The Shape of the Modern Week

Hebdomadal Form: Diaries, News, and the Shape of the Modern Week

by David Henkin

The essay begins:

On a September Saturday in 1846, Alabama medical student Charles Hentz scrambled to account for lost time in his diary. “As I have been negligent for another week, in keeping up my journal,” he wrote, he resolved to revisit the events of the past seven days. “I must make a kind of Hebdomary.” The following May, Hentz again referred to his “regular hebdomary,” excusing his failure to live up to the diary-keeping habits he had undertaken a year earlier with a distinctive lexical diversion and a common practical refrain. “So many things occupy me during the week, that I find it impossible to be regular in my journal.” Hentz was hardly alone among nineteenth-century American diarists in noting that weekly intervals often separated the entries in a book defined around the norm of daily regularity. The diary genre reckoned and homogenized days, but users habitually inscribed additional temporal patterns in their pages.

diaryThe particular weekly pattern that Hentz observed in his own handling of the diary impulse evokes a familiar modern temporality of retrospective accounting. It is utterly commonplace to consider the week in review, to take stock of our lives in seven-day inventories. But the power of that accounting practice reflects a larger and generally overlooked development in the history of timekeeping in the West over the past few centuries. As saints’ days, market days, informal festivity, seasonal rhythms, and other systems and strategies of calendrical differentiation declined in Western Europe, North America, and elsewhere, the regularity of the seven-day week became more conspicuous.

The historical significance of this development remains clouded by the week’s status as an anomalous institution in the history of modern time reckoning. The week is in one sense an ancient regime, often invoked by traditional cultural critics as a bulwark against the encroachments of modernity. But it is also a mechanical tracking device, indifferent to natural rhythms, that has proven especially congenial to market relations, capitalist reorganization of labor, the demands of long-distance communication, and the cultural logics of impersonal society—including the oft-cited homogeneity of time associated with the industrial era. The ostensibly homogeneous days of industrializing America, for example, conformed to a rigorously observed seven-day cycle and were marked in complex ways by their placement in that cycle. Even as the image of daily repetition enshrined itself in modern consciousness as a compelling symbol of ordinary activity and uneventful occurrence (expressed in metaphorical invocations of the quotidian and the everyday), seven-day rhythms and seven-day intervals helped organize the modern regime of the day. Modern weekly rhythms are complex historical artifacts, rooted in long histories of liturgy and labor. But they are also entrained in literary practice and encoded in texts. It is worth considering how proliferating habits of reading and writing may have helped confer weekly form upon daily order. Continue reading …

The spread and intensification of seven-day regimes remains a remarkable and understudied feature of the making of modernity. This essay explores the role of written form in that historical process in the United States during the first half of the nineteenth century, arguing that diaries and newspapers, two literary genres associated with the construction of the day as a measure of temporal significance, also registered and reinforced awareness of the week as a structuring rhythm in ordinary life.

DAVID HENKIN, Professor of History at UC Berkeley, is the author of City Reading, The Postal Age, and (with Rebecca McLennan) Becoming America.

From Death Mask to Portrait Bust

A Case of Corporate Identity: The Multiplied Face of Saint Antonino of Florence

by Urte Krass

The essay begins:

Strolling through an Italian diocesan museum or an exhibition on the art of the Italian Renaissance, a visitor will inevitably encounter many images of saints, alone or in groups, presenting themselves and their attributes to viewers inside and outside the picture within which they are framed. After a while, any reasonably observant viewer will notice that there is one face that stands out from the crowd of painted saints: that of Saint Bernardino of Siena, the Franciscan preacher and vicar general who died in 1444 and was canonized only six years later. One of the innumerable examples of this uniquely recognizable face is Antonio Colantonio’s Saint Francis Giving the Rule to His Disciples in the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples (fig. 1). In the group of men on the left, the saints have been given individual faces by the careful artist. But Bernardino’s face seems markedly different; it seems to stem from our own world, whereas the individualization of the neighboring saints reminds us more of faces in the medieval sample books used in workshops. The beholder’s gaze is compelled by Bernardino’s authentic, emaciated, recognizable features, which are in stark contrast to the other saints’ obviously fictive faces.


Figure 1

Bernardino of Siena is the first saint whose face, that is, its recognizable physiognomy, is his most important attribute, and the first saint who, thus, can always be recognized even without other identifying characteristics. This is explained mainly by the fact that he was the first Christian saint whose death mask left its traces in further representations of him. Painters and sculptors would copy this mask when they wanted to represent the venerated mendicant friar. As a result, in fifteenth-century Italy, a new visual medium was invented for representing the saints: the veristic saint’s portrait bust, modeled after—or even directly from—the death mask. Continue reading …

This article focuses on the development of portrait busts of saints beginning in the early Renaissance. The category of the portrait bust, which emerged slightly before 1440, is characterized by its reference to—and at times even integration of—the death mask of the recently deceased saint. As such, these images must be seen in close relation to traditional head and bust reliquaries. The particular group of busts showing the features of the Florentine archbishop Antonino Pierozzi is here analyzed through hitherto obscure written sources, and the proliferation of Pierozzi’s bust is then related to that of other saints.

URTE KRASS works as Assistant Professor at the Institute for Art History of the Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich. Her research focuses on saints’ images from icon to photography, on early artistic theory in the Italian novelle of the fourteenth century, and, more recently, on the political use of images in Portugal and its overseas empire in the early modern period.


Call for Proposals

Representations-Townsend Center Collaborative Grant Competition

Starting in the 2015–2016 academic year, Representations will be collaborating with the Townsend Center for the Humanities to present an annual event—a lecture, colloquium, or symposium—to be held on the UC Berkeley campus.

The event will bring together a small number of people from UC Berkeley and beyond, around a focused theme. It is the hope of the sponsors that the events will lead to a special section in, or a special issue of, Representations and/or result in a volume in the Townsend Center’s Berkeley Forum in the Humanities book series.

Up to $5,000 is offered per proposal. Accepted proposals for Spring 2016 will be announced by November 20.

Call for Proposals

  1. Who may apply: All UCB faculty
  2. What to submit: A detailed proposal of up to 750 words, including names of proposed participants and a rough budget
  3. How to submit: Proposals may be sent via email to Representations:
  4. Deadline: October 15


Representations’ Stephen Greenblatt on the Humanities

0_GreenblattStephen Greenblatt, Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University and a member of the founding board of Representations, will present a lecture entitled “In the Cave: The Humanities and the Human Condition.” The lecture will take place at 5:00pm on Thursday, September 3 in 315 Wheeler Hall (Maude Fife Room).

One of the oddest features of the Humanities is their almost complete lack of progress. With technology, science, and medicine, we expect and indeed demand the latest, most advanced version; with the Humanities the latest is not necessarily the best, and the aging of work–that is, distance from the immediate circumstances of our lives–simply does not matter. How is that possible? In this lecture, Greenblatt will talk about the paintings in the cave de Chauvet, from 30,000 years ago, and then turn to Gilgamesh, Genesis, and the Iliad. What do these artifacts, among the earliest that survive, have to tell us about the ways that the Humanities make us human?

Ramie Targoff presents “Untying Love’s Knots: Transforming Eros in the Sonnets of Vittoria Colonna”

Ramie Targoff, Professor of English and Director of the Mandel Center for the Humanities at Brandeis University, will present a talk at UC Berkeley entitled “Untying Love’s Knots: Transforming Eros in the Sonnets of Vittoria Colonna.“ The event will take place on Thursday, September 3 at 5:00pm in 300 Wheeler Hall.


Targoff’s article, “The Performance of Prayer: Sincerity and Theatricality in Early Modern England,” is available in Representations 60 (Fall 1997). More recently, she also published “Mortal Love: Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and the Practice of Joint Burial” in Representations 120 (Fall 2012).