Conference: Global Skins in Early Modern Europe, 1400-1700

Global Skins in Early Modern Europe, 1400-1700


Please keep posted in the New Year for details of our call for papers.

In the early modern European world, surfaces were key to creating order. Skins covered the humoral bodies of humans, animals, vegetables, and even minerals, complicating the observation of interiors. For humans, skin was even more challenging. It acted as a marker of social identity and hierarchy, one that became more intense as global encounters increased in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In meeting new skins of all types, Europeans explorers, scholars, collectors, and merchants had to find new categories and new explanations.

Much of the recent historiographical debate on the classification of humans has focused on the interactions between colour, and ‘race’ as a bio-political device to inscribe fixed characteristics onto the bodies of men and women. Instead, this conference will explore skin in all its early modern manifestations. Ranging from rhinoceros hides, citrus peel, bark, and leather to the highly contentious notions of human skin colouring and skin marking, it looks for continuities and discontinuities. This can be between different humans, between animals and humans, and between the vegetal, animal, human, and mineral. In doing so, this conference aims to explore how the social, political, scientific, and aesthetic perceptions of skin interacted in complex ways to construct hierarchies and categories of inclusion and exclusion.

Global Skins (all)

Detail of face-painted black and white women from John Bulwer, Anthropometamorphosis: man transform'd: or, The artificiall changling (London, 1653), p.535 (left); detail of lemon from Giovanni Battista Ferrari, Hesperides sive de malorum Aureorum cultura et usu (Rome, 1646) (middle); detail of rhinoceros skin from page showing various illustrations of specimens of natural history from Nehemiah Grew, Musaeum Regalis Societatis. Or a catalogue & description of the natural and artificial rarities belonging to the Royal Society ... Whereunto is subjoyned the comparative anatomy of stomachs and guts (London, 1694), Wellcome Collection CC BY (right)