Hygiene in the Middle Ages
January 24, 2007 7:22 PM   Subscribe

Hygiene in the Middle Ages to 19th century

Any books, articles on this subject. Emphasis on hygiene in Europe. I've found a MetaFilter article here. Something along those lines but more comprehensive.
posted by victorashul to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
You might find some good things in The History of Private Life series of scholarly articles, especially the medieval one.
posted by Rumple at 8:14 PM on January 24, 2007


This is tangential but you might enjoy reading Home: A Short History of an Idea which talks abotu the evolution of the idea of home from being basically a pit in the ground wiht no furniture to the modern idea of what we think of today in Western culture. Not specifically hygeine related, but definitely touches on the subject a fair amount.
posted by jessamyn at 9:04 PM on January 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure how much you really want to dig for this stuff, but there is also the whole "environmental history" discipline in Europe which is sort of coming at the same approach from the history of the things that affected hygeine, not necessarily the humans who were interacting with it. If your interest is more academic, this might be of interest. You could start with the European Society for Environmental History which has a big web site full of disjointed bibliograhies. They also have a links page that points to a few interesting places including The SCA are sometimes good references for individual topics in the Middle Ages. Check out this post on the history of medieval bathing (ton of stuff there) or this one about medieval cosmetics. The Viking Answer Lady has some more information about the hair and grooming habits of the Vikings which may predate what you are looking for but it's still a fascinating read.

There are a lot of recreationists and hobbyists with a particular fascination with medieval times and you are likely to find a lot of unofficial or quasi-official websites just by doing some Googling. I found a few pages by searching for "middle ages" and hygiene: Dental hygiene and mouthwash products from a variety of medieval and Renaissance sources, Health and Hygiene in the 19th Century and this article on personal hygeine in Canada before the 1830s (not quite Europe, but they had many European ideas)
posted by jessamyn at 9:47 PM on January 24, 2007 [8 favorites]


Great stuff jessamyn! It'll take me a while to explore all your links!
posted by victorashul at 10:05 PM on January 24, 2007


Seconding the History of Private Life, vol II -- I have that book, and it is very detailed about all aspects of the hygiene. Fascinating.
posted by Methylviolet at 10:10 PM on January 24, 2007


You might also check out the alarmingly complete dung files, with references to all things coprological. It might lead you in unexpected directions.
posted by Rumple at 10:42 PM on January 24, 2007


One interesting note about hygiene in Europe in the Middle Ages relates to the increase in Jewish population, and anti-semitism during the Black Death. Jews had better hygiene habits and kept more cats which controlled the rat population in their areas. As a result, they were often blamed for the disease.
posted by zaebiz at 1:00 AM on January 25, 2007


For a capstone (i.e., after the 19th c), I recommend "The Industrial Revolution in the Home" by Ruth Schwartz-Cowan. It talks about the standardization of bathrooms in the home, changes to the domestic landscape caused by the introduction of electricity / plumbing / washing machines / dishwashers / etc. It's mostly middle-class related, but the difference between a home in 1880 and 1920 was quite large.
posted by zpousman at 6:51 AM on January 25, 2007


I'm currently reading Steven Johnson's The Ghost Map which, among other things, has a great overview of public health and waste disposal from the late Medieval period through to the 19th century.

Apparently, though not popular until the 18th century, the first water closet was installed for Elizabeth I at Richmond Palace in the late 16th.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:08 AM on January 25, 2007


One interesting note about hygiene in Europe in the Middle Ages relates to the increase in Jewish population, and anti-semitism during the Black Death. Jews had better hygiene habits and kept more cats which controlled the rat population in their areas. As a result, they were often blamed for the disease.
posted by zaebiz

I've never heard that before, can you point us to a link, maybe?
posted by dash_slot- at 11:28 AM on January 25, 2007


I've never heard that before, can you point us to a link, maybe?

In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World It Made
by Norman Cantor [my review] touches on this issue, not the cats per se, but definitely the "wtf jews!" aspect.
posted by jessamyn at 11:34 AM on January 25, 2007


Lemme try that again:
Jews had better hygiene habits and kept more cats which controlled the rat population in their areas.
posted by zaebiz

Got any links for that?
[Sorry, I take for granted that out-groups will be scapegoated for the travails of the in-group, so I most definitely accept that the jews were blamed for the plague, and all else besides. That was not what I was asking a cite for.]
posted by dash_slot- at 1:16 PM on January 25, 2007


All good answers. Thanks guys!
posted by victorashul at 5:36 PM on January 25, 2007


No one will ever see this, but this new book looks like it might fit the bill:
Clean: A History of Personal Hygiene and Purity by Virginia Smith.
posted by Rumple at 8:31 AM on June 17, 2007


I saw it, Rumple -- thanks, I need it for a paper.
posted by InnocentBystander at 8:14 PM on September 17, 2007


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