All posts by David Pavelich

’Particularly Remarkable for her Crime:’ Scholars’ Tea with Robin Robinson

Please join the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture for:
‘Particularly Remarkable for her Crime:’ Scholars’ Tea with Robin Robinson
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Breedlove Room, Perkins Library, Duke University:


Image of Landing certificate for Mary Holmes
Landing certificate for Mary Holmes, 1749, at Port Oxford, MD, convicted in Denbighshire, Wales, 1748, for theft of a shirt

Robin Robinson, Associate Professor of Sociology/Crime and Justice Studies, University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, will give a presentation about her research for her book ‘Particularly Remarkable for her Crime:’ Transportation and Transformation of Female Convicts as Unfree Labor in Colonial America, 1674-1776.  Dr. Robinson is a recipient of a Mary Lily Research Grant from the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture.

Light refreshments will be provided.

Representing Bodies: Ivory Manikins

In researching changes in the representation of female bodies in Northern Europe, I noticed that ivory manikins (meaning “little men,” though usually female) portray  a changing trend away from the easily available prints of the female anatomy in the  sixteenth century toward more formal depictions, displayed only for demonstration. Little is known about the manikins themselves in terms of their origins, but stylistic and material differences may provide much needed information in terms of who made these models and the ways in which they were used by others.

In my travels, I found that the History of Medicine Trent Collection’s set of anatomical ivories is one of Duke’s—and America’s—great treasures. Normally they are stored in a glass viewing case in the Trent Room, but looking closely at them, they hold much more than one might expect.

An ivory anatomical model carved into the lid of a hinged box
An ivory anatomical model carved into the lid of a hinged box

One object in particular caught me by surprise. It is a manikin carved meticulously into the lid of an ivory box. It is not a unique example, as it is quite similar to other objects—one in the Trent Collection and the other in Dusseldorf. Opening the box is precarious because, as with the other manikins, the torso is easily removed (though, luckily, the individually carved organs have been glued down).

The model open, showing individually carved ivory pieces inside.
The model open, showing individually carved ivory pieces inside.

The manikin itself, however, is only one of the object’s curious features. When the lid is lifted, an exquisitely small painting is revealed on its underside.

The underside of the box’s lid, showing an image. The paint is chipped in the corner and around two wooden pieces that act as sockets for the ivory pegs securing the torso.

In this strange scene a nude woman and a well-clothed gentleman dine unabashedly before an open plaza where others go about their normal errands. The presumed courtesan shares many similarities with her counterpart on the box, who is likewise unclothed and recumbent, clutching a sheet with her left hand. Figures of this kind are often seen in artisanal ivory works, but this particular object invokes intriguing questions as to how the fine arts relate to the anatomical sciences and historical representations of women.

Post contributed by Cali Buckley, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Art History, Penn State University

The Presidential Hatchet Job

Now a celebration to honor the office of the president of the United States, President’s Day was originally a celebration of George Washington’s birthday; Washington, the hero of the War for Independence and our nascent republic’s first president.  An equally familiar image of Washington is the boy who could not tell his father a lie.  Familiar to all, but what are the origins of this universally known presidential anecdote?

Weems' Life of George Washington
Weems' Life of George Washington

In the Early American Republic no public figure was more universally revered than George Washington.  Shortly after his death in 1799 M.L.(Parson) Weems wrote a small, single-volume biography of Washington,  The Life of George Washington: with curious anecdotes, equally honorable to himself, and exemplary to his young countryman.  Focused primarily on the young Washington, the book was an effort to humanize a public man for mass consumption and provide an instructive model of virtuous behavior.

Portrait from Weems' Life of George Washington
Portrait from Weems' Life of George Washington

Among the many colorful vignettes from Weems’s Life is the story of a young Washington, hatchet in hand, unable to lie when confronted by his father over a felled cherry tree.  Weems attributed the story to an “aged lady” who spent time on the Washington family farm.

Parson Weems' Fable, by Grant Wood
Parson Weems' Fable, by Grant Wood

Despite criticism from contemporary gentlemen such as John Adams and Chief Justice John Marshall (who, perhaps not coincidentally, wrote his own 5-volume biography of Washington) the book was immensely popular.  A New York Times best-seller of its day, it went through 29 editions in its first 25 years of publication.

Live virtuously this President’s Day!

Post contributed by Joshua Larkin Rowley, Research Services Coordinator.