Rum and Hellfire from Across the Pond

Charlie and Ash color This week has been absolutely hectic, amazing, and full of a myriad of distinguished speakers from the University of Bristol, the History Department, as well as our own department.

Monday, March 14 at 6pm (WASH101): Charlotte Goudge “Liquid Power: An Archaeological Excavation of an Antiguan Rum Distillery”

Tuesday, March 15 at 6pm  (WASH107): Aisling Tierney “The Outrage of the Hell-Fire Clubs: Sex, Satanism, and Shenanigans”

Wednesday, March 16 at 12pm (WASH101): Dr. Gerard Chouin  “Testing the Plague Hypothesis in Sub-Saharan Africa: Snapshots of a Project in the Making”

Thursday, March 17 at 7pm (Sadler Center Commonwealth Auditorium): Jorge Cham, creator of PHD Comics, “The Power of Procrastination”

Friday, March 18 at 12pm (Morton314): Dr. Joe Jones “Detecting Diaspora: Reconstructing Geo-ancestry and Environmental Health from Skeletal Remains”

Sugar Mills, Betty's Hope, Antigua

Charlotte (Charlie) took a phenomenological materialist approach to her site at Betty’s Hope Plantation in Antigua. She examined the landscape as a constructed place of negotiated identities. More specifically, Charlie discussed Betty’s Hope as it was linked into the Atlantic world through its production of rum. Rum was an important socio-economic catalyst during the 17th-20th centuries, traversing social and economic boundaries in a way rarely seen in any society. A highly desirable, luxury product, rum impacted all strata of society lowest slaves to the highest echelons of British society. During the 18th and 19th centuries rum developed from a waste product into highly desirable merchandise; manufactured and consumed by slaves in the Caribbean for distribution and consumption in European markets, the cyclical exchange system came full turn when it was traded to West Africa to be used as a social lubricant to ease tension while buying and selling slaves who were then sent to the plantations to produce more rum. Charlie discussed the rum stillhouse as a microcosm, reflecting the material and ideological complexities of this British colonial plantation in the Caribbean.

st-benedict-oxidized-medal-2043934One artifact in particular stood out, which spurred much post-talk discussion. This is a St. Benedict catholic medallion that was found in the foundation of the stillhouse, placed between fill absent of all other artifacts and sterile soil below. Perhaps it could have been placed as protection for those people building or working in the stillhouse. Josue, a Phd student, suggested that it could have been sabotage from competing Catholic colonial powers towards the protestant British colonial power. It is intriguing that St. Benedict is one of the patron saints of drinking.

hellfire illustration

Aisling (Ash) continued the theme of revelry, taking it to new levels of debauchery when discussing the mysterious 18th century hellfire clubs of the UK. Previous attention to the study of clubs has been conducted by lay historians who do not engage with the materiality or archaeology of the subject. The over-reliance on documentary evidence, devoid of theoretical analysis, resulted in superficial understandings of the clubs in terms of the realities of their activities, why they emerged and disappeared, and their wider impact. These clubs only became known through the historical record when there was a faction and fallout within the club members. Otherwise, there is relatively little known about the members or material culture. Minimal drinking vessels and memorabilia were recovered from her surveys.

Ash focused instead on the known men, women, and architectural legacy of these clubs, specifically this unusual cave built by Sir Francis Dashwood, who was a wealthy aristocrat with huge political power.  His interests included drinking, literature and blasphemy, and the caves were built to reflect these. She employed innovative 3-D scans of the save system which includes odd rooms such as the Benjamin Franklin room, banquet hall, and a river Styx. There is a descent into darkness with choices along the route to go towards the light or the dark. The visceral, symbolic, and ideological discussion of the significance of the cave formations (along with various other material culture meant to challenge Christian theology and notions of decency) would have carried on all night. There are interesting links to notions of trust, friendship, Rabelais, civility, power, and the sacred and the profane.

hellfire4 3D scanning equipment (or garden décor)

Thank you to our visiting scholars! We look forward to your next visit!

Charlie and Ash Ponder Charlie and Ash

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