Nineteenth century France was a “nation on drugs”: psychotropic drugs were widely used and easily accessible for everything from everyday pain and mental issues to surgeries and brothel visits. This week, we talk to Dr Sara Black about the rise of Opium, Morphine, Cocaine, Ether, Chloroform, and Hashish—how they were researched and normalized until they were used by most of the country. We’re talking medical history, obstetrics, aphrodisiacs, psychiatric care, recreational use, philosophy and more. Dr Black’s new book is Drugging France: Mind-Altering Medicine in the Long Nineteenth Century.
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Episode 3.19. Adult Toys
55:49Sex toys have existed for 28,000 years, so why is there still such a stigma around them? This week we’re talking about the history of sex toys from the ancient world to the present, the evolution and cultural significance of the vibrator in the 19th and 20th centuries, Masters and Johnson’s revolutionary research, the ups and downs of the adult entertainment industry, anti-obscenity laws, and censorship. Our guest is Dr Hallie Lieberman, author of Buzz: A Stimulating History of the Sex Toy
Episode 3.18. Mythbusting Corsets
1:00:25You’ve heard it all before—corsets are dangerous, uncomfortable, a tool of the patriarchy meant to oppress women! But are they? Were they ever? This week on DSH, we talk to biological anthropologist about corsets—how they really affect the body, why women wore them, and the surprising reason men wanted to do away with them at the turn of the 20th century. Rebecca’s new book is The Bad Corset, a translation and critique of Ludovic O’Followell’s influential 1905 anti-corset treatise, Le Corset.
Episode 3.17. Men’s Sexual Health in Early Modern England
54:04In seventeenth-century England, seeing a doctor was a big deal. Before the NHS, people paid doctors, quacks, and even astrological medical practitioners out of pocket for cures that could be dangerous and downright unpleasant. Some people turned to household recipe books to treat themselves at home, but for many serious ailments, this just wasn’t possible. This week, we talk to Dr Jennifer Evans about men’s sexual health in the seventeenth-century—everything from kidney stones and infertility to syphilis and genital gangrene. Plus, just in time for Valentine’s Day, an introduction to early modern aphrodisiacs. Sparrow, anyone?
Episode 3.16. Renaissance Beauty: Cosmetics, Poison, and Plastic Surgery
1:01:01For women in Renaissance Italy, beauty was everything: it could be a vocation, a way to get ahead, entertainment, or even a weapon. Women of all classes used cosmetics, and many were employed as beauticians, apothecaries, and beauty writers. This week, Jess talks to Professor Jill Burke about Renaissance beauty standards, cosmetics, hair dye, plastic surgery, and how hundreds of women escaped abusive marriages with Aqua Tofana
Episode 3.15. The Oneida Community: Progressive Utopia or Polyamorous Cult?
47:16Between 1848 and 1879, the Oneida Community tried to build heaven in Upstate New York through the principles of communism, free love, and contraception. Under the guidance of charismatic preacher John Humphrey Noyes, the community practiced “complex marriage,” meaning everyone was allowed to sleep with everyone else. But there was a dark side to this seemingly progressive paradise—Noyes was a narcissist who exercised extreme control over the lives of his followers, experimenting with eugenics in his quest for immortality. In this special double episode, Jess covers Noyes’s early life and theology, the structure and sexual practices of the community, and its experiments in birth control and “stirpiculture.” You’ll never look at a spoon the same way again.
Episode 3.14. Fairies, Entities, Ghosts, and Gods: Rebel Folklore with Icy Sedgwick
1:06:44What can folklore teach us about history? More than you’d think! This week, Jess talks to Icy Sedgwick about fairies, ghosts, gods, psychopomps, tricksters, banshees, and more. Who was the real Lady Godiva? How did colonialism influence the folklore of the Americas? And why are people so obsessed with Robin Hood? We cover all this and more this week on DSH. Icy is the author of Rebel Folklore: Empowering Tales of Spirits, Witches, and Other Misfits from Anansi to Baba Yaga. For more on Jess’s birthday fundraiser to benefit ARFP, check out our Instagram @dirtysexyhistory or donate directly at arfpnc.com.
Episode 3.13. Black Sam Bellamy and the Golden Age of Piracy
53:17He might not be the most famous pirate, but Black Sam Bellamy may have been the most successful: when his ship wrecked in 1717, it took Sam with it, along with an astonishing 4.1 tonnes of gold and treasure. Forbes estimated that at his death, the "Prince of Pirates" was worth more than $120 million. And he did it all for love. This week on the podcast, we talk to Dr Jamie Goodall about Bellamy's doomed romance with the "Witch of Wellfleet," Maria Hallett, his unusual battle tactics, and how the Whydah was found again in the 1980s. Jamie also offers tips for finding pirates in your own family tree--chances are, you may have one or two.
Episode 3.12. Big Cult-Leader Energy. The Legacy of Madame Blavatsky
54:41Madame Blavatsky is no longer a household name, but her ideas changed the course of history. A central figure in Victorian Spiritualism, she is credited with starting the New Age movement. She influenced everyone from Aldous Huxley and H.P. Lovecraft to Aleister Crowley and David Bowie. Even Dungeons & Dragons borrows from Blavatsky. Although her “miracles” were debunked in her lifetime, her ideas were far from harmless—her theories about race heavily influenced the Nazis and may have led to the Holocaust. This week, Jess talks to author and horror expert Sian Ingham about the difficult legacy of Madame Blavatsky. Sian’s books include The Age of Miracles: Essays on the Collapse of History, and the Bram Stoker Award-nominated We Don’t Go Back: A Watcher’s Guide to Folk Horror.
Episode 3.11. Fight Like Hell: Women and the American Labor Movement
55:51Strikes have been in the news more and more lately, but what is a Labor Union and why should we care? Unions have gotten us many of the rights we take for granted today: the eight-hour workday, safer working conditions, better wages, and benefits. Women have played a huge part in this, from teenage girls in the first picket lines, to Mother Jones and Lucy Parsons, to the Uprising of the 20,000 and beyond. This week, we’re talking to journalist and organizer Kim Kelly about the American Labor Movement and what history can teach us about how to change the world today.
Episode 3.10. Snuff, Smelling Salts, and Sulfur: Scent in 18th Century Fiction
1:08:02What did the 18th Century smell like? You probably think of horses and chamber pots, but do you think of tobacco? How about sulfur? This week, we talk to Dr Emily Friedman about common scents in fiction from the Long 18th Century, mentioned by authors like Frances Burney and Jane Austen. We’re talking snuff, smelling salts, taking the waters at Bath, bathing before showers, Queen Charlotte’s bad habits, Marie Antoinette’s perfume, and more! Dr Friedman’s book is Reading Smell in Eighteenth-Century Fiction. Check out our Instagram for discount codes @dirtysexyhistory