Volume 12, Issue 10 p. 794-806

Knowing Skin in Early Modern Europe, c. 1450–1750

Craig Koslofsky

Corresponding Author

Craig Koslofsky

University of Illinois

Correspondence: Department of History, University of Illinois, 810 South Wright St., Urbana, IL 61801, USA. Email: [email protected]Search for more papers by this author
First published: 26 October 2014
Citations: 8


Over the last few decades the human skin has emerged as a distinct site of research for humanists, and specifically for historians of race, art, science, and medicine. In the early modern centuries Europeans at home and in the wider world transformed their understanding of skin. They established an overarching, enduring emphasis on the skin's color as the marker of human difference, but the rise of skin color drew from other critical developments in the history of skin in this period: the discovery of the microanatomy of the skin; intense debates among Christians over skin color as a Scripture problem; and the transformation of the ancient doctrine of the humoral body. Recent research shows that in the early modern centuries questions about the skin and skin color arose from collision of new and old epistemologies, economic forces, and signifying practices, generating a wide range of topics to explore, including the use of cosmetics, tattooing and scarification, and whiteness and race. Research on knowing and marking skin in the early modern period raises vital questions about knowledge and ideology, self and other, and identity and exclusion.