The Clean Body

A Modern History

By (author) Peter Ward
Categories: European history, History, History and Archaeology, Western Europe, Europe, Place qualifiers
Publisher: McGill-Queen's University Press
Hardcover : 9780773559387, 336 pages, November 2019

Recounting the history of personal hygiene in Europe and North America and the making of the modern clean body.


Recounting the history of personal hygiene in Europe and North America and the making of the modern clean body. How often did our ancestors bathe? How often did they wash their clothes? What did they understand cleanliness to be? Why have our hygienic habits changed so dramatically? Based on sources in English, French, German, and Italian, The Clean Body surveys the great hygienic transformation that took place across Europe and North America over the course of four centuries.


The Clean Body is a swift, lively, and sweeping survey as well as a thoroughly enjoyable read. Ward’s ability to synthesize the history of seven countries is remarkable. It offers readers a fascinating perspective on the history of cleanliness at a time when it is likely on many of our minds as we wash our hands for reasons of both personal hygiene and civic duty. ” Canadian Bulletin of Medical History

"Peter Ward skillfully distills wide-ranging academic research into a coherent and entertaining narrative pageant of Western European and North American concepts about and mechanics of personal cleanliness. " Choice

"As The Clean Body makes clear, the hygiene revolution was tied in with the rise of consumerism and its concomitant exploitation of natural resources — things that have contributed greatly to our current environmental tipping point. " The Montreal Gazette

"Ward has written a rare thing: a history of the clean body, yes, but also a history of societal expectation, technological innovation, class, privacy and spare time. This is one of those uncommon works that makes the everyday hardship of the past come to life, while at the same time making the reader critique their own expectations about the world. A masterful work. " History Today

"The Clean Body is a beautifully written tour de force, a wonderfully accessible book, and a joy to read. Peter Ward draws extensively on the literature in four languages and moves with ease between rich empirical detail, theoretical soundings, and socioeconomic data. " Brian Lewis, McGill University and co-editor of The Moral Mapping of Victorian and Edwardian London: Charles Booth, Christian Charity, and the Poor-but-Respectable

"In The Clean Body: A Modern History [Ward] promises to tell the story of the 'cleanliness revolution,' offering cleanliness as a lens through which to view a society in transition, whether culturally, technologically, or scientifically. " Our environmental woes too are the logical conclusion to a history of growing consumption, of things as well as resources. As Ward writes, "Once an element of nature, [water] had become a commodity, an engineered product of the industrial economy, . .. its presence in everyday life taken utterly for granted. "" Literary Review of Canada