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seminar: Dr Alun Withey (Exeter) Concerning Beards: facial hair, health and hygiene in Britain, 1650-1900

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Location: R0.14 Ramphal building, University of Warwick

Despite growing historical interest in the male body, historians have largely overlooked a principle component of both men’s bodies and masculinity - facial hair. Little is yet known about the significance, context and meanings of beards, moustaches and, indeed, beardlessness through time, or their relationship to important medical factors including health norms, medical practice, technology and shifting models of the male body

 Over the past three centuries facial hair and personal grooming have been closely bound with prevailing assumptions about health and medicine. Early modern debates raged about facial hair’s place within the humoural framework. From humoural views of beards as a form of excreta to Victorian germ theories, beards have long been held multiple meanings. Beards have at times represented outward symbols of inner characteristics or constitution. 19th-century physicians, for example, viewed thin/scanty beards as signs of poor health.

This paper explores the health and medical contexts of facial hair between 1650 and 1900. Often seen as a quirky irrelevance, facial hair, and indeed beardlessness, offers a new lens through which to view changing concepts of bodily appearance, medical practice and practitioners, and the impact of technology upon the male body.

Refreshments served. All are welcome.

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