#MemberMonday: Laerke Recht

ridehesten copy


Laerke Recht 

PhD in Classics, Trinity College Dublin


BA in Philosophy and Greek & Roman Civilization, University College Dublin 

 

What got you in to history? In to equine history?

      I’m in that particular branch of history called archaeology. Part of what I work on is actually pre-history, meaning there are only limited evidence from literary sources. I started in Classics, but the courses I found the most exciting were always the archaeological ones, and slowly I was drawn more and more into that perspective. There is something very tangible about archaeology that appeals to all the senses, and for me at least, it has a way of being more reliable. This is in the sense that it is less susceptible to ancient hidden propaganda or personal agendas – anybody can write or say that they did so and so, but archaeological remains are harder to ‘fake’ (of course, there is a whole other set of challenges instead!). Then there is the undeniable thrill of discovery, of slowly peeling away layers of soil deposited by people living over 3000 years ago. I’m not talking about Indiana Jones moments of finding golden cups, but a small change in colour or texture, or that gradual reveal of one stone, then another, and a third, and soon you have a wall (this has become a bit of a joke in archaeology, there’s even a recent book titled after it). It may sound banal, but it’s the sense that something happened here a long time ago, and if we are careful to get as many clues as possible, we can work out what. Maybe a small family had a meal, maybe there was a battle that signified the end of an era. From small everyday acts to large-scale events, I think that quest for knowledge and connection with a deeper past and identity is there no matter what. 

     Equine history (or archaeology) is an almost inevitable combination of my research and my personal interests. I’ve lived with horses my whole life (ridden, trained, broken in, competed). I think I was in my first competition when I was five or six years old, and although I’ve had breaks for studies, it’s never been far away. The fascinating thing about any kind of training with a horse is that it always requires two, and you have to find a way to work together. My research has involved animals in one way or another from the start, but for a long time I’ve wanted to do something dedicated to a specific animal. I chose equids partly because of my personal experiences, and partly because it is an animal that is treated differently in the archaeological record.

Who is your favorite historical horse?

I have two.

     The first is Bucephalus. He was the horse of Alexander the Great, and according to the ancient historian Arrian, Alexander loved and admired him. He is the bold war horse that Alexander uses in his campaigns across western Asia. A city was named after Bucephalus. Arrian writes that “in former days he had shared with Alexander many a danger and many a weary march. No one ever rode him but his master, for he would never permit anyone else to mount him. He was a big horse, high-spirited – a noble creature.”

     The second is Hickstead (if I may call him historical). What a horse! This is totally influenced by my own preference for showjumping. The passion and love of jumping that is evident when watching him is just fantastic. Although the combination of Eric Lamaze and Hickstead could probably not have been better, it is such a joy to watch Hickstead take four different riders on a clear round for the Rolex Top Four Final. All excellent riders, but this was Hickstead taking them for a ride. I also love the fact that Hickstead as a personality and as an athlete was honoured by a minute of silence by all participants after his death in the Verona arena in 2011. This says a lot about human-equid relations in athletic contexts.

What are you working on right now?

     My current project is about human-equid relations in the ancient Near East. It is an EU-funded project (under the 2020 Horizon programme) which lets me do research on this topic in a holistic manner. I’m combining faunal, iconographic and epigraphic material.

     I have just finished looking at one of those incredibly controversial parts of equine history: that is, when horses were first domesticated. There are all sorts of challenges when attempting to identify equid species in the faunal record, and even more so when finding markers of domestication – as I’m sure many of the members here will know much about. What is of interest to me is how humans and equids related to each other, and hunting ‘wild’ animals for meat is a very different kind of relationship than one where they are ridden, or even kept and bred for meat/milk.

     I’ve just moved on to looking at the use of various kinds of chariots in the ancient Near East. Equids were ridden, but chariots were much more common. Since I am more familiar with riding, I’m now learning more about how the different parts of chariots and other wheeled vehicles affect how it can be used or what it is most suited for. It’s important because, to put it crudely, it comes down to a difference between war and peace. Were horses (and other equids) used mainly for peaceful activities (agriculture, processions) or for aggressive activities (battle, hunting)?

     My particular take on this topic is to look for the agency of equids – to recognize their behaviour (an attentive turning of the ear, an impatient stamping with a leg) and their shaping of human lives as well as the other way around.

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#MemberMonday: Anastasija Ropa

Lady Ana

 

Education:

Bangor University
PhD, Arthurian Literature

University of Latvia
BA & MA

 

What got you in to history? In to equine history?

     It probably suffices to say that my role models as young adolescent were Tolkien’s riders of Rohan and Dumas’s musketeers… As a postgraduate, my principal research interest was medieval literature, and especially Arthurian romance, while horses were my private passion. A natural step forward after completing the PhD was to combine the two.

Who is your favorite historical horse?

     Eclipse: his is a fairy-tale scenario of a horse who was deemed unfit for sport by his contemporaries and retired from racing an unbeaten champion. Eclipse went on to become a prize breeding stallion, so most of today’s Thoroughbreds – including my own ex-racing horse – are his descendants.

What are you working on right now?

     A lot of diverse projects, mainly to do with the Middle Ages. I am involved in organizing sessions on the medieval horse at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds, and related activities. I am also preparing articles on the prices of medieval horses and horse welfare in the Middle Ages. I am currently on maternity leave, with fewer opportunities to ride, but, in the summer, I will resume training horses, which gives me an opportunity to gather empirical evidence for my long-term project on medieval horse training.

Anastasija is the organizer of the “Equestrianism” strands at IMC Leeds and several other equine history projects. She is currently a lecturer of English and translator at the Latvian Academy of Sports Education. Find her here.

#MemberMonday: Janice Gunther Martin

JGM & donkey at Versailles
This was actually taken at Versailles. Why spend all your time looking at palaces and gardens when you can also go see farm animals?

Education

University of Notre Dame
PhD Candidate, History

MA, History

 

University of Connecticut

MA, History

 

University of Pennsylvania
MS, Chemistry

BA, Biochemistry

 

What got you in to history? Into equine history?

     I have wonderful memories of visiting museums and historical sites on family vacations during childhood. One summer I even spent a week at a camp run by a living history center in New Brunswick, Canada, pretending that I lived in the rural nineteenth century St. John River Valley (a program at Kings Landing – the place deserves some free advertising). So, despite studying biochemistry and chemistry in college, the history bug had burrowed deep. A college course on the history of scientific thought led me to further consider the history of science and how human beings have defined, studied, and interacted with the natural world… And this interest eventually led me to graduate school!

     Unlike perhaps most equine historians, I came to equine history through books – and not the Black Stallion series, either. In my first year or so at Notre Dame I stumbled across equine medical treatises from early modern Castile, and realized that studying the treatment of equines in the past would be a fruitful way to address my broader interests about human beings and nature.

Who is your favorite historical horse?

     If I may slightly adjust the question, I would instead like to identify my favorite historical mule: a gray mule born about 1547 and purchased by a shoemaker at the San Miguel fair in Nájera in September of 1552. Without too much exaggeration I can say that this was a celebrity mule of the shoemaker neighborhood in Logroño. Alas, the mule met an unfortunate end. I will reveal the full, sad story in my as-yet-in-progress dissertation; or, if you can’t wait, find me on the conference circuit! 

What are you working on right now?

      At the moment I am finishing my dissertation, which investigates the role of Crown-licensed equine doctors in curing equines in sixteenth-century Castile. Since many Castilians were familiar with equines and how to heal them, what set equine doctors apart? I compare evidence from theoretical equine medical treatises and lawsuits to determine the distinctive status and practices of these equine doctors as they cared for everyday, working animals. I argue that equine doctors were distinct from others who healed these animals because they more explicitly framed their work using learned medical theory, possessed particular legal functions, and performed specialized surgery. Their activities show that human and animal medicine diverged in practice despite shared medical theory. This project will not only be valuable to historians of science and medicine for its examination of lay and learned medical expertise in an Iberian context; what’s also really exciting about my sources is that they allow me to study actual horses, mules, and donkeys from this period. I am able to examine the different types of equine knowledge that people possessed, and how equine treatment varied by the work expected of these animals and economic context. Thus, the project will contribute to a nuanced understanding of human-equine relations during this period, and to conversations about the treatment of domesticated animals, in general.  

#MemberMonday: Kathryn Renton

kathrynr

 Education

 

University of California, Los Angeles
PhD Candidate, History

MA, History

 

Harvard University

BA, History and Literature

 

What got you in to history? In to equine history?

     I think a family trip to a medieval walled village at an impressionable age first got me interested in history, and I’ve been fascinated with trying to imagine what life was like “back then” ever since. After majoring in History and Literature, I worked in the field of disaster relief for several years before thinking about returning to graduate school. I’ve always had an interest in culture, and reading travel literature and perceptions of “human-ness,” intelligence and emotion got me interested in the human-animal question. But when looking for a dissertation topic, it was the seeming loss of memory and/or familiarity with horses in recent historiography that got me thinking about horses in terms of historical methodology. Having dabbled in horseback riding in different traditions (hunter-jumper, dressage, wilderness horse-packing, trail rides — more or less any chance I could catch), I knew that the language, philosophy and forms of partnership varied in nuanced ways that were not commonly reflected in standard treatment of historical horses.

Who is your favorite historical horse?

     So many legendary horses… but as far as historical horses go I love the story of “Sergeant Reckless,” a Mongolian mare that became a mascot and companion for a Marine division during the Korean War, earning herself retirement and a statue at Camp Pendleton in 2016.


What are you working on right now?

     My current research examines the introduction of the horse to the Americas by the Spanish as part of the Columbian Exchange. I was very curious about the culture of the horse in Spain, well known especially in Andalusia, and the effects it had on strategies in expansion and conquest within the Iberian Peninsula and then across the Atlantic. By re-introducing modern, domesticated horses to the American continents, this moment provides a key test case for the impact of the horse in various realms of historical study.  In my dissertation, I argue that new forms of governance and new definitions of noble status in the early modern period bore the specific imprint of the horse. For example, structural elements of horse breeding in Spain directly influenced conquest and settlement strategies in the Americas, as well as shaping local forms of resistance in colonial society. Using archives from Spain, Mexico and Peru, this project foregrounds the role of experiential knowledge with animals and demonstrates negotiated limits of power that horses were used to represent in the developing early modern Spanish empire.  

#MemberMonday: Katrin Boniface

IMG_4719-001Education

University of California, Riverside
PhD student, Early Modern & Public History

California State University, Fresno
MA Medieval History, with distinction

SUNY Stony Brook
BA Medieval History & Literature, honors

Meredith Manor, Riding Master VI, with honors

What got you in to history? In to equine history?

     I had been running a barn, but I decided to go back to school in 2009. My first semester back, I took a medieval history class “for fun.” That class was with Dr. Sara Lipton, and I immediately changed majors (I had been a psych major). It was fun– she is a great story teller, and I enjoy the investigative aspects of history as a discipline– but it was also important. She made clear the connections to our own culture, and showed how history is important to understanding what it is to be human. I can also credit her with making me realize that history work was never done. In the process of writing my upper division historiography, I realized how sparse, and how problematic, academic literature on horses was. I never thought I’d go to grad school. I am a first generation graduate with a GED. But I loved teaching, and horse history research had been what I did in my spare time (read: bad weather) on the farm.

Who is your favorite historical horse?

     Younger me would have said Ruffian. In fact, she’s who I put for those “what famous person would you go back in time to meet” essays we’ve all had to write. She was fast, fiery, and unforgettable. These days, though, Bucephalus. The account of the taming of Bucephalus from Plutarch, regardless of its veracity, encapsules a valuable lesson in horsemanship (and teaching, for that matter). One of the training horses I had before returning to school ended up being nicknamed Bucephalus. He was a young Arabian, NBR Bakman Bey, and was in fact afraid of his own shadow. We worked through that quickly, he was also sweet and clever. But he kept having odd problems, to the point where I ended up riding him bridle-less for a while. It turned out he had had an ear infection the year before, and was still healing up. It was another reminder to listen.

What are you working on right now?

     My current project, which will be my dissertation, is on ideas of inheritance before Mendel, 1700-1866. It started out as a simple question– what were the genetics behind the unusual colors of the Hanoverian Cream and Hanoverian White– and I expected to look into the trade and political relationships between various stables. I did think the breeding choices behind those strain were more nuanced and informed than is usually credited, but I didn’t think this was particularly radical. However, while I was at the National Sporting Library this summer (I highly recommend them), I found that not only were breeding choices very thoroughly thought out, but inbreeding of any form was highly discouraged (unlike the following century). This turned the idea that early modern breeders simply bred “like to like” on its head. As well as the Whites and Creams, I will be looking at other livestock (cattle and sheep have particularly good records, and are credited by horsemen of this time with success from inbreeding, something the horsemen found startling and disturbing), and also at early American horse breeding, particularly the Morgan.

Find Kat here.

#MemberMonday: Meet Your Team

   At the International Medieval Congress, Leeds, in 2016 there were three panels on equestrian topics, and a few equine papers among a plentitude of animal history panels. Every presenter, even those from other fields or disciplines, said the same thing: they’d rarely met another equine historian, much less presented with a full group; the available literature was sparse and in need of updating; and finding scholars to collaborate with who understood both the equine and the historical aspects was nearly impossible. Now, we plan to change that. Meet the team behind the Equine History Collective:

Katrin Boniface, University of California, Riverside
Kat Boniface is a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Riverside, studying horses and horsemanship in early modern Europe, with a background in medieval literature. Prior to returning to academics, she earned a trade degree in horse training from Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre. Current research areas include medieval and early modern equine nutrition, changing definitions of “humane” treatment in animal training, and genetic history.

Kathryn Renton, University of California, Los Angeles
Kathryn Renton is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of California, Los Angeles, studying horse breeding in the early modern Spanish empire (1490s-1580s). Her research considers how the practices of horse breeding contributed to the vocabulary of race (raza) and caste (casta), considering the shared concepts of generation and reproduction that were used to explain hereditary features among human and animal populations, and the role of the horse in symbolizing and embodying social distinctions in the early modern period.

Janice Gunther Martin, University of Notre Dame
Janice G. Martin is a Ph.D. Candidate in History at the University of Notre Dame, where she is currently a graduate fellow at the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study. With a background in biochemistry and chemistry, her interests include early modern science and medicine, and how human beings have defined and interacted with the natural world more broadly. Her dissertation examines equine medicine in sixteenth-century Castile, especially the practices of equine doctors (albéitares).

Lelian Maldonado, University of California, Riverside
Lelian Maldonado is a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Riverside, studying cultural memory and civic identity in the material landscape and archaeological record. Recent projects have included depictions of racehorse owners in Aristophanes as well as the many reproductions and symbolic uses of the Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius.

Alyse Yeargan, University of California, Riverside
Alyse Yeargan is a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Riverside, studying museum education, and is the 2017 Gluck Fellow at the California Museum of Photography. Her equine historical focus is sport and gender, particularly the early modern and modern development of competition riding attire.

     And of course, Anastasija Ropa and Timothy Dawson, who orginized the Medieval Equestrianism panels at Leeds 2016, and again this year. Anastasija Ropa is a lecturer at the Latvian Academy of Sport Education, and also orginized an equestrian panel at the International Arthurian Congress this year, and is spearheading the publication of a collected work based on the Leeds panels. The call for papers for this session at Leeds 2018 is up!