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234 × 156 × 30 mm
344 pages
75 illustrations
01 Mar 2000
Critical Views
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Written on the Body The Tattoo in European and American History Jane Caplan

With essays by Clare Anderson, Susan Benson, James Bradley, Jane Caplan, Juliet Fleming, Alan Govenar, Harriet Guest, Mark Gustafson, C. P. Jones, Charles MacQuarrie, Hamish Maxwell-Stuart and Ian Duffield, Stephan Oettermann, Jennipher Allen Rosecrans and Abby M. Schrader Written on the Body surveys the history of the tattoo in Europe and North America from Antiquity to the present.

While the subject of tattooing has previously been approached from the viewpoints of anthropology, sociology and cultural studies, this is the first book to set the practice into a historical perspective. This is partly because there was no obvious context for writing a serious history of it prior to the emergence of scholarship on the cultural history of the body. The tattoo emerges as a haunting presence on Europe's margins, figuring as something alien and uncanny. It seems to hover for much of its history in a space between the cosmetic and the punitive, frequently indicative of and complicated by the practice of penal violations of bodily integrity. It is this fluidity of the tattoo's meaning, rather than its marginality, that is the focus of Written on the Body.

‘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.’ — 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.’ — 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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Jane Caplan is Marjorie Walter Goodhart Professor of European History at Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania.