Carnival, a “Sold” Woman, and Wet Economies: Challenges of making peasants the subjects of history
While conducting research on fertility decline and its historical and contemporary meanings, I came across a video recording of a “sold” peasant woman. Her story struck me as remarkable yet obscure. She had been coerced into working as a wet nurse after being spooked during carnival time and subsequently giving birth to a stillborn. The eerie story seemed highly unusual—an outlier in historical narratives related to transformations in peasant cultural practices. Ongoing research, however, revealed other stories that suggested the significance of peasant women in lubricating global economies with their bodily substances. This paper has two purposes. First, it expands Eric Wolf’s notion of peasant culture not only as deeply integrated into global processes but also as a necessity for the very continuance of transnational markets. I intend the term “wet” to draw attention to the way in which bodily substances, i.e., milk, saturated economic activity in the environs of Florence and Prato. Submersed beneath the “dry” mercantile activity of straw hat production was a “wet” movement in lactating women. Second, this paper explores the challenging process of making peasants the subjects of history. Researchers may encounter jarring tales that do not fit easily into their categories. The tales may challenge the academic writer in terms of whether and how to represent them and their tellers. In addition, peasants’ interpretations of events may or may not fit into prevailing explanations. How do we deal with these multiple levels of dissonance? I take seriously the Wolf-inspired task of identifying how individual stories are deeply connected to global histories and structures. Toward this end, I offer a scaffolding that builds on the conundrum of combining erudite with subjugated knowledge’s and argues for resonant voice as one solution to the challenge of addressing the ongoing problem of integrating the “people without history” into the stories that get told, transcribed, translated, and retold.
Elizabeth L. Krause. "Carnival, a “Sold” Woman, and Wet Economies: Challenges of making peasants the subjects of history" Carnival King of Europe: Power, ritual and the people without history; in honor of Eric R. Wolf (1923-1999).. Museo degli Usi e Costumi della Gente Trentina, San Michele all’Adige, Italy.. Jan. 2009.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/elizabeth_krause/2