18 August 2013

Interesting references and a bit about cleanliness

Yes, I am still alive. ^_^ It's just been too hot for textile stuff of any sort (my hands sweat... ick). So, in lieu of a proper post, here's a few interesting links I've come across over the last few weeks:

A pdf containing the entire doctoral dissertation of Margareta Nockert, entitled "The Hogom Find and Other Migration Period Textiles and Costumes in Scandinavia".

An interesting website on recreating Viking clothing, including links to various archaeological reports.

A fascinating blog written by several research scholars regarding the history of recipes. It includes such interesting topics as: Dyeing wool in Seventeenth Century Germany, by Karin Leonhard and David Brafman; Medieval fertility and pregnancy tests, by Catherine Rider; Healing charms in Fifteenth Century English recipe collections and Other more light-hearted charms, by Laura Mitchell; Dipping your toes in the water: Reconsidering Renaissance England's attitudes toward bathing and A sweet bath and sweating: Renaissance ladies and bathing,by Colleen Kennedy.

The latter two blog posts are particularly interesting as they completely refute the whole "they never washed" argument. As a medieval enthusiast, I spend quite some time correcting the notion that medieval people never washed, but had always explained it as "no, that was the Tudors". These articles correct the notion again: yes, medieval people washed (public bathhouses were still very much a thing), but the notion that people of the Renaissance did not is also incorrect.

This notion comes from poor reading of documents, and perpetuation of this poor scholarship for decades after by historians who are too lazy to read real historical documents and instead just parrot the "knowledge" of their elders. Yes, there are many documents of the era that state how people of the Renaissance rarely bathed, compared to either their medieval forbearers or the Ancients of Greece and Rome. However, this totally ignores the fact that a bath is not the sum total of methods to clean one's body, and Renaissance people made full use of the other methods: saunas; rinsing, sponging or flannel-washing particular body parts; bathing in springs, ponds and rivers; even an early form of shower where water or liquor was poured down onto the body from "a snowted vessel". 

With all these methods in common use, the Renaissance person was hardly the grimy, stinking individual so often described. Rather, as in any era, the only truly filthy people you would generally encounter are those whose jobs cannot help but result in dirtiness, those who are physically or mentally unable to care for themselves (and lack anyone to help them) and those who are too poor to access the means to make themselves clean.

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