Written on the Body: The Tattoo in European and American History

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Overview

Despite the social sciences' growing fascination with tattooing--and the immense popularity of tattoos themselves--the practice has not left much of a historical record. And, until very recently, there was no good context for writing a serious history of tattooing in the West. This collection exposes, for the first time, the richness of the tattoo's European and American history from antiquity to the present day. In the process, it rescues tattoos from their stereotypical and sensationalized association with criminality.

The tattoo has long hovered in a space between the cosmetic and the punitive. Throughout its history, the status of the tattoo has been complicated by its dual association with slavery and penal practices on the one hand and exotic or forbidden sexuality on the other. The tattoo appears often as an involuntary stigma, sometimes as a self-imposed marker of identity, and occasionally as a beautiful corporal decoration.

This volume analyzes the tattoo's fluctuating, often uncomfortable position from multiple angles. Individual chapters explore fascinating segments of its history--from the metaphorical meanings of tattooing in Celtic society to the class-related commodification of the body in Victorian Britain, from tattooed entertainers in Germany to tattooing and piercing as self-expression in the contemporary United States. But they also accumulate to form an expansive, textured view of permanent bodily modification in the West.

By combining empirical history, powerful cultural analysis, and a highly readable style, this volume both draws on and propels the ongoing effort to write a meaningful cultural history of the body. The contributors, representing several disciplines, have all conducted extensive original research into the Western tattoo. Together, they have produced an unrivalled account of its history. They are, in addition to the editor, Clare Anderson, Susan Benson, James Bradley, Ian Duffield, Juliet Fleming, Alan Govenar, Harriet Guest, Mark Gustafson, C. P. Jones, Charles MacQuarrie, Hamish Maxwell-Stewart, Stephan Oettermann, Jennipher A. Rosecrans, and Abby Schrader.

"This is the rare collection that can be read from cover to cover, even by the non-specialist. And such a reading is rewarded by many pleasant surprises. . . . This volume will seduce a wide variety of readers in history, anthropology, cultural studies, gender and sexuality studies, and colonial and postcolonial studies. I enthusiastically recommend it." (David Horn, author of Social Bodies: Science, Reproduction and Italian Modernity)

"This anthology, which is rarely scarred by academic jargon, fascinates with its detail, covering enough surface to show how much more is left to be explored." (Edward Rothstein, The New York Times)

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Editorial Reviews

Boston Herald
Tattoos have a strange double-nature. They have an uncanny power to affront, yet they also exert an almost irresistible fascination, even on historians. Jane Caplan's collection of essays from 14 estimable British and American historians provides an informative exploration and interpretation of the tattoo in Western Culture.
— Rob Mitchell
American Historical Review
[An] amazingly rich volume. . . . Caplan's anthology of essays is stimulating for further work on the very idea of body ornamentation as a source of cultural history.
— Sander L. Gilman
The New York Times
This anthology, which is rarely scarred by academic jargon, fascinates with its detail, covering enough surface to show how much more is left to be explored.
— Edward Rothstein
The Art Newspaper
This eccentric and entertaining collection of essays makes a strong case for thinking that we should look more closely at human skin. . . . There aren't many places where Betty Boop, Wagner, and a succubus or two can be found jostling each other for space. One could be on the tatooed body. The other is in this brilliantly scholarly and scatty book.
— Robert Douglas-Fairhurst
Social Bodies: Science Reproduction and Italian Modernity
This is the rare collection that can be read from cover to cover, even by the non-specialist. And such a reading is rewarded by many pleasant surprises . . . This volume will seduce a wide variety of readers in history, anthropology, cultural studies, gender and sexuality studies, and colonial and postcolonial studies. I enthusiastically recommend it.
The New York Times - Edward Rothstein
This anthology, which is rarely scarred by academic jargon, fascinates with its detail, covering enough surface to show how much more is left to be explored.
Boston Herald - Rob Mitchell
Tattoos have a strange double-nature. They have an uncanny power to affront, yet they also exert an almost irresistible fascination, even on historians. Jane Caplan's collection of essays from 14 estimable British and American historians provides an informative exploration and interpretation of the tattoo in Western Culture.
The Art Newspaper - Robert Douglas-Fairhurst
This eccentric and entertaining collection of essays makes a strong case for thinking that we should look more closely at human skin. . . . There aren't many places where Betty Boop, Wagner, and a succubus or two can be found jostling each other for space. One could be on the tatooed body. The other is in this brilliantly scholarly and scatty book.
American Historical Review - Sander L. Gilman
[An] amazingly rich volume. . . . Caplan's anthology of essays is stimulating for further work on the very idea of body ornamentation as a source of cultural history.
id Horn

This is the rare collection that can be read from cover to cover, even by the non-specialist. And such a reading is rewarded by many pleasant surprises . . . This volume will seduce a wide variety of readers in history, anthropology, cultural studies, gender and sexuality studies, and colonial and postcolonial studies. I enthusiastically recommend it.
From the Publisher

"This is the rare collection that can be read from cover to cover, even by the non-specialist. And such a reading is rewarded by many pleasant surprises . . . This volume will seduce a wide variety of readers in history, anthropology, cultural studies, gender and sexuality studies, and colonial and postcolonial studies. I enthusiastically recommend it."--David Horn, author of Social Bodies: Science, Reproduction and Italian Modernity

"This anthology, which is rarely scarred by academic jargon, fascinates with its detail, covering enough surface to show how much more is left to be explored."--Edward Rothstein, The New York Times

"Tattoos have a strange double-nature. They have an uncanny power to affront, yet they also exert an almost irresistible fascination, even on historians. Jane Caplan's collection of essays from 14 estimable British and American historians provides an informative exploration and interpretation of the tattoo in Western Culture."--Rob Mitchell, Boston Herald

"This eccentric and entertaining collection of essays makes a strong case for thinking that we should look more closely at human skin. . . . There aren't many places where Betty Boop, Wagner, and a succubus or two can be found jostling each other for space. One could be on the tatooed body. The other is in this brilliantly scholarly and scatty book."--Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, The Art Newspaper

"[An] amazingly rich volume. . . . Caplan's anthology of essays is stimulating for further work on the very idea of body ornamentation as a source of cultural history."--Sander L. Gilman, American Historical Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781861890627
  • Publisher: Reaktion Books, Limited
  • Publication date: 1/1/2000
  • Pages: 319

Table of Contents

Notes on the Editor and Contributors vii
Introduction JANE CAPLAN xi
1 Stigma and Tattoo C. P. JONES 1
2 The Tattoo in the Later Roman Empire and Beyond MARK GUSTAFSON 17
3 Insular Celtic Tattooing: History, Myth and Metaphor CHARLES W. MACQUARRIE 32
4 Wearing the Universe: Symbolic Markings in Early Modern England JENNIPHER ALLEN ROSECRANS 46
5 The Renaissance Tattoo JULIET FLEMING 61
6 Curiously Marked: Tattooing and Gender Difference in Eighteenth-century British Perceptions of the South Pacific HARRIET GUEST 83
7 Godna: Inscribing Indian Convicts in the Nineteenth Century CLARE ANDERSON 102
8 Skin Deep Devotions: Religious Tattoos and Convict Transportation to Australia HAMISH MAXWELL-STEWART AND IAN DUFFIELD 118
9 Body Commodification? Class and Tattoos in Victorian Britain JAMES BRADLEY 136
10 'National Tattooing': Traditions of Tattooing in Nineteenth-century
Europe JANE CAPLAN 156
11 Branding the Other/Tattooing the Self: Bodily Inscription among Convicts in Russia and the Soviet Union ABBY M. SCHRADER 174
12 On Display: Tattooed Entertainers in America and Germany STEPHAN OETTERMANN 193
13 The Changing Image of Tattooing in American Culture, 1846-1966 ALAN GOVENAR 212
14 Inscriptions of the Self: Reflections on Tattooing and Piercing in Contemporary Euro-America SUSAN BENSON 234
References 255
Select Bibliography 302
Acknowledgements 306
Photographic Acknowledgements 307
Index 308
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