This is the second in a short series of posts about my trip to Utrecht, to the EDPOP conference: European Dimensions of Popular Print Culture: A Comparative Approach.

digAfter the various opening and introductory sessions (which took more than 3 hours), it was time for Session 1: The circulation and materiality of parodic and comic literature in Northern Europe, co-ordinated by Katell Lavéant and chaired by Malcolm Walsby.   The first speaker was Ruth von Bernuth on ‘Shared books and laughter: the Schildbürgerbuch in German and Yiddish’.  The Schildbürgerbuch is a very funny story based on Thomas More’s Utopia, describing what happens when one town’s attempt to construct a reformist and ideal society goes wrong.  Ruth described how the story was subtly altered when a Yiddish edition was published in Amsterdam.  She noted, for example, the residents of the ideal city Laleburg bathe on Sunday in the Yiddish edition rather than Saturday and they eat beef rather than pork, but that there are inconsistencies, as they still go to church!

Ruth was followed by Cécile de Morrée and Rozanne Versendaal who spoke about ‘Recurring interest in joyful songs and summonses: Reflections on a variety of shapes and sizes’.   This paper was based on their work on the Uncovering Joyful  Culture project held up a lot of aspects of joyful songs which were familiar to me from my work on ballads. Cécile and Rozanne pointed out that often, the texts come from elite culture and are adapted for popular audiences, that the song books might contain tune references but not usually notation and that they were also spread in manuscript.  They argued that youth was a significant market for their type of print, which was quite interesting.

Next came Katell Lavéant on ‘Forms and uses of seventeenth-century comic broadsheets’.  These sometimes have one huge image or sometimes, in Dutch or French, no image at all.  They have often been studied by art historians, or for their performative context, but hybrid versions are more difficult to appreciate.
digFollowing a short break, we moved on to Session 2, Popular medical books in Europe, which, if I’m honest, I didn’t think would interest me all that much.  How wrong I was!

The co-ordinator and chair, Sabrina Minuzzi, introduced Tessa Storey, whose paper bore the fascinating title of ‘The Lament of the Melons’: Extracting the rules of healthy living from cheap print in sixteenth and seventeenth century Italy-with a glance at England and France”.  Apparently, early modern medical cheap print was full of self help books which recommended living healthily, as this would reduce the need to call on the services of expensive doctors.  These texts represent a filtering down of more expensive regimen, which were out of reach of the ordinary person.  She reported that she has not found an equivalent amount of material in French or English to that in Italian, although she did note that this might be because she was less sure of where to look.  This, of course, is one of the limitations of this comparative approach, as it either relies on getting large numbers of scholars to collaborate fully on a single paper (especially as things change over time as well as location), or having someone present on an area which is not their direct specialism (which is necessarily somewhat speculative), or taking a directly comparative approach which only looks at a small number of cases – as Massimo Rospocher and I did by comparing 16th century England and Italy – but is therefore not really a broad brush picture.  Nevertheless, it was refreshing to hear someone acknowledge the limitations of their approach, and it didn’t make Tessa’s comments on the Lament of the Melons any less interesting or amusing.   The Lament is an Italian barzelletta, which might either be intended to make fun of melon-sellers or it might be by them, in an attempt to persuade people to buy their produce.  Either way, it suggests that the vendors were aware of the medical properties which were ascribed to melons and other fruit in treatises and regimen.
digSandra Cavallo then talked about ‘Genres of medical didactic literature and medical culture in early modern Italy’.  She pointed out that although utilitarian texts and self help books had been widely used in research, it might be worth looking at how they talk about medicine as well as what they actually recommend as medical practises.  The final paper of the day was given by Hana Jadrná Matějková on ‘Early Modern midwifery books from German speaking regions and the Czech Lands between Scholarship and practice’.  She argued that print allowed men to penetrate women’s field of midwifery and obstetrics, first in print and then in practice.  She challenged the view that these books were owned by midwives, pointing out that there is no evidence of their annotation by midwives in England. Whereas women learned their craft from other women, men’s practical experience was limited to Caesarian sections on dead mothers and the removal of dead babies from the womb.

After a short presentation by Julia Martins and Andrea van Leerdam, it was time for the

conference dinner, where Juan Gomis and I were charged with entertaining the delegates.  Juan sang two Spanish ballads, while I performed extracts from William Elderton’s ballad on The Dangerous Shooting of the Gun at Court’.  Then it was time to walk back to my hotel, through a beautiful evening.