J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Noel on Exercise for Scholars, 22 Feb.

On Wednesday, 22 February, Rebecca Noel will speak on the topic “Beware the Chair: The Medieval Roots of School Exercise…and Your Standing Desk” at the historical society in Plymouth, New Hampshire.

So what should we be worried about?
This talk explores the sometimes alarming, sometimes hilarious history of the idea that the scholarly life makes people sick. It’s a problem that came to afflict more people as education expanded during the Enlightenment and became nearly universal in the 1800s. Whether the culprit was lack of movement, seated posture, blood rushing to the head, tuberculosis, or digestive woes, physicians have fretted over the health of scholars since at least Plato’s day. Tracing this idea from Europe to the United States, from scholars to children, and from boys’ to girls’ education, the presentation shows how durable the fear has remained—and how relevant it is to the more sedentary world in which we now live.
Noel is Associate Professor of History at Plymouth State University. She is working on a book titled Save Our Scholars: The Mandate for Health in Early American Education. Rebecca and I overlapped at college, but she was already studying American history and I wasn’t, so I didn’t meet her until several years ago at a Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife. This posting was inspired by the paper she presented then.

The program in Plymouth starts at 7:00 P.M. It is free and open to the public, and there will be refreshments to work off.

And now here are some remarks from Josiah Quincy (1772-1864) about his days at an academy in Andover starting at age six, in the middle of the Revolutionary War:
The truth was, I was an incorrigible lover of sports of every kind. My heart was in ball and marbles. I needed and loved perpetual activity of the body, and with these dispositions I was compelled to sit with four other boys on the same hard bench, daily, four hours in the morning and four in the afternoon, and study lessons which I could not understand. Severe as was my fate, the elasticity of my mind cast off all recollection of it as soon as school hours were over, and I do not recollect, or believe, that I ever made any complaint to my mother or any one else. . . .

One recollection of my boyhood is characteristic of the spirit of the times. The boys had established it as a principle that every hoop and sled should have thirteen marks as evidence of the political character of the owner,—if which were wanting, the articles became fair prize, and were condemned and forfeited without judge, jury or decree of admiralty.

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