No of course this isn’t about my dissertation (though no doubt that’s what I should be doing rather than writing to you, faithful and much neglected Reader). It’s about my first research love — which would be anything related to corporal punishment.
Last week I wrote about the startle in Marc Drogin’s book about medieval calligraphy, which included the mention of “palmers” described as “sticks with round, flattened heads with which to slap students palms.” This interested me enough that I became obsessed with finding a picture of a palmer. I knew I needed to see one to make sure my scribe fantasies were accurate.
Sadly, googling “palmer” revealed that “Palmer” is an insanely common author last name. Too common even when adding “medieval” or “middle ages” or “scribe.” I’m sure you, Dear Reader, have experienced this frustration — not enough specificity and you get 1,000,000 results, add too many words and you get none at all. After several fruitless hours I had to accept my defeat.
As Paul would no doubt tell you, I am not easily thwarted.
So I posted to soc.sexuality.spanking, both to tell about the startle and to ask if anyone knew where an image for a “palmer” might be found. Usenet being usenet, of course someone knew. A “palmer” is, according to the expert response, another word for “ferule” (an implement had previously only seen as a weighted leather strap (see London Tanner’s “Convent Strap for an example). The poster included a link to this image of a ferule described as the”Ferule of mason’s guild, 1721″ housed at the Vysoké Mýto Museum in the Czech Republic (thoughts for a Lupus film now run riot).
As the newsgroup discussion progressed and after I had expressed my thrilled excitement at the picture, Tony Elka mentioned that this one “it doesn’t really look like a spanking implement.” Given the text, I think this one may have been a symbol of guild office. But armed with my new knowledge of the wooden ferule, I began searching Google afresh, this time with more success.
On this obviously fascinating page (which I hadn’t visited before), dedicated to listing and defining instruments of flagellation, I found an image of a “palmeta” (Spanish), described as “A short flat slab of wood used for punish children by beating them in their hands” which fitted quite nicely with the image of a “palmer” I now had in my head, though the word can also be used to mean pretty much any paddle shaped object or even a flyswatter.
Do you think they’re the sort of thing the good Abelard might have used on his teenaged student Heloise? He certainly does in my version of the tale.
These images generally aren’t the greatest (and seem to have been passed around the web for years and years with no mention of their origins) but are the best I’ve been able to find. Their very sketchiness is evocative for me. Hope they are for some of you too. Meanwhile, back to my apprentice scribe imaginings and my “real” scribe practicing.
10 February 2010: A late addition. The lovely Haron over at Spanking Writers wrote about the palmer only to have a reader respond with a link to a seventeenth century painting The Village School by artist Jan Steen (on display at the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin. According to the artist notes, in this scene Steen used his three children, Catherina, Cornelis and Johannes, as models for the little girl, the boy being punished and the boy holding a paper. I’m rather pleased to see the palmer used in the painting being smaller (perhaps because it was being used on children?) than the ones depicted in photographs.