Cleaning Up in Early Modern Europe: Intellectual, Social, and Material History

Notions of purity and cleanliness are deeply entwined with the creation, maintenance, and afterlife of arts and material culture in Early Modern Europe. From the dialectic between stained and immaculate that is at the heart of Judeo-Christian beliefs, to the most practical recipes for stain removal from books of secrets, we will examine a broad range of evidence to explore not only what was understood as pure, beautiful and clean, but its opposite. Primary textual sources range from the Bible and other literature to sumptuary laws, etiquette treatises, and books of secrets and recipes. Objects of study comprise tools, manuscript illuminations, paintings, prints, clothing and as well as domestic textiles. We will move between the spiritual and the physical. Research questions include: How often did people bathe, and where? How did they deal with bodily smells and imperfections? How, when and where did they wash their clothes, homes, and household linens? What materials were employed in cleaning? This seminar will be structured around weekly readings and individual reconstructions of recipes for cleaning agents and cosmetics. Requirements: midterm presentation, a reconstruction, and a final research paper of between 3,000 and 3,500 words to be presented at the end of term. 3 credits. Satisfies the chronological requirement.