In this episode of High Theory, Laura Stokes talks about melancholy. One of the four humors in ancient humoral medicine, melancholy, or black bile, is a fluid substance and spiritual principle that was thought to move within the human body. A proper quantity of black bile allows one to be calm and contemplative, thoughtful and withdrawn. A superabundance produces sadness, indigestion, and a host of other evils. Research is a melancholy practice; scholars are prone to melancholic dispositions.
Throughout the episode Laura refers to Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, an early modern text that describes the sources, symptoms, and treatments for a surplus of melancholy, in a rather meandering way, with an entire separate disquisition on love melancholy. It was published in multiple versions over Burton’s lifetime – people usually cite the 1638 edition.
Laura Stokes is an associate professor of history at Stanford University where they study Early Modern Europe. Their first book Demons of Urban Reform: Early European Witch Trials and Criminal Justice, 1430-1530 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) examines the origins of witchcraft prosecution in fifteenth-century Europe against the backdrop of a general rise in the prosecution of crime and other measures of social control. They are currently working on a microhistory of a murder conspiracy within the Basel butchers’ guild at the turn of the sixteenth century, which is really about Early Modern economic cultures. And they run pretty amazing summer reading groups.
Image: © 2022 Saronik Bosu