “subtle influence of Canadian nationalism” that is evident on Thanksgiving Day. This chapter cannot relate the entire the history of Canadian Thanksgiving, but it does take up the beginning of the story by examining the origins of the holiday in late-nineteenth-century Ontario. In doing so, it reveals that Canadian Thanksgiving initially had a nationalistic focus that it since has largely lost. In the minds of the men who first developed the holiday, Thanksgiving was intended to be a day for celebrating Canada.

The existing literature on national public holidays in North America raises several points that help to illuminate the specific history of Thanksgiving Day in Canada. First, while public holidays often appear to be age-old celebrations that emerged organically out of the national fabric, they are actually examples of invented traditions. According to Eric Hobsbawm, an invented tradition is “a set of practices, normally governed by overtly or tacitly accepted rules and of a ritual or symbolic nature, which seek to inculcate certain values and norms of behaviour by repetition, which automatically implies continuity with the past.” Holidays, as annual events that are steeped in ritual, constitute a powerful form of invented tradition, for while they seem to be neutral and apolitical, they are actually compelling advertisements for the world views of those who shape and promote them.

Second, public holidays often serve as important tools of nation building. Holiday customs and iconography give members of a population a sense of a shared past and subtly inform them about who they are as a people. By reinforcing messages about common values and experiences, holidays thus encourage individual citizens to imagine themselves as being members of the same political community, or nation. This is not to suggest that the meanings of holidays are static, however. Because holidays are such potent expressions of national beliefs, ambitions, and identity, they become temporal battlegrounds in the cultural contests between different interest groups. Holidays are contested terrain, and their meanings can change over time as they are controlled and influenced by groups that have competing visions for the nation.

Where Canadian Thanksgiving is concerned, the figures who were most responsible for establishing the celebration on an annual basis were Protestant clergymen in Ontario. Their interest in the holiday was primarily a response to two great challenges that faced them, as Canadian church leaders, beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century. Particularly after Confederation, ministers felt a moral and historical obligation to chart Canada’s course. At the very moment that preachers most sensed a call to lead their country, however, global intellectual developments issued challenges to Christianity so fundamental that they threatened to dissolve many Christians’ faith. The American Thanksgiving holiday revealed to church leaders a means by which they could restore Canadians’ confidence in Christianity and secure their own positions at the helm of the young country.

Ontario clergymen did not simply duplicate the American Thanksgiving festival, which by the 1860s had evolved into a national public holiday. Rather, they recast Thanksgiving as a predominantly religious event and naturalized the holiday by steeping it in Canadian nationalism. Ontarians responded positively to this mix of Protestantism and patriotism, and ministers successfully instituted Thanksgiving as an annual holiday in Ontario. Once Thanksgiving became a yearly event, however, other cultural interest groups increasingly challenged Protestants’ holiday hegemony. As a result of these challenges, the Thanksgiving that Ontarians marked on the eve of the Great War was little like the holiday that clergymen had established several decades earlier. Yet, one aspect of the holiday remained unchanged: its nationalist content. Although Thanksgiving acquired many new meanings and customs, it remained throughout the Victorian period a day for Ontarians to celebrate their status as Canadians.

The early history of Thanksgiving Day in Ontario contributes to discussions of religion in late-nineteenth-century Canada by highlighting the prominent but waning influence of Protestant church leaders within the public sphere. It also complicates our understanding of Canadian patriotism during this critical period in the country’s history. In particular, the origins of Canadian Thanksgiving demonstrate the complex and sometimes contradictory ways that citizens of the new dominion sought to define themselves in relation to both Great Britain and the United states. In this respect, Thanksgiving Day had much in common with Dominion Day, Empire Day, and other public celebrations of the era, which likewise sought to define Canadian identity in reference to both Britain and the United States.

Read Stevens’s full article in Celebrating Canada: Holidays, National Days, and the Crafting of Identities.

 

Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food, Second Edition

Feast on this! We have just published a gorgeous new edition of Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food, with a full-colour interior and a range of new features for students and instructors. In this blog post, the author, Gillian Crowther, provides background on how the book has changed from the first to the second edition and on some of the important issues raised in its pages. We highly recommend this book not only as a textbook but as a fascinating introduction to thinking about food and culture in very different ways!

Over the last few years we have heard a lot about avocados; entertained the consumption of all things charcoal; experimented with chickpea pancakes and aquafaba; worried about palm oil, plastic packaging, weighed-up sugar taxes; warmed to the wonders of fermentation; watched hands-and-pans videos; and have learned (despite IKEA’s claim) that meatballs are actually Turkish! Each day brings a new food story, and the challenge for anyone teaching the anthropology of food is to provide an approach that can accommodate the dynamic nature of our collective food culture. The opportunity, then, to dish up another serving of Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food was enticing. It has allowed me to modify its recipe, mix in some new ingredients, and rearrange the existing core to improve the original textures and tastes, and to keep it relevant.

The book still incorporates an emphasis on listening to public food discourses to understand local food culture—the nutritional, culinary, gastronomic, and sustainable meanings and values surrounding avocados, charcoal, and meatballs, for instance. The basic structure remains the same, moving from our nutrient needs, global patterns of food acquisition, cooking, and commensality, towards contemporary social, economic, and political realities. Ethnographic examples continue to explore the similarities and differences of our relationships with food, to address varied cosmological ideas and the identity-work of gender, age, class, and ethnicity, while considering the dynamics of power and authority manifest in the control of food. The materiality of food, and our embodied experiences of cooking and eating, are also persistent themes extending into the new edition.

Each chapter, however, has been refined, and some substantially re-written, to more clearly address an anthropological framework for making sense of our global food system. More specifically, the discussion of the globalization of food production, distribution, and consumption has been reworked and updated. It now includes the work of the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization to explore how top-down global models intersect with grassroots food security, sovereignty, and activism. Consequently, the global gastro-anomie chapter is now organized around specific food challenges—famine, climate change, and non-communicable diseases—and the gastro-politics of varied solutions concerning quantity, quality, and access to food are assessed. These serious realities are balanced by recognition of the satisfaction and pleasure that are gained from food, its creative potential, and its eminently social capacities. Each chapter is accompanied by some suggested further readings drawn from the work of current food scholars, which can be useful as course supplements or student assignments.

The new edition remains structured around the conceptual frame of cuisine as a significant facet of everyday culture, deeply tied to personal and group identity, and memory-making. The book’s case studies, from Britain, Guatemala, France, India, and the United States, among other locales, serve to contextualize cuisines in the wider historical, social, economic, and political processes of everyday life. These model the questions food anthropologists pose and the sources of evidence studied, and serve as comparison points against which the reader’s own cuisine can be brought into focus. To facilitate a process of self-reflection, this edition includes new experiential learning assignments to accentuate the “guide” quality of the text. There are two types of practical exercises, which focus on specific foods and related fieldwork activities. These were designed to make classes interactive and to bring food into the room without the logistics of food safety! Each applies the frame of social anthropology to interrogate the values and meanings that shape everyday food activities, environmental and social relationships, and our sense of identity.

“Pondering a Foodstuff” boxes focus on particular foods, ranging from raw ingredients such as sugar, fat, and meat, to specific cooked dishes like pies and chocolates, for instance. These are served as tastes of the research possibilities that surround any food and illustrate how embedded food is in the social fabric of any cultural context. Toward this end, the book moves Malinowski’s “imponderabilia of actual life” into the twenty-first century, making methodological use of the Instagram-able quality of food and our fondness for smartphone photography. The photographs, now in full colour, model the anthropological lens, framing our everyday food encounters as worthy of study. These practical boxes encourage photographic scavenger hunts, which sharpen observational skills, and prompt anthropological questions based on each chapter’s terms and themes. While images cannot replace the materiality of food, they certainly cut down on classroom messiness and foster productive chat-‘n-chew teachable moments. For instance, the images can facilitate an interrogation of a food’s material substance, allowing its objective, sensorially assessed physical properties to be recalled and considered as cues for handling, processing, cooking, and eating. A picture can easily trigger sensory memories and start the conversation about how meanings and values are assigned to food, transforming its properties into sought after or avoided qualities. Furthermore, the range of food images, from fruit to meat, opens the door to debates about health and ethical choices, the pleasures of gastronomy and commensality, and grave sustainability issues surrounding global food patterns.

“Foodscape Grounded” boxes, on the other hand, provide specific, self-guided, out-and-about activities to bring another practical engagement with the book’s content. Included are an exploration of food labels, supermarket and farmer’s market fieldtrips, an assessment of food security using the four pillars approach, and a guide to restaurant reviews. These cultivate an awareness of the global food system’s reach, bringing home the global ramifications of our eating practices and directly tapping into students’ engagement with public food discourses as part of classroom discussions. Furthermore, the experiential activities are a powerful reminder of the important concept of embodiment, which is particularly relevant to the anthropology of food. For instance, cooking is an embodied skill, calling upon the cook to manipulate foods, to engage with its materiality, and to perform patterned tasks to make something to eat. The “Chaîne Opératoire” exercise asks for a step-by-step account of the bodily and cognitive skills and knowledge required to transform raw ingredients into a cooked dish. It makes apparent how culture is written into physical experiences, including the sensory engagement with food.

As a teaching tool, Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food dishes up an anthropological perspective that invites students to apply its ideas through testing, sampling, and discussion, and to formulate an understanding of their local food culture. It encourages students to regard their recent food experiences as valuable, meaningful, relevant, and worthy—the stuff of anthropological research. It also emphasizes that wherever anthropologists conduct fieldwork, we engage with the everyday lives of ordinary people—just like our students, and their ideas, behaviours, and experiences are what constitute culture, everywhere.

Gillian Crowther is Professor of Anthropology at Capilano University in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Why the Renaissance Matters

To mark the publication of the new edition of her classic textbook, A Short History of the Renaissance in Europe, Margaret L. King discusses why this time period holds so much interest and why studying it is important.

Short History of the Renaissance in EuropeThe Renaissance—which means “rebirth,” “renewal,” or “revival,” and comes very close as well to “enlightenment,” “illumination,” and even “transfiguration”—still matters because its opposite is death. As the term “renaissance” has most often been applied to human civilization, its absence means the stagnation, decay, diminution, and finally the death of civilization. We cannot live as human beings—for humans alone create culture, which broadly shared and aggregated constitutes civilization—if we do not periodically experience a “renaissance,” which is to say, if we are not periodically reborn.

In this we are like and unlike trees and flowers and all vegetation. They die and are reborn each spring. The trees whose lives flamed forth and died the previous autumn leaf out again in vivid green in the spring. Flowers die and bloom again on the same shrub, or from seeds or bulbs generated by living plants in which are stored the ingredients for their later rebirth.

But while plants die and are reborn annually, human civilizations follow no such regular pattern. They flourish and grow for centuries, building on past achievements, until at some point—because of political failure or natural disaster or some internal inadequacy—they falter and weaken, perhaps continuing for centuries more, until they either undergo a renaissance, or die.

Western civilization has undergone such deaths of civilization, or near-deaths. Two great “dark ages” come to mind. The first prevailed following a time of troubles in the eastern Mediterranean region around 1200 BCE, when the Mycenaean civilization that had taken root in Greece languished. Reading and writing were lost, artistic creativity atrophied, and political and economic systems failed. The second, not quite so bleak, occurred as the Roman Empire in western Europe withered away, leaving in its wake a deracinated rural warrior elite, an impoverished peasantry, massive economic deflation, broken communications, and chronic crime and disorder, amid which the not-yet-mature institutions of the new Christian churches supplied the main principle of organization.

Equally, Western civilization has experienced many episodes of “renaissance”: the Carolingian Renaissance of the ninth century, the Ottonian Renaissance of the tenth, the Macedonian (Byzantine) Renaissance of the tenth to eleventh; and before these, the uniquely creative Athenian civilization of the fifth and fourth centuries BCE and that of Rome of the last republican and first imperial centuries (first century BCE–first century CE); and such later, localized occurrences could be added as the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s.

But the Renaissance of the fourteenth to seventeenth centuries is unsurpassed. It recovered nearly the whole corpus of ancient Greek and Latin thought by editing, translating, commenting upon, and in some cases discovering previously unknown texts. It developed the genres of the oration, the dialogue, the letter, the treatise, and more, in which scholars expert in the classical tradition brought their learning to bear on contemporary culture and society. It refined techniques of book production and put them to work as soon as print technology was sufficiently developed to publish, first, the works of antiquity in their original languages and in modern translations, and second, in due course, the original works of contemporaries on a vast array of issues. It developed an educational system grounded in classical learning that was adopted throughout Europe and prevailed through the nineteenth century. It developed the main genres and themes of modern Western literature, including the forms of lyric poetry, drama, epic, and romance. It experimented with new techniques and themes in the visual arts, filling churches, palaces, and the homes of the well-off with splendid works of art that today, mostly removed to museums, attract visitors in multitudes from all over the globe. It created the theater, dance, and music that would flourish in centuries to come, stepping out of courts, cathedrals, and public squares to fill the concert halls and opera houses of the modern world.

Interestingly, a matter that has confused and irritated many historians, the Renaissance did not drive political, economic, and social change, but was, instead, its consequence. The era of dynamic change was earlier: the twelfth through early fourteenth centuries, when it was cut short by the terrible Black Death, a mass epidemic that struck Europe in 1347-1352 and then recurred sporadically over the next three hundred years and more. Those changes laid the ground for the arrival of the Renaissance. And on the foundation of the same political and economic dynamism, its surge of intellectual and artistic culture further powered, nearly two centuries after it began, religious change and reformation, a new cosmology that reshaped the boundaries of consciousness, and imperial expansion westward across the Atlantic and eastward to the ancient civilizations of Asia. These were the foundations of the modern world system. Every one of them was rooted in Renaissance innovations in thought, religion, and political and economic systems.

Those innovations, ironically, while they powerfully shaped the modern era that lay ahead, were all rooted in cultural achievements long since left behind. To create them required looking backward, energetically and profoundly, to understand and appropriate Greek and Roman civilization that had dwindled and fallen long before, and to integrate once again those ancient perspectives with the Christian thought of the intervening millennium. All human creation involves imitation—the study, replication, and further development of inherited texts and artifacts. To move forward necessitates looking backward. New generations must recapture the intellectual, moral, literary, philosophical, and artistic legacy of the past, enhance it, and then transmit it to generations to come.

Are we in a Renaissance now? Do the enormous progress in electronic communications, the development of alternate energy technologies, and recent gains in the exploration of space point to a new surge of human creativity? Or to the rebound from the horrors of twentieth-century wars and the dismantling of colonial empires? These are all impressive achievements. But there are grounds for skepticism. The Internet, while it offers great opportunities, also encourages the illusion that knowledge—let alone wisdom—can be acquired instantly, as so much is available at the click of a mouse, though often unvetted, anonymous, and error-laden. Our college curricula, outside of the fields of economics, science, and technology, have been disastrously diminished and our elementary and secondary systems of education, in the US, are a shambles. We shall see; we shall not know for sure for many years, perhaps for centuries. The outlines of large movements in the development of civilizations are not reliably apparent to those who live within them.

Certainly a new integration is needed, for this generation, of what we now know and our cultural legacy. Renaissances matter. And we could use another one, right now.

-Margaret L. King, Brooklyn College, City University of New York

Excerpt: Language Change and Loss

Through the Lens of AnthropologyIn the third of a series of four excerpts, all leading up to the publication of Through the Lens of Anthropology: An Introduction to Human Evolution and Culture by Robert J. Muckle and Laura Tubelle de González, we would like to explore language change and extinction, as well as recent digital efforts to help save endangered languages.

Through the Lens of Anthropology is an introductory four-field textbook with a fresh perspective, a lively narrative, and plenty of popular topics that are sure to engage students. The following excerpt is taken from Chapter 9: Language and Culture. If you have ever wondered how many languages are currently spoken in the world, and how many of those are considered to be “in danger” of extinction, this excerpt is worth a read.

Download the excerpt here.

Note: If you are scheduled to teach an introductory anthropology course, please email requests@utphighereducation.com to request an examination copy of Through the Lens of Anthropology. This is a textbook that is interesting to read, manageable to teach, and that succeeds at igniting interest in anthropology as a discipline. We would be more than happy to give you the opportunity to review it for yourself!