I always get a cheap thrill when I notice a tattoo motif referenced in two different historical academic publications. It makes me think of issues that range from shared scholarship to lazy research to plagiarism and that things are not that much different today as compared to years, even centuries ago.
My recent post on Tattoo History Daily of Havelock Ellis’s image-quoting of part of a Cesare Lombroso plate caused me to look deeply at Lombroso’s original plate. And I realized that the motto written across the central figure’s chest was one that I had posted many months back from Lombroso’s contemporary Alexandre Lacassagne. Here are the two images:
(Lacassagne, Les tatouages étude anthropologique et médico-légale, 1881. Translation: “The past betrayed me, The present torments me, The future terrifies me”)
(Lombroso, L’uomo delinquente, 5th edition 1897, originally published 1876. Translation: “The past torments me, the present ?s me, the future terrifies me.”)
The quote differs slightly from Lacassagne to Lombroso, and that makes me wonder if both researchers were observing the same person, but one of the researchers just transcribed the motto wrong (or wasn’t paying proper attention to his sketches when drafting the drawings after the fact). It’s patently clear that these criminologists’ research findings were so problematically skewed because they were working with such specific populations (incarcerated or otherwise institutionalized men), but if they were working with such a limited group that both the Italian Lombroso and the French Lacassagne had to seek out the same man, their conclusions become even more appalling. The entire lingering stigma that tattoos are deeply connected to criminality and deviance comes from the writings of these criminologists, who patently ignored or dismissed the vast practice of tattooing going on on non-criminal bodies at the time.
This morning while multitasking parenting and a group project meeting at my house, my daughter asked if she could watch the Disney movie, Pocahontas. I wavered, not wanting to cave in to screen-as-babysitter so early in the day, but then I remembered that Pocahontas is tattooed. “Hey Eleanor,” I queried, “do you remember that Pocahontas has a tattoo?” Eleanor gave me one of those “duh, mom” looks and proceeded to tell me all about Pocahontas’s tattoo: “She has a tattoo on her arm, and it’s red, and it looks like fire.” (Proud mom moment…she’s just 4…a good interpretation of an abstract image!) Now Disney’s rendition of Pocahontas and her story is fraught with problems (the story of “Pocahontas” in general is fraught with problems), but one thing they did sort of get right was the tattoo (although her tattooing is not as extensive as what Pocahontas probably had).
Disney will probably get mad at me for using these images here, but here’s how they envisioned her tattooing:
(A cover from one of the DVD issues.)
(A still from the film)
After my meeting was over, I watched the last bit of the film with my daughter, and since we were already sitting in front of my computer, I offered to show her some historical images that the Disney animators used as reference for designing Pocahontas’s tattoo. Which got me thinking about sharing them with you. Continue reading
Images cut out of library books have always fascinated me. Beyond the basic “What *was* that image anyway?”, follow up questions like “So why did someone steal the image” lead to flights of fantasy creating stories about clandestine image snatchers armed with razor blades and nefarious intentions.
Imagine my excitement when two of my library interests collided: finding books with images cut out and finding obscure tattoo history books. When I came across Erhard Riecke’s Das Tatauierungwesen im heutigen Europa (Jena, 1925) at the University of Chicago’s Regenstein Library, I found a great mystery to solve. Since 2004, the book has sat in my personal library (yes as a grad student, then faculty, and now alumnus I can keep books out for ages with proper renewals), and every time I opened it to peruse its pages I would get near the end of the plates section and be intrigued by this:
What was the missing image??? Although the section of plates was titled “Erotik”, the neighboring images were not particularly shocking or interesting…generic romantic images and some nudie girls. The previous plate had more of the same. But a look at the list of captions for that section revealed this gem with reference to the mystery: “Ornamental tatauierter Penis”. I hardly need to translate that for you…
I’ve always been fascinated by the late 19th century criminology texts that try to decipher the mystery of why some people become criminals and others don’t…and then ascribe certain physical markers to be symbols of that criminality—visual cues then deployed as predictors of criminal behavior. Tattoos became one of these supposed indicators, and a wealth of books and journal articles devoted pages to trying to read deviant meaning into the images inscribed on incarcerated people (as well as the shapes and sizes of their heads, the character of their facial features, the proportions of their limbs, and all sorts of other ridiculous body measurements and surveillances based on the eugenistic pseudosciences of things like phrenology, craniometry, etc.).
(The chest and arms of “C. L.”, a 23-year-old robber and drunk.)
There’s a major problem, of course. When one is only studying tattoos on incarcerated populations, and not at the same time studying tattoos on non-incarcerated populations, one’s perceptions get easily skewed toward tattoos being markers of deviance. Continue reading