GW: I’m here today with Dr. Amanda Taylor, author of several academic papers such as The Body of Law: Bodies, Combat and Rhetoric in Sir Thomas Mallory’s Quest for Justice and the forthcoming Domesticating War: Women, Medicine and Military Activity in Premodern Europe. She has presented at conferences on topics such as martial women and political power in Shakespeare’s history plays and battlefield wounds and treatment in English and Italian sixteenth century epic romances and surgical practise. She has worked with the Oakeshott Institute and personally put original antique weapons into people’s hands. So, Amanda, welcome to the show.
AT: Thanks. I’m happy to be here.
GW: So just to orient everybody, whereabouts are you?
AT: I am in well, technically Rosevillie, but the Twin Cities, Minneapolis, St. Paul area in Minnesota.
GW: So you actually get to hang out at the Oakeshott institute?
AT: I do. Yes, when I moved here for grad school I had no idea of existence of the Oakeshott Institute. So it was really just a happy coincidence that it is here. And I got to meet the guys at that team and get involved and actually handle the collection. And like you said, put it in other people’s hands, which is my favourite part.
GW: Isn’t it fantastic just the way when they feel a proper antique sword in their hand, certain things become clear that just weren’t clear before?
AT: Yeah, especially the weight. I mean, armour was really my research area previously and edged weapons and it’s kind of the same thing. Both the weight and the just the refinement of the pieces themselves, they’re really old so people always expected them to be heavy and clunky. And that’s just not the case.
GW: Right. Well, you have like seriously expert artisans creating them for people who really knew what they were doing with swords. So, yeah, one would expect that they would be absolutely beautiful and great to handle. And very often they are. But there’s this sort of modern trope of the idea that, OK, the medieval people, they were all kind of a bit stupid and superstitious. Egerton Castle has a lot to answer for with his “rough, untutored fighting of the Middle Ages”.
AT: And Twain’s joke about needing a crane to basically get a knight on a horse because the armour was so heavy.
GW: Right, exactly. And Mark Twain was writing comic fiction, so that’s kind of excusable, but the rough, untutored fighting thing. If I ever see Egerton castle, I shall give him a good slap. So how did you get started in your field?
AT: I mean, being a kid who really loved to read and stumbling across Tamora Pierce’s, Song of the Lioness Quartet, which is the series of four books about the girl star, she’s about 10 or 11 and she has a twin brother. And they trade places because he wants to go to the city of the gods to learn to be a sorcerer. And she wants to be a knight. And so she cuts her hair to look like him and goes in his place. And this works out and she’s a page and then she becomes a squire, then she becomes a knight. There’s magic and everything, too. But I from especially that series was in love with the idea of really, you know, what turned into my research focus like gender and martial masculinity and the ways that those kinds of topics not only intersect, obviously in a fantasy space that was really attractive to 10 year old me. But then as I delved deeper into my research, finding these in the literature and particularly the epic romances that I worked with deeply in my dissertation. So the most famous of the English is Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. When I was an undergrad, my undergrad thesis was about The Faerie Queene and I worked with it more in my master’s thesis and then of course, my dissertation. But previous to starting my PhD, I had really only worked in the English context. And so my advisor, John Watkins was like, you can’t possibly say anything interesting about The Faerie Queene without knowing it’s Italian context, so go learn Italian. So I did, and discovered the Italian epic romances which are older. And then of course the medieval tradition with Arthurian romances. And there’s lady knights all over the place. So I was really excited to find these sisters in arms that I’d been sort of like, you know, dreaming about since I was a 10 year old.
GW: So who’s your favourite lady knight?
AT: Marfisa from Orlando Furioso by Ludovico Ariosto.
GW: OK, you’re going to need to spell those out in an email so I can get them right in the transcription. There will be links in the show notes to these various books and things. I’m taking notes of all these book recommendations that we’re going to have to get in the show notes so we can make sure people get the right books. OK, so what’s so what’s so fascinating about this particular knight?
AT: So she is from the Amazonian tradition. She’s raised wild, suckled by a tiger, though there’s lots of those tropes that come from Amazons that reach back to the classical period. But she has a twin brother. So, again, that’s another thing that I found attractive when I first encountered her. And the twin brother is Ruggiero. And he becomes the hero of the Orlando stories. So Spenser’s Faerie Queene is really an encomium to Elizabeth I in many ways and a criticism of her realm. But oftentimes these epic romances, the epic part is that it has something to do with the creation of statehood or the institution of a particular lineage. And so in the Orlando books, that’s the Este family in Modena who Ariosto worked for. And his work is a continuation of a late 15th century work, Orlando Innamorato that was started by Matteo Boiardo, and both Boiardo and Ariosto worked for essentially the Este family. And so it’s basically the story of where Isabella D’Este came from. And really the idea is that, I forget which scholar says this, but essentially the compliment is that your great great great grandmother wore combat boots.
GW: And was nursed by a tiger.
AT: Well, essentially there’s another lady knight who marries Ruggiero, and she was brought up properly. She was still a knight. She trained with her brothers and everything, but she was not suckled by a tiger, unfortunately.
GW: So how common do you think it was for sisters to be trained with their brothers in martial arts?
AT: You know, it’s hard finding the records. And you’ve got the weight of the weight of patriarchy. It’s the assumptions that that’s just not things that girls and women did. And so, the assumption that you start from is that it didn’t happen. So it’s hard to make the argument that it was common because we don’t have a lot of records. We also don’t have a lot of records of boys being trained. We just assume that they were. We certainly know that they were. We do have records, though, of some. So Caterina Sforza was definitely trained to some extent by her brothers. I mean, she came from the Sforza family in Milan, the Sforza family were basically swords for hire and they took over, they ousted the noble family that was there and became the rulers of Milan, and all of them were pretty militaristic. And so Caterina was married off at very young age and in an unexpected way. One of the conditions, she was only 10 or 11, was that the marriage would be consummated. Normally they would be married that young, but they would live with their families or they would go live with the other family. But the actual consummation would be much later. So really gross. And her father agreed to this. Yeah, it’s nasty. And she loved her father. She adored her father.
GW: That is really screwed up.
AT: Yeah. But she then lived with her family until she was about 15 or 16 and then moved and she married several different, including a Medici. But she there’s a book called The Tigress of Forli. It’s a really great blend of like academic research but for a public audience kind of text. And if you are interested in Caterina Sforza, which everyone should be, in my opinion, it’s a great way of learning about her. But she led forces. I mean, she went to battle several times, pregnant. She had a bunch of kids and she led. Her city was under siege and she was the one who provisioned it, figured out how to keep it together. There’s armour that belonged to her in Bologna. She had a very fine breastplate that she could wear underneath of her dress or on top, that you could sort of disguise it because she was a target of assassins. There’s a theory that like Aphrodite coming out of the shell, that famous painting, that she was the inspiration of that. So she was quite written and spoken about. And 15th century Italy, I’m not sure how I ended up at Caterina, as far as basically Italian women are my jam now.
GW: It’s my job to keep this on track. And I think we are thoroughly, thoroughly on track because this is just exactly what this podcast tends to go. But actually one example of a woman fighting that I find particularly instructive is the inspiration for the lady deck from my card game, Lady Agnes Hotot. And the story is her father was disputing a piece of land with the neighbour. And the gentleman agreed that they would joust on the land and the winner would keep the land. Seems like a very reasonable way to do it, right?
AT: Yeah, of course.
GW: On the on the day of the joust, her father was ill with the gout, and so armoured up, got on the horse, went to the piece of land, jousted the guy, knocked him off his horse, therefore won the land and then took off her helmet to reveal the fact that he had just been knocked off his horse by a girl. She was about eighteen at the time. And the thing is, anyone who has ever put on armour or tried to get a spear to go where you want it to go with a horse that’s moving. Anyone has ever done that knows that the only way that could possibly be true is if she had a huge amount of training. Of course, she must have trained. How common it was for girls to get that sort of training, I don’t know.
AT: Yeah, we don’t know. I mean there are some. I remember how I ended up in Italy. There are more records of girls in Italian families, which in many ways where Italy was this kind of weird combination of much stricter in some ways and much more free and others. But there are records of Venetian courtesans who were trained in duelling. And they would fight and duel for a performance. It was deadly play.
GW: Like prizefighting.
AT: Yeah, kind of. There is the oh my gosh, I’m forgetting her name. She’s this incredibly famous. There’s a movie, Dangerous Beauty, that is about her and that movie has many liberties with history. But she is one of the courtesans who lost her temper and like, challenged this gentleman to a duel. And in the movie they have this duel.
GW: It sounds like La Maupin.
AT: Yeah, yeah.
GW: OK. We were referring to deadly combat a moment ago, and looking at your bio, you do have a fairly strong interest in wounds and slaughter.
AT: I do.
GW: And swords do do horrible damage. I went to a lecture by a pathologist on basically ways in which the weapons that we were training with that weekend, what they would actually do to an actual body, because, he’s done the autopsies on people who have been murdered with these things. So what how do find out what swords did historically and what can you tell us about it?
AT: The ways that a Ph.D., I was technically in an English department, but obviously it was pretty interdisciplinary and I was really fortunate to be in a department that supported that kind of work and at a university, the University of Minnesota that has several research centres at the time, Centre for Early Modern History and Centre for Medieval Studies that were primarily history focussed but very supportive of interdisciplinary work. And so I continue to have a university affiliation with the University of Minnesota through the Centre for Early Modern History that’s now combined. And there is a centre for Premodern Studies. And so that means that I still have my library privileges, which as I’m sure you are well aware, it’s very hard to be an independent scholar without that kind of university connection to resources. I share that to say that I do a lot of work with medical treatises and the first chapter of my dissertation and that became part of it, became one of my articles. I work with this Vesalius’ De Humani Corporis Fabrica, 1543, which is thought of as the father of modern anatomy because there’s a preoccupation with the body and what what’s inside of it, how it’s made, what the pieces look like, how they are. And that feeds really naturally into surgical treatises. This obviously was well preceding 1543. But De Humani Corpus Fabrica is this big, beautiful book with gorgeous woodcuts all throughout and visualises the human body and its anatomy in ways that just didn’t exist before that text. And so you have this happening at the same time as there is a lot of war in Europe at the time and needing to treat wounds, and particularly with the increased use of gunpowder weapons and artillery causing damage to bodies that was new before. So you have like The Woodman, which is goes back into the medieval traditions present in a lot of anatomy texts, but especially it became something that is in surgical texts. And so it shows the human body and then just all different kinds of things that can happen to it, from insect bites, to getting hit by a bullet, to getting cut by a dagger, to getting a thrust into the stomach. And so this very sad person is sort of standing out and has different weapons. And this would be used as a visual reference to if you need to treat a gun wound, see this, go over here and then there’s descriptions of different kinds of treatments. But the medical developments at the time were overlapping with the very grim reality of bodies ripped apart on battlefields and there needed to be ways to treat these conditions and there weren’t necessarily ways known, so a lot of it was experimentation. And then you would have people like Ambrose Paré, who was a battlefield surgeon, who rose to be the surgeon to the French king in the 16th century, and he would just try out what was at hand because you’re on a battlefield, so you’re going to run out of wine or you’re going to run out of accepted ways of treating wounds. And so there is this huge debate in the late medieval and early modern world in medicine about whether, well, going back to classical periods, whether one should suppurate or whether you want pus, do you want a lot of pus? There’s good or bad pus. And that’s gross. So Paré ran out of basically the really astringent thing that you would put in the wounds to cause this laudable pus and instead use wine and wrap to the wound and it surprisingly healed better that way. And he was like, huh, these guys are way more comfortable and they’re not crying anywhere near as much as these other guys that I used the other treatment for. So I’m just going to kind of keep doing this. And so, wine obviously has antibiotic cleansing properties. There would often be use of honey, which still is being used to help cure wounds. And so through this kind of experimentation, you would have the proliferation of ideas of how to treat the body. And one of my favourite stories in Paré says he gets one of his most famous cures, it’s like a salve for treating gun powder wounds from an old woman in a village who said that’s what she did for the people who were just like left there as the forces would move on. The wounded who couldn’t leave would often just stay in the nearest community if they could either pay for a service or the people decided to take care of them. So Paré would collect different kinds of recipes for stabs and whatever and try them out. And sometimes they would work. And so you have a proliferation, not just in a university setting, about like what anatomy is. And, you know, Vesalius is the most representative of that tradition. But you also have this sort of experimental practise and Paré is probably one of the most representative of that tradition. And back to my interest in gender, you have women who are included in this medical marketplace and the forthcoming book, Domesticating War, that my co-author Emily Beck. She is assistant curator at the Wangensteen Biomedical Library at the University of Minnesota that we’re interested in. Her background is history of medicine, and she works specifically with these recipe traditions and recipe books. Some would come from monasteries or be collections that women from families would collect and hand down or men too. It’s kind of a really commonplace books, it’s like that tradition, except for it’s focussed on these recipes, but they’re for everything from medical recipes, to food, to how to dye your horse green, how to make your armour shiny. There’s a full tradition.
GW: Fireworks too.
AT: Academic interest in these anatomical texts is what sort of led me down the rabbit hole into surgical techs. And, you know, you get descriptions of wounds in these romances. You know, I started with literature. Especially like Mallory and the English romances. And it’s in the French Arthurian ones, too, you know, they fought all on the battlefield, all night until they were swimming in blood, up to their horses’ knees, like the idea of that much blood – that’s for dramatic effect. But there would be lots and lots of blood, so that led me to look at what kind of medical knowledge did they have and that they used and I now work for Medtronic, which is a medical device company, so that interest in the medical tradition continues.
GW: What are you doing for Medtronic?
AT: I’m a programme manager, so I am technically responsible for the scope, the budget and the schedule for various projects. I’ve been working on primarily just our research studies. So there are clinical trials for new kinds of devices. Medtronic started in Minnesota. And one of the things that I love to say is the founder, Earl Bakken, he was an electrical engineer and he teamed up with Dr. Lillehei at University of Minnesota. And there was a power outage in the 50s. If I get this history wrong, anyone at Medtronic who watches this is going to be like, oh, my God, Amanda. But there was a power outage and a little boy there was hooked up to an external pacemaker that was plugged into the wall. And he died because the power went out. And so the doctor was like, we got to have a different way. And so he teamed up with Earl Bakken and they made an external pacemaker that was battery powered. And so from there, the core of Medtronic, it was pacemakers and then defibrillators. And now we make ventilators, all kinds of things. But I work in that cardiac space. So around pacemakers and defibrillators and cardiac synchronization, therapy devices and up until I’m kind of taking over a new role here pretty soon, but I have worked in clinical things to try to come up with new algorithms that make them work better. So I have a weird sort of intersection of my research.
GW: I did not think we would be talking about pacemakers today. This is great.
AT: But the copy of Vesalius, so I mentioned the Wangensteen Biomed Collection. We’re really lucky here to have an excellent collection of medical and surgical texts and instruments that goes, I don’t remember what their earliest piece is, but they have manuscripts from, I think the 14th century, but it’s primarily strongest in early modern and through the 18th century and beyond. But that that’s kind of the area I work in; surgical texts. So there we have one of the original copies of Vesalius. And so I worked with that copy. And the images come from it in my articles from that. That copy of Vesalius was given to the biomed library by Earl Bakken. It was his copy. So I was meant to work at Medtronic.
GW: That’s extraordinary. It didn’t occur to me that you had access to an original slap bang in the middle of America.
AT: Yep. Minnesota is a weird space in the United States. You wouldn’t think that we have the Oakeshott collection. I mean, our collection is one of the largest private collections. And then you have the Wangensteen and the James Ford Bell, which has these amazing maps and travel narratives that are from all over the world, just randomly here in Minnesota.
GW: Yeah. One of the difficulties I had preparing for this interview is I was looking through your bio and looking at all your published papers and what have you. And I was like, OK, we can do an episode on this one. We could do an episode on that one. There are just too many interesting things that we could that we could go into. So, OK. I have a broad interest in martial arts generally, and sword arts in particular. I know a lot of a lot of colleagues and friends who they like early 17th century Italian rapier, and that’s what they do. Or they like Fiore’s art or arms and that’s what they do. Or they like 18th century small sword in the French style. That’s what they do. Whereas I like all of it and I do all of it. And to me they don’t really contradict each other. They are different, but they’re like languages, you’re saying pretty much the same things, you just say them with different words in a different way. So you have this very broad interest. So I’m just curious. Do you compartmentalise them or do you see them as different aspects of the same thing? And what is that same thing they are different aspects of?
AT: For me, they interleave. It’s a word from, I forget the French, this famous French scholar, but that’s how he described romances, like Arthurian romances. And I start from this like at the core, the things that I actually have expertise in, as opposed to dabbling and moving and accreting to my interests, is literature. I started in these romances. King Arthur stories and these are traditions that span centuries and different writers who would just pick up and continue parts of the story. Like the way that the Marvel Universe works, I love the way that the Marvel Universe works, because it’s like the way the Arthurian romance and romance kind of as it came out. Now you get Marfisa or you get Britomart, who’s the lady knight in Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. It’s that same kind of interwoven universe. And lots of it are kind of messy, but all of it fits together in sometimes orderly ways and sometimes ways that only make sense if you take you take your fingers and you cross them and then you change the orientation. You see a different image depending on your perspective. And so for me if you just look at recipes and you think recipes, just they were used in the home and you use them to make food or whatever, and everything that’s in this book, they must have done and you don’t think about the ways that the battlefield surgeon, Paré or whoever it is, is dealing with the actual realities of war. And so they’re going to try whatever they can from wherever it comes from because they have to. And then you have at the same time this university conversation that’s happening about anatomy in the body and how it works. And at the same time, you have this being in literature and on popular stage, like Shakespeare is full of medical. I mean, Shakespeare is full of tons of stuff, but medical references and swordplay, obviously. And in the world of the 16th century, which is my primary focus, but in the late medieval and early modern period, more generally, these things are not discrete and separate from one another. They overlap. And so my argument for, not only is periodisation problematic, because history just doesn’t work that way, but this isolation into very, very hyper specific fields creates blinders where you don’t see how these things fit together. And I’m certainly not making the argument that I know how they fit together. I’m really just saying, the interest that I have, I feel like this is it trying to unravel a kind of a Gordian knot to instead of just cutting it apart, which I think is what really hyper specific scholarship. And there’s a place for that. But if you want to kind of like take the knot as itself, it’s messy and you kind of have to become a jack of all trades.
GW: I have an analogy for this. It’s a rainbow has the whole spectrum of visible light. And you can very clearly see that blue is not green is not red. They are very clearly different. But if you actually look into the rainbow and zoom in, there’s no way to see a dividing line between the colours because it is a spectrum. That’s fine if you’re looking at the whole thing. But if you’re trying to make paint, you have to choose the red paint and the blue paint. They’re different. So I think there’s absolutely a place for that sort of specialisation. And it’s like with martial arts. Violence is a spectrum phenomenon. And sword blows, you can usefully classify them in various different ways, like descending blows and forehand blows and rising blows and what have you. But at what point does my mandritto fendente become a crosswise blow, a mezana blow, and at what exact angle off the vertical, and what about a vertical blow? Where in that spectrum does it have to fall for it to be classified like this? So we have these classifications that we start with, because beginners have to be able to distinguish between a mandritto fendente, a forehand descending blow and a reverso fendente, because backhand and forehand are different. But these distinctions are artificial. And if you stick with them too long too obsessively, you’re unable to actually use any of them because you can’t improvise and modify and step back a bit and see the fight as a whole. That’s how I would conceptualise it.
AT: Yeah, I’m really interested in rhetoric, but with a lot of fencing treatises, so if you think of like Agrippa, the Agrippa is one of the ones that I was most interested in because of the geometric representation of the body in combat. I think he did geometry before.
GW: Yeah, he was an architect.
AT: Architect. Yes. And so the images are really interesting. But the text is, too, because especially if you are thinking like when you read in the descriptions, there will be stuff about if you’re in a fight with a friend, you do this. If you’re in a fight with an enemy, you do this. And that’s in tons of these fencing treatises. If you’re looking for them for technique, yes, that’s in there. And, you know, I dabble in HEMA. I have a bad wrist. And so Meyer and Longsword, no, it’s real bad. So the club here, they’re starting with more rapier and side sword. And so I was like, I’ll switch to left handed. I’m very much the awkward academic. I am very clumsy. I’m not very good, but I like trying so I can go back and I love doing it. But, you know, so the technique is there. But as a not technician of HEMA more just like a dabbler and a fan, but certainly not an expert in it. You know, when I read the text, I’m interested in what else is in there. And there’s tons in those texts around relationships and gender, especially like homosocial relationships between these men who would be at these clubs essentially, training together, forming relationships and how that would ripple out into their larger social settings. And the treatises, are really great examples of something that it’s easy to think that it’s about one thing, it’s about this very precise angle makes this thrust or this cut, this is how far you should lunge. But there’s all this other stuff that’s in there. And so if you’re just looking for a technique, maybe is all you’re going to see. But if you kind of look at it more broadly, there’s just so much more that’s in there. And especially when you start comparing them to each other, that you have this kind of discourse that’s happening between these writers.
GW: And sometimes they quote each other and don’t give them attribution. If I remember rightly, I think it is Alfieri refers to Capoferro as Capo di Ferro, let me just explain that for non-Italian speakers, because, Capoferro is a name that means Lionhead, right? Well, Capo di Ferro would be a head of iron, in other words, dumb. So yeah, there’s definitely a little bit of that going on.
AT: I think my favourite though is Silver and his Fiore. He doesn’t like the Italians and it’s really taking it.
GW: George Silver? I’m deep in Silver at the moment because I’m at the end stages of producing an audiobook version of Paradoxes of Defence.
AT: Oh, I love that. I’m so excited for that. Yay.
GW: I’ve got two versions. One is in Modern Pronunciation and the other I got Ben Crystal, the Shakespearean actor, to do an original pronunciation read of George Silver.
AT: Oh my gosh, that’s amazing. I’m so excited.
GW: It is really cool. Yeah. I’ll send it to you.
AT: Yeah. I love it. Whenever I read Silver. He has a particular voice in my head, so I’m super excited.
GW: Yeah. There’s definitely an awful lot of snark. Actually, the audio engineer who was working on the modern pronunciation version is actually Italian and she thinks that he was probably turned down by a girl in favour of some Italian fencer or something like that, probably where it all comes from.
AT: There’s something personal.
GW: There is definitely something personal going on. OK, so we mentioned your forthcoming book, Domesticating War. So what can you tell us about women, medicine and military activity?
AT: This is a new project, so we’re at the very early stages. I think our manuscript is due like January 2023. It’s not forthcoming any time soon. We just signed the contract and as I mentioned, it’s a collaboration between Dr. Beck and myself. And I’m currently working on a chapter that’s really about coming home. The experiences after war and the ways that these men would return home and how that would affect their communities or what was often very common is that they didn’t come back home and so home became very itinerant places. So really what I’ve just been doing is reading through Coningsby’s description of the siege of Rouen, Raleigh Smith, Donald McBane.
GW: Oh, I love McBane.
AT: Craig recommended that one to me. It’s amazing.
GW: I’m planning an audio book version of his autobiography as well. Can you imagine getting a Highland Scot to read that? Wouldn’t that be brilliant? There’s a lot of medical stuff in that. When he gets blown up and these monks stick a puppy’s intestines on his face to make him all better. No, I don’t want puppies’ intestines on my face. His eyesight was saved.
AT: Yeah. So I mean, it worked.
GW: At least it didn’t do any harm.
AT: Yeah. That one I really love because you know, his wife, he calls her, and he runs brothels and stuff. And women are all over these texts in ways that are easy to miss. I think they’re a little bit clearer in McBane, because he talks about like, well, I had to keep my women safe. And so I got in a fight and that was bad because I got beat up for that. And then my wife came and found me and she yelled at me because I got hurt again. But then she went and got some wine and I felt better. And she’s the one who takes them to the monks in the first place. And then he, leaves her, his wife mysteriously disappears and he has another wife later. So, in these communities, and there’s lots of records, and I need to get more into some legal records because I really only came across them incidentally, in previous research about complaints where soldiers would come back and they didn’t want to go back to their life as a farmer. And so then they became violent. And then there is legal records of he was beating up his wife and his kids. And so the neighbours tried to stop it and then they couldn’t and became more excessive. So now we have to go to a magistrate.
GW: Classic PTSD. After every war.
AT: Yeah, my husband is an ex-combat officer. So, thinking about the ways that they don’t know what PTSD is, but certainly the effects of the reintegration of men into their communities and the effect that the role that women played as caregivers, we have other chapters specifically on military camps and women’s roles there. But what I’m thinking about right now is how communities tried to reintegrate or are broken apart, or ways that after war, men just don’t reintegrate into their communities and so they stay where they were taken or they travel or more often die. I mean, the problem for what to do with veterans was quite the concern in late medieval and early modern Europe, it wasn’t really until different places would take care of their veterans and sometimes families of men who died a little bit, but mostly they were on their own. And so communities had to absorb that trauma. So the book is about women, but you can’t really talk about these communities without thinking about, it’s about everybody.
GW: Yeah, you can focus on the women, but if you then can’t see the rest of the picture, you’ve got that spectrum phenomenon problem again.
AT: Right. Which is not really how I do my scholarship. So our focus is really around on women, but situating women in places where it’s easy to think that they weren’t there. So there’s some great, great scholarship on the huge military camps, like sixty seventy thousand people. Obviously, there were women there and thousands of them. And then there were tons of complaints from officers and from professionals who are like, OK, there’s can only be like three women for every ten men, or trying to control the ratios, which obviously those records prove they failed. They tried and they are failing.
GW: If people are complaining about it, it must be happening. It reminds me of the famous three hundred Spartans of Thermopylae. There were five thousand of them. There were just three hundred officers. But yeah, still a very small force against a very large force and heroic yadda yadda. But it wasn’t three hundred. Those are just the famous ones. It’s like when you watch a movie you know you’ve got the actors. They’re the famous ones. But when you actually watch the credits, there’s this endless roll of dolly grips and gaffer pullers and I don’t know.
AT: It takes an army.
GW: It does, exactly. OK, now it would be a shame not to go into your Ph.D. a little bit because Fabricating the Martial Body: Anatomy Affect and Armour in Early Modern England and Italy.
AT: That will also be a book.
GW: Yes, and it should be and it should be very soon. I don’t want to have to wait until 2024 to read it.
AT: Well, I’ve been working on the manuscript for that and then kind of got distracted because Emily and I have been sort of collaborating on stuff since we were in grad school at the same time together. And her adviser was one of mine for this fellowship that I did. He was like a mentor, so he put us in contact. So we’ve been doing conferences and stuff together. And we were supposed to present at Renaissance Society of America in Philadelphia two years ago. And of course, that was covid time. So it was cancelled. And an editor reached out to us at Rutledge and was like interested in your topic. Is this part of a larger project? And we were like, well, we’ve been talking about doing a larger project. So we put together a book proposal and that’s where this project came from. So I kind of set my dissertation into a book manuscript project aside. But the dissertation really kind of looks at what I call the martial body, how that’s made. And fabricating is really kind of a play on starting with anatomy.
GW: Can you just what do you mean by the martial body?
AT: Yeah. So that took me several years to figure out what I meant.
GW: And that’s why I’m asking you, because, I mean, the average listener would probably not have heard the phrase before.
AT: So the most the most iconic representation of the martial body is the armoured knight, I say. And so thinking about the martial body, when I say it’s a physical construct and a rhetorical trope, and so the dissertation argues that the martial body is simultaneously this physical presence of the armoured knight as its most common representation. But it’s also the fighter in the treatises, the fencing treatises, they’re meant to be, arguably, here’s how you go and win, but when you’re reading, you have a rhetorical trope of this fighting figure. There is a master and there’s a student who are performing in the pages of this text, just like there is a master and the student actually physically present in a studio training or in the romances, the epic romances that that I’m looking in. Obviously, I’m starting from stories and from literature. And so thinking about we have lady knights. We have lower class men who are performing, acting, speaking in ways that would not have been socially acceptable for them. And you have Arthur and these tip top knights, all of these people in the literature interacting in ways that would have been much more controlled in the very hierarchical social structure of the 16th century. So for me, the concept of the martial body was a way of thinking about, OK, how simultaneously do you have the armoured knight and especially in the 16th century, thinking about Clifford, beautiful armour. Obviously they know how to fight and they do. But even on a battlefield, you’re not going to take your royal or noble beautifully armoured person and put them on the front lines. That’s why we have infantry. They would be there, certainly.
GW: Really? Richard III got killed.
AT: Yeah, like the Henries. In Shakespeare, you have all the Henrys on the battlefield so you can keep them confused. So certainly there is a risk. But the in the 16th century and moving into the 17th, when you have this massive increase in the size of armies, you also have sort of like the construction of what became sort of “modern”, quote unquote, obviously it is very different now, but army structure where you would have lines of infantry and you would have light cavalry and heavy cavalry and the differentiation between the forces. And so increasingly the armoured knight became less relevant and more of an important symbol, but not the main force, like your heavy cavalry isn’t the main force of your battle.
GW: . And very often knights with dismount to fight anyway.
AT: Yeah. So the armour, which was what really drew me into the topic, then became as much of a rhetorical and identity construction as it was a useful artefact. So certainly it is protective. Obviously that’s its function, but it also announces identity and in ways that are really fraught because you can steal other people’s armour. And this happens a lot in the romances. There’s one of my favourite scenes where Marfisa’s armour gets stolen by Clarinda because she wants to leave and she’s like Marfisa can go wherever she wants. So if I put Marfisa’s armour on, people just think I’m Marfisa and then I can just leave. And it’s really heavy. And she’s like, oh, I don’t know how to move.
GW: And also it probably wouldn’t quite fit her. I mean, you see that sort of thing in modern movies as well. How do you get people, secret agents or whatever into the Kremlin? Well you dress them up as Russian generals. And then you get to the Kremlin and all the soldiers salute them and there you go. Also the armour of that sort of period would be decorated and painted or there would be your clan and then crest, coat of arms crest as a panache on the top of your helmet so everyone could see exactly you were. It was a massive statement because this is sometimes two feet long. It’s at the top of your head. And just imagine how tempting it is to knock it off.
AT: Right. And then put it on a tree.
GW: Or just keep a collection of them hanging off your belt, right. You can imagine. OK, so obviously the armour is quite important to you. Do you wear armour at all? Do you do any armoured combat?
AT: I don’t personally own armour.
GW: I’m sad for you.
AT: I know, I’m sad for me too. I keep trying to get Craig to make me some armour and Nathan. Some day. But I have worn sixteenth century pieces, so as part of the dissertation, I did research with the Higgins Collection and with Jeffrey Forgeng at the Museum, and so that was my really first encounter with actual pieces. And so, you know, the weight thing, I was surprised. And he’s like, here, put on this breastplate. So I’ve done work at the Royal Armouries with Karen Watts. What’s her last name? Oh, goodness. One of those brain fart moments.
GW: We will look it up, put it in the show notes. We’ll look it up and put it in there.
AT: Yeah, Karen’s great. I worked in Italy, too. And so, I don’t own armour, but I have had the privilege to handle many pieces of a period armour and put a few on.
GW: Do you have a favourite? If you could commission armour in whatever style you wanted, what would you go for?
AT: Oh, I love the Italian armour. My favourite harness is at the royal armoury as it’s the lion armour and I have a little replica of it and Dale, who is one of the other research fellow at the Oakeshott institute and does all of our like 3D imaging, which is amazing.
GW: That’s a really cool project, by the way. Let’s just take a minute to plug the hell out of that project. It’s great. Just describe it briefly for the listeners.
AT: Dale was going to be an aerospace engineer, he was in a PhD programme. He’s very, very smart and mathy. And he decided that he didn’t want to do that. So he then was like, he teaches and he is an expert in him, but he works with our collection. And, you know, the mission of the Oakeshott Institute is to put the sword in the hands of people.
GW: Such a good mission.
AT: But we’re limited, right? We’re here in Minnesota. And if your hands are not here in Minnesota, you can’t hold our pieces. You can’t see them. And so Dale was like, how can I make this accessible to other people? And so he uses photogrammetry and nobody can do what Dale can do particularly with highly reflective surfaces, which are incredibly hard not only to photograph, but then to make accurate renditions of 3-D models of them. So Dale figured out a way to do it and using his mathiness, I assume, and he creates these 3-D models, you know, which assemble thousands of photos from all different angles of the pieces to make these models that are then interactive. So some of them we have like pieces that fell apart. And so he made models of each of those and then assembles them. So you can actually interact with pieces in ways that are not possible because you don’t want to take apart a historical weapon. And he is now putting them into Skyrim. So if you play Skyrim, you can go in. The Moonbrand, which is the favourite piece in the collection from Ewart Oakshott is in Skyrim and you can use it. And he’s now trying to put Fabris into Skyrim mods too.
GW: So basically, people can go online and they can find these.
AT: Yeah. If you just Google the Oakeshott Institute, there are links to are the models are all in Sketch Fab you can interact with them. We’ve got tons up there, not the whole collection but our oldest piece is a Bronze Age piece, I think that’s up there. We have sabres, our Spanish rapier is on there. The Kılıç is on there.
GW: It’s an incredible, incredible piece of work.
AT: So go put our swords in your hands, digitally speaking.
GW: Yeah, it is about as close as you can get without actually being physically present.
AT: Yeah. So he’s making me a 3D model of the lion armour. It’s not as good because he had to take many, many pictures around the piece in the Royal Armouries. But he made me a little 3-D model of it.
GW: That’s fantastic. OK, so. So if you had tons of money, you get yourself a replica of the lion armour tailored to fit you so you could clank around.
AT: I would. Yes. Negroli is my favourite armourer, so I might put a little bit more Negroli into it.
GW: OK, yeah, my favourite armour is the Avant armour, the Kelvingrove.
AT: Oh yeah. That’s beautiful.
GW: I’m not really an armour person. I’m much more of a sword person. But when I saw that armour in the Kelvingrove for the first time, I was like, shit, that’s my armour. How can they have my armour, I want it back, it belongs to me and I’m pretty sure it would fit me perfectly. OK, I have a couple of questions that I ask all my guests. And the first is, what is the best idea you haven’t acted on?
AT: You know. I’ve been thinking about this, and if I want something, I usually do it. And so I was trying to think. I mean, and I’ve had a lot of, you know, in retrospect, maybe doing that whole PhD, I don’t regret doing it. But certainly the job options are not great. So I have a lot of ideas that maybe I should have not done.
GW: And that’s a different question. It is perfectly all right to say, well, you acted on all of your best ideas and quite a few of my guests, maybe 20 percent of them. I haven’t done the numbers. I’m not a very mathy person. But quite a few will answer that question by saying, well, I don’t really have any because I act on my ideas. That’s a perfectly legitimate response.
AT: I’m sure that I’m sure that there are unrealised opportunities.
GW: I mean, to my mind, I think the best idea you have an accident is getting that book out.
AT: Yes, that I actually was just looking like so because I have the job, I do it. I work a lot of hours. It’s a very high pressure job, as you can imagine. And so I regret not having as much time for research and scholarship as I would like to have. So that is my best idea. I think I like that. Not carving out enough time to get those manuscripts done. I’ll take a week off and be like, OK, this week I’m just really going to write and get a good chunk done and then not touch it again for a couple of months because.
GW: Right, because work. I produce quite a lot of books and there is nothing else to do because I don’t have any other job. I mean, the absolute key to my productivity is I have no gainful employment. It really, really helps. I’m not necessarily recommending it. OK. One last question. Somebody gives you a million dollars to spend improving historical martial arts, however you choose to interpret that term, worldwide. How would you spend the money?
AT: Providing access to resources. I mentioned earlier about library access, that’s a huge, huge problem. I mean, there’s all kinds of issues in in publishing, I don’t get paid to publish my articles. I won’t get paid. I mean, maybe I’ll get like 40 bucks or something, maybe for publishing the books. And oftentimes people have to pay to publish.
GW: Academia is sick. It’s weird.
AT: It’s crazy. And it’s not something that generally people outside of academic publishing or academia think it works, like publishing if you’re Stephen King or whatever, you publish your book and you make money, that’s just not how it works. And so the consequence of that is that not only do you limit the amount, it’s much harder to create knowledge and ideas and share your research. It’s just a lot harder. So a lot of it just stays inside of somebody’s hard drive or it’s locked behind paywalls. And so tons of people who are doing really amazing work in historical martial arts and are not traditional academics, they don’t have access to that. And similarly, traditional academics oftentimes are blinded to all of the great research that is being done in a more public domain. And so if I had tons of money, it would be to level those paywalls and open access information, access to the knowledge and the research, because I just can’t imagine how, and not just in historical martial arts, would this be generative, but especially in historical martial arts, because there’s so much specialised knowledge that people like Craig Johnson, at the Oakeshott Institute, who’s a smith, he’s forgotten more than I will ever know about edged weapons. You just have these silos of information that happen largely because I think one of the main causes is the restriction to resources like copies of manuscripts and copies of early books.
GW: Projects like the Wiktenauer are going a long way to make the sources available because of that, but there’s also a lot of like research that just isn’t available at home. I have a top tip for the listeners. If you come across an article that looks like really interesting and it’s behind a paywall and you don’t happen to be affiliated to university and so you can’t go to the university library and read the journal and a subscription is going to be something ridiculous, like three thousand dollars, as they often are. These academic publishers, they charge astonishingly large amounts of money for subscriptions and they don’t pay the money goes to the author at all. None of it. But in my experience, if you find the academic who has produced it online, they usually have an email address and email them and say, I came across your article. It looks really interesting. I am not affiliated to university, please can I have a copy of it? They are normally so happy that somebody has noticed their research. Yes, of course, here’s a couple of other ones you might be interested in too. Yes, please go read. Go straight to the academic. You could do an end run around these horrible paywalls.
AT: Yeah. Academia.edu lots of people will have their stuff up there and some a lot of it is just there. But yeah, if you contact people they’re more than happy to share.
GW: So how would you actually set about getting rid of those paywalls or getting around them? Would you buy out the publishers and take away the paywalls?
AT: I don’t know, the practical solution part, that’s hard, I think it almost would be nice to just have like a sort of like the way that the Mellon Foundation works, they give out tons of grants and fund all kinds of projects and just have something like the Mellon Foundation. But that’s the foundation just for making academic work accessible. And so some journals if you’re the author or your institution or sometimes there will be a grant available in your field and you can pay to make something open access. And so it’s extra. And ideally the academic publishers would not charge that. But a lot of times it’s not even academic publishers that’s the problem. It’s like the conglomerates that that form, it’s not Rutledge that’s necessarily the issue. It’s the services that make them all come together, like getting rid of them, would be great and just have publishers and they don’t make much money either, oftentimes. And so if you could have this fund and say, OK, I want you to publish every article that you publish, here’s the three hundred dollars or whatever it is that you need to make an acceptable profit so you can continue to exist. Publishers, because we do need you. But also now this is available to everybody. And so just, supplement the actual source like the publishers themselves and the authors themselves. And this wouldn’t just be academics either. Because a lot of people who are publishing great work have to self-publish. And that’s also really expensive.
GW: OK, I find that self publishing is really not that expensive. And actually I make quite a bit of money from my books. Maybe a third of my income comes from my books. Since I started self-publishing.
AT: That’s awesome, I’ve heard of other experiences and maybe then another part of the grant could be for teaching people, you share your knowledge, like how you self-publish effectively because there’s people to do it their own way.
GW: Yeah. I mean, the trick is the avoid the vanity presses because they will charge you a huge amount of money to do stuff and instead of that, spend maybe a quarter of that money that you would spend on a vanity press hiring a decent editor, hiring a proofreader, if necessary, hiring someone to do the layout on the cover. For not a huge amount of money, you can get a professionally produced. I have books from Palgrave Macmillan, is one that just happens to be at hand, and when I look at the back of it, there is a little thing here saying Lightning Source UK Limited. This is produced on the same presses using exactly the same technology as where my books are produced from. So we’re using the same printers. And they’re using print on demand like every sensible person does this day. We have access to all the same infrastructure – editors and graphic people and printers and distributors and all that lot. For really not a lot of money compared to what you paid a vanity press.
AT: That’s a great tip.
GW: And also compared to how much time you put into the book. I mean, that’s the real investment, it takes a long time to write a decent book. So, yeah, in my experience, a book will cost somewhere around two and a half thousand dollars to produce, something like that.
AT: Wow. There are some people that don’t pay that. We have to pay that to get the press to publish it.
GW: This is crazy. OK with academic publishing, if you’re publishing for reputation, it can matter that you have the right publisher and the right journal. But if you just want to get your research into the hands of the people who are interested in it. Most people have no idea who published their favourite book. They know the author and they know the title like, Richard Adams Watership Down or whatever. But who published that? I have no idea. How would I know? If you’re a career academic and you’re publishing the status, then you jump through those hoops and you get that status because you get paid by getting tenure because of the publication. So you get paid by getting the next job up.
AT: That’s increasingly not going to be where most research happens. And I mean, there just aren’t very many of those positions anymore.
GW: So, yes, I would thoroughly recommend publishing.
AT: I definitely filed this tip away for future reference. Thank you for sharing that.
GW: And I actually mean it, I want to read it. And if you need help getting it through the process and figuring out how to publish and all that kind of stuff. Just ask me. I’ll be happy to help.
AT: Fantastic. Thank you.
GW: You’re welcome. OK, so the money goes to basically making the research that people like me, I guess, are doing and people who are stuck away in their ivory tower institutions are doing.
AT: That’s not me.
GW: Basically breaking down the silos. I think that’s an excellent use of the money and if I had it, I would certainly give it to you. But then I don’t think I have had a guest with a bad idea yet. So my gigantic store of imaginary money is getting smaller and smaller, but fortunately, it’s easily replenished. Well, thank you very much indeed for joining me today, Amanda. It’s been lovely meeting you.
AT: Thank you so much, Guy. This has been great. I am a fan of your work and so I am just very excited. I told Craig, I was like, oh my God, I get to go on the same podcast as you.