Who’s the daddy? Disputed cases of paternity in eighteenth-century Ulster

The Perceptions of Pregnancy blog, like the Researchers’ Network, aims to reach beyond boundaries and borders and to facilitate an international and interdisciplinary conversation on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences from the earliest times to the present day. This month we have PoP Director Leanne Calvert talking about men and sexuality in the 18th Century.

DNA testing has become the standard method of determining paternity. Daytime television shows, such as ITV’s The Jeremy Kyle Show, regularly include segments that feature disputes and arguments over paternity, usually involving multiple potential fathers. A quick mouth swab, inevitable rows, and a dramatic pause later, the question of ‘Who’s the daddy’ is solved relatively quickly. But how did those in the eighteenth-century determine paternity? In the age before DNA testing (and before daytime television hosts), how did women and men figure out who exactly was the daddy? 

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“so a word to the wise’: reassessing the role of the upper-class Irish father in nineteenth-century childrearing’

The Perceptions of Pregnancy blog, like the Researchers’ Network, aims to reach beyond boundaries and borders, and to facilitate an international and interdisciplinary conversation on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences from the earliest times to the present day. This week Judy Bolger writes about a father´s involvement, through written advice, in the upbringing of his children.

‘So a word to the wise – Your mother says asses’ milk – or Breast milk given on a spoon’ wrote John D’Alton to his wife Catherine in 1819.[1] Though spending much of his family’s early years away from home, John’s surviving letters demonstrate that he was still very much engaged with his children’s feeding habits and their daily lives in Summerville, Dublin during the early nineteenth century.[2] Through these various references about his children, an alternative representation of the father is reconstructed. Much scholarly attention toward the period has reinforced the severity of the public and private divide amongst women and men.[3] However, such a sweeping generalisation about the gender norms of the period may not be as clear-cut as we have understood. In a nuanced manner, these letters not only showcased John’s engagement with his children’s rearing, but also his advice and interest in tasks that have hitherto been deemed outside his gender’s concern. Therefore, the extracts from the letters blur the lines between the traditional roles within the nineteenth-century upper-class Irish family.

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A Roman Amulet for Protection in Childbirth

The Perceptions of Pregnancy blog, like the Researchers’ Network, aims to reach beyond boundaries and borders, and to facilitate an international and interdisciplinary conversation on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences from the earliest times to the present day. This week, Adam Parker discusses a roman phylactery created by a mother for her pregnant daughter as protection during childbirth. 

 

Discovered by a metal detectorist in 2007 in South Oxfordshire, UK (PAS: BERK-0B6771) this small, inscribed gold sheet is a truly interesting insight into the material strategies of personal protection in Roman Britain. A translation of the text inscribed upon the sheet reveals that this is a phylactery (a protective, magical charm) created by a lady named Terentia to protect her daughter Fabia during childbirth (Tomlin 2008).

The rectangular sheet is tiny. It measures 63.1mm x 28.3mm and weighs 1.41g. The text is all written on one side and is organized in sixteen lines of Greek writing. Although this is the Roman period and we might expect it to be Latin, there are lots of Greek texts from Britain – it might suggest that Fabia had spent time elsewhere in the Roman Empire

 

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