Recommended bathroom literature (literally)?
February 24, 2017 2:55 PM   Subscribe

Who are good (scholarly) reads on bathrooms? I've found a few books, but most seem oriented as pop-history of the weird. Interested in the Institution that is the Modern Public Bathroom. I want to better understand the "why?" of this space. What laws, economics, religions, aesthetics, etc. created this thing? Keen on literature that discusses non-US countries, too, either as a focus or comparatively.
posted by cichlid ceilidh to Society & Culture (16 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps slightly tangential but you might be interested in this interview with a historian of technology on the history of the medicine cabinet. She also speaks a little to the history of the bathroom as such, and maybe her work would offer some more leads.
posted by bluebird at 3:04 PM on February 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry, I managed to miss that you were interested specifically in public bathrooms. Would still recommend the interview as an interesting read.
posted by bluebird at 3:16 PM on February 24, 2017

'Open Defecation' and 'Waste Sanitation Hygiene' abbreviated as ' WASH' ( in an aid and development/public health context) are search terms I might use to get me started on the road to academic and scholarly articles, sources etc, on this topic.
posted by esto-again at 4:10 PM on February 24, 2017

The Archaeology of Sanitation in Roman Italy by Ann Olga Koloski-Ostrow is all about public bathrooms
in ancient Rome. I didn't get very far because it starts as an annotated catalog of every site ever excavated
but it might be interesting to skim.
posted by Botanizer at 4:10 PM on February 24, 2017

Another tangential lead: HERE I SIT--A STUDY OF AMERICAN LATRINALIA, by Alan Dundes, University of California, Berkeley (.pdf). Its references section may be of help.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:12 PM on February 24, 2017

These books seems neat! Both are collections of scholarly essays:
Toilet: Public Restrooms and the Politics of Sharing
Ladies and Gents: Public Toilets and Gender

This may be slightly more pop-y but it looks to be pretty well-researched: The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters

And here's an article from Scientific American: Shared Sanitation: Bathroom Access and Facilities Around the World
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:40 PM on February 24, 2017

For British toilets, The Loo Lady has a blog and some online guided tours of London loos. She seems to be as big a public-hygiene geek as you are, and might well have some good book recomendations.

For historic research, may I suggest The Bog-House Miscellany, a 1731 collection of witty toilet graffiti?

This excellent 2014 post from flex is mostly links to articles, but some of the articles might contain book references.

In Victor Hugo's 1862 novel Les Misérables, Vol. 5, chapter 2 is an extended, multi-part essay on the history of the Paris sewer system.
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:51 PM on February 24, 2017

I recommend Tearoom Trade as a quick step sideways in the history of the public toilet.
posted by Sternmeyer at 5:21 PM on February 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

One of the first couple chapters in Thomas Lynch's "The Undertaking" is about the how culture has shifted to allow bathroom stuff inside the house (outhouse --> indoor bathroom) while the culture around death has forced it out of the house (wakes in one's living room --> funeral homes, etc). I think it might be more interesting than I make it sound.
posted by papayaninja at 5:28 PM on February 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have a book downstairs, but I don't remember the exact name or author. I'm putting this here as a placeholder, and when I go back down (I'm currently in the process of putting my baby to bed), I'll post details.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:43 PM on February 24, 2017

The Big Necessity is excellent and also very entertaining.
posted by decathecting at 6:24 PM on February 24, 2017

Public Toilet Design by Cristina del Valle Schuster. It's mostly aesthetic - it's a collection of photos seemingly targeted at architects. Not US-centric.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:48 PM on February 24, 2017

Mary Roach, who writes informative yet lighter-than-air pop science books about various sometimes-dark topics, wrote "Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal." I haven't read the book, so I don't know how it ends, but I do know how the alimentary canal ends; might be a good fit.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:57 PM on February 24, 2017

Dirty Old London has chapters about the history of public baths and public toilets in Victorian London.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 4:32 AM on February 25, 2017

Roman public latrines are an interesting subject to look into. Apparently, these bathrooms had no walls between their toilets. Just something you tended to with about 50 or so people openly.
posted by xammerboy at 8:32 AM on February 25, 2017

Oh my god, I am so happy you posted this--I very nearly posted something very similar to this question awhile back but couldn't quite figure out how to phrase it.

I was particularly interested in how the average public bathroom in the US, with all of their OBVIOUS design flaws, became the standard here. The stalls have huge wide gaps in the doors! The doors and dividers don't go all the way down! The doors open inwards, even at airports when you have luggage! WHY??
posted by helloimjennsco at 11:33 AM on February 28, 2017

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