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Annie Thwaite

MA work

The 'Urinary Experiment': A medical and scientific cure for bewitchment in England, 1650-1715

This thesis investigates a cure for bewitchment used in early modern England, contemporaneously referred to as the ‘urinary experiment.’ In order to rid a patient of a specific affliction believed to be caused by a witch, several ingredients would be added to a bottle, commonly including the patient’s urine, hair and fingernail parings, metal nails, and even fabric hearts pierced with pins. The bottle and its contents would then be heated, or buried into walls and floors. The combination of these ingredients and processes would act to cure the patient, rid them of the infirmity caused by the witch, and harm or even kill her in return.

The structure of this dissertation addresses the shortcomings of previous scholarship: historians, archaeologists and populist literature have labelled these objects as ‘witch bottles’, categorising them and their associated ‘ritual’ as superstitious and prophylactic; a facet of popular magic used to ‘ward off witchcraft’.

However, by adopting a design historical methodology, this study undertakes an innovative examination of primary source material to instead demonstrate the objects and their associated process as firmly situated in scientific and medical knowledge systems, and discussed and used by a broad a range of people including educated, elite and urban members of early modern English society.

 

Info

  • Annie Thwaite
  • MA Degree

    School

    School of Fine Art

    Programme

    MA History of Design, 2014

  • Title of Dissertation: The 'Urinary Experiment': A medical and scientific cure for bewitchment in England, 16501715

    This thesis investigates a cure for bewitchment used in early modern England, contemporaneously referred to as the ‘urinary experiment.’ In order to rid a patient of a specific affliction believed to be caused by a witch, several ingredients would be added to a bottle, commonly including the patient’s urine, hair and fingernail parings, metal nails, and even fabric hearts pierced with pins. The bottle and its contents would then be heated, or buried into walls and floors. The combination of these ingredients and processes would act to cure the patient, rid them of the infirmity caused by the witch, and harm or even kill her in return.

    The structure of this dissertation addresses the shortcomings of previous scholarship: historians, archaeologists and populist literature have labelled these objects as ‘witch bottles’, categorising them and their associated ‘ritual’ as superstitious and prophylactic; a facet of popular magic used to ‘ward off witchcraft’.

    However, by adopting a design historical methodology, this study undertakes an innovative examination of primary source material to instead demonstrate the objects and their associated process as firmly situated in scientific and medical knowledge systems, and discussed and used by a broad a range of people including educated, elite and urban members of early modern English society.

  • Degrees

  • BA (Hons) History, University of Warwick, 2012
  • Experience

  • Editor-in-chief, Unmaking Things, London, 2013–14; Research assistant, Research Department, Royal College of Art, 2013; V&A History of Design Webpage Project, London, 2013; Educational assistant, Thackray Museum, Leeds, 2012
  • Awards

  • The Sylvia Lennie England Award
  • Conferences

  • Death By Slideshow, V&A/RCA, 2013
  • Publications

  • 'Revelation and Concealment: Flipping the pyx', Annie Thwaite, Unmaking Things, 2013–2014; 'Mother Shipton: Designing the sensational', Annie Thwaite, Unmaking Things, 2013–14; 'Basilisks, blood, and red headed men: Early modes of craft, technology & production', Annie Thwaite, Unmaking Things, 2013–14