Artisanal Race-Making in Early Modern Germany (Double Lecture) – LECTURE

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Date / time: 7 May, 5:30 pm

German Historical Institute London / Zoom

Artisanal Race-Making in Early Modern Germany (Double Lecture) - LECTURE


Join us in-person or virtually for a Double GHIL Lecture on ‘Artisanal Race-Making in Early Modern Germany’ by Hannah Murphy (King’s College London) and Sarah-Maria Schober (University of Zurich).

Hannah Murphy: Skin, Scarification, and Artisanal Race-Making in Early Modern Germany

The provocation of this paper is that early modern German artisanal writers thought about ethnography, race, and human difference through the lens of Kunst—craft or artisanal knowledge. Exploring early modern travel narratives written primarily by medical practitioners, the paper focuses on a case study of skin and scarification. As a mutable, textured site of beauty, adornment, and surgical skill, skin offered up a contested surface for race-making which reflected internal European preoccupations with expertise and the boundaries of medicine, as well as anxieties around geography, mobility, and embodied difference. By examining accounts of skin practices that were written before race was conceptualized as an epidermal question of colour, we can disaggregate artisans as agents of race-making, as well as recover the complexities and centrality of artisanal skin practices from racialized texts.

Hannah Murphy is Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History and Director of the Centre for Early Modern Studies at King’s College London. She is a historian of science and medicine, and the Principal Investigator of a £1.4m UK Research and Innovation Future Leaders Fellowship project exploring the role of medical practitioners in the transatlantic slave trade.

Sarah-Maria Schober: Loose Threads? Hair, Race, and the Making of Wigs in Early Modern Germany

Between 1650 and 1820 hair became a matter of racial distinction. People were categorized and separated not only by the colour of their skin or the measurements of their skulls, but also by the colour, texture, and abundance of their head and body hair. The talk will analyse the early modern racialization of hair by linking it to the emerging large-scale trade in human and animal hair in the early modern ‘age of the wig’. Reading the scientific discourses on racialized hair alongside sources on the manufacturing of wigs and the dealings within the early modern European hair trade, the talk poses the question of how we might explore hidden and indirect practices of race-making.

Sarah-Maria Schober is a researcher and lecturer in early modern history at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. Her book on early modern urban societies, physicians, and the social value of excess was published in 2019. In her second book project The Civet Cat. Producing Exotica in Early Modern Europe, she is focusing on the history of the civet scent and its producer, the civet cat. Schober is also currently working on a project on hair, early theories of race, and multispecies approaches to history.

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