Episode 37: Hands

Friday, May 26th, 2017

‘… we find only one tool, neither created nor invented, but perfect: the hand of man’
(Julio Ramón Ribeyro, Peruvian writer 1929-1994)

Welcome to Histories of the Unexpected, where you will discover histories of things you never knew had a history; like the history of shadows, or the history of dust.

In this episode the gloves come off (or stay on in the case of a 17th century Polish monarch) when we join the Dentist of dates Professor James Daybell and the archivist of antiquity Dr Sam Willis as they gesticulate and wave us through the unusual and unexpected history of hands.

James and Sam keep a firm grip upon our interest in this most fascinating of episodes, revealing a vast variation of handy stories ranging from medieval expressions of grief to the ‘magical’ power of the monarchy’s touch, from ancient depictions of adult and child anxieties to the ecclesiastical gloves worn to keep the sacred from human hands, and from insults in early modern court diplomacy to expressions of delicacy and intimacy for women of the court.

With resounding applause James and Sam reveal that the unexpected history of hands is actually all about: Medieval Kingship and gloves, criminality and class, communication and symbolism, language and gestures.

Be sure to grab the popcorn for Sam’s incredible report of Paleolithic cave paintings and the insightful discussion on the history of gestures, handshakes and biting one’s thumb! And remember, an Italian conversation can be pretty entertaining even if you can’t hear them!

‘And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.’       (William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (1597), Juliet, Act 1, Scene 5)

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