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Review: Volume 49 - The 17th Century

Review: Volume 49 - The 17th Century

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To our generation fell the good fortune of re-discovering the Levellers. To the classical liberal historian they meant rather less than nothing, this neglect is puzzling. At the crisis of the English Revolution

it was from the Levellers and not from its commanders that the victorious New Model Army derived its political ideas and its democratic drive. Even on a superficial glance the Levellers leaders are as personalities unusual and, indeed, unique. King Charles had Lilburne flogged as a youngster from

Ludgate Hill to Palace Yard; Cromwell banished him in middle age to a dungeon in Jersey. But what we have rediscovered is not merely the fact that the Levellers anticipated our fathers in most of the social and political reforms of the next 300 years; the theme of this book is rather that they were, until Cromwell crushed them, the dynamic pioneers, who had the initiative during the most formative years of the Inter-regnum. They would have won for our peasants in the mid-17th century what the Great Revolution gained for those of France at the close of the 18th.

The 17th century

The Logica Hamburgensis (1638) of Joachim Jung (also called Jungius or Junge) was one replacement for the “Protestant” logic of Melanchthon. Its chief virtue was the care with which late medieval theories and techniques were gathered and presented. Jung devoted considerable attention to valid arguments that do not fit into simpler, standard conceptions of the syllogism and immediate inference. Of special interest is his treatment of quantified relational arguments, then called “oblique” syllogisms because of the oblique (non-nominative) case that is used to express them in Latin. An example is: “The square of an even number is even 6 is even therefore, the square of 6 is even.” The technique of dealing with such inferences involved rewriting a premise so that the term in the oblique case (for example, “of an even number”) would occur in the subject position and thus be amenable to standard syllogistic manipulation. Such arguments had in fact been noticed by Aristotle and were also treated in late medieval logic.

An especially widely used text of the 17th century is usually termed simply the Port-Royal Logic after the seat of the anticlerical Jansenist movement outside Paris. It was written by Antoine Arnauld and Pierre Nicole, possibly with others, and was published in French in 1662 with the title La Logique ou l’art de penser “Logic or the Art of Thinking”. It was promptly translated into Latin and English and underwent many reprintings in the late 17th and 18th centuries. In its outline, it followed Ramus’ outline of concept, judgment, argument, and method it also briefly mentioned oblique syllogisms. The Port-Royal Logic followed the general Reform program of simplifying syllogistic theory, reducing the number of syllogistic figures from four, and minimizing distinctions thought to be useless. In addition, the work contained an important contribution to semantics in the form of the distinction between comprehension and extension. Although medieval semantic theory had used similar notions, the Port-Royal notions found their way into numerous 18th- and 19th-century discussions of the meanings and reference of terms they appeared, for example, in John Stuart Mill’s influential text A System of Logic (1843). The “comprehension” of a term consisted of all the essential attributes in it (those that cannot be removed without “destroying” the concept), and the extension consisted of all those objects to which the concept applies. Thus the comprehension of the term “triangle” might include the attributes of being a polygon, three-sided, three-angled, and so on. Its extension would include all kinds of triangles. The Port-Royal Logic also contained an influential discussion of definitions that was inspired by the work of the French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal. According to this discussion, some terms could not be defined (“primitive” terms), and definitions were divided between nominal and real ones. Real definitions were descriptive and stated the essential properties in a concept, while nominal definitions were creative and stipulated the conventions by which a linguistic term was to be used.

Discussions of “nominal” and “real” definitions go back at least to the nominalist/realist debates of the 14th century Pascal’s application of the distinction is interesting for the emphasis that it laid on mathematical definitions being nominal and on the usefulness of nominal definitions. Although the Port-Royal logic itself contained no symbolism, the philosophical foundation for using symbols by nominal definitions was nevertheless laid.

One intriguing 17th-century treatment of logic in terms of demonstrations, postulates, and definitions in a Euclidean fashion occurs in the otherwise quite traditional Logica Demonstrativa (1697 “Demonstrative Logic”) of the Italian Jesuit Gerolamo Saccheri. Saccheri is better known for his suggestion of the possibility of a non-Euclidean geometry in Euclides ab Omni Naevo Vindicatus (1733 “Euclid Cleared of Every Flaw”). Another incisive traditional logic was that of the Dutch philosopher Arnold Geulincx, Logica fundamentis suis restituta (1662 “Logic Restored to its Fundamentals”). This work attempted to resurrect the rich detail of scholastic logic, including the theory of suppositio and issues of existential import.

History of the Growing Burden of Cancer in India: From Antiquity to the 21st Century

This review traces the growing burden of cancer in India from antiquity. We searched PubMed, Internet Archive, the British Library, and several other sources for information on cancer in Indian history. Paleopathology studies from Indus Valley Civilization sites do not reveal any malignancy. Cancer-like diseases and remedies are mentioned in the ancient Ayurveda and Siddha manuscripts from India. Cancer was rarely mentioned in the medieval literature from India. Cancer case reports from India began in the 17th century. Between 1860 and 1910, several audits and cancer case series were published by Indian Medical Service doctors across India. The landmark study by Nath and Grewal used autopsy, pathology, and clinical data between 1917 and 1932 from various medical college hospitals across India to confirm that cancer was a common cause of death in middle-aged and elderly Indians. India’s cancer burden was apparently low as a result of the short life expectancy of the natives in those times. In 1946, a national committee on health reforms recommended the creation of sufficient facilities to diagnose and manage the increasing cancer burden in all Indian states. Trends from the Mumbai population-based cancer registry revealed a four-fold increase in patients with cancer from 1964 to 2012. Depending on the epidemiologic transition level, wide interstate variation in cancer burden is found in India. We conclude that cancer has been recognized in India since antiquity. India’s current burden of a million incident cancers is the result of an epidemiologic transition, improved cancer diagnostics, and improved cancer data capture. The increase in cancer in India with wide interstate variations offers useful insights and important lessons for developing countries in managing their increasing cancer burdens.

Cancers are caused by mutations that may be inherited, induced by environmental factors, or result from DNA replication errors. 1 Aging is the main risk factor for carcinogenesis in multicellular animal organisms including humans. 2-4 Cancer is ranked as the first or second leading cause of death in 91 of 172 countries and is third or fourth in an additional 22 countries. 5,6 Cancer is the second and fourth leading cause of adult death in urban and rural India, respectively. 7 Cancer is now the leading cause of catastrophic health spending, distress financing, and increasing expenditure before death in India. 8-10 Out-of-pocket expenditure (OOPE) is three times higher for private inpatient cancer care in India. 9 Approximately 40% of cancer costs are met through borrowing, sales of assets, and contributions from friends and relatives these costs exceed 20% of annual per capita household expenditure in 60% of Indian households with a patient with cancer. 9 Estimates show that Indian citizens spent 6.74 billion US dollars in 2012 as a result of cancer deaths. 11

Cancer mortality in India has doubled from 1990 to 2016. 12 India’s cancer incidence is estimated at 1.15 million new patients in 2018 and is predicted to almost double as a result of demographic changes alone by 2040 (Table 1). 13 Public cancer facilities in India are woefully inadequate, and there is large presence of private cancer care facilities. 17 Some have exploited this situation by selling vulnerable patients unproven therapies to prevent, cure, or control cancer. 18,19 As a result of the great increase in cancer, all public cancer treatment facilities are overcrowded and teeming with patients, resulting in India’s cancer problem being called an epidemic or a tsunami. 20-24 The reasons for the increase in cancer are enigmatic, and the popular media and lay public regularly blame erosion of traditional Indian culture and Westernization. 21 Historically, a similar situation had occurred in England in the latter half of the 19th century, which led King and Newsholme 25 to publish a paper titled, “On the Alleged Increase of Cancer” to explain the alarming increase in cancer deaths. Much discussion and debate followed this study, and in 1907, Bashford published an article titled, “Real and Apparent Differences in the Incidence of Cancer.” 26 Similar alarms were raised in the United States and Canada. 27-29

TABLE 1 Decadal Increase in the Total Population, Life Expectancy, Population Older Than 60 Years, and Expected Number of Patients With Cancer in Those Older Than 60 Years From 1901 to 2011 in India

The massive increase in cancer in India is enigmatic. A million new patients with cancer were diagnosed in 2018, overwhelming all the public cancer treatment facilities and making cancer treatments the leading cause of catastrophic out-of-pocket spending. We sought to trace the growing burden of cancer in India from antiquity.

We found that although cancer has been recognized since the ancient Ayurvedic period, the routine diagnosis of cancer began in the 19th century after Western medicine gained acceptance throughout India. The incidence of cancer started to increase in the 20th century, when life expectancy began to increase in India. Cancer incidence rates in the Indian states vary widely, matching the states’ epidemiological transition levels in the 21st century. States with high epidemiological transition levels have lower premature mortality rates from infectious diseases, higher life expectancies, and higher incidence rates.

The highly variable interstate increase of cancer incidence offers valuable lessons for India, its neighbors, and other developing countries for improving their cancer preparedness.

There is no comprehensive historical review explaining the growing burden of cancer in India. This review summarizes the history of cancer prevalence in India from antiquity and discusses measures taken, and not taken, to address India’s cancer burden over time. The historical facts regarding the increase in cancer can offer valuable insights and lessons to less developed Indian states, India’s neighbors, and other developing countries that are sure to face this problem in the future. 30

This descriptive review used multiple search strategies to identify publications with facts and figures on cancer in India from the earliest possible time. We searched PubMed, PubMed Central, and Google Scholar databases the British Library and the Wellcome Collection in London the Tata Central Archives in Pune and the Internet Archive digital library using the keywords cancer, malignant disease, neoplasms, and India. We searched the online publications and databases of many Government of India (GOI) departments and the databases of WHO and the International Agency for Research on Cancer for data on demography, epidemiology, and disease burden and cancer statistics from India (see Data Supplement for a detailed description of the data collection and its challenges).

A systematic review of 154 paleopathological studies has found evidence of cancer in early humans and hominins as far back as 1.8 million years. 31 A paleoepidemiological study found similar age-adjusted malignant tumor rates in the skeletons found at an ancient Egyptian site and a southern German burial site compared with a recent control site. 32

There are no paleo-oncology reports of cancer at the Indus Valley Civilization sites or elsewhere in India except for some benign osteomas. 33 Higher prevalence of infections and trauma in the skeletal remains from Harappan burial sites resembles the current leading causes of death in the least developed regions of India. 34 Inquiries were made to the researchers who had investigated the ancient Indus civilization sites (Harappan, Balathal, and Kalibangan) and Deccan Chalcolithic sites (Daimabad, Nevasa, and Inamgaon), and no additional noting of any malignant tumors in the skeletons excavated from these sites was found (G.R. Schug, N. Lovell, and V. Mushrif-Tripathy, personal communication, Dec 2018-Jan 2019). Fewer samples and poor preservation were some of the limitations of these studies.

There is no word equivalent to cancer in any of the texts from the Vedic ages. 22-24 There are references to symptoms seen in advanced cancers and prayers and rituals seeking divine remedies in the Atharva Veda. 35 India has two ancient medical systems, termed Ayurveda and Siddha, which have been used for more than 2,500 years. 35-39 The Bower Manuscript, the earliest record documenting ancient medical systems of India, mentions diseases that would now be diagnosed as cancers. 40,41 Cancer-like diseases (namely Arvuda, Granthi, and Gulma) are mentioned in the three main Ayurvedic classic texts, including the Sushruta Samhita, the Charaka Samhita, and the Ashtanga Hridaya. 42,43 These texts mention the use of surgery and herbal medications for these diseases. 42,43 The ancient medical classics of India have devoted little attention to cancer-like illnesses compared with more common diseases, suggesting a low prevalence of cancer in those times. 44 The Siddha system of medicine, popular in ancient South India, mentions a cancer-like illness termed Puttru-Noi. 45,46 Alchemy and toxic heavy metal preparations were used in the Siddha system and surgery was used in the Ayurveda system for managing several diseases. Autopsy, which was used to train in Ayurvedic surgery, declined during the Buddhist period starting around 400 BC. Some attribute the Buddhist concept of ahimsa, or law of nonviolence against man and animals, to have caused the decline in autopsies and surgeries, which halted the discovery of deep-seated cancers later on. 38

Two other systems of medicine reached India during the early common era. The Sowa-Rigpa, better known as Tibetan medicine, describes a cancer-like disease called Dre-Nay. 47 The Greco-Arabic system, called Unani-Tibbs medicine, describes a cancer-like disease called Sartan, meaning crab in Persian. 48 The Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha, and Homeopathy (AYUSH) and Tibetan systems are still used as the first treatment option or as complementary therapy by many patients in India. 49 A search of the evidence-based research data portal of the Ministry of AYUSH of the GOI revealed little original work on cancer management. 50 Of the 26,175 AYUSH publications containing the term cancer, only 15 were found to be grade A or grade B clinical trials. AYUSH treatments were used to complement non-AYUSH treatments in these trials. Collaborative studies are being planned between India and the United States to evaluate AYUSH treatments in cancer. 51 The search did not reveal any original work on the burden of cancer in the AYUSH literature.

Western medicine reached India in the 16th century. 52,53 Several European physicians and nonphysicians studied the plants, drugs, and formularies of India. 54-58 In 1563, Gracia de Orta, a Portuguese physician who worked primarily in Goa, India, wrote Coloquios dos Simples e Drogas da India, documenting various medicinal plants of India, some of which were used on patients with cancer. 54,55 The Dutch administrator of Cochin (now known as Kochi), Hendrik Van Rheede, cataloged the plants of Malabar (Kerala) from 1678 to 1693 and published the Hortus Indicus Malabaricus with help from native physicians. 55,56 This book also contained references to the use of local plants in the treatment of cancer. The presence of cancer in India started to appear sporadically in some of the medical writings from the 17th century. 58 However, there were no reports on the probable prevalence of cancer in India until the end of the 18th century. Until the early part of the 20th century, the life expectancy of Indians was low as a result of major famines and epidemics of infectious diseases (Data Supplement). 59,60 The creation of the Indian Medical Service (IMS), staffed by European trained doctors, was a major milestone for India. 61 The IMS surgeons began to diagnose cancers, and early IMS publications, including “Sketches of Most Prevalent Diseases of India” 62 and “A Catalogue of Indian Medicinal Plants and Drugs,” 63 made passing references to cancer.

Increasing demand for Western physicians led to the opening of medical colleges in the larger cities of colonial India, beginning with Calcutta (now known as Kolkata) Medical College in 1835. 64 Cancer was being diagnosed in all parts of India, and clinical audits began to include cancers among native Indians. 65 In 1840, F.H. Brett from Calcutta published A Practical Essay on Some of the Principle Surgical Diseases of India, which states that malignant diseases were prevalent in eastern India. 66 In 1856, C. Morehead from Grant Medical College in Bombay (now known as Mumbai) published a book on the diseases of India and documented cancer cases from western India. 67 Scientific work on the prevalence of cancer in India had begun.

In 1866, W.J. Elmslie was the first to publish a series of 30 patients with epithelioma, including the unique cancer associated with the use of a kangri pot, among 5,080 patients from Srinagar in Kashmir. 68 The kangri pot is an indigenous device holding smoldering coal that is kept between the legs or in contact with the abdomen to warm a person through cold winters. From 1880 to 1910, there were more than a dozen case series and audits published on cancer in India. In 1880, Tomes 69 reported five patients with cancer seen over 7 weeks in a dispensary in rural Bengal. The Kashmir Mission Hospital reported 2,020 cancers from their pathology reports between 1890 and 1899. 70 Sixteen cancers among 450 autopsies were found between August of 1898 and June of 1900 at Calcutta Medical College. 71 Among the autopsies done at Madras (now called Chennai) General Hospital from 1892 to 1901, 1,370 cancers were found. 72 Surgical audits of a large number of patients were reported from Punjab (northwestern) and Travancore (now called Tiruvananthapuram) (southern). India had many patients with cancer (Data Supplement). 73,74 Patients diagnosed with cancer were predominantly male, because women rarely used Western medical facilities given cultural norms. The importance of older age in the development of cancer was recognized, and the difficulties in obtaining the real age of native Indians were stressed in the clinical manual for India in 1897. 75

In India, the initial reports had an excess of superficial cancers that were easy to diagnose, and several unique types of cancer were also described. These included kangri cancer (caused by the kangri pot), cheek cancer (caused by a betel nut–tobacco mix kept in the buccal sulcus), penile cancer (attributed to poor penile hygiene in uncircumcised men), dhoti cancer of the waist (caused by the dhoti, a loin cloth that is tied tightly around the waist), and scalp cancers (attributed to frequent tonsuring of the scalp). 68,76 Chronic irritation of the epithelium or mucosa by thermal, physical, or chemical agents was hypothesized to cause these cancers. Most of these unique cancers have almost disappeared from India. Unfortunately, the habit of betel nut and tobacco chewing has increased all over India, and consequently, cheek and oral cancers are now among the top three cancers in most parts of India (Table 2). 24,77

TABLE 2 Top 10 Cancers and Their Age-Standardized Incidence Rate in 2008 to 2012 Among Indians in Different Regions of India

TABLE 3 Incidence of All Cancers in Bombay (now called Mumbai) Cancer Registry From 1964 to 2012

These reports of cancer in natives of India fueled debates surrounding the role of geography, environmental factors, and race in the development of cancer. 71,79-81 The prevailing idea that cancer was rare among the natives of India was discussed in British Parliament several times between 1902 and 1906. 82 David Sutherland stated that “cancer is not a common disease in the Punjab” after reporting a 1.8% prevalence. 73(p90) Leonard Rogers, an experienced pathologist from Calcutta, stated that “malignant disease not only occurs in natives in India, but may be said to be common among them” based on his autopsy studies. 71(p280) Lazarus-Barlow from the Middlesex Hospital in London raised doubts regarding the validity of cancer diagnosis in India after comparing his data to the Punjab data. 79 After inquiries from British Parliament, the Imperial Cancer Research Fund found 2,000 Indians with cancer in IMS hospitals from 1906 to 1908, concluding that cancer mortality in India “may not be markedly different from the English mortality [rate].” 81(p2) In 1908, Roger Williams wrote a book titled The Natural History of Cancer, in which he stated that “after careful study of all available sources of information, it appears to me clearly that malignant tumors are less prevalent, pro rata, in India than in Europe,” thus sustaining the debate. 83(p33) Leonard Rogers provided the best evidence supporting the increasing cancer burden in India with the help of a large autopsy study concluding that cancer is common in Indians when adjusted for age (Data Supplement). 84

In the early 20th century, the real population-based incidence and mortality of cancer in India remained elusive as multiple barriers prevented data collection. 85 These barriers included the nonavailability or the lack of access to medical facilities where cancer could be diagnosed, cultural habits preventing the use of medical facilities by native Indians, lack of knowledge and skills to diagnose cancer among native AYUSH doctors, lack of recording and notification of cancer diagnosis, lack of compulsory certification of deaths by medical doctors, omission of cancer diagnosis on death certificates, cover up of cancer diagnosis because of social stigma, and a lack of awareness among the native population regarding cancer and its causes and management. These limitations continue to exist in the less developed parts of India (Data Supplement).

Despite these barriers, the case for the growing cancer burden continued. In 1927, Megaw and Gupta 86 conducted a nationwide survey of IMS doctors on the prevalence of disease seen in 202 district medical facilities in colonial India. Breast cancer was the most prevalent cancer, ranked as common in 98 institutions, followed by mouth cancer in 63 institutions, uterine cancer in 58 institutions, skin cancer in 35 institutions, and stomach cancer in nine institutions. 86 Nath and Grewal 87-89 conducted a landmark study across India funded by the Indian Research Fund Association. They collected autopsy data, pathology data, and clinical data from all large teaching medical institutions in India from 1917 to 1932. 87-89 Cancer was found to be an important cause of adult death in all parts of India. Their nationwide data showed that no community or region of India was free from cancer (Data Supplement). They reported aging to be the most important determinant of cancer in Indians. Nath went on to contribute to various health care policy committees of preindependent India. 90,91 The Indian Medical Review of 1938 stated that “[cancer] affords significant evidence as to this position being not insignificant” and advised IMS doctors to take the threat of cancer seriously. 90(p224)

John Spies, an American cancer surgeon and brachytherapist, was consulted before building India’s first comprehensive cancer hospital, the Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH) in Bombay. 92 Spies researched the incidence of cancer in Bombay and estimated that there were approximately 3,000 people in Bombay afflicted with cancer annually. 92 The 1933 to 1934 annual report of the King Edward Memorial Hospital in Bombay also raised the issue of the need for cancer treatment facilities in Bombay. 93 The TMH was inaugurated in 1941. 94

The Health Survey and Development Committee of India, commonly called the Bhore Committee, was established to recommend the health needs of India immediately before independence. This committee published a report in 1946 that concluded that cancer prevalence in India was “not insignificant” and recommended several measures to improve cancer care in India (Data Supplement). 91(p116)

Soon after India’s independence, the GOI committee for Indian systems of medicine (AYUSH) did not include cancer in its report. 95 However, in 1948, an upgrading committee of the GOI visited the Pathology Department of TMH and recommended it be developed into the Indian Cancer Research Center with V.R. Khanolkar as its director. 96 The Indian Cancer Research Center was later renamed the Cancer Research Institute in 1952. 76 Khanolkar published several papers on the prevalence and etiology of cancer in India. 97-99 He estimated cancer mortality in India to be 200,000 per year using hospital-based data from TMH. 98 From 1950 to 1954, Khanolkar was the president of the International Cancer Research Commission. In his presidential address to the 1950 congress, he stated that “the experience of trained observers in modern medical institutions in India as far apart as Madras, Calcutta, Lahore and Bombay suggest that the incidence is much the same in Eastern countries as in Western Europe and North America. . . . It is found that the mean annual mortality from cancer in Bombay city per 100,000 living persons arranged by age groups approximates that of New York city [sic] and Zurich, if the suggested corrections are made.” 98(p883)

In 1959, the second Health Survey and Planning Committee found India’s cancer care infrastructure to be “entirely inadequate.” 100 They recommended that “each State should have a full-fledged hospital equipped with modern facilities for the surgery and radio-therapy of cancer cases” (Data Supplement). 100(p105) By 1960, only two more comprehensive cancer institutes were created in India, including the Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute in Calcutta in 1946 and the Cancer Institute in Madras in 1952. 101

Mitra and Das Gupta carried out the first study to estimate India’s cancer burden using population-based data. 102 Using the death registration records of the Calcutta Corporation, they found cancer to be the cause of 2.35% and 2.8% of deaths in 1954 and 1955, respectively. 102 They estimated India’s national prevalence of cancer to be approximately 600,000 patients based on life expectancy, duration of survival after cancer diagnosis, and the size of India’s population. They reported a 10% higher mortality in young males, five times the prevalence of genital cancers in females, and an excess of gallbladder cancer compared with Americans. 102

A nationwide audit of cancer among 1.03 million railway employees between age 18 and 55 years and their dependent family members from 1960 to 1964 was reported. 103 This study found unique regional variations in the sites of several cancers, including buccal cavity cancers in the northern zone, stomach cancers in the southern zone, and biliary cancers in the northern and eastern zones. 103 Population-based incidence, mortality, and prevalence for cancer in India remained speculative in 1964. Even in 1990, India’s facilities for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer were far behind recommendations. 104

The first population-based cancer registry (PBCR) in India was created in Bombay in 1963 by Darab Jussawalla with funding from the Indian Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute of the United States. 104 This PBCR provided reliable population-based data on the cancer incidence in Bombay. 104-106 Cancer incidence trends over half a century show the effect of demographic change on cancer burden (Table 2 and Fig 2 ). The incidence of cancer in Bombay has increased four-fold, even when the age-standardized incidence rates declined slightly (Table 2). 78 More evidence that the demographical transition is the major determinant of the cancer burden can be found by comparing cancer incidence in the Parsees, a wealthy long-lived ethnic group, against that of other communities in Bombay (Data Supplement). 108 India’s National Cancer Registry Program began in 1982, and several urban and some rural PBCRs have been added gradually. 109 However, India’s most populous and least developed states, labeled as the Empowered Action Group (EAG) states, continue to lack PBCRs and accurate population-based data. The most recent estimates of India’s cancer burden reported in the GLOBOCAN 2018 database were created by extrapolating data from several regional PBCRs, with limited rural and no EAG state representation. 4,5

FIG 1 Cancer incidence in Indian men and women in 2018. (A) Incidence rates are per 100,000 population grouped by age and sex. (B) Projected cancer burden by sex from 2018 to 2040. Data from WHO. 13

FIG 2 Age-specific incidence rates for all cancers per 100,000 men and women in Mumbai in 1964 to 1966 and 2008 to 2012. (A) Children and young adults. (B) Older adults. Data from WHO. 13

Top Rated Best Art History Novels To Read

Here is a list of the best books about art history that Pennbook recommended reading:

The Journal of Eugène Delacroix, Eugène Delacroix, 1893-95

It is among the most brilliant explorations of an artist by an artist. Artists around the whole aren’t very articulate, especially in regards to speaking about their artwork. Why are they? They are functioning in a visual medium. So once you encounter somebody like Delacroix, that really can articulate in addition to paint, it is thrilling. It is quite moving at times too. His artwork is more extravagant he paints fire and violence and surplus.

Nevertheless, in his private life, he had been fearful of fire. I found that intriguing. Delacroix lays it bare.

The Story of Art, E.H. Gombrich, 1950

For anybody beginning with this trip, they can do much worse than dedicate a few days to studying this book. Gombrich’s immortal line was, “There is, in fact, nothing as artwork. There are only artists.” You receive this unbelievable summary of cultural background. It begins with historical artwork, and it finishes with 19th-century paintings in England, France, and America. It isn’t banging up-to-date.

However, it’s art criticism that doesn’t condescend, does not highfalutin. It merely says what he believes attractively. I think that it’s mandatory reading.

A Life of Picasso Volume I’m 1881-1906, John Richardson, 1991

It is a significant part of the biography, but it reads like a thriller. He’s got a method of taking very arcane and convoluted details and turning them into a conversation that zips and fizzes. He speaks about Picasso’s youth from the first volume – instead of a brief period, rather than the most intriguing, maybe, but you can’t put it down. To a large extent, it altered how we examine biography.

Most art historians wrote in this type of rigid formal manner, and Richardson comes together and says, “No! Let us race through this life,” And he understood Picasso, and he brings to us. You believe you’re at the front.

The Collins Big Book of Art: From Cave Art to Pop Art

This book is a beautiful introduction to the world of art for all those who have a limited-to-no understanding of this topic. It crosses the history of art from cave paintings to the Renaissance to Impressionism to Pop Art. Comprising over 1,200 works of art worldwide, every piece is tagged with the date, state, name, artist, substances, dimensions, and present site.

The Lives of the Artists

Italian painter, architect, historian, and author Giorgio Vasari are chiefly famous for two reasons: he coined the expression Renaissance and composed The Lives of the Artists. Inspired by many to be “the first important publication on the artwork,” this text presents a romantic and contemporary look at the lifestyles and work of Italian Renaissance artists, from Giotto and Brunelleschi to Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael.

This variant is annotated, making it ideal for those interested in knowing more about this legendary artwork motion.

The Books that Shaped Art History: From Gombrich and Greenberg into Alpers and Krauss

This book is a concise and brilliant analysis of this subject of Art History. It provides a thorough roadmap of the area by assessing the value of many of history’s primary functions. Each chapter, with authors such as John Elderfield, Boris Groys, Susie Nash, and Richard Verdi, examines one essential publication, considering its assumptions and arguments. Discussing its standing inside the art history area and commenting on its importance from the context of its first reception and heritage.

By Émile Mâle’s magisterial analysis of thirteenth-century French artwork, first published in 1898, to Hans Belting’s provocative Likeness and Presence: A History of the Image before the Era of Art, the publication provides a concise and enlightening overview of the history of art, informed by its enduring literature.

“A thrilling accounts of the history of art in the 20th century… a professionally guided tour and also a fairly fantastic scenic route” – The Guardian

Twentieth-Century American Art (Oxford History of Art)

If twentieth-century American artwork in the field of interest, this book will provide you with a deeper understanding of the increase and evolution of the period’s art. This exciting publication provides insight and investigates the relationship between American art, audiences, and museums in the century, which became called the ” American Century.”

Extending beyond New York, this book also looks into the growth of feminism artwork in Los Angeles in the 1970s the Dark art motion the development of galleries and art colleges. Assessing one of the leading artists of the time, including Andy Warhol, Laurie Anderson, Jackson Pollock, Georgia O’Keeffe, the publication also examines the series of art moves and distinct styles that represented the extreme changes in American society and culture.

“Up-to-date summary has the often-excluded girls and Black musicians of the first half of the 20th century. Useful contextualization of this period, particularly about unsigned artists” – Leslie Ava Shaw, New School University

Art in Theory 1900 – 2000: A Anthology of Changing Ideas

This book provides an entire selection of the 20th century’s numerous theories about art. Adding the new and upgraded research and significant contributions made in the art concept as the 1990s, the book includes writings by critics, philosophers, politicians, and literary characters.

Divided into eight classes, the authors provide commentary on topics that range from Symbolism to Post-Modernism and contain discussions of various distinct subjects such as globalization, African American art, gender studies, and modern performance and setup. This is one of the best art history books for beginners, advanced students, and scholars, it is an extensive survey of the world of this concept of the contemporary period.

Edward Said, Orientalism

How can cultural appropriation and art history intersect? If you are considering this appropriate subject, then you will need this post-colonial classic in your lifetime. Edward W. Said discusses Orientalism, described as the West’s patronizing representations of and attitudes towards “The East” (Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East) through exceptional artworks, history, and literature. It is superbly argued, persuasive and conclusive.

Art: A World History

This pocket-sized background of art publication covers everything from ancient to contemporary art. Within the webpage, you will discover over 900 images of their most well-known artworks. You will get a thorough grasp of the painting of each period by reading this novel. It is among the essential art history books for novices and creates a handy reference manual. You may take it everywhere it is especially helpful when in an art gallery or on travel.

Art: Over 2,500 Works from Cave into Contemporary

If you would like to learn how art is produced from ancient cave paintings to the modern-day, this is the book for you. It clarifies the art moves from early times right up to modern art. The data is readily available, and there are magnificent double-page spreads. Thus, you will have the ability to absorb the many different artworks in all their detail!

If you are committed, you may read this book from beginning to finish. Otherwise, you can dip in and outside of those sections that interest you. But you use this publication it will be a fantastic addition to your art history novels. Over 2,500 artworks are exhibited in the pages of the magazine. You will find it a rich and intriguing explanation of history.

Gardner’s Art Through The Ages: A Global History, Fred S. Kleiner

This second volume of Gardner’s Art through the Ages: An International History follows the late medieval period in Italy through modern art. Simple to comprehend vernacular, followed by magnificent color examples, make Kleiner’s 14th version of the planet’s most popular English language art history novel a must-have for any history student.

This volume continues where Kleiner’s first volume left off and contains chapters concerning the current account of art in China, Africa, Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia.

A Short Guide To Writing About Art, Sylvan Barnet

This in-depth, step-by-step guide to writing about art teaches students how to examine works of art from sculpture and painting to photography and architecture. Reputable and engaging, Barnet’s concise guide provides a definitive way for writers of arrested offers easy steps for celebrating works of art and constructing significant essays.

Short and straightforward, this best-selling text offers guidance to people with very little knowledge or comprehension of this subject that delivers a fast refresher class for lifelong students of history.

Art History, Combined Volume, Marilyn Stokstad, Michael W. Cothren

This joint and condensed version of Marilyn Stokstad’s well-known art history offers students an easy to comprehend guide to art history. Including contextual and formal analyses of artworks in their historical, political, and societal circumstance, Stokstad manages to engross viewers with casual verbiage and dazzling skill.

Perfect for first-year students of this topic, this book covers the fundamentals of art history from across the globe, including French impressionism and African American artwork to modernism and cultural customs.

Roman Art: Romulus To Constantine, Nancy H. Ramage, Andrew Ramage

An in-depth discussion of early Rome’s wide-reaching influence upon planet cultures graces the beautifully illustrated manuscript pages. With in-depth conversations of Roman, EtruscanGreek histories, the authors assume that their readers don’t have any prior knowledge of this discipline, making this book great for beginning students of this topic.

Putting ancient Roman painting, sculpture, and design within the societal and political climates of the moment, Ramage and Ramage engage their subscribers through simple to read language and magnificent, full-color pictures.

Art History Portable, Book 4, Marilyn Stokstad, Michael W. Cothren

Student favorable and all-inclusive, this hot volume covers the European Renaissance that bridges the intervals between the Middle Ages and contemporary history. This helpful and condensed compendium of advice incorporates formal and iconographic investigations of some of this period’s most influential works, such as those by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.

Thorough and beneficial, the authors talk about Europe’s political and social environment throughout the 14th through 17th centuries and provide a window to elements of everyday life along with the geography of this interval.

Classical Art: From Greece To Rome, Mary Beard, John Henderson

Beard and Henderson’s advanced and light-hearted text discusses the sculpture, painting, and mosaic work in the Classical periods of Greece and Rome. Adding a comprehensive conversation of this background of Pompeii, a town buried by the eruption of Mt. In 79 CE, the writers incorporated a broad selection of maps and construction plans efficiently demonstrating how Greek civilization considerably affected the growth of the Roman Empire. Chapters cover ancient Rome’s monuments and exemplify the value of the human portrait inside these early civilizations.

Herculaneum: Art Of A Buried City- Maria Paola Guidobaldi, Domenico Esposito,Luciano Pedicini

Buried from Mt. Vesuvius’s eruption, Herculaneum was a flourishing city buried with nature’s wrath. Director of excavations on the website, Maria Paola Guidobaldi, has produced a magnificent survey of Herculaneum’s architecture and art, which has been carefully maintained by the significant streams of ash and sand at the explosion of 79 CE. Located across the bay of Naples, wall mosaics, wooden architectural elements, and figurines were thoroughly maintained from the burst, and through beautiful photos and detailed talks, come to life.

Through floor programs and comprehensive examples, Herculaneum transports readers back in time to a period of flourishing ancient civilization.

Baroque: Theatrum Mundi: The World As A Work Of Art- Barbara Borngasser, Rolf Toman, Achim Bednorz

Excellent photography, along with a comprehensive conversation about the stunning and thought-provoking vision of the Counter-Reformation, creates Baroque: Theatrum Mundi, a significant and influential work. Including pictures of fancy cathedrals and striking spiritual iconography, the writers discuss famous results like St. Peter’s Basilica and lesser-known pieces by most significant artists. A superb text to the more innovative art history student, the writers, use technical terminology and gorgeous graphics to tell the story of a few of the planet’s most crucial periods ever.

Artemisia Gentileschi- Mary D. Garrard

May be referred to as the planet’s most famous pre-modern age female painter, Artemisia Gentileschi analyzed under her father and turned into a committed follower of Baroque painter Carravagio. This well-researched text examines the painter broadly and provides a fascinating analysis of her work and life. Pictures of Gentileschi’s obsession with all Biblical female heroines and Classical themes run throughout this quantity, which also delves deep into the private and everyday life of a few of those Italian Baroque’s most essential characters.

Archaic And Classical Greek Art- Robin Osborne

Thought-provoking new perspectives concerning the interpretation of ancient Greek art provides an account of how this influential culture continues to affect culture and art today. Osborne explores the symbolism and imagery of ancient Greece in the archaic period during the late Hellenistic period, utilizing detailed maps and graphics.

Focusing on both unconventional and recognizable vision, he discusses this figure’s usage to establish relationships inside painting and sculpture. He contains exciting and eye-opening views of this era’s political and social context.

Life With Picasso- Francoise Gilot

These first-hand accounts of existence with revolutionary artist Pablo Picasso are full of details about his everyday life and studio clinic told through the eyes of his spouse Francoise Gilot. Dynamic and fair, Gilot details her decade-long connection with Picasso, where she turned into his model, muse, and mom to two of their artist’s kids. Fascinating and adventuresome, Gilot produces an intimate portrait of an artist that had been frequently a self-absorbed egomaniac, and in other times a loving family man.

Overlay: Contemporary Art And The Art Of Prehistory- Lucy Lippard

This timeless novel concerning modern art history as it pertains to prehistory is a vital text for musicians, art students, and historians. An in-depth analysis of ancient man’s influence on our present cultural and societal landscape, Lippard’s well-researched quantity, addresses the hunt for significance in the artwork. It considers primal urges as the center of several post-modern art clinics. Narrations of ritual and myth permeate Overlay: Contemporary Art and the Art of Prehistory and supply an illuminating view of the modern world’s artwork.

The Private Lives Of The Impressionists- Sue Roe

This romantic portrayal of the Impressionists’ lifetime provides readers a vibrant and well-researched portrait of a number of their movement’s most intriguing characters. By Cassatt into Degas and Monet, Sue Roe attracts these historical figures to life by devoting their everyday lives and struggles within their houses and studios.

Heartwarming, using meticulous attention to detail, those artists’ lives have been positioned against the background of post-Franco-Prussianar age France. Employing little accurate details gleaned through careful study, Roe produces a fascinating account that can engage students in art history and fans of biography.

England of the 17th century

Obviously the Resoration, not Reformation, for which I blame the spellchecker.

And yes indeed it should be the Glorious Revolution, not Golden, which my only excuse was a tired brain.

Thanks to the Red Fusilier for correcting my embarrassing lapses

I think you meant the Glorious Revolution. The Reformation occurred in the 16th century, although it's far reaching repercussions were still being felt well into the 17th and beyond.

Other major events for 17th century England include the Union of Crowns, the peace with Spain at the turn of the century, the colonisation of the Americas, Restoration, the Anglo-Dutch wars, the foundation of the Bank of England. Some historians argue that England was the first European culture to experience an Enlightenment, which arguably occurred in the 17th century, with major advances in science, governance, finance, politics



Here's what I've been able to find so far:

In the 17th century the system of parliamentary monarchy was established in England.
Royal power is limited by that of Parliament and arbitrariness is limited by laws guaranteeing citizens freedoms.
So a representative system is gradually being established.
This development strongly differentiates the situation of England from that of France at the same time. The British regime influenced the philosophers of the Enlightenment, including in France, in their reflection on a state guaranteeing freedoms and governed by principles. However, the English system is not free of contradictions. The thirteen British colonies of North America turned against their metropolis English values and proclaimed their independence in 1776, initiating a war that lasted until 1783. In 1787, the USA became the first country in the world to have a written Constitution, which in turn influenced European thinkers.

Not even vaguely or remotely close to being the first written consitution.

Constitution - Wikipedia


Hi there, yesterday decided to delve more deeply into subject and found more information. At first I described the structure of the authorities of England before the 17th century, in order to highlight all the changes after. You can take a look:

1) Since the 13th century, the British sovereign rules with the Parliament, consisting of two chambers. This is called the King-in-Parliament principle. The power of the king is limited.
The two chambers of Parliament are :
- the Chamber of Lords, composed of the nobles of the kingdom
- the Chamber of Commons, composed of elected members from cities and counties.

The fundamental text at the origin of this limitation of royal power is the Great Charter (Magna Carta), signed in 1215 by King John. The Great Charter gives important power to Parliament :
- Parliament passes legislation (bills)
- Parliament validates taxes.

This is called the King-in-Parliament monarchy.

2) The Stuart's questioning of the political model.

In the 17th century, the Stuart dynasty questioned the principle of King-in-Parliament, it wanted to reinstate an absolute monarchy.
Upon his accession to the throne of England in 1603, James I wished to establish an absolute monarchy of divine right. He quickly came into conflict with the Parliament, which he sent back in 1610 and then in 1614 : this is the episode of the Addled Parliament. The king ruled without Parliament until 1621.
His son, Charles I, ascended the throne in 1625. It comes into conflict with Parliament on financial and political issues.

3) The first English Revolution (1642-1649) and the Commonwealth.

Tensions between the Stuart and Parliament quickly escalated into a civil war and led to the first English revolution between 1642 and 1649. The king is executed. A new regime was then put in place, the Commonwealth. This is the temporary end of the monarchy in England.
The republic is headed by a 41-member Council of State :
- Executive power is vested in the Council of State and Parliament.
- The military has an important influence.

The new regime in place is rapidly experiencing tensions. Oliver Cromwell is in power and is becoming authoritarian. Upon his death, the monarchy was restored. The new king and Parliament soon came into conflict. To limit the powers of the king, Habeas Corpus is put in place. Finally, Parliament overthrew the king.

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Collection, Laboratory, Theater : Scenes of Knowledge in the 17th Century

This volume launches a new, eight-volume series entitled Theatrum Scientiarum on the history of science and the media which has arisen from the work of the Berlin special research project on "Performative Cultures" under the aegis of the Theatre Studies Department of the Free University.

The volume examines the role of space in the constitution of knowledge in the early modern age. "Kunstkammern" (art and curiosities cabinets), laboratories and stages arose in the 17th century as instruments of research and representation. There is, however, still a lack of precise descriptions of the epistemic contribution made by material and immaterial space in the performance of knowledge. Therefore, the authors present a novel view of the conditions surrounding the creation of these spatial forms. Account is taken both of the institutional framework of these spaces and their placement within the history of ideas, the architectural models and the modular differentiations, and the scientific consequences of particular design decisions. Manifold paths are followed between the location of the observer in the representational space of science and the organization in time and space of sight, speech and action in the canon of European theatrical forms. Not only is an account given of the mutual architectural and intellectual influence of the spaces of knowledge and the performance spaces of art they are also analyzed to ascertain what was possible in them and through them.

This volume is the English translation of Kunstkammer, Laboratorium, Bühne (de Gruyter, Berlin, 2003).

Dutch Culture in the Golden Age

With Dutch Culture in the Golden Age Leslie Price returns to the theme with which he began his long and distinguished career of teaching and research at the University of Hull. It is now almost 40 years ago that he published Culture and Society in the Dutch Republic in the 17th Century.(1) Like the book presently under review, Culture and Society was an essay rather than a detailed study. It focused on the different social milieus in which various forms or culture were produced, and explored the question as to why the Dutch were able to produce a school of painting of outstanding quality that was markedly independent of the general movement of artistic taste in Europe, and yet failed to produce a literature that could match it. Still very much concerned with the same issues, his most recent book testifies how far the author’s thinking has advanced. Dutch Culture in the Golden Age is a lucid essay that offers a rich and rewarding, and exceptionally nuanced, insight into the culture – more than just painting and literature – of 17th–century Holland. The book also documents the degree in which scholarship of the Dutch Golden Age has progressed since the 1970s. The select bibliography lists only a handful of titles that were available in 1974. A fair number of the more recent studies are in English.

Dutch Culture in the Golden Age consists of three introductory chapters, six chapters exploring painting, literature, humanism and the republic of letters, science and technology, religion and theology, and political theory, and finally two concluding chapters on the impact of the culture of the Dutch Golden Age on contemporary Europe and on the ‘waning’ of the Golden Age, including its reception by scholars and the general public.

Like the earlier book, Dutch Culture in the Golden Age is cleverly organized around a central argument, which lends coherence to a book that otherwise might have ended up as a rather bland summing up of famous artists, writers, scholars, and scientists. Price argues that Dutch society in its period of greatness is justly renowned for its innovative and often surprisingly ‘modern’ achievements in the fields of economy, politics, and social relations as well as in the arts and sciences, but that these advances were offset by conservatism and the tenacious persistence of a traditional world-view. It was this tension between the forces of innovation and tradition, according to Price, that gave Dutch culture in the 17th century its peculiar character. I will come back to this central argument later, but it should be noted here that it nicely does the job of tying together the various chapters into a compelling narrative.

Price’s juxtaposition of innovative and conservative forces has resulted in an exceptionally balanced view of the society and culture of the Dutch Golden Age. Most historians have understandably tended to focus on the innovative aspects of the period and on those features that made it stand apart from the experience of the rest of early modern Europe. Obvious examples are Jan de Vries and Ad van der Woude’s The First Modern Economy, Jonathan Israel’s The Dutch Republic, and, even more so, his Radical Enlightenment.(2) It is only right that Price directs our attention to the fact that the inhabitants of the Dutch Republic had no cue as to where their society was heading, that they did not regard themselves as the founding fathers of free-market economics or democracy, let alone of ‘modernity’ pure and simple, and that most of them shared the religious and magic world view prevalent in the rest of early modern Europe.

Price of course does not deny the innovative elements in the economy, society, and culture of the Dutch Golden Age, nor does he try to play down its achievements. Yet in order to arrive at a proper understanding of it one should take stock of innovation as well as tradition, and understand their interplay. Take for example the economy. It was booming, but the boom was located particularly in the province of Holland and to some extent in the other maritime regions, and hardly impacted at all in the rural inland provinces, which remained more traditional socially and culturally. Urbanization reached unprecedented levels, but the ancient nobility continued to enjoy prestige, even in urbanized Holland. And even in the mercantile heartland ‘Calvinists were far from eager to embrace the spirit of capitalism’ (p. 51). A treatise by a Leiden professor in 1638 justifying taking interest on loans caused a stir, because many people clung to the traditional Christian view of usury as exploitation of the poor – a remarkable position, given that the Dutch economy as well as the war against Spain heavily depended on credit and the issuing of bonds. The notorious tulip bubble caused considerable anti-capitalist sentiment as well. And most members of the elite had enjoyed a humanist education which made them identify with the anti-commercial values espoused by Cicero and other classical authors rather than the cut-throat capitalism fashionable in mercantile circles.

Price pays ample attention to the early abatement of the persecution of witches. If the Dutch Republic was largely spared the horror of the witch-craze which affected the rest of early modern Europe, he argues, this was only because the Supreme Court in a famous ruling in 1592 decided that torture could not legally be employed in witchcraft trials. Yet throughout the 17th century most of the Dutch continued to believe in the efficacy of witchcraft and the ubiquitous activity of the devil.

The Dutch Republic’s so-called ‘discussion culture’ is a well-known indicator of its modernity. The Republic was justly famous for its freedom of expression, yet we are warned that this freedom was not without limits. The authorities did their best to uphold legislation against libels, while certain opinions, such as antitrinitarianism, were deemed outright atheism and consequently forbidden. Several authors were convicted to prison sentences on grounds of blasphemy. Spinoza’s most offensive works were famously published only after his death, and then duly banned.

Another marker of progress Price deconstructs is the relatively emancipated position of women. Women are highly visible in Dutch painting of the period, and foreign visitors commented on their assertiveness. Nevertheless, Price argues, they were legally second-class citizens, barred from (fully) taking part in economic life and in politics. ‘Women remain almost invisible as far as the culture of the Golden Age is concerned: a handful of painters, many poets but few of distinction, and a bluestocking or two’ (p. 93).

One of the chief arguments arguing for the modernity of the Dutch Golden Age is its religious diversity and the tolerant attitude of the magistrates towards religious dissenters. It is true that Dutch religious freedom was unprecedented as well as unrivalled in early modern Europe (except in the areas under Ottoman rule). Yet Price is at pains to point out that only the Reformed Church, as the ‘public’ Church, enjoyed substantial privileges, that Catholic observance remained legally forbidden until the end of the old regime (even if the authorities could usually be bribed to close an eye), and that very few people were willing to argue that religious toleration was a good thing in itself. Religious toleration was an expediency, desired by nobody, yet necessary for the conservation of civil peace and the promotion of prosperity. The principle of the separation of Church and State was still a long way off. And the social ethic of all churches was fundamentally opposed to the spirit of capitalism.

Price also plays down the level of technological and scientific innovation reached during the Golden Age. If the Dutch were more clever than their competitors in harnessing existing sources of energy (windmills, well-designed sailing ships), they failed to achieve any real innovation comparable to the invention of the steam engine a century later. Great scientists like Stevin, Descartes, Huygens, and van Leeuwenhoek were hampered by the absence of learned societies such as the ones founded in London and Paris under royal patronage. Although these men certainly played an import role in what historians have later identified as the Scientific Revolution, the impact of their work on contemporary society was limited. Their contemporaries tenaciously continued to cling to a world view that was fundamentally Aristotelian, religious, and magical. Most of the scientists in question were unable to fathom the full implications of the new science. Natural philosophy gave better answers to questions as to how the natural world functioned, but it failed to answer the question why it did so. Jan Swammerdam became so confused in his (religiously driven) search for truth through observation and experiment that he sought refuge with the charismatic Antoinette de Bourignon, a millenarian fanatic who claimed to be the mouthpiece of God and hence demanded absolute obedience from her followers.

Next to religion and magic, Price identifies Renaissance culture and humanism as forces in Dutch society that were fundamentally conservative. Their starting point was ‘an inherited body of texts of unchallengeable authority’. The task of scholarship, according to Price, was basically to explore this legacy (p. 162).

By the beginning of the seventeenth century [the impetus of the Renaissance] was fading, and a movement which had been innovative, in fact if not in intention, was beginning to be more concerned with preserving what had been achieved than with further development’ (pp. 84–5).

Price, to my opinion, underrates the creative possibilities of Renaissance and humanist learning. The Renaissance never encouraged slavish copying of ancient culture, but rather its emulation. One simply cannot think of the visual arts, literature, theatre, or architecture of the 17th century without taking into consideration the tremendous impact of the culture of the Renaissance. This impact brought new themes, new styles, new ideas and new ways of understanding. With hindsight one could argue that the modern world owes more to the scientific revolution than to Renaissance humanism, but the 17th century Dutch were not equipped with such hindsight. A classical education was the tool with which they were equipped to understand their world, and they used it to its full potential. Towards the end of the book, however, Price becomes more forgiving towards Humanism, for he does acknowledge the positive influence of Erasmus, Lipsius, Scaliger (French, but working in Holland), Grotius, and Heinsius on the wider European culture.

One may also question to what extent the coexistence of innovation and tradition was distinctive for the Dutch Golden Age. Are not all societies characterized by simultaneous change and continuity? Innovation will usually take place in a limited number of social areas, and not everywhere at the same pace, while other areas will remain relatively stable. Imperial Germany, for example, around 1900 at the forefront of scientific and technological innovation, was reactionary in its politics. And what about the contemporary United States, still the leading nation in science and technology, as well as in cinema, the visual arts, and literature, and yet simultaneously known for a number of staggeringly conservative political and religious movements?

One could even go so far as to argue – and it has in fact been argued – that traditionalism is essentially a reaction against modernization rather than the mere survival of traditional forms of culture. Innovation breeds its own critics, and not only in the case of the Dutch Golden Age. Was ‘the invention of tradition’ a characteristic feature of the Dutch Golden Age? This is a line of inquiry Price does not pursue but it might be worthwhile to explore to what extent movements such as the ‘Further Reformation’ (Nadere reformatie) or the various millenarian groups of the mid-17th century were a reaction against the capitalist ethos of the era rather than the expression of an atavistic religiosity.

There are only few books available exploring the culture of the Dutch Golden Age as a whole. Price’s earlier book is one of them, but it is by now outdated and its central thesis can no longer be upheld. Johan Huizinga’s brilliant ‘sketch’ Dutch Civilization of the Seventeenth Century, originally published in 1941 (3) is still highly readable, but strongly bears the marks of the period in which it was written. 1650: Hard-Won Unity by Willem Frijhoff and Marijke Spies (4) contains a wealth of material and insights, but its focus is limited to the middle of the century, and it is too voluminous for class room use. It is remarkable that Simon Schama’s The Embarrassment of Riches (5) is not even mentioned in Price’s Select Bibliography. This should not come as a surprise to those readers who are familiar with his scathing criticism of that book.(6)

I have perhaps been unfair in focusing almost exclusively on Price’s juxtaposition of the innovative and the traditional. This may downplay the extent to which the author has succeeded in cramming an enormous amount of information as well as lucid insights into a very slim volume. This is a tremendous achievement. I recommend this book for classroom use. It will provide undergraduate students with all background information they need and at the same time provoke lively discussion on the peculiar character of the culture of the Dutch Golden Age.

A brief history of masks from the 17th-century plague to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic

In Japan, wearing a face mask is a widespread practice. Credit: Draconiansleet/flickr, CC BY

As of July 18, it is mandatory to wear masks in indoor public spaces in Québec following similar edicts across the country.

While inspired by growing evidence that masks can reduce the spread of COVID-19, this seems deeply ironic in a province so opposed to face coverings that Québec passed legislation that forbade people from receiving certain government services if their face was covered.

Clearly, our discomfort about wearing masks in the midst of a pandemic has deep roots.

Bad smells and bird beaks

Medical mask-wearing has a long history. In the past few months, pictures of the beaked masks that doctors wore during the 17th-century plague epidemic have been circulating online. At the time, disease was believed to spread through miasmas—bad smells that wafted through the air. The beak was stuffed with herbs, spices and dried flowers to ward off the odors believed to spread the plague.

In North America, before the 1918 influenza epidemic, surgeons wore masks, as did nurses and doctors who were treating contagious patients in a hospital setting. But during the flu epidemic, cities around the world passed mandatory masking orders. Historian Nancy Tomes argues that mask-wearing was embraced by the American public as "an emblem of public spiritedness and discipline."

Women accustomed to knitting socks and rolling bandages for soldiers quickly took to mask-making as a patriotic duty. That said, the enthusiasm for mask-wearing waned quickly, as Alfred W. Crosby showed in America's Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918.

Canadian reluctance and Japanese willingness

Public health officers were dubious about the value of masks. In Alberta, for example, the flu first appeared at the beginning of October 1918. By the end of the month, the province ordered everyone to wear a mask outside of their homes, to be removed only in the case of eating. In just four weeks, the order was rescinded.

The Medical Officer of Health for Edmonton reported that practically no one wore a mask thereafter, except in hospitals. In his view, the rapid spread of the disease after the mask order was put into effect made the order an object of "ridicule."

In Japan, by contrast, the public embraced mask-wearing during the Spanish flu. According to sociologist Mitsutoshi Horii, mask-wearing symbolized "modernity." In the post-war era, Japanese people continued to wear masks to prevent the flu, only stopping in the 1970s when flu vaccines became widely available. In the 1980s and 1990s, mask-wearing increased to prevent allergies, as allergy to cedar pollen became a growing problem. In the late 1980s, the effectiveness of flu vaccinations declined and wearing a mask to avoid influenza resumed.

Mask-wearing skyrocketed in the early years of the 21st century with the outbreak of SARS and avian influenza. The Japanese government recommended that all sick people wear masks to protect others, while they suggested that healthy people could wear them as a preventative measure. Horii argues that mask-wearing was a "neoliberal answer to the question of public health policy" in that it encouraged people to take individual responsibility for their own health.

When H1N1 hit Japan in 2009, it first struck tourists who had returned from Canada. The sick were blamed for failing to wear masks while abroad. In a country that takes etiquette very seriously, wearing masks in Japan has become a form of politeness.

A century of Chinese mask-wearing

Similarly, in China, mask-wearing has a long history. A pneumonic plague epidemic in China in 1910-11 sparked widespread mask-wearing there. After the Communists came to power in 1949, there was intense fear of germ warfare, leading many to wear masks. In the 21st century, the SARS epidemic intensified mask-wearing, as did the smog that blanketed many Chinese cities. The Chinese government urged its citizens to protect themselves against pollution by wearing masks.

During the COVID-19 epidemic, some of the first people in Canada to wear masks were people with ties to Asia, who were already accustomed to the practice of masking.

One of the first cases of COVID-19 in Canada was that of a student at Western University who had visited her parents in Wuhan over the Christmas break. On the flight back to Canada, she wore a mask. She self-isolated upon her arrival in Canada and when she became sick, she showed up at the hospital wearing a mask. She did not infect anyone else.

Ironically, given that the masks are intended to protect others, mask-wearing has made Asians in Canada a target of racist attacks. In the early days of COVID-19, Western media outlets featured Asians wearing masks as a harbinger of the epidemic. Asians wearing masks have been verbally and physically attacked.

Controversies over masks continue. On July 15, a man died after a confrontation with the Ontario Provincial Police after he reportedly assaulted staff at a grocery store who insisted he wear a mask. Some Canadians complain that masks are uncomfortable, unnecessary, harmful to their own health or ineffective.

But support for mask-wearing appears to be growing. In the face of a serious health threat, Canadians are wisely following the lead of Asian countries.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Modern Science Didn’t Appear Until the 17th Century. What Took So Long?

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The Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman once recalled a friend, an artist, who would say that he could properly appreciate the beauty of a flower, while a scientist like Feynman always insisted on taking the flower apart and making it dull. Of course, Feynman disagreed. “I can imagine the cells inside, which also have a beauty,” Feynman wrote, calling his friend’s prejudice “nutty.” “There are all kinds of interesting questions that come from a knowledge of science, which only adds to the excitement and mystery and awe of a flower.”

I thought of Feynman’s good-natured defense while reading “The Knowledge Machine,” a provocative and fascinating book by the philosopher Michael Strevens that mostly enthralled me, even as a couple of parts set my teeth on edge. But that’s just the nature of opinion and disputation, something that Strevens would surely understand, given his argument that opinion and disputation play an essential role in the scientific world. While modern science is built on the primacy of empirical data — appealing to the objectivity of facts — actual progress requires determined partisans to move it along.

Science has produced some extraordinary elements of modern life that we take for granted: imaging devices that can peer inside the body without so much as a cut planes that hurtle through the air at hundreds of miles an hour. But human civilization has existed for millenniums, and modern science — as distinct from ancient and medieval science, or so-called natural philosophy — has only been around for a few hundred years. What took so long? “Why wasn’t it the ancient Babylonians putting zero-gravity observatories into orbit around the earth,” Strevens asks, “the ancient Greeks engineering flu vaccines and transplanting hearts?”

The Scientific Revolution of the 17th century yielded the figure of the modern scientist, single-mindedly dedicated to collecting empirical evidence and testing hypotheses against it. Strevens, who studied mathematics and computer science before turning to philosophy, says that transforming ordinary thinking humans into modern scientists entails “a morally and intellectually violent process.” So much scientific research takes place under conditions of “intellectual confinement” — painstaking, often tedious work that requires attention to minute details, accounting for fractions of an inch and slivers of a degree. Strevens gives the example of a biologist couple who spent every summer since 1973 on the Galápagos, measuring finches it took them four decades before they had enough data to conclude that they had observed a new species of finch.

This kind of obsessiveness has made modern science enormously productive, but Strevens says there is something fundamentally irrational and even “inhuman” about it. He points out that focusing so narrowly, for so long, on tedious work that may not come to anything is inherently unappealing for most people. Rich and learned cultures across the world pursued all kinds of erudition and scholarly traditions, but didn’t develop this “knowledge machine” until relatively recently, Strevens says, for precisely that reason. The same goes for brilliant, intellectually curious individuals like Aristotle, who generated his own theory about physics but never proposed anything like the scientific method.

According to “The Knowledge Machine,” it took a cataclysm to disrupt the longstanding way of looking at the world in terms of an integrated whole. The Thirty Years’ War in Europe — which started over religion and ended, after killing millions, with a system of nation-states — made compartmentalization look good. Religious identity would be private political identity would be public. Not that this partition was complete in the 17th century, but Strevens says it opened up the previously unfathomable possibility of sequestering science. The timing also happened to coincide with the life of Isaac Newton, who became known for his groundbreaking work in mathematics and physics. Even though Newton was an ardent alchemist with a side interest in biblical prophecy, he supported his scientific findings with empirical inquiry he was, Strevens argues, “a natural intellectual compartmentalizer” who arrived at a fortuitous time.

So modern science began, accruing its enormous power through what Strevens calls “the iron rule of explanation,” requiring scientists to settle arguments by empirical testing, imposing on them a common language “regardless of their intellectual predilections, cultural biases or narrow ambitions.” Individual scientists can believe whatever they want to believe, and their individual modes of reasoning can be creative and even wild, but in order to communicate with one another, in scientific journals, they have to abide by this rule. The motto of England’s Royal Society, founded in 1660, is “Nullius in verba”: “Take nobody’s word for it.”

Strevens’s book contains a number of surprises, including an elegant section on quantum mechanics that coolly demonstrates why it’s such an effective theory, deployed in computer chips and medical imaging, even if physicists who have made ample use of it (like Feynman) have said that nobody, themselves included, truly understands it. Strevens also has some pretty uncharitable things to say about the majority of working scientists, painting them as mostly uncreative drones, purged of all nonscientific curiosity by a “program of moralizing and miseducation.” The great scientists were exceptions because they escaped the “deadening effects” of this inculcation the rest are just “the standard product of this system”: “an empiricist all the way down.”

He may well be right, but from a book about the history of science, I wanted more proof. Then again, “The Knowledge Machine” is ultimately a work of philosophy, and should be considered an ambitious thought experiment. Strevens builds on the work of philosophers like Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn to come up with his own original hypothesis about the advent of modern science and its formidable consequences. The machine in Strevens’s title has scientists pursuing their work relentlessly while also abiding by certain rules of the game, allowing even the most vehement partisans to talk with one another.

And Strevens doesn’t even leave it at that. Climate change, pandemics — he comes up to the present day, ending on a grim but resolute note, hopeful that scientists will adapt and find a better way to communicate with a suspicious public. “We’ve pampered and praised the knowledge machine, given it the autonomy it has needed to grow,” he writes. “Now we desperately need its advice.”

Watch the video: 17th Century (July 2022).


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