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History of the Everyday

I’ve always been particularly interested in the history of the everyday, the mundane, the intimate. After all, these are the most important places in our own experience, places where most of us live the greater part of our lives. Exploring them in past time offers us unique insights into our ancestors’ private moments as well as into the broader social forces that shaped their life routines. 

My recent book, The Clean Body: A Modern History, is a case in point. It explores a transformation in body care habits that took root in bourgeois western society toward the end of the 18th century and slowly extended its reach until, some two centuries later, virtually everyone everywhere in all social ranks had absorbed them. The whens, the wheres, the hows, and the whys of this process tell us much about the experience of individuals in industrializing societies, as well as about wider patterns of social change.

My interest in the commonplace has more personal roots too. I like the challenge of examining the past’s more dimly-lit corners, those little noticed by contemporaries and usually neglected by generations ever since. Historical customs and habits often lie in these forgotten niches, condemned to obscurity by their very normality. Because historical inquiry is …

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