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

Global Skins in Early Modern Europe, 1400-1700



The Renaissance in Europe saw a reinvigorated focus on natural surfaces as a key to creating order. Medical and natural philosophical frameworks emphasized the continuity of surface between the human and non-human: skins covered the humoral bodies of humans, animals, vegetables, and even minerals. At the same time, as global encounters became more frequent and more densely interwoven in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, skin increasingly acted as a marker of social identity, hierarchy and difference. How and why did this change in emphasis on skin emerge? And did Renaissance theories of surface contribute to this process? 

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. This conference adds to and builds on this approach by exploring 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 in the early modern era. This can be between 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 aims to create a workshop environment for critical and collaborative discussion of new ideas, approaches and research projects. Papers will be pre-circulated and may take a variety of formats, from presentation of working sources to discussion of methodologies. The intention is not to disseminate completed papers, but to discuss emerging approaches and questions in this field. Four keynote lectures will be delivered by Herman Bennett (CUNY), Chloe Ireton (UCL), Tatiana Seijas (Rutgers) and Anjana Singh (Groeningen). 

Global Skins is a Renaissance Skin conference, organised by Evelyn Welch (PI), Hannah Murphy, Paolo Savoia, Kathleen Walker-Meikle, Juliet Claxton. More information on Renaissance Skin can be found at our website 

Global Skins Programme
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)