"The Great Cat Massacre" Response

Workers Revolt: The Great Cat Massacre of the Rue Saint-Severin written by Robert Dartonis a later account of two print-shop apprentices who were treated unfairly by their master and took revenge by killing the many cats the master and his wife had owned during the early 18th century. Taking a look at Benedict Anderson’s article Imagined Communities, one of the key points he touches on is the prosperity of the printing market and those who owned such printing shops during the 16th century. He states “‘More than any other time’ it was ‘a great industry under the control of wealthy capitalists’” (38). In “The Great Cat Massacre”, this statement rings true, but Anderson does not mention the mistreatment of those who worked under such capitalists. This tale of is most related to the article “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture” written by Clifford Geertz. Thick description is statement of historical facts backed up by commentary as well as interpretation that extract the structure and meaning of the culture during the time of the account. Although the first part of the article is about the sickening enjoyment of killing cats as a way to strike revenge against the printer, Darton analyses the period and social groups involved (who seemed to find the killing of cats comical). This was a way of using thick description to make the claim that this sort of amusement and revenge was a socially accaptable act at the time. As much of an atrocity it may seem to today’s typical reader and although Darton may have received extremely negative criticism for supporting such acts of the time, it is interesting to see the differences in culture from the past to the present. 

Sean Hoey

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September 19 Response

he Great Cat Massacre is a thick description of the 18th century, particularly about the printing industry in France. The story is an account from an apprenticeship who tells first hand experiences about the hard life that apprenticeships lead. They sleep in “filthy, freezing rooms” and receive “insults from the journeymen and abuse from the master” (75). In turn, to get back at the masters for treating the workers horribly, the workers decide to massacre all the cats in the area since the masters liked cats. Not only did the workers hurt the cats, but they found it amusing. In a way, it metaphorically displayed how the masters treated their workers, which was like animals. In current society, it is a social fact that torturing, harming, and treating other beings and or animals unfairly is unacceptable and an act of cruelty, however, during the 18th century, it was considered a joke and humorous. I believe this is why The Great Cat Massacre is a thick description because it shows events that occurred during that time period and how times have changed. Thick descriptions help people better understand a culture’s specific behaviors and acts during a particular time period, which is what the account does. 

In “The internet in a  Cup” article, it discusses where and how blogging and gossiping originated. Coffee houses were homes for the main news and gossip that was occurring in the 17th and 18th centuries. Originally, it was a way for just the common people to communicate and discuss topics, even forbidden ones by the government. However, soon government intervened and began censuring the information. This is similar today with the internet, since there is a whole part to it that the government hides from the public. Government intervention is not just a current occurrence, but has been happening for centuries. Blogging and going on the Internet is a way people communicate and share ideas and events with others. 

Dayna Sorrento

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The Internet in a Cup

Pre-internet era, information was circulated in coffee houses around Europe. The concept is not hard to grasp considering the association of coffee houses with rich stimulation and free flowing information. I will immediately assert my opinion in saying that I firmly believe that wifi should be free in coffee houses simply because paying for internet is quite the pain. Free access to the world wide web, however, is not among my list of high priorities. Free flow of information itself is a very ethnocentric American value, so much so that the average American will hold in higher regard the right to a “free press” than a vision of economic and social justice. Even so, does anyone actually think that we have a truly 100% free press? Or is it just the case that our press happens to be “more free” than Chinas? In the end, aren’t there bigger problems in the world than trying to define a free press?

Pasquale Gianni

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The Great Cat Massacre

The Great Cat Massacre is a witty tale that is meant to be more humorous than anything, but the issues touched upon are still relevant. The struggles of the Worker (Proletariat) are central to the piece, as the workers are looking for a way to express their dissatisfaction with their master. I am concerned little with the superstitious phenomena of cats, along with the sacrifice and rituals associated, and more with the nature of the workers’ efforts. What the tale proves is that in numbers, the workers were able to achieve their end in symbolically defeating their master. The mistreatment, lousy working and living conditions, hunger, and lack of sleep all culminated in a breaking point for the young apprentices to strategize a response. Workers banding together is a concept that all should embrace. This is of course one of the earlier examples of what we would call “Organized Labor” or Unions. Unions are important to the balance of a market society because they cannot only improve the lives and conditions of workers (the masses), but counter-act the mass accumulation of wealth and power by the masters (the few). If this story is a lesson at all, it should be to support the Labor Movement! These are struggles that subsist and require constant attention.

Pasquale Gianni

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The Great Cat Massacre and “Blogging Now and Then” responses

The Great Cat Massacre by Robert Darnton relates the mass murder of cats by apprentice printers to understanding their culture. He says, “By getting the joke of the great cat massacre, it may be possible to ‘get’ a basic ingredient of artisanal culture” (78). He then goes on to say that not understanding the humor in this means that the person now knows what to look into/ research in order to understand these jokes. This relates to thick description because this one incident of killing cats does not only explain just that one action but the culture at that time as well. The second article “Blogging Now and Then” relates to this because sort of like in the way that the apprentices the cat massacre served as an” oblique attack” on the master and wife, blogging in the 18th century, was meant to attack/ expose people of importance as well as disrupt politics at that time. This article also includes elements of thick description because it explains the history of blogging and why it was important at that time. In both articles there were also references to the French officials trying to control these rebellions but not able to do so because there were so many of them.

Alexa Munoz

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09/09/14 Response

The Great Cat Massacre, a blatantly expressive piece explores the cultural norms of the workers in 18th century printing shops. It is an example of “Thick Description”, as Clifford Geertz writes. In the 18th century, the boss were ones who did not do any work. Often, the men of a lower position, would take on more work. The lower the rank, the more the workload. It reminded me of how today in 21st century America, the same structure is still used. 

Throughout retail and food stores in America, employees other than supervisors or managers are the face of a company. For example, working at Starbucks as a barista, customers never get to see Howard Schultz making a “Venti iced Americano”. Personally, I barely ever see my manager at the store. This also ties in with “The Internet In A Cup”, published by The Economist where coffee houses made their debut for sharing information and socializing. Decoding societal norms through Thick Description allows us to further keep a tradition or ignore it. The Great Cat Massacre, reveals how, with time, a society can change or stay the same. 

 Mariyesi Acosta

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Blog post 3

The Great Cat Massacre was really interesting, enjoyable, yet disgusting article to read. The way the printers were treated, eating slops and scraps of food; they were also fed cat food, and these actions caused injustice and eventually led to the massacre. When the masters started owning cats, the printers had less time to sleep, due to the noise of the cats. Cats, which were considered the animal that brought luck and somewhat considered to be sacred. were treated better than the printers. By killing the cat, the dead cat would bring misfortune to the owner. This symbolism of cat, in my opinion was another motivation for the people. The Great Cat Massacre somewhat reminded me of the Thick Description; Since the reading on the Cat Massacre included clear and imaginative descriptions on how the cats were killed, it made me imagine the occurrence in my head, which was a bit sick. The reading also mentioned how the children were also part of the massacre and they were killing the cats in a fire. I was somewhat shocked by this action; how bad were the people treated so that even the children are part of this act? As I moved on to the Blogging, Now and then, I realized how the time changed but the theme or the message delivered didn’t change much. The anecdotes represented the secret history. Just like the blogs today, people went and bought coffee and read the most recent articles; things did change overtime, the way a message is delivered, but I don’t think the points or the purpose of the message changed much. Also the internet in a cup, again showed how communication back then happened through coffee and cafes. Just like how people like to read blogs and read about what had happened nowadays, people back then also enjoyed reading. Having a cup of coffee and reading posts is just like reading a blog today. Through these articles, the importance of communication and development of this skill.

Jacob Son

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“The Great Cat Massacre” is a thick description of Paris through the viewpoint of a printing shop in the 18th century. The description from this piece makes this culture seem very frightening to say the least. It makes this culture seem very barbaric, the people of the printing shop found joy and excitement out of killing cats. The author writes, “They strung them up on an improvised gallows…men delirious with joy, disorder and laughter.” (77) In modern days these acts would be very frowned upon and these people could even face criminal charges. Like Michael Vick for example, he fought dogs till their death and he was charged with some serious prison time and it tainted his reputation forever. Not only were the cats mistreated, so were the apprentices in these print shops. This idea is almost baffling to people of our culture now even more so than the mistreatment of the animals. Typically apprentices are thought of as people who were taken under the wing of someone they were learning from and are guided through their craft to learn to succeed, not receive the treatment that they were given in this piece. The apprentices were given food that was described by the author as “old, rotten bits of meat” (76) that not even the cats would eat. As a whole this thick description is very difficult for people of today to wrap their heads around because it just seems so ridiculous compared to the norms of today’s society.

The article “The Internet in a Cup” describes the differences between the way people got their news, heard about current events and even just socialized from today’s society and the societies in the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe. Back in those times, many people would gather around coffee houses to relax and hear the latest news and gossip. Fast forward to this generation, the internet seems to have replaced coffee houses to an extent. In today’s fast moving world, many people do not have enough time to sit and socialize at these coffee houses, so the internet which is much quicker and more convenient has replaced these houses. But still today, I believe coffee houses still serve a similar purpose. In my home town I find that the coffee houses are often the meeting spots for many people, often which are retired and have more time than those who are working.

Vincent Sansone

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Response to ” Great Cat Massacre” and “Blogging, Now and Then”

In Robert Darnton’s “The Great Cat Massacre” the topic of life in pre-industrial Europe is discussed. A number of differences between past and present behavior are apparent from the outset. It begins with the unnecessary massacre of cats as an attempt for the workers to voice their disapproval of the masters. Not only was the act gruesome and repulsive, but the fact that society perceived it as a joke makes it all the more conflicting with today’s morals. Furthermore, “Our own inability to get the joke is an indication of the distance that separates us from the workers of pre-industrial  Europe” (Darnton 77-78). Part of the reason for this large disparity may be due to the fact that print and the distribution of information is nowhere near the level that it is today. According to Benedict Anderson’s”Imagined Communities” the evolution of print played a huge role in the advancement of culture, critical thinking, and a more modern way of life. Without the exposure to several different cultures, it is somewhat comprehensible that the workers of 18th century Europe lacked the necessary morals to not find the murder of cats humorous.

In “Blogging, Now and Then” blogs of the present are compared with those of the past. Some similarities between the two include gossip and the talk of influential or notable people in society. For this reason blogs written in the past are often overlooked by historians. This cuts out a crucial segment of history that involves much of the people’s culture and way of life.

Chris Viera

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The Great Cat Massacre

Both ‘The Great Cat Massacre’ and ‘The Internet in a Cup’ employ the use of thick description as outlined by Clifford Geertz. Such description is necessary to completely understand both of them, since the mindsets of the people in different times and places can vary greatly depending on the environment those people lived in. The first is a story of workers in a print shop who relieve stress by murdering countless cats, including the pet of the master’s wife. They hang the cats on makeshift gallows, break their bones, throw them in the gutter and leave them for dead, etc. The vast majority of people would never think such a thing was justifiable, and it really isn’t, but the mindset of the people wasn’t that they simply wanted to murder innocent animals for fun, rather, it was a sort of hysteria brought about by their poor treatment and living condition. For the most part, the apprentices were treated worse than animals, receiving scraps for food, living in squalor, while the pets of the rich ate food fit for human beings. On top of that, laborers were seen as more of a commodity than anything else, and all the mistreatment they put up with culminated in the cat massacre. Poor living conditions hardly justify their actions, but it makes their predicament more understandable so that modern readers can empathize with their plight, and perhaps view them less harshly.

The second writing is a bit easier for modern people to understand without thick description, as getting coffee and talking with other people is much more relatable than butchering animals. However, the true importance of the coffee shops may be lost on people without a strong understanding of the time. In contrast to bars and taverns, coffee shops were well-ordered, calm, and sober environments. Their importance was due mostly to the growing number of information workers, people who performed mental tasks rather than physical. They lacked the money to throw house parties, but could afford to spend a bit on coffee. This turned the coffee houses into a gathering place for thinkers, people who were reasonably well educated and were interested in intellectual pursuits, and because of the type of people it attracted, there was no better place to stop and chat or get caught up with the latest news. It was a place of social gathering, where sailors, merchants, scientists and philosophers could leave their differences at the door and enjoy the free exchange of information, much like the internet today, hence the name of the article. Coffee houses centuries ago held the same importance to society that the internet does today, but such an importance would be missed without proper understanding of the mindsets of the people of that era.

Leavitt

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The Great Cat Massacre Response

In the society described by Dalton in “The Great Cat Massacre”, the animals seem to have tamed the humans, reversing the normal roles and taking what the master believe to be their “rightful spot” upon the throne of the printing company’s hierarchy. With all of the lore about cats being the source of witchcraft and helping in pregnancy, the upper crust saw them as a higher power and, therefore, treated them as such while the apprentices and journeymen were undermined, unworthy of this special treatment. In reality, though, they were just as clever, if not more, than the masters, as their revolts carried through much symbolism. Also, the way that the masters and mistresses treated the workers is quite similar to how the Spaniards treated the Indians upon arrival in the New World. In both instances, the higher powers believed that they knew what was best for the lower class and that they were helping them rise in power over time when in reality, they made them suffer in order to know their place in society through rituals such as hazing and forcing religion upon them. The key difference between the two situations, though, is that the workers in the printing business felt the need to retaliate and revolt against their superiors by hanging one of their most precious symbols, the cat. While the Indians felt abused by their circumstances, the workers were the only ones to act on their frustration. In using the favorite pet of the house as their first victim, it was as if they were attacking the house itself. They created a silent protest to the tragedy occurring to them daily, as chatte and the mistress seemed to be one and the same. This then created a domino effect, as the mistress’s disgust and agony then transitioned to the master. It gave them a way to turn the tables and finally feel superior in a society where they were seen as merely gutter rats. It was a huge risk for the workers to take such action against those of a higher status, but it finally revealed the torment of life in the printing industry to the outside world.

Linnae Medeiros

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The Great Cat Massacre

The Great Cat Massacre, is an intriguing piece that discusses the cultural norms of the 1730’s in the French printing industry.  The work introduces a first person account of the abuse and disregard directed towards the apprentices who worked and lived under the same roof as their master.  It elaborates on how, angered by their mistreatment, the apprentices duped their masters into ordering the apprentices to get rid of all the cats in the house.  The apprentices used this opportunity to brutalize the cats, creatures the masters had been fond of, in place of their masters. 

Darnton uses Geertz’s method of “thick description” to delve into the implications of these actions.  He analyzes the aggression with which the cats are treated and, with “thick description” can find that it is a result of frustration with their position in the workplace.  The number of masters was shrinking drastically at the time, while the number of journeymen and apprentices stayed level.  This made upward mobility extremely unlikely, frustrating both the journeymen and the apprentices.  Therefore, not only were the apprentices taking mistreatment from their masters, but they were also victim of undue abuse from the journeymen who saw the apprentices as threats.  This was dealt with all while eating minimal food (mostly stale meat) and sleeping only a few hours a night.  While by todays standards, brutalizing and hanging cats from gallows is in no way “hysterical,” using “thick description” while reading about the event does create some understanding as to why they found it more entertaining.  As mentioned in the first page of the reading, the master and his wife were passionate about their cats.  It becomes a fact that because the cats were so loved by the master, then they must be hated by the workers who hated the masters.  In this way it became natural to want to punish their masters through injuring the cats.  Because there was minimal else to make light of, these became the events that were burlesqued to bring humor to a dreary day. The use of “thick description” provides analysis and context to draw a connection between the events and their meaning.  It allows people today to further understand an event and humor that we cannot sympathize with.  

Ainsley Kilpatrick

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The Great Cat Massacre and Thick Description Short Response

Throughout the late 17th, early 18th centuries, the livelihoods of civilians comprised of knowledge and correlated actions of which we, today, would fail to understand without thick description. This method is a “changing of culture,” describing culture in the terms of context versus a power (Geertz 14).  A perfect example for this method of Geertz is “The Great Cat Massacre” by Robert Darnton. Without thick description, the laughter of laborers over the murderous situation would be seen as inhumane, but during the 1730s, such an act could be seen as quite liberating for the labeurs after being treated below such animals in life for a matter of work food, and sleep (Darnton 17). This killing demonstrated a hatred for the men – the bourgeois– who dismissed them with reasons insignificantly related to “sobriety” and “assiduousness” and in response to a lack of print shops, but without a care as to one’s morals in terms of the families who would then suffer as a result of replacement (18). I found the idea of carnivals intriguing as well, where the cat was a treasured creature for humor and entertainment. Tearing at its fur to arise emotion from a cuckhold would clearly only be acceptable during this time – nowadays, the term has merely completely lost all meaning, at least in the United States. I found the story of the black cat interesting as well, explaining how one could be the “devil” if laying a dead man’s bed because a black cat jumped out of some old lady’s coffin (94). Halloween makes so much more sense now. In sum, the “Massacre” serves as a symbol beyond its words, but without a delve deeper into the text and an application of Geertz’ method of thick description, the story serves no other meaning than a tale of callous men who feel abnormally strong aversion toward their bosses.

Darnton, Robert. The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History. New York: Vintage Books, 1985. Print.

Scott, Joan W. “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis.” The American Historical Review, Vol. 91, No. 5. American Historical Association, Dec. 1986. Web. 11 Jan. 2009.

-Gabrielle Longo

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Robert Darnton uses “thick description” in his article “The Great Cat Massacre of Rue Saint-Severin”. In the beginning of the article, Darnton describes the account of Nicolas Contat, a printing shop worker from 18th century France, who states that “the funniest thing that ever happened in the printing shop of Jacques Vincent … was a riotous massacre of cats.” During these cat massacres, the workers of the printing shop would beat, try, and hang cats because their master ordered them to get rid of them after experiencing a sleepless night due to what they thought were the cats’ howls. Next, Darnton uses thick description with this account to analyze the culture and the ways of society during this period of time. He questions why the shop workers found the practice of violently killing cats to be so humorous and amusing since our culture today would find that to be evil and disturbing. For example, Darton states that the printing shop workers were treated as animals (by being fed scraps from the table and being forced to sleep in filthy cold rooms) while the cats were treated as family (by being fed at the table and having their portraits hung on the walls of the masters’ homes). Therefore, the workers felt resentment towards to cats and the story of the cat massacres then reflects the way of life for some classes of society during this period of time if we analyze the factual information that we gather. Furthermore, cats were also seen as wicked in this society by some people. They thought that witches transformed themselves into cats in order to cast spells on people and cause trouble. So, by analyzing the beliefs of this society, we can further enter the minds of the printing shop workers and get a better understanding of the culture of 18th century France.

The article “The Internet in a Cup” suggests that the correlation between coffee-houses and information sharing is a theme that has been relevant to society throughout history. Ever since the 17th century, members of a society have gathered in coffee-houses to share and gather information with those in their communities while having a cup of coffee. Coffee-houses allowed politicians, artists, scientists, businessmen, etc. to share their ideas and gossip about current events or the government. Today, we still come to coffee shops to catch up on news and entertainment, but it is done in a different manner. Coffee shops like Starbucks offer free Wifi to its customers so that they can check emails, read blogs, and post their thoughts on the internet. Thus, coffee shops have housed the sharing of information among members of our society ever since the 17th century. 

In conclusion, some aspects of historical society’s culture is seen as absurd in today’s culture (such as the cat massacres) and other aspects are still relevant to today’s social norms (such as sharing and gathering information in coffee shops). By using thick description, we are able to figure out why some trends have died and why some have stayed.

-Stephanie Scorziello

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Blog Post #3
Robert Darnton’s, “The Great Cat Massacre”, describes how poor, mistreated workers in the printing press were able to find comfort and entertainment through mockery and humiliation of others, especially those in a higher class. At one point, the men found such an obscure, unexplainable sense of joy in brutally attacking every cat that they could find. In another instance, the men would seek entertainment by making fun of the peculiarities of other men in the shop. The author states that, “By getting a joke of the great cat massacre, it may be possible to ‘get’ a basic ingredient of artisanal culture under the Old Regime,” (Darnton 78). While it may baffle us in modern society that these workers in preindustrial Europe would find humor in something so gruesome, it definitely speaks to they were as people at the time. And this notion is just as relevant in the year 2014, which is shown in a reading by the same author, “Blogging, Now and Then.” In the reading, the author comments on how blogs are frequently used to mock affluent celebrities. This all goes to show that although times have changed, we still have an incessant need to poke fun of those above us and we use satire as a form of entertainment. So while these ideas seem so unconceivable, these readings certain connect in a way that reveals an unchanging aspect of our culture. 
Kendall Cordes
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