It may be a little too late for the Halloween season but if you’ve got a horror fan on your holiday gift list, Roger Luckhurst’s Zombies: A Cultural History (Reaktion Books, 2015) would make a perfect present! (Although you might want to ditch the atrocious dust jacket first.)
Luckhurst starts with the zombi as an element of Caribbean — more particularly, Haitian — folklore before the twentieth century, touching on the activities of American anthropologists including Zora Neale Hurston, and ends with a brief discussion of the current popularity of the zombie in productions like The Walking Dead and the Resident Evil film and game franchise. In between, Luckhurst discusses the rise of the zombie in the pulps of the ‘20s and ‘30s and the lasting influence of George Romero’s shoestring production The Night of the Living Dead. The text is liberally illustrated and Luckhurst’s notes should provide any interested reader with plenty of additional reading. Continue reading “Book Review: Zombies”
Review by Boglarka Kiss
In Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires: The History of Corpse Medicine from the Renaissance to the Victorians (Routledge, 2011) Richard Sugg, an expert in the fields of medical history and literature based at Durham University, investigates a previously unexplored facet of medical history. The word “corpse medicine” might trigger associations of well-known accounts of bodysnatchers providing surgeons with much-needed cadavers to perform autopsies on, but as the term “medical cannibalism” reveals, the scope of Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires is much more specific, as Sugg focuses on instances of what he defines as “cannibalism” for medicinal purposes. As such, Sugg’s study not only represents a significant contribution to our understanding of medical history, but it also provides a “revision of the history of one of our deepest taboos” (3) by looking at how, from the age of the Renaissance to the Victorian era, European medicine deployed the systematic consumption of various human body parts, organs and bodily fluids in its attempt to reinstate health.
Apart from offering a highly extensive overview of how various body parts and cadavers were acquired, processed and used for medical treatment in Europe from the Middle Ages to the eighteenth century, Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires offers a revelatory criticism of the discourse of cannibalism itself. Sugg highlights that the practice of “medical cannibalism” was the most prevalent and accepted when stories of “New World” cannibalism caused the greatest outcry in the “Old World.” Significantly, Sugg shows how the very discourse of cannibalism and by extension, barbarism functioned as a “potent form of colonial propaganda” (4) and was used as a justification for colonialism: “once labelled [as cannibals], and effectively dehumanised, tribal peoples in the Americas, Africa and Australasia could be ‘legitimately’ civilised, colonised, or outrightly destroyed” (113). One of the greatest merits of the book is that it reveals that the society which condemned forms of cannibalism as savage and uncivilised, was engaged in a practice which was quite similar, albeit in a medical framework, and that the two customs overlapped not only in time, but sometimes in their logic as well. Sugg claims that “at the broadest level of religious politics, Protestant–Catholic relations in the mid-sixteenth century mirror the psychology of exo-cannibalism with uncanny precision. The implicit message of cannibal violence was this: we deny your identity; we deny your reality as human beings; and we will prove this by the way in which we treat you” (129). By pointing out this paradox, Sugg calls our attention to the fact that the discourse of cannibalism as savagery was systematically used to other, marginalise and ultimately exploit non-European communities. Continue reading “Book Review: Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires”
Feminist and women’s rights activists, like queer activists, have long had an uneasy relationship with the male-dominated fields of scientific inquiry. Evolutionary theories, the science of sex difference, and more recently the field of evolutionary psychology, have all been wielded as proof positive of innate disparities between women and men, used to support arguments against women in higher education, in the workplace, in politics, and more. However, a less-examined parallel history also exists: one in which scientists — many of them women — have used scientific methods and evidence to advance the case for women’s rights. It is one chapter in this history that Kimberly Hamlin seeks to tell in From Eve to Evolution: Darwin, Science, and Women’s Rights in Gilded Age America (University of Chicago, 2014).
During the fifty years following the American civil war, there was an explosion of popular interest in scientific inquiry in America, including the popularization of Darwinian theories of evolution (Origin of Species was published in 1859). In Gilded Age America, evolutionary theories competed with, and at times displaced, the dominant Christian, Bible-based explanations of human nature and society. Racial and sexual differences were increasingly explained not through the language of God’s will but rather in terms of natural selection and species survival. Women’s rights advocates — who during the antebellum period may have argued about their capacity for virtue or turned to Biblical exegesis to bolster their case for equality — found, in the postwar period, that evolutionary biology was key front in the struggle for rights. Continue reading “MedHum Monday Book Review: From Eve to Evolution”