A Professor Studies Scottish Romance

24232296.thbSusan here. The Word
Wenches are so pleased to welc
ome Dr. Euan Hague, associate professor of Geography
at DePaul University, to the blog today!
Professor Hague has a special interest in
historical romance—-he's currently researching the phenomenon of Scotland-set literature
among the Scottish-American diaspora, focusing on novels written by authors exploring Scotland and Scottish culture in their work—which includes the wide array of Scottish romances.

EuanHagueEuan Hague is not only an
academician—he is a Scotsman transplanted to the U.S.
Throughout his career he has closely studied the aspects and expressions of the
Scottish-American diasporic community. And, fancy words aside, it's apparent he’s becoming a proponent of Scottish historical romance.

A few months ago, Professor Hague
contacted me to talk about fiction set in Scotland–and Scottish romance–as part of his research for his essay in an anthology for
Edinburgh University Press regarding the Scottish cultural dispersion. Originally from Edinburgh, he left home to pursue an academic
career and is now Associate Professor of Geography at DePaul University. In addition to lecturing, he has collaborated on two books and is a regular contributor to
academic debates about American perceptions of Scotland. He has appeared
on both NPR and the BBC to discuss Scottish nationalism, identity and the
Scottish-American diaspora. He is on the Board of the St. Andrew's Society of
Illinois and in his spare time he is a keen soccer player and father
to two daughters.

Susan: Welcome to Word Wenches, Euan! We’re delighted that
you are joining us to share your research and your thoughts about Scottish historical romance.

Euan Hague: It’s great
to be here with the Wenches! And that's not a sentence I ever thought that I
would write during my academic career. 🙂  The one piece missing from my
puzzle is more reader input into the discussion. Some of the writers I
interviewed shared a few reader comments with me, which were fascinating, and I look forward to gathering more reader opinion today at Word Wenches.

SK:  Tell us something about your project. How did you,
as a professor of Geography, become interested in Scottish historical romance
as an academic research topic?

EH: I moved to the United States to do my Ph.D. at Syracuse
University in 1994. When I arrived, everything seemed very foreign, but pretty
soon everyone was asking me about Scotland, after “Rob Roy” and “Braveheart”
came out in 1995. I remember going to see “Rob Roy” in the Carousel Mall movie
theater in Syracuse while wearing a kilt! As a Ph.D. student back in
the days before Google and iPads, I spent a lot of time in used book stores. As
I was researching my Ph.D. on Scottish-American views and representations of
Scotland, I began noticing romance novels with kilted Highlanders on the covers. I didn’t do any writing on it at that time, but the topic stuck
in my head and I thought that would be something interesting to look at in the future.

Laird of the wind

One of Susan's kilted heroes

When I moved to Chicago to DePaul University, I had published a great
deal of my previous research in academic journals and had become known as the
‘Scots in the USA’ guy. That led Scottish journalist David Stenhouse to contact
me when he was visiting Chicago around 2005 or 2006, and he’d recently
published in the Scottish press about romance novels.

At the same time I was approached by University of
Edinburgh’s Berthold Schoene to write a chapter about Scottish writing in the
United States for The Edinburgh Companion to Contemporary Scottish Literature.
I decided to go back and look at those plaid-wearing Highlanders. I went to a used book store and picked up Sue-Ellen Welfonder’s
Devil in a Kilt,
Julie Garwood’s The Wedding and The Secret, Julie Moffat’s The
Thorn and the Thistle
and Janet Bieber’s Highland Bride. The result was a
chapter in Berthold’s book in 2007, but I always thought that there was enough
material for a sequel. When Duncan Sim asked me to contribute to his new
book on the Scottish diaspora, I took up the topic again–and now I’m thinking
of this could be a trilogy! I’m finding out that romance novels are both big business
and are really interesting in how they depict Scotland


Isle of Arran: Photo, Euan Hague

People in Scotland
don’t really know about these romances, so it is a great topic to explore.

Why is all this Geography? Well, Geography has
changed a lot since people took it in third grade and learned state capitals!
Today, academic geographers examine how places and landscapes are constructed,
represented and understood. Why do places look like they do, and how are places
similar and different. This can mean conducting digital analysis of satellite
data showing deforestation, exploring urban planning and development policies
and their impacts on housing, learning about mountain and river formation or,
in this case, asking how literature depicts countries. It is a really exciting
field. Geography is a perspective, looking at things through the lens of place.
We do a bit of history, economics, sociology, literary studies, ethnic studies,
science, digital mapping, political science, international relations -  a bit of everything!  

SK:  How are you going about the research?  Have
you talked to authors, and are you reading Scottish romances and other
Scottish-set books? 

EH:  I’ve been reading some of the books. Most recently I
finished Blythe Gifford’s Return of the Border
Highlandersmercy Warrior
and as she lives here
in Chicago, I was able to meet and interview her. She recommended speaking with
Terri Brisbin, who I phoned and then picked up a copy of The Highlander’s
Silent Touch.
I spoke with Margaret
, who kindly sent me a copy of The Warrior. Also, my colleague here at DePaul, Prof. Alec Brownlow, recommended I talk to a
friend of his family, Word Wench Susan Fraser King! So I called Susan too, but first
made sure to read Queen Hereafter: A Novel of Margaret of Scotland.

SK: (Thank you!) What does your research reveal about Scottish
literature and romance in particular?  

Hague_1995_photo (1)

Euan in a kilt, 1995

 Of course, I’m finding that Highlanders are very popular, as
are feisty heroines, but I’m also learning that romance authors know more about
Scottish history than I do! When I was in High School in Edinburgh in the 1980s,
we were taught about Scotland after 1760, and my previous academic studies on
Scottish identity really explored the Jacobite period and the era of Walter
Scott, I’d say 1715-1822. Blythe knows more about Scotland in 1528-29 than
anyone I’ve ever met; and Susan as much about the 11th century!

Another thing I’ve been thinking about are those covers showing
muscle-bound shirtless men wearing a kilt and a strip of plaid over one
shoulder – you’d die of pneumonia wearing that outfit in Scotland! I was there
all last July and it rained every day. I never once saw the sun!


(Does this guy look cold to you?)


SK:  What did you expect to find when you first began
the project — and has any result surprised you?

EH:  I think that I expected to find what I’d call “tartanry”
stereotypes of Scotland – kilts, haggis, heather, lochs, castles – stirred into
somewhat formulaic romance plots. I certainly never expected time travel like
in Karen Marie Moning’s The Highlander’s Touch or detailed discussions of
medieval Scotland’s political and religious institutions as in Susan's mainstream historicals. I think the biggest
surprise has been the determination of the authors I’ve talked with to get
Scottish history right.

SK: With all that you're learning about romance — and having the advantage of being a kilted Scottish guy yourself — are you tempted to write your own Scottish romance?

EH:  I have been. I wrote a chapter about a woman time travelling
from Chicago to historic Scotland, but now I think I don’t know enough about
Scottish history to be able to finish it!

SK:  I think you'd do a great job–and just think how interesting your geography and landscape settings would be! What are some of your favorite places in Scotland?


Edinburgh Castle: Photo, Euan Hague

EH:  Well, I still have family and friends in Edinburgh, so I go
there every year and I love it. Seeing Edinburgh Castle, especially on a
late fall afternoon with a sprinkling of snow glistening in the sunset is just
a wonderful view. I like Greyfriar’s Churchyard in Edinburgh with all the
medieval gravestones. And being from Edinburgh means I’m meant to hate Glasgow — but the
Necropolis, People’s Palace and Kelvingrove there are great to visit. I also
went to the Island of Arran for the first time a few years ago and that was
spectacular. Typically when going
to the UK it means flying to London or


Isle of Arran: Photo, Euan Hague

Manchester in England, so I love the
moment when the M6 highway crosses the border and becomes the M74, and then the
drive through small towns in the Borders and on up into Edinburgh always makes
me smile nostalgically.

SK:  Now that you've looked at the interest in
Scottish-set romance from an academic standpoint — why do you think it is such
a consistently popular sub-genre?  

EH:  Ha! The million dollar question. The men in kilts? I know
how that works – I’ve worn a kilt!  I think Scottish romances allow readers
to experience a different time and place, but one that is not so foreign that
it is difficult to understand. I think that using pre-modern Scottish clans also enables
an emphasis on family relationships and genealogy which I think attracts
readers both as romance fans and Americans. In my experience, genealogy is a
more popular interest here in the U.S. than it is back in Scotland.

SK:  What's next for your research in Scottish romance?

EH: I’d love to
hear directly from your readers what they think of Scottish romance! Why do you like it (or not) — what are some of your favorites, and which books should I read next?

SK: Readers, authors, Wenches too — do you love Scottish romance, or do you not love it particularly … and why? Tell Prof. Hague what you think! He may want to use your comments in his chapter (if he does, we will contact you).

EH: Thanks, everyone –this is the most fun I've had writing an academic piece in a while. And thanks for inviting me to Word Wenches!

Tell us what you think about Scottish romance! And there's a prize in it for someone — I'll be sending one of my books to a reader chosen at random from among the commenters today and tomorrow.


Now We Are Six—and a Surprise Announcement!

Cat 243 DoverMary Jo here, hosting the sixth anniversary celebration for the Word Wenches!  This is a long time for a blog to survive and flourish.  But we’re still having fun, still finding new topics to chat about, and new people to have as guests. 

Today, the Wenches reminisce about how they came to Wenchdom.  The announcement will be at the end.  (And no, it isn’t that we’re shutting down!) So here are the Wenches, and covers of books they published the year that they joined the blog.

Keepingkate250Susan King
I remember, six years ago, having an email discussion with Mary Jo and Pat about starting up a group blog, followed soon after by a lunch with our shared website guru, Eileen, who brought more ideas quite literally to the table – and the fledgling concept of Word Wenches was born.

At the time, I was writing Scottish historical romances for Avon as Sarah Gabriel, having already written several historicals as Susan King. When I moved to Avon as Sarah, I was secretly hoping to write bigger mainstream novels someday as Susan. Sarah G. wrote two more historical romances, To Wed a Highland Bride  and Highland Groom — and then Susan K. got the chance to research and write Lady Macbeth followed a couple of years later (these research-heavy books take time!) by Queen Hereafter.

Exploring the differences in writing for hardcover/trade over mass market genre has been exciting and challenging, and I hope I've grown as a writer and historian (certainly I've learned more patience…) . Currently I'm balancing several writing projects at once, so life is a bit crazy at the moment. I'm researching historical novels while converting my old Susan King backlist to ebook (Black Thorne's Rose, Laird of the Wind, and others are now available, with more soon). I'm also writing some nonfiction history, a refreshing change, as it needs a different focus and voice.

Yet one of the brightest highlights of these past six years is the Word Wenches. When I was first published, a very well-known author (I was so in awe!!) told me that the most valuable thing I would find as a published writer would be the friendships. She was right. I feel very blessed and fortunate to be a Wench — and to be able to call each Wench a true friend. That's part of what makes our little blog so special, I think  — we truly care about the blog, our readers, our books, and each other.

MagicManoriginalPatricia Rice:

2006 seems a millennia ago in book terms! I was still writing contemps, Magic Man and Small Town Girl were on the shelves, and my husband had just taken a new job and we'd moved to St Louis. These days, my contemporary romances are on the e-book backlist shelves, the MAGIC series is being reissued, I'm writing about the contemporary descendants of the Magic characters, and producing original e-books and writing urban fantasy. What a long, strange trip it's been!


To Rescue a RogueJo Beverley:

I knew I should blog and started to, but really couldn't keep up with it. Maybe some people love to journal, and others don't, so the Wenches was a great way to do my bit.  When I got Mary Jo’s e-mail inviting me to join the Word Wenches, I said yes immediately.  I really like what we’ve built here, and that we've created a flexible, dynamic group that can adapt to the ever-changing blogosphere.


MarriageSpell 2 CompMary Jo Putney

Like Jo, I thought blogging would be A Good Thing, both for promotion and as a way to interact directly with readers.  I knew darned well I'd never manage one on my own, but with friends?  All of a sudden, an exciting idea took shape. 

Since I knew how busy we all are, I suggested that we enlist Sherrie Holmes, whom I knew from the Regency loops, to keep us organized, a job she's done beautifully ever since, while keeping us wildly entertained behind the scenes. <G> 

Over the last six years, I've changed publishers and added a new genre, YA historical fantasy, and it's all good.  I like blogging, even though it takes time away other things, like writing books.  It's fun to delve into random topics, and it's fun not to have to worry about every word the way I do on my novels.  I also like the chance to interview other authors whose work I admire, like <BLARE OF TRUMPETS!!!>:

His Captive LadyAnne Gracie

In May 2006 I was probably working on the last of my "perfect-in-the-title" series, The Perfect Kiss. I was already a big fan of the Word Wenches as writers, but I can't remember exactly when I first started reading the blog. It was pretty soon after they started blogging I think, but in those days I was a bit shy about leaving comments. It was my regular morning ritual — to read the wench blog and all the comments — I loved the level of interesting discussion in the comment stream.

I do remember when I met Mary Jo and Jo and Pat at my first NINC (Novelists Inc) conference in March 2007 and I made some comment about them changing the blog from a post every day to only 3 times a week —  that was a word wench addict speaking. I do remember their expressions  when I said how I missed the daily dose of word wenchery.  I have to  laugh now, when as a word wench, I look at my calendar and exclaim,  "Another blog? Already?" because it's quite hard to come up with something fresh every fortnight. I don't know how they each blogged  once a week and still managed to write books.

I joined the word wenches in October 2008 and I remember how thrilled  I was when I read the email from Mary Jo inviting me to become a word wench. It's a wonderful group and I'm still very proud to be a word wench.  (His Captive Lady was published that year.)

The Scarlet Spy, jpgCara Elliott/Andrea Penrose

Now We Are Six . . . I love that I get a chance to trumpet A. A. Milne’s classic title, as it reminds me that from a very early age on, books were such an important part of my life. And they still are! Six years ago I wasn’t yet a Wench—and I wasn’t yet Cara Elliott or Andrea Penrose! So, much has changed for me personally as well as for publishing in general since 2006. E-readers were still just a flickering diode, bricks-and-mortar stores were still dominating the reading landscape, and I was just transitioning into mass market historical romance.

Things keep moving at cyber-speed, and there are a lot of crazy ups and downs in the book world, but for me, a constant has been the sense of camaraderie and community that comes from being part of this amazing group. I remember very well getting the call from Mary Jo asking if I’d be interested in joining the Wenches . . . and I nearly fell off my chair. Me? Needless to say, I was speechless with shock. And with excitement at the chance to rub cyber-shoulders with such wonderful authors. We’ve all become great friends, and have a wonderful time together, sharing laughter and our love of good books, as well as hugs when there’s a bump in the road.

It’s a very special part of my writing life, made even more so by the fact that we get to interact with such a wonderful group of readers.

ConfessionsofaduchessNicola Cornick

2006 was an exciting year! It was the year that my first book for HQN, Deceived, was published. I was working on the follow up, Lord of Scandal, that spring. At the same time I was in the second year of my MA in Public History at Ruskin College in Oxford and was working very hard on my dissertation on heroes and hero myths. There was a lot of writing of one sort or another going on! I also remember wonderful holidays in Norfolk and Wales that year and a memorable trip to Atlanta for the RWA Conference.

I heard of the Word Wenches early on and was over-awed by their combined star power, their fabulous books and their historical knowledge. I dropped into the blog regularly but I never imagined I would ever become a Wench. When Anne Gracie emailed me to invite me to join I almost fell off my chair with shock and excitement. My husband says I didn’t speak for half an hour! I learn a lot from reading the blog and I love that. I also enjoy the fact that the blog has an international feel with Wenches on several continents and I love the discussions with the other Wenches and our readers. It’s wonderful!

Forbiddenrosejoannabourne2Joanna Bourne

Six years ago I'd just come back to the States after many years overseas.  I did all the settling down things you do.  Picked out a dog and cat from the animal shelter.  Put the kid in school.  Bought a house.  Planted peonies.  I was on a roll.

I'd been agented for a couple of months at that point, and we'd begun what would turn out to be a year-long quest to sell that The Spymaster's Lady.  I was working away on Lord and Spymaster, figuring if I couldn't sell a historical set in Napoleonic France, by golly, I'd sell one set in Regency England.

When Word Wenches showed up on the internet, I read them regularly.  Pretty soon, the Wenches were bookmarked because they kept popping up whenever I went searching for some interesting historical material. 

Zip forward a few years.  I met Anne Gracie in person at the RWA National Conference.  What a lovely, funny woman.  Through her, I meet the other Wenches.  I was delighted and very surprised to be asked join Word Wenches.  Leapt at the possibility, though.  Snap.

So here I am, the most recent, baby Word Wench, with a bare two years tenure.  Still, as they say, wet behind the ears.

Mary Jo again. 

As you can see, the theme of fellowship is an important thread here.  It doesn't matter that we haven't all met in person, or that we're scattered across three continents.  (The latter is part of the fun!)

Writing is a solitary profession, and while we’re mostly introverts, we need to spend time interacting with out tribe.  And the Word Wenches—and our readers—are a tribe.

Mischief and Mistletoe FINALSurprise!

Now for the announcement: we’re publishing a Word Wenches Christmas anthology this year!  MISCHIEF AND MISTLETOE will be released by Kensington on September 25th in a trade sized edition. (The larger size of paperback.) 

It contains eight Christmas novelettes, one by each current Wench, and it’s going to be a lot of fun.  After reading the proposals, I was struck by how characteristic they are.  Whatever themes Wench a writes in her full length novels is right there in short form. <G> 

The anthology came about rather like the blog itself.  I think it was our web goddess Eileen Buckholtz who first suggested the possibility.  (She's a born marketing genius.)

We kicked the idea around for quite some time until we agreed on what we wanted to do.  Susan organized our short synopses into a proposal, we sent it off—and lo!  Multiple offers!  I was amazed.  But delighted. <G>

Win a copy!

So—come October, a copy of Mischief and Mistletoe will be sent to one commenter on this blog between now and midnight Thursday.

In addition, last summer regular Wench reader Jane Irish Nelson suggested that we should do an anthology.  We didn’t say anything then, but we think she deserves a book for figuring out what we were up to. <G>  Jane, remind us in October if we forget!

So there we are: six years of Wenchdom.  Of history and humor, learning and laughter, philosophy and fellowship.  Nothing is forever, but we're still going strong.  We hope you'll continue to enjoy the journey with us.

Do you like anthologies?  Holiday anthologies?  Any comments on our six years of blogging?  Please share!

Mary Jo, Susan, Pat, Jo, Anne, Andrea, Nicola, Joanna, & Sherrie the Cat-Herder

 PS: It's been suggested that links to Barnes and Noble and Amazon would be useful for those of you who want to preorder.  So here you go!


Ask A Wench: Bizarre Knowledge

The Bizarre Byways of Research
By Joanna

A goodly while ago, Pat Punt asked the Wenches to 

. . . share some of the strangest trivia they have come across in their research.  Having done my share of surfing the 'net, I have encountered many a fact stranger than fiction.   Their experience must be even more bizarre.

Bizarre does seem an appropriate description for what we come across.


Scheele's green   From Pat Rice:

The only trivia I remember is from my childhood. I play a mean game of 60's Trivial Pursuit. <G>

But I just recently wrote about the poisonous green paint that might have killed Napoleon (Kill Your Hero with Regency Wallpaper and given a whole lot of other people pneumonia, asthma, and the winter blues.

But the one bit of history that sticks clearly in my mind—probably because it affected the area where I lived for twenty years—is the Mississippi flowing backward during the 1811 New Madrid earthquake. Can you imagine how powerful an earthquake would have to be to send the mighty Mississippi backward? And weirder yet, Shawnee tribe leader Tecumseh and his brother predicted the earthquake before it arrived. For some other weird stories about the period: see here.

From Mary Jo Putney:

Lord Uxbridge’s Leg
  Henry paget cropped and flipped 2
Many wonderful bits of bizarreness appear in research, and one recently caught my eye.  Henry Paget,  Lord Uxbridge (later Marquis of Anglesey) was colorful enough to merit a blog all on his own—even his right leg has its own story.
Uxbridge was one of Britain’s leading cavalry commanders during the Napoleonic wars, though he was sidelined for several years because he ran off with the wife of one of Wellington’s brothers, and Wellington was understandably not pleased.  (Uxbridge and his lady love both divorced their spouses and married each other.)
Uxbridge’s talents were needed at Waterloo, where he led his cavalrymen bravely and well.  One of the last cannonballs fired smashed into his right leg.  In a classic example of British stiff-upper-lipness, Uxbridge exclaimed, “By God, sir, I’ve lost my leg!”
Wellington, who was nearby, said, “By God, sir, so you have!”
Uxbridge was taken to his headquarters, a house in the village of Waterloo, and the leg was amputated while he sat in a chair.  Note, in those days no anesthesia, and I’m not sure he even had a swig of brandy.  Amputations were done very, very fast, in a couple of minutes or under—but a bad couple of minutes.
In more stoicism, instead of screaming hysterically like a sensible man, his only comment was that the knives seemed rather dull.  Probably they were, given the number of amputations that day.
Lord Uxbridge at Waterloo Uxbridge asked his friend General Sir Hussey Vivian to inspect the amputated leg to see if it might have been salvageable.  The inspection was duly performed, and Hussey Vivian assured Uxbridge that the leg had been smashed and mangled and was better off than on.  (Though really, if a an amputated limb looked like it could have been saved, would you have told a friend that when it was too late?)?
So Uxbridge went home to the loving arms of his wife and got a famous artificial leg, the saw that cut off his leg went to the National Army Museum, and the mangled leg and the blood-stained chair in which he sat went on to provide many years of income to Monsieur Paris, the owner of the house.
At first, visitor were shown the chair, then escorted to the garden where the leg had been buried.  It had its own headstone.  Later a wit wrote:
Here lies the Marquis of Anglesey's limb;
The Devil will have the remainder of him.  Boot sign with text cc attrib cynnerz
Other poetry was written to the severed limb. Royalty visited.  Revenue flowed to the Paris family, who owned the house. In 1878, one of Uxbridge’s sons visited and found the bones openly displayed.  The Paris family claimed they’d been washed into the open by a storm.
The Pagets wanted the bones back.  The Parises offered to sell them.  The Paget family was NOT amused.  The Belgian Minister of Justice ordered the bones reburied.  They weren’t—they were hidden away, finally to be burned by the widow of the last Monsieur Paris in 1934.  So you could say that Uxbridge’s leg had a good long run.
A number of Paget family members lost limbs in the Napoleonic wars, including one of his daughters who lost a hand nursing her husband on a Spanish battlefield.
But only Uxbridge’s leg became a shrine.



From Jo Bourne:
I have a certain interest in Napoleon, since he's either the great villain or the hero of the Regency era, depending on which side you're talking to.

During his Russian campaign, after a narrow escape from Cossacks, Napoleon asked his physician to prepare a 'suicide packet' so he wouldn't fall into Russian hands alive.  He carried the little envelope of belladonna, opium, and hellebore — 'strong enough to kill two men' — in a black taffeta pouch around his neck.   He still had it 18 months later when Allied forces of Russia, Prussia, England and Sweden crossed the border of France and swept into Paris.  France had fallen.  On April 12, 1814, at the Palace of Fontainebleau, Napoleon swallowed the poison.  

Maybe it had lost some of its potency.  Maybe the physician got his dosage wrong, not being a professional poisoner.  Napoleon was seriously ill, but he lived — to be exiled to Elba, to escape, to gather his army, to march one last time across Europe, and to meet Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo.

If the poison had been a leetle more effective, none of our heroes would have faced the battlefield of Waterloo.

From Nicola Cornick:
I love research and the distracting byways it can take me down. Three pieces of strange trivia in particular come to mind when I think about the research I’ve done.
Wiki Closeup_of_copper_rivet_on_jeans Firstly, that denim has been in fashion for more than 300 years. There are paintings from the 17th century featuring people dressed in denim. In the Regency period some half-boots were made from the material. I had no idea. I thought it was a modern invention!
In the early 19th century, chamber pots were made that contained a musical bWiki pot_de_chambre_4ox. In 1820 Prince Metternich was awoken in the night by a musical chamber pot that played the flute. He found and pressed a button and the music stopped, only for it to start again an hour later. The musical chamber  pot eventually ran out of steam and made what he described as “disturbing little noises.” When he complained in the morning the valet commented that there was another chamber pot in the castle that played trumpet music.
There were laws regulating hackney carriages that were never repealed and still apply to London taxis today. One of them is that the cab driver is supposed to ask you if you have any “notifiable diseases such as smallpox or the plague.” As carrying sufferers is illegal, he should refuse anyone who looks as though they may be infected because if you die on the journey he will be committing the offence of carrying a corpse.

From Anne Gracie:

Dr clothed in protective garment1400w All kinds of odd things crop up in research. One that tickled my fancy was the various attitudes to the whole notion of plague and contagion that existed in the early 19th century. The question polarized the medical profession into two camps, contagionists and anti-contagionists, and was hotly debated, even in Parliament. These reports are from Hansard (the  official UK parliamentary record) here.

Mr. Trant said: The plague prevailed at Alexandria while he was there. A surgeon with whom he was acquainted disbelieved the theory of contagion, and went among the patients in the hospital. He did not then take the infection, but wishing to push his experiments to the utmost, he got into a bed which had been occupied by one who had the infection. He did then become infected, and he died in consequence. General opinion, however, attributed the disease to atmospheric influence.

Sir Robert Wilson said, that when he went to Egypt, the impression on his mind was, that the plague was contagious; but he was soon satisfied of the contrary. When he was in Egypt, the army formed two Bonaparte_Woodville
divisions. The one which was stationed at Alexandria took the plague; the other, which was generally in motion, was not touched with it. The difference was attributed to atmospheric influence. The Turks had no hesitation in entering the infected places. The bodies of those who died of the plague were buried in their clothes, and were generally dug up and stripped by those who had less fear of the consequences. The moving division of the British army passed through villages infected with the plague, without being touched with it…
It appeared to be one of the extraordinary phenomena of this disease, that persons who remained stationary were liable to it, and that those who passed rapidly through various currents of air escaped it.

However some historians have suggested that much of the medical fraternity's conversion to anti-contagionism was less a result of medical conviction and more a desire to oppose "expensive, arbitrary and draconian" quarantine measures that hampered trade.  Doctors declared yellow fever, the plague, and cholera — the main diseases affected by quarantines — to be non-contagious. Other diseases were less controversial

From Jo Beverley:

Torpedo War, and Sub-marine Explosions, That's the title of a book by American, Robert Fulton.

  But it was not published recently. Instead, in 1804
However a submarine vessel was demonstrated for King James 1 (early 17th century) and the Americans tried out an armed submarine during the Revolution.

There are many odd ideas in the wonderful Century of Inventions, by the Marquess of Worcester, written in the 17th century.  Here.

Century 477 The "century" refers to there being 100 bright ideas. On the above page there's a description of "certain short muskets of an inch, or very near an inch bore, out of which you may shoot either chained bullets, or half a score pistol bullets, or half a dozen harquebus bullets at one shot, or you may shoot out of the same fire arrows made with strong shafts, feathered with horn, or with common feathers, glued and bound on with thread. When you are to shoot a fire arrow out of any of these pieces, you must not give the piece her full loading of powder." He further notices that " The string made fast to the end of the fire-work is to keep the arrow straight in his passage."

The illustration gives one serious doubts!


From Cara Elliott/Andrea Pickens:

I love doing background reading and research for my books, so I often come across arcane and unusual trivia-for me, that's half the fun! There have been a lot of weird little facts that I file away in my mental storage drawers . . . but if I have to pick one to pull out, I would say it's fact about gunpowder and how it is made. Wiki-Explosions

There are three main components in gunpowder: charcoal, sulfur and saltpeter, or niter.  Saltpeter, is the waste product of two strains of bacteria . . . waste product is the operative word here, as you shall soon see.

Martellotowers gunpowder During the Napoleonic Wars, gunpowder was, as you can imagine, a crucial ingredient for military might. And both England and France were pressed to be inventive in order to find enough domestic saltpeter to meet the demand. Traditionally, the best source was barnyard soil, for it was so rich in animal waste. And so, according to Jack Kelly's wonderful book, “Gunpowder, Alchemy, Bombards & Pyrotechnics,” the British government actually toyed with the idea of ordering all innkeepers to require that their patrons urinate in large wooden barrels, which would then be used to make gunpowder for the army (A sidenote is that the urine of churchmen who drank brandy was supposed to make the most potent powder-go figure!)

For some reason, the plan fizzled, but it still remains one of the more curious bits of trivia I've come across!



What's your favorite nugget of bold, bizarre research trivia?