The greatest age

  • Thread starter Colin W. Montgomery
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Jack Devine

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Jan 23, 2004
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"Electricity was available as early as 1805, maybe only to a select few, but it was available."
Well, electricity was available in the sense that there were a few scientists performing parlor tricks with Leyden jars and static electricity, but there was nothing remotely like a commercial electric power grid and nothing for it to power. That had to wait until the very end of the century.
As for people dropping like flies, it certainly wasn't that bad but the infant mortality rate was far higher than it is today. Infections often turned fatal and what passed for "medicine" was almost laughable. Doctors still believed in bleeding patients and that "bad air" caused disease. A good overview for this is "The Great Influenza" by John Barry. He describes how medicine only got a scientific grounding starting around the 1880's.
I'll agree that there was a lot of good in the nineteenth century, and tremendous progress, and yes, it would be a treat to visit, but I'd like to hang on to my ticket to return to the present.
 
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Colin W. Montgomery

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No, Sir Humphry Davy invented the electric arc lamp in 1801. It produced light just like a light bulb would have. And don't forget Edison in 1879 with the first official light bulb, thats long before Titanic. They were preforming rather sophisticated surgery too. Don't forget the first use of anesthesia in 1846. But before that there was always opium or alcohol. Are you forgetting Dr. Lister and his studies about germs in the 1850's? Bleeding people? Maybe in the early parts of the 19th, but not much beyond that. Besides thats not so crazy, bleeding does have certain beneficial effects. There was hypodermic injections even in the seventeenth century too. And you cannot deny that there were indeed medicines available even in the 1700's.
 

Jim Kalafus

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Dec 3, 2000
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Colin: A great reference tool for you can be found on eBay. There is a dealer by the name of chescrowel who sells bound copies of a series of scrapbooks kept 1880-1900 by a rather morbid late Victorian who titled each volume "Death." 'Though not inexpensive, ($29.99) they are invaluable windows into the Victorian era in the N.E. US. The compiler, who I will assume was a "he," faithfully clipped the Connecticut monthly mortality figures for each month of 1898, and from this we learn that in 31 days (July):

153 died of measles
58 died of scarlet fever
71 died of diptheria and croup
101 died of whooping cough
35 died of typhoid
9 died of cerebro-spinal fever
2 died of ersipelas
7 of malaria
69 of homicide
262 of diarrhea
87 of tuberculosis
53 pneumonia
22 bronchitis
125 heart attacks
and
407 by other, or unnamed, diseases.

And these only in towns which reported to the Health Department.

This is by no means an attack, but do you realise (I see by your profile that you are 15) that in 1890 you would be, statistically, three years away from the midpoint of your life? Great strides WERE being made- in 1917 you could have expected to live to age 52. 1918 it dropped to 47 because of the Great Flu.
 

Inger Sheil

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Dec 3, 2000
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There are a few problems with using your local cemetery as a yardstick for measuring mortality rates, Colin. The sample draw from the headstones is not really representative even of the bodies buried there - it is not uncommon (even now) for a great many graves to go unmarked, or to have flimsy, impermanant markers. This was particularly true of those who could not afford a more substantial marker. If you were wealthier, and happened to be among those who lived a longer life, chances were better that your life was more likely to be commemorated in this way. These visible monuments are just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak!

Rather than relying on an unreliable visual survey like this, you may want to look to studies that incorporate data drawn from registries, parish and medical records, etc.

According to studies by AmeriStat, for example, life expectancy increased significantly between 1900 and 2000 in the USA: from 51 to 80 for females, and 48 to 74 for males. There have been tremendous strides made in combatting infant mortality, and in diseases like smallpox and polio. This is not to say that we don't have the introduction and/or spread of other illnesses - AIDS, for example - but very few statiticians would dispute the general world trend towards longer lifespans.

As I said before, having a realistic view of the past does not preclude admiring the achievements of our ancestors, or believing that everything is necessarily 'better' now (the assessing of which involves subjective interpretation as well as objective data anyway). There are certain things I believe we've lost along the way that I wish we had kept. But eras build upon the achievements of those that went before - sometimes we do take regressive steps, but overall it has been an evolution. We wouldn't be where we are today if not for their achievements, but then that era didn't emerge fully formed from a clamshell either - it was a progression of what went before. The period you outline was one of great achievement and progress...sometimes. Sometimes it was one of narrow bigotry, oppression, war, famine, tragedy and death. Just like what went before and what came afterwards.

As Dickens wrote in 'A Tale of Two Cities':
IT WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Easley South Carolina
>>What does that say?<<

Not as much as you might think. As Inger pointed out, markers for graves that last awhile weren't readily affordable and unmarked burials were quite common. If you want evidence to give you the whole of the picture, you might try researching what's kept in any number or records repositories from church records to those held in government archives as well as peer-reviewed scientific/historical studies of the periods you're interested in.
 
Jul 9, 2004
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There's also another thing to say about the cemetary in your area, Colin. There was a shorter lifespan at the time, but there probably were certain areas geographically lucky that were in the right areas to avoid some diseases that are geographically limited to certain environments (Florida, as I said, probably had malaria, and also cholera as something common.) Your area may have been in the right zone to have relatively fewer diseases than say, a town in Florida in 1880.

This theory of mine though, is based on guesswork unfortunately, but considering that a lot of diseases then originated from insects or dirty water, I guess it can work.
 
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Colin W. Montgomery

Guest
The whole point of my cemetary post was to show that People could live just as long as today and that it was more common than you think. As for the cemetary being an inaccurate judge I disagree. The historians who gave tours of it said cemetaries are among the best tools for gauging the past. The graves are in excellent condition, and are clearly legible. Here is one from the Rev, John C. Boyd:

"J.C. Boyd
1833-1903
Pastor of
ST. Clair Church"

and another for Charles Abbott:

"Carl Abbott
1823-1911"
And yet another:

"James T. Couch
Gone Home!
1839-1930"

I live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the industrial capital of the world then.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Easley South Carolina
>>The whole point of my cemetary post was to show that People could live just as long as today and that it was more common than you think.<<

And the point of the responses to this claim is "It ain't necesserily so." Remember, that for every grave that's marked, there are literally dozens which are not. I don't think you'll see that anyone doubts that people could live as long if not longer then some today, but it doesn't follow from this that everybody did.

>>The historians who gave tours of it said cemetaries are among the best tools for gauging the past.<<

They are? I wouldn't be so sure of that. While some may be tops in their fields, you might want to check out their credentials, published works, and how those works stood up to the inevitable rebuttals and criticisms that follow. Above all, be wary of the logical fallacy of Arguement from/Appeal to Authority.

If you want useful tools for gauging the past, you'll have to do much better then checking out the local cemetaries and some of the tourguides. You also need to check out the statistics which can be obtained at local, state, and national records archives, being mindful of the fact that the lower overall life expectancy then was determined from the average ages of death for the population as a whole. There are reasons for the lower overall life expectancy.
 

Inger Sheil

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Dec 3, 2000
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I don't think that anyone is disputing that people could live as long as today. However, you have to look at those lifespans in the context of over-all life expectation. As can be readily demonstrated, the average life expectancy was considerably lower.

Cemeteries do tell us a lot about past ages, just as most burial sites do. I've visited cemetaries all over the world as part of my research...from the wonderful Highgate Cemetery in North London (just down the road from where I lived) to finding the Moody headstone in Scarborough. I've spent hours wandering around one of York's largest, most historically signifigant cemeteries with two friends with Doctorates in history, one of whom gave formal tours of the cemetery as well. My fascination with burial grounds goes back to childhood - a friend's partner thought it tremendously amusing, and if he thought I was grumbling too much on road trips would point out the cemeteries to cheer me up. No trip to Dublin is complete with out a visit to Glasnevin Cemetery...I don't think there's any place on earth that holds a greater concentration of fascianting figures. But it is important to remember that cemeteries don't necessarily give us the complete picture - not even about longevity or prosperity. When other records exist - and for the period you're talking about, they do - we have to take them into account as well. The record left by tombstones is only one part of the picture.
 
Oct 14, 2003
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Heya all.

This is kinda on the subject you began with but maybe not so with all of the cemetery talk.

We often talk about the inventions and illnesses and things like that but I was wondering about the 'isms' of a society. Things like racism, classism, gender issues. I was wondering if you can give me some idea of the kind of thoughts an Edwardian person might have.

In my lecture yesterday my tutor was saying how there never used to be the word homosexual. That kinda spun me out because how would you describe something without a word for it? It seems that a person wasn't 'a homosexual' as such but was a 'normal' person who indulged in such acts. And an added note is that the word heterosexual came after homosexual - doesn't this make you think?

Anyway, the point for my questioning is because we're working on character development at uni and my characters set in other times seem to have a very modern perspective of their time. I need to know a little of their vices in order to make them well rounded people. And who better to ask than you guys?
 

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