Monday, 31 March 2014

A Blog With A Purpose? A Organ with meaning?

I just had my gallbladder reluctantly removed from my body so things have been a bit slow here at historyminion. It's weird how one little vestigial organ removal can decimate my bank account and my brain power all in the same week.

While I've been waiting to heal up, I decided to stick to schedules and features so people will know what the week will bring to their eyeballs courtesy of their inter-webiness viewing. Mondays I will muse on news reports with historical significance. Wednesdays I'll answer a strange history question from you, my reading public. If I have no questions, no blog! Fridays are Forgotten Stories Day, where I look at historical, world changing events that were front page news then, and everyone forgot about now.

You'd remember the history of the Seven Years War if it was this cute.
Now, back to my gallbladder.

Well, all of our gallbladders use to be viewed as being much more important than we view it now. The Roman anatomist Galen (200 CE) who made the liver the principal organ of the human body, not the brain or the heart. "The liver is the source of the veins and the principal instrument of sanguification," he observed in On the Usefulness of the Parts of the Body. This means the liver's two buddies - the gall bladder and spleen - were two crucial subsidiary organs of the liver.  All three organs worked together to produce and store three of the four humors of the body:  blood (liver), yellow bile (gall bladder) and black bile (spleen).  Three-quarters of the substances which established the balance of a healthy body could be found in this region. 

Our organs as drawn in the middle ages look more like root vegs to me.
While the liver may have been the most importance organ to observe and describe in this sector of the body, the gall bladder and spleen also provided interesting material to contemplate. Humoral theory (where the body had four humours that affected our systems completely) suggested that each had a profound effect on the emotions. The gall bladder regulated the emotions by being a repository for gall.  "Its substance is slender," wrote 16th century physician Berengario, "because it does not digest anything and hard so that it may resist the sharpness of the gall." 

As the decline of the theory of humours int he 18th century, and medical sciences looked deeper into the functions of the gallbladder, gall stones were identified as causing pain and trouble for other organs, especially the tied to it pancreas. The first removals of stones and the gallbladder were recorded in the 1700s, but very few people survived. It was in the 1880s when the first successful Cholecystectomy or gallbladder removal - the person lived - were done in England and America.

What do you mean you can live without me?
Some cultures still place great emphasis on you keeping your gall inside you. In the Chinese language, the gallbladder is associated with courage and other related idioms including "a body completely [of] gall"  and "single gallbladder hero". In the ZangFu theory of Chinese medicine, the gallbladder is the centre of decision making. This puts me into a bit of trouble, as mine has now been taken out and disposes of. An excuse finally to act like a nut!

 For more on the history of removing your gallbladder, see the History of Gallbladder Surgery. Enjoy.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Lobster People! A Short History of Vacations

This week´s post comes from a question from Dan in Calgary, AB. He asked since I was on vacation, where did this concept come from? How and when did people start to take vacations? He cited the Romans get-away of Pompeii as a well known vacation town. Where they knew how to get down.

Let's follow Dan if he was alive and on vacation throughout history, sort of a Doctor Who of lazy days.He'll pack his shorts and make sure to wear his hikers.

The word vacation comes from the Latin vacare, meaning freedom or exemption. We use vacation and holiday as interchangeable terms now, but originally these are two completely different concepts. Dan in most countries around the world would celebrate a holy day - proclaimed for a saint or some battle commemoration. In a very Christian Europe, he'd head to mass on St. Joseph's day and think about how sucky it would have been for him as a step-dad. It also meant a day off of work for Dan from toiling in the fields to worship at his local church/temple, rest, or just sleep in.

Vacations could have holy days in them, but a lot of time there was no real reason for it other that rest and relaxation. In the Western world, the Romans were the first to go on vacations to get away from it all in a busy, crazy and often over-heated city. Dan, in his best straw hat, palanquin, and servants, would head for his villa in Sicily.
A little drafty now though
Roman Dan might have also taken the first actual tours. Scholars, Emperors, and other elite members of society would pack up their families and head to the Mediterranean and hit all over Italy, Greece, Turkey and Egypt hell bent on pleasure. One of the first guidebooks, called The Description of Greece, was written by Pausanias around 160 CE. He spent ten years travelling in Greece partying and seeing the sites.Dan would have travelled along with the P-man, working on poems, eating local cuisine, and making comments about how the locals were hot.

Pictured - a party animal
Not to be left out, we have tons of records of Chinese and Japanese people taking vacations, off to coastal regions or just going to see friends. Chinese scholars of the Song dynasty (960-1279 CE) wrote many travel notes and guides, detailing inns and places, sometimes women of pleasure. Dan - you dirty dog. But he could have taken a vacation as personal discovery was more the poet's path for Matsuo Basho, the famed Haiku master. For years he walked all over southern Japan in the late 1600s and chronicled his journeys in multiple poems and books. (On a personal note, I am a devote apostle of Basho and went to Ueno specifically to see the sights as well.) My favourite of his works remains the travel journal Record of a Weather-Exposed Skeleton. It's not really a modern guide to Japan. But he did have travel buddies, including the monk Sora.
More pilgrims than party animals - but Basho did drink a lot of wine
Back in Europe, the idea of taking a lot of time off just to bum around became in vogue with the young, rich elite. Grand tours all over Europe started in the late1600s and continues to this day with crusty backpackers. The tour would have been a must for a young, well-off Dan, usually with his tutors, as a tour would complete his already classical education. He'd hit France and Italy first, as they were the two biggest destinations for the Dutch gad-about. For a British travelling Dan, he'd hire horses, carts and supplies to take him to the Netherlands, then France, Italy, the Alps, the Rhine, Switzerland, Italy and a swing by Germany on his way home.On a great website The Grand Tour, you can really get into the spirit of their excursions. There are some female traveller's tales as well, such as Lady Hester Stanhope and Elizabeth Craven.
What you would have seen on the Grand Tour in the 1800s. Dan is sitting and trying to be a gentleman and not staring at all the naked chicks
However, these travel journals are cleaned up so much that a lot of what went on of a questionable nature, like a young man sowing his wild oats as it were, are left out. Where we get some gleams of what the rich did on vacation is from literature. I directed Dan to read A Sinner's Grand Tour for some meaty stuff, like the 1880s belle époque fantasy brothel Le Chabanais, the lost “sex chair” of King Edward VII.

Which leads Dan to his current vacation location, the beach.

The English and Welsh came up with the modern concept of going to a seaside resort to bathe, or take in the waters, stay overnight, and for Dan, eat entirely too much cheese. In the 19th century, a middle class was emerging and these people along with the upper class families would escape from the city heat and head to places like Blackpool, Brighton. There Dan could enjoy a music-hall with dances and variety shows, pleasure gardens and exhibitions. More informal seaside town would pick up in the summer months, such as Lyme (mentioned in Austen´s Persuasion as a seaside destination in the 1800s CE) where fishing and farming predominated and visitors entertained themselves. The reason? The modern industrial era was placing a huge strain on people, and doctors were actually prescribing time off for the rich to get away from it all.

Blackpool, not really getting away from anything.

Thanks to the invention of the train and creation of the railways,seaside vacations became possible for the middle and working class. Since the 1840s, cheap and affordable fares to fast growing resort towns in the UK and American made thousands of sun seekers head to the sands. Entrepreneurs (con-men) would build accommodation and create new attractions, leading to more visitors like Dan to cough up their money just to stay and get some sun on their white bodies. Hence the beginning of the Lobster People.
But it took a while.

Wear SPF 5000, Dan!