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- Clean : a history of personal hygiene and purity
Access options available:. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Though her history of the topic of cleanliness is largely a medical history, it is rich with all sorts of insights, a number of which are provided through her forays into kindred disciplines.
Gwen Kay, V irginia S mith. New York: Oxford University Press. Who wants to read a book about being clean? Anyone interested in history of the body, of medicine, of public health, social history, or health fads, to name a few. In her survey of cleanliness, hygiene, and purity, Virginia Smith covers a lot of ground.
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Judith Ridner does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
The surfactants found in soap lift germs from the skin , and water then washes them away. Yet few people know the long and dirty history of making soap, the product we all rely on to clean our skin. Ancient Mesopotamians were first to produce a kind of soap by cooking fatty acids — like the fat rendered from a slaughtered cow, sheep or goat — together with water and an alkaline like lye , a caustic substance derived from wood ashes.
The result was a greasy and smelly goop that lifted away dirt. Ancient people used these early soaps to clean wool or cotton fibers before weaving them into cloth, rather than for human hygiene. Not even the Greeks and Romans, who pioneered running water and public baths, used soap to clean their bodies. Instead, men and women immersed themselves in water baths and then smeared their bodies with scented olive oils.
They used a metal or reed scraper called a strigil to remove any remaining oil or grime. The first of these, Aleppo soap, a green, olive-oil-based bar soap infused with aromatic laurel oil, was produced in Syria and brought to Europe by Christian crusaders and traders.
French, Italian, Spanish and eventually English versions soon followed. Of these, Jabon de Castilla , or Castile soap, named for the region of central Spain where it was produced, was the best known.
The white, olive-oil-based bar soap was a wildly popular toiletry item among European royals. Castile soap became a generic term for any hard soap of this type. The settlement of the American colonies coincided with an age ss when most Europeans, whether privileged or poor, had turned away from regular bathing out of fear that water actually spread disease. Colonists used soap primarily for domestic cleaning, and soap-making was part of the seasonal domestic routine overseen by women.
As one Connecticut woman described it in , women stored fat from butchering, grease from cooking and wood ashes over the winter months. In the spring, they made lye from the ashes and then boiled it with fat and grease in a giant kettle. This produced a soft soap that women used to wash the linen shifts that colonists wore as undergarments. Middle-class Americans had resumed water bathing, but still shunned soap. Soap-making remained an extension of the tallow trade that was closely allied with candle making.
Soap itself was for laundry. The Civil War was the watershed. Thanks to reformers who touted regular washing with water and soap as a sanitary measure to aid the Union war effort, bathing for personal hygiene caught on. Demand for inexpensive toilet soaps increased dramatically among the masses. Companies began to develop and market a variety of new products to consumers. Johnson Soap Company of Milwaukee followed with their own palm-and-olive-oil-based Palmolive soap in Soap chemistry also began to change, paving the way for the modern era.
These solid, vegetable-based fats revolutionized soap by making its manufacture less dependent on animal byproducts. Synthesized animal fats and plant-based oils and bases are combined with chemical additives , including moisturizers, conditioners, lathering agents, colors and scents, to make soaps more appealing to the senses. National Parks: places to walk? Places to conserve?
Places to research? Edition: Available editions United Kingdom. Become an author Sign up as a reader Sign in. How many times a day do you use soap? Judith Ridner , Mississippi State University. From animal fat to coal tar, what goes in tends to be pretty dirty. Events National Parks: places to walk?
Virginia Smith. Clean: a history of personal hygiene and purity. Oxford University Press. Cleanliness is next to godliness, table manners, monetary exchange and a host of other human behaviours; how has it escaped the notice of anthropologists, ethnologists and historians for so long? One of Virginia Smith's many accomplishments in this excellent study is integrating the philosophies and practices central to the subject. Cleanliness is part of medical routines essential for the prevention of disease; it has an aesthetic foundation in the human love of order and beauty and the exercise of such on the body; and it has a moral dimension in perceptions of purity, that of the body in harmony with the soul. By explaining the contradictions inherent in these concepts, the author identifies why the very few previous publications on cleanliness have dealt with either theories of hygiene or related inventions, but not both.
In this text Virginia Smith sets out to produce the twenty first century's general, but serious, history of hygiene. The title Clean might lead the reader into thinking the author is evaluating how well people in the past kept themselves pristine. Smith is more interested in evolving grooming practices, attitudes toward those practices, and their impact on the way people lived their lives than she is in judging past societies against some arbitrary standard of cleanliness. The text begins with the premise that cleanliness in personal hygiene is part of a complex set of grooming behaviors focused on enhancing the human body. These behaviors arise from the interaction of natural biological urges, which may have evolved both for health and psychological reasons, with technological developments and cultural mores. Together these three factors produce the unique practices of any individual society.
Clean : a history of personal hygiene and purity
Judith Ridner does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment. The surfactants found in soap lift germs from the skin , and water then washes them away. Yet few people know the long and dirty history of making soap, the product we all rely on to clean our skin. Ancient Mesopotamians were first to produce a kind of soap by cooking fatty acids — like the fat rendered from a slaughtered cow, sheep or goat — together with water and an alkaline like lye , a caustic substance derived from wood ashes. The result was a greasy and smelly goop that lifted away dirt.
Virginia Smith. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Clean: A History of Personal Hygiene and Purity is an immensely readable book that discusses a critical aspect of our lives affecting our bodies every day; that is, cleanliness.
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