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Department of History
Faculty of Arts
COVID-19 Research Area(s)Culture
I've just published a book - The Clean Body: A Modern History - on the history of personal cleanliness in Europe and North America over the past four centuries. The development of present-day personal hygiene customs has been one of the great transformations in individual everyday behaviour during the modern era. The emphasis placed on hand washing during the Covid-19 pandemic has roots that reach back well into the 19th century, prior to the germ theory of disease transmission. Fundamentally our hygienic practices are cultural acts. The Clean Body explores the practice of hand washing in the wider context of changing hygiene habits in general, emphasizing the primary causes of this pervasive cultural change. I believe that a historical approach will add a useful perspective to current public health discussions about our need for cleanliness in the present emergency.