Bodies complexioned

Human variation and racism in early modern English culture, c. 1600–1750

By Mark Dawson

Bodies complexioned


  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-3448-6
  • Pages: 280
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £80.00
  • Published Date: May 2019
  • BIC Category: Early Modern History, Social discrimination & equal treatment, Phrenology & physiognomy, HISTORY / Social History, HISTORY / Modern / 17th Century, England, Mathematics & science / History of science, Humanities / Social & cultural history, Humanities / Early modern history: c 1450/1500 to c 1700


Bodily contrasts - from the colour of hair, eyes and skin to the shape of faces and skeletons - allowed the English of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries to discriminate systematically among themselves and against non-Anglophone groups. Making use of an array of sources, this book examines how early modern English people understood bodily difference. It demonstrates that individuals' distinctive features were considered innate, even as discrete populations were believed to have characteristics in common, and challenges the idea that the humoral theory of bodily composition was incompatible with visceral inequality or racism. While 'race' had not assumed its modern valence, and 'racial' ideologies were still to come, such typecasting nonetheless had mundane, lasting consequences. Grounded in humoral physiology, and Christian universalism notwithstanding, bodily prejudices inflected social stratification, domestic politics, sectarian division and international relations.


1 Contemplating Christian temperaments
2 Nativities established
3 Bodies emblazoned
4 Identifying the differently humoured
5 Distempered skin and the English abroad
6 National identities, foreign physiognomies, and the advent of whiteness


Mark S. Dawson is Lecturer in Early Modern History at the Australian National University, Canberra

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