Tag Archives: cambridge university press

Recasting American Liberty

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Recasting American Liberty: Gender, Race, Law, and the Railroad Revolution, 1865-1920 by Barbara Young Welke, part of the Cambridge Historical Studies in American Law and Society, from Cambridge University Press.

Barbara Young Welke Recasting American Liberty from Cambridge University Press

In her study of American society between the Civil War and World War I, Barbara Welke points to the statistical tracking of railroad accidents as a paradigmatic instance of the manner in which statistics elicited to visibility the patterns of trouble and accident which motivated adjustments in “the balance between individual autonomy and corporate and state authority.” (8) Governments and corporations increasingly imposed regulations on blameless individuals in order to ensure freedom from injury and suffering. As technology introduced new hazards, and statistics forced their consequences into view, modern Americans found that “safety could not be left to individual choice.” (70)

Welke’s focus on railroads highlights the conjunction of earlier formulations of liberty as mobility (‘free labor’) and expansion (‘free markets’ and ‘free soil’) with new concerns about safety and dependency. She notes the irony of the relatively un-free labor used to construct the railroads themselves, as well as the growing sense that men were dependent on the functions and vulnerable to the mishaps of the great machines that had become essential to families, businesses, and governments stretched out over widening distances. So the notion of ‘free men,’ in a gendered sense, was also undergoing a certain erosion. In her analysis of railroad accident liability cases, Welke points out the salience of gender: men were expected to be responsible self-custodians, while women’s presumed helplessness exempted them from blame and entitled them to more solicitous care. Although these gender distinctions were deployed in the courtroom, they were often effaced in the legal treatises derived from court judgments, and the net effect was to legitimize a ‘feminine’ sense of dependency and lack of freedom for male plaintiffs in such cases. Modern technology had made the language of injury and the identity of victim equally available regardless of class, race, or gender.

None of which is to say that gender regimentation had been overcome in any wider sense. In fact, the railways provided perfectly clear instances of differentiated treatment for women and men. Trains were provided with “ladies’ cars” available only to women and their companions, and “smoking cars” which were the province of men. The Supreme Court upheld that women could be banned by law from certain occupations. In general, women were still not regarded as ‘free.’

Nor had Radical Reconstruction succeeded in establishing an egalitarian relationship between races. White supremacists had organized successfully in the South, and created new systems racial of discrimination and segregation to constrain black freedom under the rubric of Jim Crow. Again, train travel affords signal examples conditioned by the most modernizing circumstances of the day. Leveraging the idea of gender-segregated passenger compartments (blacks of any sex had never been welcome in the ladies’ cars) railways established segregated seating for black and white passengers that was a pioneering instance of the ‘separate but equal’ formula which would be the hallmark of Jim Crow. Racial conflicts provided the basis for train operators to safeguard the ‘liberty’ of passengers to travel, through the instrument of regulations that had the effect of preserving white status against the freedom of blacks.

Welke’s book is a significant achievement of historical writing. She breathes juicy narrative life into a carefully-researched history that has digested the dry data of statistical and legal sources, to give us a better idea of the historical changes of the American past, with respect to issues that still concern us today. [via]

Ten Books of Architecture

Vitruvius: ‘Ten Books on Architecture’, edited by Ingrid D Rowland and Thomas Noble Howe, from Cambridge University Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Vitruvius Ingrid D Rowland Thomas Noble Howe Ten Books on Architecture from Cambridge University Press

“The only full treatise on architecture and its related arts to survive from classical antiquity, De Architechtura libri decem (Ten Books on Architecture) is the single most important work of architectural history in the Western world, having shaped humanist architecture and the image of the architect from the Renaissance to the present. Extremely influential in the formation of the medieval and modern concept of a broad liberal education as the basis for responsible professionals, this work is remarkable also because over half of its content deals with aspects of Hellenistic art, science and technology, music theory, law, artillery, siege machinery, proportion, and philosophy, among other topics.

The new, critical edition of Vitruvius’s Ten Books on Architecture is the first to be published for an English-language audience in more than half a century. Expressing the range of Vitruvius’s style, the translation, along with the critical commentary and illustrations, aim to shape a new image of Vitruvius who emerges as an inventive and creative thinker, rather than the normative summarizer, as he was characterized in the Middle Ages and Renaissance.” — back cover

Reformist Apocalypticism and Piers Plowman

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Reformist Apocalypticism and Piers Plowman by Kathryn Kerby-Fulton, part of the Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature series, from Cambridge University Press.

Kathryn Kerby-Fulton Reformist Apocalypticism and Piers Plowman from Cambridge University Press

This monograph positions Langland and Piers Plowman in the context of traditions of apocalyptic literature that begin in antiquity, but are subject to significant developments in the high medieval period. Kerby-Fulton points out that previous obstacles to such a study include the tendency to view Langland as a literary author working in the secular dream vision form, and the fact that prior to Langland the genre of reformist prophecy did not appear in the Middle English vernacular. Therefore, there had not been a sustained effort to view Piers as a product of this principally Latin tradition. She positions herself in opposition to Rosemary Woolf, who called various features of Piers Plowman “non-medieval.” Kerby-Fulton contends that the Latin religious literature of medieval England provided ample precedents for such supposed innovations as autobiographical details regarding the dreamer, his variable participation in dream-events, compressed and convoluted allegorical constructions, the lack of visual elements in describing certain visions, and dreamlike scenic shifts (129). She also contradicts Morton Bloomfield’s assertions that narrative irony, absence of a single tutelary figure, and the use of personifications are inconsistent with standard features of apocalyptic literature (95). Using a pair of pre-medieval apocalypses that were popular in medieval England (The Shepherd of Hermas and The Apocalypse of Esdras), Kerby-Fulton demonstrates that these aspects of Piers Plowman are actually consistent with apocalyptic technique. She also addresses the dilemma of dividing visionary writings between “real” autobiographical religious visions and fictional dream visions, concluding that the genre of apocalypse is a tertium quid worth distinguishing (117-120).

By “reformist” apocalypticism, Kerby-Fulton means to indicate those works in which progressive reform or change for the better was an element in apocalyptic prophecy. Such texts constitute a decided minority of medieval prophetic writings. The two major figures of medieval prophecy who loom over the tradition of reformist apocalypticism are Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) and Joachim of Fiore (1135-1202). Kerby-Fulton points out that these two represent very different styles of prophetic authorship: Hildegard is visionary and Joachim is exegetical. Neither of them had a simple or direct reception in 13th century England. As a result, their influence on Langland needs to be seen as mediated through works like Gebeno of Eberbach’s anthology of Hildegardian prophecy Speculum futurorum temporum sive Pentachron, and various Joachimist writers and pseudo-Joachite texts. Even so, Kerby-Fulton concedes the speculative element in tracing these influences, which were certainly available to Langland, but are attested as relevant only through their apparent perpetuation in Piers Plowman.

Besides their shared reformist elements, a significant similarity between Hildegard’s prophecy and Langland’s visionary writing is what Kerby-Fulton designates with a term from H. Liebeschütz as “monkish autobiography.” The two major features of this category are self-deprecation and concern for the role of study and intellect (Langland’s ‘Clergie’) in the life of the autobiographer (71). (Augustine’s Confessions provides the archetype of the genre.)

Langland signals participation in the Joachite tradition of prophetic writing first and foremost through his concern with the mendicant orders, since the dissemination of Joachite prophecy in northern Europe was largely performed by Franciscans and their opponents. While no reader is likely to mistake Langland as a cheerleader for the friars, Kerby-Fulton points out that Piers Plowman does not show him to be a typical anti-mendicant either. She acknowledges that Langland’s reformism was unmistakably influenced by the anti-mendicant prophecy of William of St. Amour at the University of Paris in the mid-13th century. But she says “Langland shows little in common ideologically with” later anti-mendicant polemicists like Archbishop FitzRalph (153). Langland was not concerned to champion the secular clergy or the endowed regulars against the mendicants, and he admired the ideals of the friars, while deploring their failure to realize those ideals.

Other Joachite thematic considerations in Piers Plowman include “the concern with distinguishing false apostles, a sense of crisis of leadership, a preoccupation with clerical poverty and the need for repristination through (often) violence and disendowment and, finally, the attempt to periodize history, both past and future.” (172)

Kerby-Fulton rejects earlier attempts to draw a parallel between the Joachimite Trinitarian scheme of past and future history and the triad of Dowell, Dobet and Dobest. But she does propose some Joachite readings of Piers Plowman. The first focuses on the figure of Piers, and suggests that he moves from the “ordo conjugatorum” to the “ordo clericorum” (with intimations of the “ordo eremitarum” in a reenactment of Joachim’s model of spiritual leadership (166). The second reading proposes that the Visio represents the first ‘age’ (under the Father), and the Vita is then the second (under the Son), leaving the third to follow after the catastrophic conflict with Antichrist in the final passus (167). She also points out the similarity of Langland’s historical scheme to that of the Joachite Franciscan Peter John Olivi, who both see the Donation of Constantine as a corruption of the Church, and anticipate “an immanent persecution of the clergy by a type of antichristus mysticus which will herald not the End of the World, but a new age of reform.” (174) [via]

Esotericism and the Academy

Esotericism and the Academy: Rejected Knowledge in Western Culture by Wouter J Hanegraaff, from Cambridge University Press, previously only available as a 2012 hardcover, is due to release as a paperback tomorrow, March 6th, 2014.

Wouter J Hanegraaff Esotericism and the Academy from Cambridge University Press

“Academics tend to look on ‘esoteric’, ‘occult’ or ‘magical’ beliefs with contempt, but are usually ignorant about the religious and philosophical traditions to which these terms refer, or their relevance to intellectual history. Wouter Hanegraaff tells the neglected story of how intellectuals since the Renaissance have tried to come to terms with a cluster of ‘pagan’ ideas from late antiquity that challenged the foundations of biblical religion and Greek rationality. Expelled from the academy on the basis of Protestant and Enlightenment polemics, these traditions have come to be perceived as the Other by which academics define their identity to the present day. Hanegraaff grounds his discussion in a meticulous study of primary and secondary sources, taking the reader on an exciting intellectual voyage from the fifteenth century to the present day and asking what implications the forgotten history of exclusion has for established textbook narratives of religion, philosophy and science.” [via]

The Origins of Freemasonry

The Origins of Freemasonry: Scotland’s century, 1590–1710 by David Stevenson, a 2001 reprint of the 1990 first paperback edition from Cambridge University Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

David Stevenson The Origins of Freemasonry from Cambridge University Press

“Freemasonry has always been a highly controversial movement. Yet inspite of the vast literature which has been produced on the subject its origins have remained obscure. The prevailing assumption has been that it emerged in England around 1700, but most of the evidence used to support this interpretation turns out on examination to relate to Scotland.

The Origins of Freemasonry represents the first attempt to study this evidence in the context of Scottish history. By doing this, and examining much new evidence in the records of early Scottish lodges, David Stevenson demonstrates that the real origins of the essential modern freemasonry lie in Scotland around 1600, when the system of lodges was created by stonemasons with rituals and secrets blending medieval mythology with a number of late Renaissance intellectual influences to create a movement which was to spread through England, across Europe and then around the world. The story of the emergence of this movement will be of interest to scholars of the Renaissance and of seventeenth-century history in general, to freemasons themselves, and to those seeking to understand the true nature of a movement which arouses considerable controversy.” — back cover


The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.

The Book of Memory

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Book of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture (Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature) by Mary Carruthers from Cambridge University Press:

Mary Carruthers' The Book of Memory from Cambridge University Press


This volume is an elegant and intricate study of the medieval understanding of the educated memory, addressing the pedagogy of memory, theory of memory, nature of mnemonic technique, and cultural value assigned to memory. “For this book can be read in at least two ways: as a history of a basic and greatly influential practice of medieval pedagogy, and as a reflection on the psychological and social value of the institution of memoria itself, which is in many ways the same as the institution of literature,” writes Carruthers.

The book is an explicitly “cultural” history, stressing continuity over change. It draws on an almost bewilderingly wide variety of elite sources throughout the medieval (and late classical) period. Carruthers chose not to highlight the Neoplatonist/Aristotelian intellectual divide in medieval thought, maintaining that memoria is a matter of praxis rather than doxos, and one that was equally pertinent and similarly approached on both sides of the doctrinal coin.

Carruthers’ unavoidable predecessor in the study of the education of memory is Frances Yates (The Art of Memory, et al.), and key fellow medievalists are Brian Stock and Jean Leclercq.

She advances a distinction between textualist (interpretational) and fundamentalist (anti-interpretational) cultural perspectives, as well as a contrast between mechanical mental recall and recollection/reminiscence. She also draws a useful line between heuristic and hermeneutic processes.

She succeeds admirably in her effort to demonstrate the collaborative relationship of literacy and memory in medieval culture, and the emphasis on memory as reflecting the value of rhetoric. Although I have made more use of its successor volume The Craft of Thought in my researches, The Book of Memory is one of a small handful of books that persuaded me to become a medievalist. [via]



The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.