Hello CNU Medieval and Renaissance Studies Scholars!
My name is Dr. Amanda Herbert, and I’m a professor in the History Department at CNU, where I teach courses on British, Atlantic, and European history c. 1500-1800. But today I’m writing to you from sunny San Marino, CA. I’m living in Southern California this year as I’m conducting research for my new book, entitled Spa: Faith, Public Health, and Science in the British Atlantic. In the spring of 2015 I won the Molina Fellowship in the History of Medicine and the Allied Sciences at the Huntington Library, one of the world’s greatest cultural, research, and educational centers. The Huntington was founded in 1919 by Henry E. Huntington, a railroad baron who built a financial empire in California. Huntington was a gifted and successful businessman, but he was also a remarkable patron of the arts and humanities: he loved rare books, manuscripts, art, and gardens, and he devoted much of his life (as well as many of his financial resources) to collecting great works of art, history, literature, and botany from around the world.
This means that the Huntington Library is one of the few repositories in the United States where scholars like me – whose work centers on the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries – can access and study primary sources from our place and period of study. Each year hundreds of scholars from around the world apply for research fellowships to the Huntington in order to spend time working in the collections, and each year twenty very fortunate people are chosen from that pool to be “Long-Term Fellows.” We make up the interdisciplinary faculty for the Huntington for the year that we’re in residence. This year my fellow-fellows come from many different colleges and universities, from UCLA to Columbia University, and from the University of Valencia in Spain to Northumbria University in the United Kingdom. And they work on all kinds of different topics: history, literature, religious studies, the history of science and medicine, studies of drama and theatre, art history and criticism. But we’re unified by our research projects, all of which are based in sources owned and preserved by the Huntington’s dedicated librarians, curators, and archivists.
Each day I arrive at the Huntington and am scanned in by the guards who protect the Huntington’s treasures. Then I put my things in my office and proceed to the Reading Room, which is a secured facility where we’re allowed access to the Huntington’s rare books, manuscripts, works of art, and special editions of dramatic and literary texts. No one is allowed to bring water, food, or even pens into the room – all of these things pose too much of a risk to the valuable materials under study – and when we’re inside of the room, we’re under constant video surveillance. While I’m here, I’m reading correspondence and diaries written by women and men who lived in the spa cities (like Bath, England; Avignon, France; and Hot Springs, Virginia) in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. I’m also studying early modern books (medical treatises, scientific pamphlets, and travel guides) that were written and published about spas in this period. I’m collecting evidence about the ways that spa cities functioned as sites of public health in the period. Anyone who came to a spa city – regardless of their social or economic status, their religion, their race, their nationality, or their age – was provided with free medical care, access to doctors, and life-saving medicines. As I’ve learned, early modern people in spa cities believed that helping the sick and injured was an essential part of being a good citizen as well as a good Christian. If you’re interested in learning more about the sources I’m reading, check out this post that I wrote for Verso, the Huntington Library’s blog.
I hope that you’re all having a good semester, and I look forward to sharing my new research and archival discoveries with the Medieval and Renaissance Studies students who enroll in my classes in Fall 2016!