Sunday, February 26, 2012

Fox Conner

I dote on Ralph E. Luker's postings to the history blog called Cliopatria and while visiting there I happened upon a link to a book review by Jonathan Yardley. Yardley is always worth reading and this piece is as good as most. It's his review of Jean Edward Smith's new book on Dwight Eisenhower and in it he happens to mention the military officers who mentored Eisenhower during the two decades following his 1915 graduation from West Point. The name of one of these men caught my eye because it's the name of an uncle of my brother's wife.

I remember the uncle as owner of a smallish manufacturing plant which, from the 1930s through the '60s, produced a humane animal trap called Havahart™. I remembered two other facts: (1) the traps were invented by an eccentric German who sold the patent to the uncle sometime before WWII and (2) after the outbreak of that war, the uncle switched production from traps to a military item: liners for the fuel tanks of armored vehicles.

A bit of research shows both these facts to be true.

I also have a vague memory of the old brick factory where the traps and liners were made, located in Ossining right next door to the village in which I had been raised. Though I'm uncertain I actually saw it, there's no doubt about the existence of the place. Having begun as a plant for making a patent medicine called Brandreth's Pills and having been turned to other uses in the next 150 years or so, it now stands unkempt and empty.

This image shows the office building with the factory structures behind.

{The photo was taken from the west, or river, side of the property; caption: Buildings of the former Brandreth Pill Factory complex in Ossining, NY, USA source: wikipedia}

This is what the main factory buildings look like.

{Taken from the north, this shows part of the office and two of the Brandreth factory buildings; source:}[1]

This river-side view of the property comes from a certificate awarding the right to sell Brandreth Pills in Italy. It is dated 1863. The base of the copula still exists but there are only a few indistinct remains of the Greek-revival portico seen up the hill at right. The buildings are located on a cove of the Hudson River with the New York Central Railroad (indicated by smoke from a locomotive chimney) and Haverstraw Bay (indicated by distant hills) shown on the horizon. There is some artistic license taken. The cove was somewhat smaller than shown and the buildings are shown facing the wrong direction. They faced the river to the west, not, as shown, south toward the hamlets of Sing Sing and Sparta. The building at center is the original factory; at right is an office, and the hill-side structures are a "summer house" (with copula) and residence (with columned portico).[2]

{Detail from a Brandreth certificate of agency of 1863; source: Westchester Archives}

This detail from an 1868 property atlas shows the cove and orientation of the buildings. Click to view full size. Most of the factory structures are shown top left. There is one by the train tracks at river side and the remaining Brandreth buildings are office, store house, stable and residences.[3]

{Detail from Singsing, Town of Ossining, Westchester Co., N.Y. (Atlas of New York and vicinity by F.W. Beers published by Beers, Ellis & Soule, New York, 1868); source: David Rumsey Historical Map Collection}

This satellite image shows the area as it is now. The two residences that I've marked are both modern buildings built roughly on the location of the original ones. The building marked "Office" dates from 1838 and is the first factory building on the site. It is labeled "Pill Fact." on the 1863 atlas. The buildings I call "Pill and Plaster Factory Bldgs" were built in the next couple of decades and are called "Drug Mill & Plaster Manufactury" on the atlas.[4]

{source: Google}

This photo shows the property from out on the river to the west. The "Pill and Plaster Factory Bldgs" are directly behind the white structure at left. The "office" is along the shore at right. Other structures are hidden by the trees. The church seen mid-right is the one where the factory owners and their families attended services.

{The Brandreth property seen from the river; source:}

The uncle's name was Fox Conner as was the name of Eisenhower's mentor, and the one was son to the other — Fox Brandreth Conner, son of Fox Conner. Fox Conner was General Pershing's chief of staff. There's much to be read about him, and if you're interested, the wikipedia article on him is a good place to start. There's also a book on him, Grey Eminence: Fox Conner and the Art of Mentorship by Edward Cox (New Forums Press, 2010).

The factory that Fox Brandreth Conner ran has an interesting history.

The first factory building was put up in 1836 on property purchased from Oliver Cromwell Field, a direct descendant of the Lord Protector.[5] Field's house, on a promontory called Spring Hill, became the residence of the new owner, Benjamin Brandreth. You can read a concise history of Benjamin Brandreth and his family here (pdf). His grandfather invented Brandreth's Pills in Leeds, England, and Benjamin brought the business first to New York City and then to the land he'd bought from Field. The pills were a powerful vegetable-based purgative. A great-great grandfather of Fox Brandreth Conner, Benjamin was one of America's first advertising geniuses. His entrepreneurial ability made them just about universally known in their time. An astute businessman, he succeeded in acquiring and preserving a considerable fortune. In his book, Humbugs of the World P.T. Barnum describes Brandreth's early success:
"Great and reasonable as might have been the faith of Dr. Brandreth in the efficacy of his pills, his faith in the potency of advertising them was equally strong. ... Column upon column of advertisements appeared in the newspapers, in the shape of learned and scientific pathological dissertations, the very reading of which would tempt a poor mortal to rush for a box of Brandreth's Pills; so evident was it (according to the advertisement) that nobody ever had or ever would have "pure blood," until from one to a dozen boxes of the pills had been taken as "purifiers." The ingenuity displayed in concocting these advertisements was superb, and was probably hardly equaled by that required to concoct the pills.

No pain, ache, twinge, or other sensation, good, bad, or indifferent, ever experienced by a member of the human family, but was a most irrefragable evidence of the impurity of the blood; and it would have been blasphemy to have denied the "self-evident" theory, that " all diseases arise from impurity or imperfect circulation of the' blood, and that by purgation with Brandreth's Pills all disease may be cured." The doctor continued to let his advertising keep pace with his patronage; and he was finally, in the year 1836, compelled to remove his manufactory to Sing Sing, where such perfectly incredible quantities of Brandreth's Pills have been manufactured and sold that it would hardly be safe to give the statistics. Suffice it to say, that the only "humbug" which I suspect in connection with the pills was, the very harmless and unobjectionable yet novel method of advertising them; and as the doctor amassed a great fortune by their manufacture, this very fact is prima facie evidence that the pill was a valuable purgative.
In 1848 Brandreth purchased rights to a sticking plaster for relieving aches and pains: Allcock's Porous Plasters for Lumbago and All Pains. This too he heavily advertised and it was said to be so beneficial that the only problem its users faced was in removing the thing once it had done its work. Over the next century Brandreth and his successors added to the list of manufactured goods produced in the factory buildings: (1) ammunition-box liners for the military during World War I, (2) nail polish (3) mannequins, (4) cell forms for bulletproof fuel tanks during World War II, (5) an ersatz coffee, and (6) a fiberglass boat, the Swallow Model Adirondack Guideboat.

This lithograph was made just prior to the time Brandreth built his first factory building. The artist is standing on high land in the hamlet of Sing Sing, later to become the village of Ossining. The view is to the north west and Oliver Cromwell Field's property, where Brandreth will build, is out of sight, over the hill at center. The neck of land jutting into the Hudson is Croton Point. This part of the river is called Haverstraw Bay. The small peak pointed skyward on the horizon is High Tor, where Rip Van Winkle fell asleep.

{Caption: Sing-Sing or Mount Pleasant, lithograph by Jacques Gérard Milbert, Jacques, from: Itineraire pittoresque du fleuve Hudson et des parties laterales de l'Amerique du Nord, d'apres les dessins originaux pris sur les lieux. Source: NYPL Digital Gallery}

This painting shows Haverstraw Bay in 1839 with the artist standing in Sing Sing looking south and west. By this time Brandreth had built his first factory but it and the Field residence are out of sight to our right.

{The artist is W.H. Bartlett; source:}

This 1885 ad for the pills and the porous plasters shows Haverstraw Bay looking southwest from the river-side factory. The boy has one of the plasters on his back.

{source: wikipedia}

Here are some testimonial-style advertisements from the New York Tribune in 1871. Notice the willingness of officials to help promote what was then a place where many of the village's young women and not a few of its men found work.

{The Tribune almanac and political register edited by Horace Greeley (The Tribune Association, 1871)}

This detail from a property atlas shows the factory structures and residences as of 1893. H.C. Symonds was a member of the Brandreth clan. The house was labeled "Mrs. Brandreth" on earlier maps. I suspect that Miss J. Van Wyck was one as well. Her house was labeled "P.G. Van Wyck" on earlier maps. The original factory building is here labeled "Store House".

{Atlas: Sing Sing by Julius Bien & Co., 1893: source: David Rumsey Map Collection}

This larger view shows the growth of the village in the 60 years since Brandreth first moved there.

I haven't forgotten that it was the humane traps which first attracted my interest in the factory. This ad for it appeared in 1962.

As I say, Ossining is next door to the village where I was raised and I've consequently done some blog posts in which it figures. Here are some links: --------

Some sources:

“Eisenhower in War and Peace” by Jean Edward Smith a review by Jonathan Yardley, February 6, 2012

"Brandreth Pills" in Brother Jonathan: A weekly compend of belles lettres and the fine arts, standard literature, and general intelligence Horatio Hastings Weld, John Neal, George M. Snow, Edward Stephens (Wilson & Company, 1842)

Brandreth Pills in The Humbugs of the World, An Account of Humbugs, Delusions, Impositions, Quackeries, Deceits and Deceivers Generally, in All Ages, by P. T. Barnum (1866)

Ossining's Historic Brandreth Pill Factory, Ossining's Brandreth Pill factory gained its National Register designation in 1980 because of its connection with Dr. Benjamin Brandreth, by former Ossining Mayor Miguel Hernandez in Ossining Patch

Benjamin Brandreth on

EPN Real Estate Services to complete Hidden Cove on the Hudson, New England Real Estate Journal, January 8, 2008, an article about proposed development of the property

Hidden Cove on the Hudson, documents related to proposed development of the property for upscale housing

Draft Environmental Impact Statement Hidden Cove on the Hudson (pdf), one of the documents

Archaeological Assessment Hidden Cove on the Hudson (pdf) another of the documents

When Sing Sing Was a 'Model' Prison March 19, 2009, in Postscripts, an online magazine offering a pastiche of articles on current affairs, history, technics, opinion, writing, advice, humor and trivia.

Purgation Unlimited James Harvey Young, in The Toadstool Millionaires: A Social History of Patent Medicines in America before Federal Regulation

Brandreth Pill Factory Documents, 1863-1900

The Tribune almanac and political register edited by Horace Greeley (The Tribune Association, 1871)

Archaeological Assessment and Field Investigation, Hidden Cove Development, Brandreth Pill Factory, Village Of Ossining, Westchester County, New York (pdf)

"A Most Mephitic Mystery" by venta Belgarum in The Sandisfield Times, Vol. 1, No. 5, August 2010

Brandreth's Pills in Historical Images of the Drug Market, Medical Collectors Association Newsletter, December 22, 2000

Allcock's Porous Plasters by Caroline Rance on October 16th, 2009

Œuvres complètes d'Alexis de Tocqueville (M. Lévy frères, 1865)

Fiberglass Adirondack Guideboat in Boats and Boating in the Adirondacks by Hallie E. Bond (Syracuse University Press, 1998)

Gen Fox Conner on

Thomas Allcock on

Benjamin Brandreth on wikipedia

Thomas Allcock on wikipedia


DEATH OF G.A. BRANDRETH.; Head of a Well-Known Manufacturing Company and Prominent in the Affairs of His Town, New York Times, November 16, 1897


Dr. Brandreth Symonds, New York Times, August 26, 1905

DEATH OF G.A. BRANDRETH.; Head of a Well-Known Manufacturing Company and Prominent in the Affairs of His Town, New York Times, November 16, 1897

Conner -- Brandreth, New York Times, June 5, 1902

Paid Notice: Deaths CONNER, FOX BRANDRETH, New York Times, July 19, 2000
Extract: "CONNER, FOX BRANDRETH - Fox Brandreth Conner of Ossining died on July 17, 2000, at the Arden Hill Nursing Home in Goshen, NY. He was 95. Mr. Conner was born June 23, 1905, at Fort Hamilton Army Base in Brooklyn, NY. He was the son of Major General Fox Conner, Chief of Operations for the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe during World War I, and Virginia Brandreth Conner. Mr. Conner married Muriel Macpherson in 1927. She died on September 12, 1986. ... In 1929, he joined the family business, the Allcock Manufacturing Company, in Ossining. ... In the 1930s, the company began producing Havahart traps, humane traps that capture animals alive and unhurt. Mr. Conner became President of the company in 1945 and began to focus exclusively on manufacturing Havahart traps, which became the country's most popular humane animal traps, sold in the United States and overseas. ... Mr. Conner was an avid fisherman and outdoor sportsman, spending much of his time at the family seasonal residence in the Adirondack Mountains at Brandreth Park, NY. He enjoyed gardening and reading, and was an accomplished wood sculptor. ... "

Brandreth Pill Factory
Extract: "During the later years of the 19th century and the early 20th, the factory began to diversify its operations in response to increasing federal regulation of the patent-medicine industry. Among the new products were ammunition-box liners for the military during World War I. ... Franklin Brandreth stepped down in 1928 and was replaced by his grandson Fox Brandreth Conner. By then the domestic market for the pills it had once manufactured in abundance was gone. ...In 1940 the company sold the buildings at the southern end of the property to the Gallowhur corporation, which used them to make insect repellent and suntan lotion. The rights to the pill formula were also sold off after World War II. Brandreth's company, under the Allcock name, continued its manufacturing operations in the 1870s complex until 1979. They were later used by the Filex Corporation, a maker of steel office furniture."



[1] Jaime Martorano and Abandoned New York have made available excellent, though fiercely protected, photo sets of the factory complex.

[2] Here is the full certificate.


[3] Notice that one local resident bears the name Conner: "Jas. Conner" lives in a house on Snowden Ave. (top right of image). I don't know anything about the man but there may be a connection with the Conner family which eventually took over management of the Brandreth factory. It's also interesting to see a member of the Van Wyck family on the Brandeth property. The house of "P.G. Van Vyk" at Grove Hill is just east of the office and store house and somewhat north of Mrs. Brandreth's residence.

[4] Notice that there is a Van Wyck St. pointing south west toward the Van Wyck property. An atlas of 1893 shows "Miss J. Van Wyck" to be owner of this place. It also shows that the house of Mrs. Brandreth then belonged to a "H.C. Symonds". Symonds was a member of the Brandreth family.

[5] Alexis de Tocqueville once visited Oliver Cromwell Field at his home in Sing Sing: "Singsing, 31 mai 1831. Il y a à Singsing un vieillard qui se rappelle avoir vu les Indiens établis dans 'ce lieu. Le nom même de Singsing est tiré du nom d'un chef indien. On nous montre une maison où demeure un descendant d'Olivier Cromwell."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

a phrase

I've been reading Peter Matthiessen's Under the Mountain Wall: A Chronicle of Two Seasons in Stone Age New Guinea. It's an excellent book. You can find it used in the usual places and it can be had for free at Internet Archive. He writes gracefully and some of his descriptive paragraphs are startlingly beautiful.

As are some of his phrases. Here's one that caused me to pause and reflect during my lunchtime reading. Two small children he said were "caught in the grave immobility of time". Here's the passage with some context:

I wondered if Matthiessen used the phrase in homage to a piece of writing he admired, but I could find nothing among authors who wrote in English. Some further searching turned up one possibility in another language. This was the phrase "immobilité du temps" in Le lys rouge by Anatole France. Matthiessen pairs well with France. Both crafted elegant prose, both attacked the narrow-minded prejudices of their day, and both found success in fiction and non-fiction, literary writing and journalism, short works and long. (I write of Matthiessen in the past tense, but at 81 he's still going strong.)

Their similarities make it possible that Matthiessen was consciously alluding to France's novel in using his arresting phrase. The phrase is not uncommon in French. I suspect, however, (though I'm not at all sure) that in ordinary usage its meaning is generally closer to "stillness of time" than "immobility of time." If I'm right, and France is unusual in employing the latter, then it's possible (barely so I guess) that Matthiessen consciously echoed France in choosing his words.

Here's a bit of the context in Le Lys rouge: "Elle n’osait pas regarder sa montre, de peur d’y voir l’accablante immobilité du temps. Elle se leva, alla à la fenêtre et souleva les rideaux. Une lueur pâle était répandue dans le ciel nuageux. Elle crut que c’était le jour qui commençait à poindre. Elle regarda sa montre. Il était trois heures et demie." -- Le lys rouge by Anatole France (Lévy, 1896).

I'm not sure which I'd prefer — that Matthiessen graciously alluded to the great French author or that the words came to him with no whisper of their heritage.


{Source: Hilldale Lecture in the Arts and Humanities, September 12, 2006, University of Wisconsin}


{Posté par Baschus, mercredi 18 janvier 2012, on Scolies}

Monday, February 20, 2012

Shrove Tuesday football

I recently wrote about the ritual warfare of the Dani people of New Guinea. It was warfare because massed warriors would set upon one another with spears and bows and arrows. Its ritual elements lie in the ceremonies that preceded battle and in the withdrawal of both sides as soon as one or at most a few men were killed or wounded. The men fought not in anger but so as to appease the ghosts of their ancestors.

Reading about Dani warfare, I thought of the racket games played by American Indians. These games, which French observers called lacrosse, pitted one village against another in free-for-alls in which injury was frequent and death a possible outcome. The players participated in rituals before games began and these rituals closely resembled the ones they practiced before going to war. Some referred to the game as analogous to war (as in "little brother of war").

There's another traditional game in which participants would put limb and life at risk. It's the ancient football competition within English villages on Shrove Tuesday.

The English games, like the AmerInd ones, shared with Dani warfare a noticeable religious element. While in the former case, Indians would participate in religious ceremonies before each game and gods were seen as guiding play and determining the victor, in the latter, the game was associated with a religious requirement to be shriven, that is to confess sins to a priest, before sundown that day. (This year Shrove Tuesday falls tomorrow, February 21. One of the three days of Shrovetide, it is the day before Ash Wednesday, and thus the last day before the beginning of Lent.)

Shrove Tuesday football games were, like those of the Indians, not so much recreation, as mock warfare. Like Carnival, held in countries to the south, the games offered a release from many, though not all, cultural inhibitions. They were a letting loose of wild spirits. And it's tempting to see them, as it's common to view Dani ritual warfare and Indian lacrosse, as a means of defusing tensions between neighboring groups of men.

The rules Shrove Tuesday football were traditional ones, varying from village to village, and there were few of them. Early in the sixteenth century one observer saw the occasion as one "wherein is nothing but beastly fury, and extreme violence, whereof proceedeth hurt."[1] While this man went on to complain that "rancour and malice do remain with them that be wounded", modern sources tend to believe the games prevented worse conflict from developing and as a result generally led to better relations between opponents.

Similarly, Dani ritual battles seem to have had the character of games. As one witness wrote, "Dani battles have a conspicuous element of play, with one documented instance of a battle interrupted when both sides were distracted by throwing stones at a passing cuckoo dove."[2]

There's no way to know how ancient were the ritual warfare of the Dani and racket games of the AmerInds. The latter were first reported in the 1630s but the former not until 1938. The football contests of Shrove Tuesday can be dated back to the reign of Edward II who attempted to outlaw them in 1349 out of fear that they kept men from practicing archery and thus imperiled the nation's defense. Claims are made that the practice had antecedents in Roman or possibly Saxon Britain, but there's no real evidence for them.

In the early nineteenth century, just as football was catching on as a sport in the aristocratic public schools, it began to die out as a communal sporting competition. In 1829 a French visitor saw the Shrove Tuesday match between two parts of Ashbourne, in Derbyshire: uppers and the downers, that is to say the neighborhoods from different sides of the river that runs through the place. The Frenchman later wrote "if Englishmen call this play, it would be impossible to say what they call fighting."[3]

{Picture showing a Shrove Tuesday battle at London's Crowe Street originally drawn in the year 1721; source: Mob football on wikipedia}

Football match, 1846, at Kingston on Thames.

{Football match, 1846, Kingston on Thames; source: Kingston upon Thames on wikipedia}

Football evolving into rugby.

{Illustration of a public schools game of football in the 1860s; source: History of Football on spartacus.schoolnet}

Football evolving into what Americans call soccer.

{England against Scotland in 1877; source: History of Football on spartacus.schoolnet}

This shows a modern match of Shrove Tuesday football in Alnwick, Northumberland.

{Traditional Shrove Tuesday football in Alnwick, Northumberland; source: Radical History of Football}

The following image shows an American Indian lacrosse game by George Catlin. A source says: "Catlin was a big fan of Choctaw lacrosse, which he witnessed in Indian Territory in 1834. He described ball-play as 'a school for the painter or sculptor, equal to any of those which ever inspired the hand of the artist in the Olympian games or the Roman forum.' Lacrosse was a physical, even violent, game called 'little brother of war' in Choctaw that included no-holds-barred scuffling and wrestling as players struggled desperately for the ball."[4]

{George Catlin (1796–1872). Ball-play of the Choctaw: Ball-up, 1846–50. Oil on canvas; 65.4 x 81.4 cm. Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr. Smithsonian American Art Museum; source: Smithsonian American Art Museum}


Some sources:

Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide Football Shrove Tuesday & Ash Wednesday

The history of Royal Ashbourne Shrovetide Football
Extract: "There are many versions as to the true origins of the game - but the most popular seems to be the theory that the 'ball' was originally a head tossed into the waiting crowd following an execution. ... And in 1878 the game was briefly banned after a man drowned in the Henmore. Local land-owners signed petitions and refused to let the game take place on their properties."

Royal Shrovetide Football in Ashbourne on

'Shrovetide Football at Ashbourne', 26 February 1952 images on

Shrovetide Football: 1 Ball, 2 Days, 3,000 Players on the New York Times, March 7, 2011.

History, topography, and directory of Derbyshire, comprising its history and archaeology: a general view of its physical and geological features, with separate historical and topographical descriptions of each town, parish, manor, and extra-parochial liberty (T. Bulmer & Co, Printed for the Proprietors by T. Snape & Co., 1895)

Old English customs extant at the present time, an account of local observances by Peter Hampson Ditchfield (G. Redway, 1896)
Shrove Tuesday is a day celebrated for its famous football encounters, which are not, like ordinary games, fought out on a level field between goal-posts, but are entirely of another character. At Sedgefield the church clerk and sexton had, according to immemorial custom, to find a ball to be played for by the trades-folk and villagers on this day. The goal of the former is at the south of the village, that of the latter is a pond at the north end. The ball is put through the bull-ring in the middle of the village. The game always begins at one o'clock, and is fought out for three or four hours with much ferocity. There are no rules of "offside," or of "no charging or hacking allowed." All is fair in love or war, and also in the old-fashioned football of England and Scotland. At Chester-le-Street they have an annual match between the "up-street" and "down-street" folk on Shrove Tuesday. The contest takes place in the street, the windows being all carefully barricaded; and a burn lies in the course of the players, who rush into the water, and enjoy a fine scrimmage there. At Alnwick the contest used to take place in the street, but the Duke of Northumberland instituted an annual match, which now takes place in "the Pasture" every Shrove Tuesday between the parishioners of the two parishes of St. Michael and St. Paul. The committee receives the ball at the barbican of the castle from the porter, and march to the field headed by the Duke's piper, where the contest takes place, after which a fine struggle takes place for the possession of the ball.
History of Football
Extract: 'Large football games often took place on Shrove Tuesday. In 1796 it was reported that in Derby, John Snape was "an unfortunate victim to this custom... which is disgraceful to humanity and civilization, subversive of good order and government and destructive to the morals, properties, and lives of our inhabitants."'

History of football: And the Rules of the Game

Something for everybody (and a garland for the year) John Timbs (London, Lockwood & Co. Stationers, 1861)
Extract: "Football is another common Shrove Tuesday sport: it is still played in Derby, Nottingham, Kingston-upon-Thames, and a few other towns. ... The people of Kingston claim their ancient custom as a right obtained for them by the valour of their ancestors. Tradition states that the Danes, in one of their predatory incursions, were defeated at Kingston, and the Danish general being slain, his head was cut off, and kicked about the place in triumph. This happened on Shrove Tuesday; and hence the origin of their football on that day."

Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide Football Shrove Tuesday & Ash Wednesday.
The game is still carried on at Ashbourne and Derby. Extract:
Football continues to be played at in many parts of England on Shrove Tuesday and Ash-Wednesday, but the mode of playing this game at Ashbourne and Derby, differs very much from the usual practice of this sport. In the town of Derby the contest lies between the parishes of St. Peter and All Saints, and the goals to which the ball is to be taken are, Nun's mill for the latter, and the Gallow's balk on the Normanton road for the former. None of the other parishes of the borough take any direct part in the contest, but the inhabitants of all join in the sport, together with persons from all parts of the adjacent country. The players are young men from eighteen to thirty or upwards, married as well as single, and many veterans who retain a relish for the sport are occasionally seen in the very heat of the conflict. The game commences in the market-place, where the partisans of each parish are drawn up on each side; and, about noon, a large ball is tossed up in the midst of them. This is seized upon by some of the strongest and most active men of each party. The rest of the players immediately close in upon them, and a solid mass is formed. It then becomes the object of each party to impel the course of the crowd towards their particular goal. The struggle to obtain the ball, which is carried in the arms of those who have possessed themselves of it, is then violent, and the motion of this human tide heaving to and fro, without the least regard to consequences, is tremendous. Broken shins, broken heads, torn coats and lost hats, are among the minor accidents of this fearful contest, and it frequently happens that persons fall in consequence of the intensity of the pressure, fainting and bleeding beneath the feet of the surrounding mob. But it would be difficult to give an adequate idea of this ruthless sport: a Frenchman passing through Derby remarked, that if Englishmen called this playing, it would be impossible to say what they would call fighting. Still the crowd is encouraged by respectable persons attached to each party, and who take a surprising interest in the result of the day's sport; urging on the players with shouts, and even handing to those who are exhausted, oranges and other refreshment. The object of the St. Peters' party is to get the ball into the water, down the Morledge brook into the Derwent as soon as they can, while the All Saints party endeavour to prevent this, and to urge the ball westward. The St. Peter players are considered to be equal to the best water-spaniels, and it is certainly curious to see two or three hundred men up to their chins in the Derwent continually ducking each other. The numbers engaged on both sides exceed a thousand, and the streets arc crowded with lockers on. The shops are closed, and the town presents the aspect of a place suddenly taken by storm. — The origin of this violent game is lost in its antiquity, but there exists a tradition, that a cohort of Roman soldiers, marching through the town to Derventio, or Little Chester, were thrust out by the unarmed populace, and this mode of celebrating the occurrence has been continued to the present day. It is even added that this conflict occurred in the year 217, and that the Roman troops at Little Chester were slain by the Britons. — This game is played in a similar manner at Ashbourne, but the institution of it there is of a modern date.
The history of Royal Ashbourne Shrovetide Football

The every day book, or, A guide to the year, describing the popular amusements sports, ceremonies, manners customs & events incident to the three hundred & sixty-five days, in past & present times by William Hone, Volume 1 (W. Tegg, 1826)

This was, and remains, a game on Shrove Tuesday, in various parts of England.

Sir Frederick Morton Eden in the "Statistical account of Scotland," says that at the parish of Scone, county of Perth, every year on Shrove Tuesday the bachelors and married men drew themselves up at the cross of Scone, on opposite sides; a ball was then thrown up, and they played from two o'clock till sun-set. The game was this: he who at any time got the ball into his hands, run with it till overtaken by one of the opposite party; and then, if he could shake himself loose from those on the opposite side who seized him, he run on; if not, he threw the ball from him, unless it was wrested from him by the other party, but no person was allowed to kick it. The object of the married men was to hang it, that is, to put it three times into a small hole in the moor, which was the dool or limit on the one hand: that of the bachelors was to drotun it, or dip it three times in a deep place in the river, the limit on the other: the party who could effect either of these objects won the game; if neither won, the ball was cut into equal parts at sun-set. In the course of the play there was usually some violence between the parties; but it is a proverb in this part of the country that "All is fair at the ball of Scone. Sir Frederick goes on to say, that this custom is supposed to have had its origin in the days of chivalry; when an Italian is reported to have come into this part of the country challenging all the parishes, under a certain penalty in case of declining his challenge. All the parishes declined this challenge except Scone, which beat the foreigner, and in commemoration of this gallant action the game was instituted. Whilst the custom continued, every man in the parish, the gentry not excepted, was obliged to turn out and support the side to which he belonged, and the person who neglected to do his part on that occasion was fined; but the custom being attended with certain inconveniences, was abolished a few years before Sir Frederick wrote. He further mentions that on Shrove Tuesday there is a standing match at foot-ball in the parish of Inverness, county of Mid Lothian, between the married and unmarried women, and he states as a remarkable fact that the married women are always successful.
Humble yet violent beginnings
Extract: "Mob Football was a popular recreation activity recognised by its violent, uncodified and rural exterior, a far cry from the Suarez swan dives of the 21st century. The heartbeat of the game was born in these English Villages, where the locals celebrated their only days off work, known as ‘holy-days’, by taking part in ritual festivals of sport and alcohol."

Local derby on wikipedia.
Extract: "The traditional Shrovetide football match was also commonplace in the city. It was renowned as a chaotic and exuberant game that involved the whole town and often resulted in fatalities. The goals were at Nuns Mill in the north and the Gallows Balk in the south of the town, and much of the action took place in the Derwent river or Markeaton brook. Nominally the players came from All Saints' and St Peter's parishes, but in practice the game was a free-for-all with as many as 1,000 players. A Frenchman who observed the match in 1829 wrote in horror, 'if Englishmen call this play, it would be impossible to say what they call fighting'."

Mob football on wikipedia
"Mob Football has been forever imortalized by the writings of William Shakespeare in his The Comedy of Errors: Am I so round with you, as you with me, That like a foot-ball you doe spurne me thus: You spurne me hence, and he will spurne me hither, If I last in this service, you must case me in leather.[9] "

Pancakes and Football



Shrovetide in the New Advent encyclopedia

folk football in Britain

The Radical History of Football

Shrovetide Football, Ashbourne, Derbyshire

History - US - Lacrosse by Thomas Vennum Jr., Author of American Indian Lacrosse: Little Brother of War
Extract: "Apart from its recreational function, lacrosse traditionally played a more serious role in Indian culture. Its origins are rooted in legend, and the game continues to be used for curative purposes and surrounded with ceremony. Game equipment and players are still ritually prepared by conjurers, and team selection and victory are often considered supernaturally controlled. In the past, lacrosse also served to vent aggression, and territorial disputes between tribes were sometimes settled with a game, although not always amicably. A Creek versus Choctaw game around 1790 to determine rights over a beaver pond broke out into a violent battle when the Creeks were declared winners. Still, while the majority of the games ended peaceably, much of the ceremonialism surrounding their preparations and the rituals required of the players were identical to those practiced before departing on the warpath."

Games of the North American Indians Culin, Stewart, 1858-1929 in Twenty-fourth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1902-1903

"American Indian Games" by Stewart Culin in The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 11, No. 43 (Oct. - Dec., 1898), pp. 245-252 (American Folklore Society) Stable URL:

History of lacrosse on wikipedia - "Modern day lacrosse descends from and resembles games played by various Native American communities. These include games called dehuntshigwa'es in Onondaga ("men hit a rounded object"), da-nah-wah'uwsdi in Eastern Cherokee ("little war"), Tewaarathon in Mohawk language ("little brother of war"), baaga`adowe in Ojibwe ("bump hips") and kabocha-toli in Choctaw language ("stick-ball")."

Medieval football on wikipedia

Royal Shrovetide Football on wikipedia

Scoring the Hales on wikipedia




[2] From the article on endemic warfare in wikipedia, giving as source eider, Karl Heider's book, The Dugum Dani (Chicago: Aldine Publishing Company, 1970).

[3] From the author(s) of the Local derby on wikipedia. Reference is made to Local derby on The Phrase Finder, but the quote is not given there.

[4] George Catlin and His Indian Gallery, Autry National Center

Saturday, February 18, 2012


Why Are Men So Violent? in Psychology Today, by Jesse Prinz, Ph.D. (Feb 3 2012)

I read this short article and was at first disposed to think the author right. He's critiquing a paper on the "male warrior hypothesis" which uses evolutionary psychology to explain why modern men and women treat "outgroup members" as enemies. Outgroup members are, as you'd expect, people unlike themselves. The authors of the paper hope that "understanding why male outgroup members elicit particularly negative emotions, cognitions and behaviours is the first step towards a sensible policy to improving intergroup relations in modern societies." They say anthropological studies show men in pre-historic communities to have been directed by (paraphrasing) a conflict-based evolutionary strategy to perpetuate their kind. The goal of these men was "to gain access to mates, territory and increased status" by displaying "acts of intergroup aggression." These acts — raids, warfare, and the like — threatened the communities' women who, as you'd expect, therefore feared outgroup men. The paper describes this as "selection pressure for psychological mechanisms that bias women against outgroup men."[1] The main trouble with the warrior hypothesis is that it's untestable. The entire argument is based on supposition. There's no way to know whether communal male aggression was an evolutionary adaptive behavior or rather a component of cultural practices which developed as communities competed for scarce resources.

In Psych Today, Prinz says the male warrior hypothesis is one way to look at the problem of male violence, but not the best one. He says history is a better guide. Prinz isn't an actual historian however. He's a philosopher who specializes in psychology and his argument isn't any better supported by available evidence than the one he attacks. History, he says, shows that men fight each other simply because their strength gives them power and, having attained power, they must fight to retain it. He reminds us that both men and women try to obtain desirable resources and that men are naturally stronger than women. Before mankind invented agriculture, men didn't fully dominate women because they depended on women to gather plant food while they, the men, specialized in bringing home game. After the invention of farming, he says, women stopped being providers and became economically dependent on men. Having gained this economic ascendancy, men exploited it; and now — in modern times — they (paraphrasing) mistreat women, philander, and control both labor markets and political institutions. He says, "Once men have absolute power, they are reluctant to give it up. It took two world wars and a post-industrial economy for women to obtain basic opportunities and rights." These broad generalizations are given as self-evident.

Whether verifiable or not, they do not contradict the warrior hypothesis since they deal with man-woman relations, not man-man. Regarding the latter, Prinz says that having achieved dominance over women, men are forced to fight to defend it — not against women, but against other men "who find themselves without economic resources [and] feel entitled to acquire things by force if they see no other way." This is a re-statement of the warrior hypothesis in terms of cultural rather than biological adaptation. The restating isn't very intellectually satisfying. Although Prinz does a good job of criticizing the RoySoc paper, the alternative he puts forward isn't supported by better evidence. "Patterns of violence," he says, "can be dramatically altered by historical forces. Attitudes towards slavery, torture, and honor killing change over time, and this should make us realize that the biological contributions to violence may be greatly outweighed by the sociological." He says that ascribing male violence to cultural/sociological/historical causes is simpler than ascribing it to biological/evolutionary ones and that accepting his historical hypothesis leads to a superior set of predictions. To his credit, Prinz says the subject is a complex one, but his approach seems no less simplistic that the one he criticizes.

Prinz's article caught my eye because I've recently finished reading Mitchell Zuckoff's Lost in Shangri-La. It's a good read. As is often the case, reviewers on tell its strengths and weaknesses and give useful precis along the way. This for example, says pretty concisely what it's about: Narrative History at its Best by "Man of La Book" May 3, 2011.

It's a story that can be framed quite a few different ways. The book's blurb focuses on the high drama of harrowing adventure:
On May 13, 1945, twenty-four officers and enlisted men and women stationed on what was then Dutch New Guinea boarded a transport plane named the Gremlin Special for a sightseeing trip over "Shangri-La," a beautiful and mysterious valley surrounded by steep, jagged mountain peaks deep within the island's uncharted jungle.

But the pleasure tour became an unforgettable battle for survival when the plane crashed. Miraculously, three passengers survived – WAC Corporal Margaret Hastings, Lieutenant John McCollom, and Sergeant Kenneth Decker.

Emotionally devastated, badly injured, and vulnerable to disease, parasites, and poisonous snakes in the wet jungle climate, the trio was caught between man-eating head hunters and the enemy Japanese. With nothing to sustain them but a handful of candy and their own fortitude, they endured a harrowing trek down the mountainside – straight into a primitive tribe of superstitious natives who had never before seen a white man or woman.

Lost in Shangri-La recounts this incredible true-life adventure for the first time. A riveting work of narrative nonfiction that vividly brings to life an odyssey at times terrifying, enlightening, and comic, Lost in Shangri-La is a thrill ride from beginning to end.
Newspapers at the time framed the story around the woman: a WAC corporal, Margaret Hastings, who was petite, feminine, plucky, and attractive. Nothing in her life had prepared her for the horror of witnessing the death of the plane's other passengers, the hardships she faced in descending from the mountain-side crash site to the valley below, the experience of living among savages once reaching the valley, and the fears associated with an extremely dangerous rescue plan.

Zuckhoff, himself a newsman, gives multiple frames. He provides a lot of background, enough so that the back-stories sometimes foreground themselves. These back-story frames include life behind-the-lines in the Pacific theater as the end-game of the war against Japan began to play itself out, youthful high-jinks among men and women who were close to but not immediately involved in combat, and both minor mis-steps and serious errors committed by men in high command. He shows us raw competition among commanding officers and their sometimes extravagant headline-seeking behavior. He shows the Army's eagerness to put forward a sensational story in a way that showed the stateside public its own competence and can-do ability to accomplish difficult tasks.

Zuckhoff deals as well with the story of plans and their execution: the technical problems of extracting survivors. He also turns his focus on the odd-ball personalities that are revealed when war brings together people who wouldn't otherwise have had much to do with each other. And he shows how a crisis can produce emergence of excellent military values (calm leadership under grueling conditions, stoic cooperation and mutual support shown at extremity of endurance, and the like).

He reveals as well the casual, unthinking prejudice among white Americans of the time. Thus for example the paratroopers who eventually arrive to set up the extraction of the three survivors are "boys" simply because they are Philippine Americans and their part in the dramatic rescue is for this reason ignored by the press. And the villagers of Uwambo with whom the three survivors lived for weeks are simply "natives," "stone-age tribesmen," or, worse, "man-eating head hunters."

The connection between this book and the debate over the male warrior hypothesis lies in Zuckoff's discussion of these locals, the Uwambo villagers and the Dani peoples of the Baliem Valley. The men of this valley were warriors and their culture was largely based on aggression and violence, sneak attacks and pitched battles.

With temperate climate and fertile soil, the valley can support subsistence farming and, over the many centuries of their life in it, its native inhabitants had learned to live well. The mountain walls hemming them in, however, limited the number of people that this climate and soil could sustain and — whether as an evolutionary adaptation or a cultural accretion (or a combination of the two) — the locals came to possess means to limit population growth. Their main tactics were two: married couples observed sexual abstinence for five years following the birth of a child and the men of the tribe practiced what I find is called Endemic warfare, that is they made ritualistic war against each other in pitched battles and small raids.

The five-year ban on sex was accompanied by separation of sexes. Men and women formed marriage partnerships, but they did not live in the same buildings. Instead men and women each slept in their own quarters; couples met together privately (and infrequently) for sexual intimacies. These practices contradict the evo-psych warrior thesis since it is based on the assumption that a very simplistic version of "reproductive success" is the driving force of pre-historical communities. Further, the reasons giving for fighting were not the acquisition of more sexual partners, but the appeasing of ancestral ghosts, and, in practice, warriors did not take women captive but in raids against opposing villages were more likely to kill them. In non-lethal raiding, warriors would not steal women but rather pigs.

The villagers were "stone age" in the sense that they had no metal. Their tools and weapons were made of wood and stone, but they were not hunter-gatherers. They grew root crops, mostly sweet potatoes, and raised pigs. Contra Prinz, their farming practices did not lead to male domination of women, however. Men and women cooperated in farming tasks with the men preparing fields for planting and the women doing most other farming tasks. The dominant warriors were also the most influential men in the village, but their power was greatly limited, mostly based on persuasion, and women contributed to decision-making to some extent.

Men kept their spears, bows, and arrows close at hand at all times and each village built itself a watch tower which they kept manned at all times. Villages made alliances with their neighbors and it was the resulting confederations that engaged in frequent ritual battles with one another. The warriors participating in these battles aimed at wounding or killing an enemy in order to appease the ghost of an ancestor. Much of the time a single wounding or killing would bring a battle to an end. And when an enemy was killed the warriors who had killed him would dismember the body and, sometimes, ritualistically cook and consume parts of it. Anthropologists report that actual warfare — secular battles intended to kill many enemies and destroy their villages — were rare, occurring perhaps only every ten or twenty years.

These images are stills from the film Dead Birds, a 1964 documentary produced as part of a Harvard-Peabody Expedition to study the highlands of New Guinea. Anthropologist Robert Gardner was director; Peter Matthiessen wrote the voice-over narrative.

From what I've read it seems to me the Dani culture was unusually well balanced and resistant to change. Dani do not appear to have suffered the ills of many other peoples. So far as I'm able to determine, they did not have famine, they were not subject to epidemics, their homeland was not threatened by outside forces more powerful than theirs, their environment did not include predators which threatened their livestock nor plant diseases which threatened their crops. They lived above the malarial tropics and below the unwelcoming frost line. Their climate provided more than enough rainfall and their soil was easy to keep fertile.

They seem to have realized that their self-containment was a strength even to the extent of rejecting tools, weapons, and clothing offered them by the crash survivors and their rescuers. Zuckoff writes that the Dani kept their visitors outside their village. The WAC, Margaret Hastings, who never learned any of the Dani language or even the names of those she met, nonetheless was the only caucasian able to form close acquaintance with them. Knowing very little about their culture, she perceived that they were adamant in preserving the balance they'd achieved from outside interference. He says:

Similarly, an anthropologist reports that missionaries made little headway in attempting to convert the Dani to Christianity: "In the middle of 1962 a mission post by one of the Baliem tributaries had to be evacuated, because of the hostility of the great majority of the Dani in that region. During the last months before evacuation police guarded the station in order to deter attacks."[2]

All the same, the Dani were not rigidly resistant to change. Neither the sweet potatoes that were their staple crop nor the pigs, which functioned both as food source and as repository of personal wealth, were native to the island. Sweet potatoes, for example, were crops originating on the South American continent and they are thought to have been introduced in the seventeenth century. The culture may have been "stone age" in the sense that it lacked metal tools and weapons, but its food sources and presumably also farming practices were relatively modern.[3] This may show an unusual cultural instinct to accept change, but only that which could maintain or strengthen the natural balance which this people had been able to achieve.

The inhospitable mountain peaks which guarded the Dani against incursions from the world outside, did not protect them from airborne intruders after World War II came to a close. Despite their instinct for preservation and resistance to outside influence, the balance which the Dani enjoyed did not long survive first contact with the men and women of western civilization. They still exist as a people, but now principally as objects of tourist interest and clients of the Indonesian state. Still, says an author of the wikipedia on the Dani: "Changes in the Dani way of life over the past half century are tied to the encroachment of modernity and globalization, despite tourist brochures describing trekking in the highlands with people from the 'stone age'. Observers have noted that pro-independence and anti-Indonesian sentiment tends to run higher in highland areas than for other areas of Papua. There are cases of abuses where Dani and other Papuans have been shot and/or imprisoned trying to raise the flag of West Papua, the Morning Star."
Unofficial Morning Star flag, used by supporters of West Papuan independence; source: wikipedia}

"Why Are Men So Violent?" Maybe it's the wrong question to ask.

This is a Google Map of Papua New Guinea. The valley is to the west (left) of the white boundary line. It runs east-west within the mountains that enclose it.

View Larger Map


Some sources:

Why Are Men So Violent? in Psychology Today, by Jesse Prinz, Ph.D. (Feb 3 2012)

The Baliem Valley and Dani Culture West-Papua by Øystein Lund Andersen gives some handsome photographs

If Englishmen called this playing, it would be impossible to say what they would call fighting 11 February 2012

S. Glover & T. Noble, The history of the county of Derby (London, 1829, 2 vols), vol. I, p. 310.

Film: DEAD BIRDS (1963) 83 mins. Robert Gardner, a lecture by Karl Heider (pdf)

Visit to Shangri-La/Baliem Valley by Mitchell Zuckoff (photo gallery)


Dani people on wikipedia

Dead Birds on wikipedia

1945 New Guinea Gremlin Special rescue on wikipedia

New Guinea Highlands on wikipedia

Richard Archbold on wikipedia

A History of Research on Warfare in Anthropology by Keith F. Otterbein in American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 101, No. 4 (Dec., 1999), pp. 794-805 (Published by Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association) Stable URL:

Dani Sexuality: A Low Energy System by Karl G. Heider in Man, New Series, Vol. 11, No. 2 (Jun., 1976), pp. 188-201 (Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland) Stable URL:

Culture Contact, Cultural Ecology, and Dani Warfare by Paul Shankman in Man, New Series, Vol. 26, No. 2 (Jun., 1991), pp. 299-321 (Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland) Stable URL:
At an altitude of 5200 feet, the Grand (or Balim) Valley is more of a plain than a valley, roughly 28 miles long and 9 miles wide; inside its walls live 50,000 Dani. The valley's most impressive feature is the complex system of gardens that covers its floor. ... A garden may take up to three months to prepare. Men, working in co-operative groups, do the heaviest work while the women do the lighter work. ... The sweet potato is, however, the major source of food for the Dani, and the labyrinthian pattern of the gardens is a result of the special needs of this single plant. Sweet potatoes are sensitive to drought and flooding. The balance between too much and too little moisture is handled by the Dani through labour-intensive drainage systems. ... [In addition] almost every man tries to maintain a pig herd, which is looked after by his wives and children. .. The garden remains made excellent pig fodder. So as the Dani came to rely more on sweet potato cultivation, they were able to cope with an expanding pig population. Sweet potatoes were first domesticated in South America and were probably introduced into New Guinea no more than 450 years ago. ... With the adoption of the sweet potato, population growth rates may have increased and a greater proportion of the forests in the Grand Valley would have been converted to arable land. In this sense, indirect culture contact, responsible for the original introduction of the sweet potato, was a major cause of the changing cultural ecology of the New Guinea Highlands.

When viewed from an ecological perspective, it is apparent that the Grand Valley Dani occupy a rather narrow environmental zone outside of which they cannot support themselves at current population levels. Below about 4000 feet is the malarial zone, while above about 7000 feet misting from clouds limits this kind of Highlands horticulture.

[Dani warfare involves] hundreds of men on each side of a designated public battleground firing arrows in a highly individualistic fashion. The rationale for ritual warfare is revenge in order to placate the ghosts of the dead. These frequent wars are generally inconclusive and casualties are low. Raids involving clandestine attack by a dozen or so warriors are also included under the rubric of ritual war (Heider 1979: 99), but are often more deadly than the great ritual battles.

Secular warfare, on the other hand, does not invoke ideological rationales concerning spirits of the dead. It is brief and infrequent, employing a co-ordinated, large-scale clandestine attack at dawn; large numbers of men, women and children are killed; property is destroyed or taken and territorial boundaries are reworked.2 But what is the relationship between these types of war?

Most Dani activities are in some way connected with pigs, gardens and war, and daily life revolves around these central themes. ... Ritual war is primarily a low risk, military strategy designed to prevent secular warfare. ... Should a group fail to make a credible showing of warriors during the ritual phase of warfare, it may seem vulnerable to its nominal allies or enemies and become the target for an all-out secular attack ... The younger men - the warriors - who occupy the watchtowers so critical to the defense of life and territory. Watchtowers overlook the frontiers where raids and skirmishes often take place. The men sitting in these 30-foot towers provide early warning against attack by the enemy.

The Dani have a five year post-partum taboo on sexual intercourse. This long period of sexual abstinence has implications for population growth, for if child-bearing does indeed take place at five to six year intervals, the population growth rate may be very low. Most women do not have more than two children and Heider reports that only one of 170 married women in the Dugum neighbourhood had even four children (1979: 80). Peters concurs with this finding and adds the possibility of high infant mortality rates (1975: 30). If the Dani are reproducing at low levels, and given an almost 30 per cent. mortality rate from all kinds of warfare (Heider 1970: 128), then population growth may be negligible. Unfortunately, at present, no accurate data are available on actual Dani population growth rates in the Grand Valley.
SOME COMPARATIVE REMARKS ABOUT THE DANI OF THE BALIEM VALLEY AND THE DANI AT BOKONDINI by A. PLOEG in Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, Deel 122, 2de Afl. (1966), pp. 255-273 (KITLV, Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies) Stable URL:
Extract: "In the middle of 1962 a mission post by one of the Baliem tributaries had to be evacuated, because of the hostility of the great majority of the Dani in that region. During the last months before evacuation police guarded the station in order to deter attacks. ... Men and women sleep separately. .. The men, either on their own or in a group, clear the tract and, if necessary, surround it with a fence to keep the pigs out. Subsequently they subdivide the tract into plots and allot each plot to one woman, either a wife or a married or unmarried adolescent daughter or sister. The members of the household to which this woman belongs consume the greater part of the yield of her plot. The rest is distributed to working parties, visitors and so on. ... In all political communities a vague hierarchy of big men exists, headed by the best warrior and war leader. In daily life they are not distinguished by clothing and finery. They work as hard as or even harder than the other men. On most occasions big men are not recognizable from the behaviour other members of the community adopt towards them. It is not quite clear what power and authority the Baliem Valley big men possess. Bromley writes that their voice is important during meetings but that they may be overruled (W.P.i.D.E., 1962, 5), Heider mentions that if a big man wants his suggestions to be accepted by the other men, he has to be very careful in choosing his suggestions and to gauge them to the feelings of the others."



[1] The paper is "Evolution and the psychology of intergroup conflict: the male warrior hypothesis" by Melissa M. McDonald, Carlos David Navarrete, and Mark Van Vugt, and it appears in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, March 5, 2012, pp 670-679. It's behind the RoySoc paywall but is available here as pdf for free. Abstract: "The social science literature contains numerous examples of human tribalism and parochialism—the tendency to categorize individuals on the basis of their group membership, and treat ingroup members benevolently and outgroup members malevolently. We hypothesize that this tribal inclination is an adaptive response to the threat of coalitional aggression and intergroup conflict perpetrated by ‘warrior males’ in both ancestral and modern human environments. Here, we describe how male coalitional aggression could have affected the social psychologies of men and women differently and present preliminary evidence from experimental social psychological studies testing various predictions from the ‘male warrior’ hypothesis. Finally, we discuss the theoretical implications of our research for studying intergroup relations both in humans and non-humans and discuss some practical implications."

[2] SOME COMPARATIVE REMARKS ABOUT THE DANI OF THE BALIEM VALLEY AND THE DANI AT BOKONDINI by A. PLOEG in Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, Deel 122, 2de Afl. (1966), pp. 255-273 (KITLV, Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies) Stable URL:

[3] Culture Contact, Cultural Ecology, and Dani Warfare by Paul Shankman in Man, New Series, Vol. 26, No. 2 (Jun., 1991), pp. 299-321 (Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland) Stable URL:

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

rules and other mathematical instruments

Rules matter: both the ones used, as Cleopatra says, by "Mechanic slaves / With greasy aprons, rules, and hammers" and the ones used by mathematical practitioners, as I wrote a little while ago.[1] We think of the simple straight edge — a ruler — that we used at school. The one I remember looked like this.

In the 16th and 17th centuries most rules probably were easily identifiable as ancestors of the school ruler of the 1950s. This one comes from a carpenter's toolbox aboard a warship that was sunk during a sea fight in 1545.

{From a group of carpenter's tools, including a mallet, drill handle, and plane, found in chests stowed in one of the main deck cabins of the Mary Rose, one of Henry VIII's warships which was sunk in battle in 1545; source: wikipedia}

From Shakespeare's time forward, however, rules could be and often were both more precise and more versatile. Here is a folding rule used by a ship's carpenter in during the first half of the 17th century.[2]



Extension arm

{17th Century English Three-Fold Ship Carpenter’s Rule, a two foot rule, made of boxwood and brass. Front has four scales (inch, two sets of lines for setting a ship's mast, and a scale for making octagon shapes — use of the octagon scale is described here). Back was used for timber and board measure and contains scales for measuring areas and volumes. The extension arm carries a logarithmic line of numbers 1-10 and would have been used with a pair of dividers. Source: in antichi strumenti topografici. (I have reproduced this image under fair use provisions of US copyright law.)}

The scales on the back of this rule are for estimating how much wood is needed for a given construction project, whether as timber or board measure. Timber measure was given in cubic feet or yards; board measure in square feet or yards. These scales accord with instructions given by Leonard Digges in 1556. Here is a page from Digges' book, A booke named Tectonicon, brieflie shewing the exact measuring, and speedie reckoning all manner of land, squares, timber, stone, steeples, pillers, globes, etc..

Here is Digges' template for a carpenter's rule showing the timber scale and another one to be used for calculating board measure.[3]

This handsome example of a two-foot folding carpenter's rule has the Digges scales on its first arm (the arm having inch measure 1 to 12). The second arm continues the lumber measure scales and labels them. There are also degree markings on its hinged joint permitting the rule to be used as a sector for measuring distances and heights. It is nicely detailed and worth a close look (as usual, click to view full size).

{Folding Rule, Brass, 305 mm in radius, signed by Humfrey Cole, 1575, London; source: Museum of the History of Science, Oxford (I have reproduced this image under fair use provisions of US copyright law.)}

It's a safe bet that most of Digges' readers would use his instructions to obtain wooden rules like the ship's carpenter's version not shiny brass ones. The latter would be too expensive for most of the men whom Digges called artificers to afford. In writing the book, Digges addressed himself expressly to such men, those who could read but only in English and who could count money (as most men could) but whose knowledge of mathematics was limited.

In his prefatory remarks Digges says others before him have written books on surveying, carpentry, and related subjects, but they wrote in inaccessible languages (as he says, "locked up in strange Tongues") and assume knowledge of mathematics (that is, they require the "art of numbring"). For these reasons, he says, they have little value for British artificers: "they doe profit (or have furthered) very little the most part: Certes nothing at all, the Landmeater, Carpenter, Mason, wanting the aforesaid".[4]

Digges' book serves his readers well. It's written clearly in an informal style and gives many useful examples. The surveyors, carpenters, masons, and other workmen who followed his advice, giving it a first reading "confusely," then closely, and finally with diligence, "wittely to practise: so few things shall be unknowe."

Writing a whole century later, John Collins does much the same for seamen, makers of sun dials, and students of navigation.

In a book called Navigation by the mariners plain scale new plain'd he gives basic lessons in elementary geometry with many illustrations, provides detailed instructions for applying this mathematical knowledge in navigation at sea, and shows many demonstrations from actual experience. He tells his readers how to account for changes in vessel speed and in compass readings due to magnetic variation and how to adjust for the drift of a vessel due to wind and currents, and he discusses problems resulting from cloud covers obscuring the sun or stars, and the like.[5] He also acknowledges that seamen are hampered most of all through not having accurate charts for their points of destination: "unless the true Longitudes and Latitudes of Places be known, their true Courses and Distances cannot be found, whence it will unavoidably follow, that no true reckoning can be kept." This chapter concludes: "Notwithstanding the imperfections and uncertainties that arise in the practick part, yet it should be our endeavour to render this excellent Art as easie and certain as we can, which is the thing I am at, and the Instrument here used being the Plaine Scale, is, as I said before, in every mans power."[6]

The Plaine Scale to which Collins referred is a rule which he shows thus:

On this scale,
C is the scale of secants
S the scale of sines
C the scale of chords
R the scale of rhumbe
P the scale of semi-tangents, and
L the scale of tangents
Collins' plain scale is a version of Gunter's scale. Invented by Edmund Gunter and first described in a book he wrote in 1624,[7] this scale eventually became so common on sailing ships as simply to be called the Gunter by its users.[8] This is a detail from a common two-foot version of the scale. Its top line of numbers shows inches. I don't know what the next scale is. Below it you find rhumbe, chord, sine, tangent, semi-tangent.

{Detail from a Gunter's scale. You can vier the whole scale here. Source: KRING HISTORISCHE REKENINSTRUMENTEN}

Like Digges, Collins addresses readers of, in his words, the "meanest sort," i.e., those who possess few or no advantages of wealth and education. To that end he includes engraved plates showing the plain scale and other tools which readers could make for themselves. Aside from them, the only tools needed were a straight edge and a pair of dividers, or as he put it "a pair of Compasses and a bare Ruler."

A few years ago there was a Gresham lecture which brings out points similar to the ones I'm making here about the production and use of mathematical instruments and those who made them, about those who instructed others about these instruments, and about those who actually put them to use. It's History from Below: mathematics, instruments and archaeology, a lecture by Stephen Johnston, Museum of the History of Science, Oxford University, Thursday, 3 November 2005.


Some sources:

A booke named Tectonicon, brieflie shewing the exact measuring, and speedie reckoning all manner of land, squares, timber, stone, steeples, pillers, globes, etc. ... With other things pleasant and necessarie, most conducible for surveyers, landmeaters, joyners, carpenters, and masons by Leonard Digges (London, Imprinted by F. Kyngston, 1605); first published in 1556

Navigation by the mariners plain scale new plain'd, or, A treatise of geometrical and arithmetical navigation; wherein sayling is performed in all the three kindes by a right line, and a circle divided into equal parts. Containing 1. New ways of keeping of a reckoning, or platting of a traverse, both upon the plain and Mercators chart ... 2. New rules for estimating the ships way through currents, and for correcting the dead reckoning. 3. The refutation of divers errors, and of the plain chart, and how to remove the error committed thereby ... as also a table thereof made to every other centesm. 4. A new easie method of calculation for great circle-sayling, with new projections, schemes and charts ... 5. Arithmetical navigation, or navigation performed by the pen, if tables were wanting ... By John Collins of London, Pen-man, accomptant, philomathet (London : printed by Tho. Johnson for Francis Cossinet, and are to be sold at the Anchor and Mariner in Tower-street, as also by Henry Sutton mathematical instrument-maker in Thread needle street, behinde the Exchange, 1659)

Digges, Leonard in the galileo Project at Rice Univ.

Folding Rule, signed by Humfrey Cole, 1575, London
Brass, 305 mm in radius, Inventory no. 49631, Epact number: 79726

A Late 17th-Century Armed Merchant Vessel in the Western Approaches by Neil Cunningham Dobson, Odyssey Marine Exploration, Tampa, USA, and Sean A. Kingsley, Wreck Watch Int., London, United Kingdom (pdf)

Like father, like son? John Dee, Thomas Digges and the identity of the mathematician by Stephen Johnston, Museum of the History of Science, University of Oxford

The Logarithms and Rules on the Calculating Tools page of the History of Computers web site

Gunter's rule, one step before the Slide Rule, on the History of Computing web site

The description, nature and general use, of the sector and plain-scale briefly and plainly laid down; as also a short account of the uses of the lines of numbers, artificial sines and tangents by Edmund Stone (Printed for Tho. Wright; and sold by Tho. Heath mathematical instrument maker, next the Fountain Tavern in the Strand., 1721)

An introduction to the theory ... of plane and spherical trigonometry ... including the theory of navigation by Thomas Keith (London, Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1816)

On the history of Gunter's scale and the slide rule during the seventeenth century by Florian Cajori (Berkeley, Univ. of California Press, 1920)

History from Below: mathematics, instruments and archaeology, a lecture by Stephen Johnston, Museum of the History of Science, Oxford University, Thursday, 3 November 2005



[1] The post is men holding rules, Secondat, January 21, 2012.

[2] Full caption: "17th Century English Three Fold Ship Carpenter’s Rule — The two foot rule, made of boxwood and brass SCALES 1. Side A has four scales: -a. An inch scale [0]-18, divided to unit, half, quarter, eighth and numbered by 1 to 18. This continues to 24 on the brass leg. -b. A pair of sectoral lines, used for setting out the taper of a ship’s mast. The inner sector lines on each of the boxwood legs are graduated P, 3Q, 2Q, 1Q and MH, representing Partners, third, second, and first Quarters, and Masthead. The function of this sector is to provide a series of diameter measurements. The second, or outer set of the two sector lines are designated S, 3Q, 2Q, 1Q and YA, for Slings, third, second, and first Quarters, and Yardarm. -c. the octagon scale, to left and right of the rule joint, scaled 0 to 28 Side B for timber and board measure was designed to be used for measuring areas and volumes. This particular format was established during the 17th century as an adaptation of a design first published by Leonard Digges in 1556 Side B has three elements: -a. The line of board measure running from 9 to 36. The scale ends 4in from the end of the leg (4 x 36 = 144 = 1ft square). -b. The line of timber measure from 11 to 33. -c. A table of timber undermeasure. This is continuous with the timber line and supplies values for 1 to 8in, which the rule cannot accommodate on the scale line. The edge carries a logarithmic line of numbers 1-10. The logarithmic line of numbers on the edge was first published by Edmund Gunter in the 1620s. In the form found here, which appeared on a range of instruments in the 17th century, it would have been used with a pair of dividers."

[3] Note that Digges puts the lumber scales are on the front side of the rule he describes, along with a 12-inch scale. The back side of his rule has a scale for use in measuring angles and distances (a quadrant). Note also that he calls the device a ruler not a rule. The terms seem to have been interchangeable at the time. And finally, notice that the printer has done Digges wrong: the numbers by the side of the timber and board hash marks are grossly misplaced.

[4] The landmeater measured land, apparently with less skill than the surveyor. Here is Digge's address to the reader in full:
L. D. to the Reader — Although many have put forth sufficient and certain rules to measure all manner of superficies, etc., yet in that the art of numbring hath been required, yea, chiefly those rules hid and as it were locked up in strange tongues, they doe profit or have furthered very little, for the most part, yea, nothing at all, the landmeater, carpenter, mason, wanting the aforesayd. For their sakes I am here provoked not to hide but to open the talent I have received, yea, to publish in this our tongue very shortly if God give life a volumne containing the flowers of the sciences mathematicall largely applied to our outward practise profitably pleasant to all manner men. Here mine advice shall be to those artificers, that will profit in this or any of my bookes now published, or that hereafter shall be, first confusedly to read them through, then with more judgement, read at the third reading wittily to practise. So, few things shall be unknowne. Note, oft diligent reading joyned with ingenious practise causeth profitable labour. Thus most hartely farewell, loving reader, to whom I wish myselfe present to further thy desire and practise in these.
[5] Leonard's son, Thomas Digges, was John Dee's foster son wikipedia: "Thomas was the son of Leonard Digges, the mathematician and surveyor. After the death of his father, Thomas grew up under the guardianship of John Dee, a typical Renaissance natural philosopher."

[5] This discussion of the "uncertainties of navigation" includes description of the parallax error that occurs when the sun is at the horizon. Since readings are taken at noon, this problem only occurs during winter in northern latitudes.

[6] Collins gives this definition: "By a Plain Chart, is meant a Chart drawn on Paper or Pasteboard, lined with Meridians and Parallels, making right Angles each with other, and numbered with degrees both of Latitude and Longitude, each equal to other, and what is commonly performed in casting up a Traverse on such a Chart, we shall perform on a Blank of Paper."

[7] Gunter's book is The description and use of the sector, cross-staff, bow, quadrant, and other instruments (London, 1624) republished in The works of Edmund Gunter : containing the description and use of the sector, cross-staff, bow, quadrant, and other instruments. with a canon of artificial sines and tangents to a radius of 10,00000 parts, and the logarithms from an unite to 10000 ... and some questions in navigation added by Mr. Henry Bond ... To which is added, the description and use of another sector and quadrant, both of them invented by Mr. Sam. Foster ... furnished with more lines, and differing from those of Mr.Gunters both in form and manner of working by Edmund Gunter, ed. by William Leybourn (London, Printed by A.C. for Francis Eglesfield, 1673).

[8] Gunter's navigational scale was used by the Royal Navy up to the 1840s. The historian of mathematics, Florian Cajori, gives this description:
We begin with Anthony Wood's account of Wingate's introduction of Gunter's scale into France.
In 1624 he transported into France the rule of proportion, having a little before been invented by Edra. Gunter of Gresham Coll. and communicated it to most of the chiefest mathematicians then residing in Paris: who apprehend[ed] the great benefit that might accrue thereby...
Gunter's scale, which Wingate calls the "rule of proportion," contained, as described in the French edition of 1624, four lines: (1) A single line of numbers; (2) a line of tangents; (3) a line of sines; (4) a line, one foot in length, divided into 12 inches and tenths of inches, also a line, one foot in length, divided into tenths and hundredths.