Episode 31: The Scar

Tuesday, April 11th, 2017

‘Paint me as I am. If you leave out the scars and wrinkles, I will not pay you a shilling’  (Oliver Cromwell as quoted in William Goodman, The Social History of Great Britain during the Reign of the Stuarts (Vol.1) (New York, 1845), p. 272). For this episode let us join the poet of pre-history, Professor James Daybell, and the father figure of the fact, Dr Sam Willis, as they stitch up the wounds to bring us the unexpected history of the scar. Our battle-scarred duo will trace the stretch marks of generations past, from ritualised practices in Africa to German duelling societies in the nineteenth century and the rather terrifying Otto von Bismarck, from loan shark punishments in modern day Scotland to the court of Elizabeth I and smallpox, and from the battlefields of World War I and the sculptor Francis Derwent Wood, to the American abolitionist movement and the African slave, Gordon or ‘Whipped Peter’.

James and Sam will peel back the bandages of the past to discover that this unexpected history is actually all about: display, valour, masculinity, culture, ritual, visibility and invisibility, confidence and self-expression, female beauty, memory, infamy, fear, survival, slavery, endurance and healing. Want to know where Lord Nelson got his wounds? Well luckily, he kept a list of maiming which he thought ‘tolerable for one war’!

‘That’s all history is after all: scar tissue’  (Stephen King).

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