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‘Politeness and Pogonotomy: shaving and masculinity in Georgian Britain’

29/01/2013

By rmacfarlane

A barber shaving a man who looks extremely fearful. Lithograph by L. Boilly after himself. (Wellcome Library no. 30300i)

The next seminar in the History of Pre-Modern Medicine academic seminar series, will take place on Tuesday 5th February.

Details:

Alun Withey (University of Exeter)
‘Politeness and Pogonotomy: shaving and masculinity in Georgian Britain’

Abstract:

By the mid eighteenth century, facial hair fell dramatically from favour as the face of the polite gentleman was increasingly clean-shaven. The arrival of the newly-invented cast steel enabled razor-makers to produce ever sharper (and indeed blemish-free) blades, rendering shaving more comfortable, and razors more durable and capable of re-sharpening. Razor-makers increasingly advertised their wares in popular publications and, importantly, began to target domestic consumers, rather than professional barbers. Little has yet been done to explore the various contexts of shaving and, in particular, the status of razors as items of both utility and ‘fashion’.

But razors were also a conduit for broader, societal expectations of civility and social order; they helped to define and shape concepts of cleanliness and civility. Shaving the face evinced neatness and elegance, and notionally separated the gentleman from the unkempt yokel. Shaving the head prepared it for the wearing of a wig – an expression of gentlemanliness, masculinity and taste. Equally, shaving also dovetailed with (albeit declining) humoural medical notions of ridding the body of internal detritus. As such it sits astride various discourses of understanding the body and the self, and the spread and importance of new technologies. This paper will look anew at the practice of shaving, the market for shaving accoutrements, and the various contexts through which the removal of facial hair was understood and articulated.

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The seminar will take place in the Wellcome Library, 2nd floor, 183 Euston Road, NW1 2BE. Please deposit bags and coats in the ground floor cloakroom and meet in the 2nd floor foyer. Doors at 6pm prompt, seminars will start at 6.15pm.

The seminar series is focused on pre-modern medicine, which we take to cover European and non-European history before the 20th century (antiquity, medieval and early modern history, some elements of 19th-century medicine).

Further details on the seminar series are available in a previous post.

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