Magazine article The New Yorker

Briefly Noted

Magazine article The New Yorker

Briefly Noted

Article excerpt

Briefly Noted

Black Tudors, by Miranda Kaufmann (Oneworld). Seeking to overturn the common assumption that there were no black communities in Britain before Caribbean immigration after the Second World War, Kaufmann presents characters such as John Blanke, a trumpeter at the court of Henry VIII, and Reasonable Blackman, a London silk weaver who lost two children in the plague of 1592. Many slaves fled Spanish or Portuguese territories in the New World, boarding ships bound for England after hearing rumors that all men there were free; one helped Sir Francis Drake recruit Africans for attacks on the Spanish. Kaufmann speculates about cultural aspects: three decades after Drake’s ship abandoned a pregnant African woman on an island, Shakespeare created Sycorax, the mother of Caliban.

Cræft, by Alexander Langlands (Norton). A pressing question lies at the heart of this exploration of pottery-making, yarn-spinning, hedge-pleaching, roof-thatching, plowing with oxen, and other traditional crafts: Was it wise of us to abandon skills honed over millennia? Langlands thinks not, and, drawing on his own crafting experiences, offers both a how-to manual and a challenge to the idea that industrialized production, with its reliance on cheap fossil fuels, is necessarily the way of the future. Arguing that the search for sustainability may make costly, labor-intensive methods newly attractive, he also makes a case for the psychological benefits of working with one’s hands. “Crafts are a vehicle,” he writes, “through which we can be. …

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