Bloomsbury Cultural History - Previous Topics in Focus


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Victor and Victims: Women through Time

This image shows a female doctor with the International Medical Corps examines a woman patient at a mobile health clinic in the village of Goza.

Women as healers

Although women have had to wait until the modern era to be formally recognised as medical professionals, the model of woman as healer has a very long lineage. Explore the position of women in Ancient Greek and Roman civilization as healing practitioners and medical authorities and not merely as patients.

This image shows Hildegard of Bingen. Found in the collection of the Eibingen Abbey.

Representations of women in Medieval culture

Sources of information on women’s lives in the Middle Ages are few but medieval depictions of women, however stylized, remain an important source for understanding attitudes towards sex and gender. Discover the world of women not just as subjects but also as creators, patrons and consumers of art and literature.

Photo of two Victorian women see saw together, ca. 1902.

Gender politics in the Nineteenth century

The Victorian quest for respectability is considered in Teresa Mangum’s study of the way that femininity was framed in terms of cleanliness while Annette F. Timm and Joshua A. Sanborn examine the complex interactions between gender roles and colonialism.

Vintage illustration of a housewife, showing off her brand new kitchen to her neighbor friends, 1950.

Western women negotiating work and family lives in the twentieth century

What changed and what stayed the same for women living and working in the 20th century? Bronwyn Winter unravels the Western narrative of the advancement of gender equality in the 20th century, and Maggie Andrews explores how women in early 20th century British suburbia experienced and understood the rituals of the home place through the ‘domestic goddesses’ of broadcast radio.

A statue of a girl symbolizing the issue of

Japan and wartime comfort women

The Japanese military was responsible for the sexual enslavement of thousands of women and girls in Asia and the Pacific during the China and Pacific wars under the guise of providing 'comfort' for battle-weary troops. Campaigns for justice and reparations for 'comfort women' since the early 1990s have highlighted the magnitude of the human rights crimes committed against Korean, Chinese and other Asian women by Japanese soldiers after 1937. Explore the origins of the Japanese military's system of sexual slavery and how Japanese women were its first victims.


ANJUNA, GOA, INDIA - 2013/12/18: Many different goods like typical Indian spices and curries are presented in bags for sale at the weekly flea-market. (Photo by Frank Bienewald/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Luxury and decadence in "the Orient"

Silks from China, incenses from Arabia, spices from India …. From the earliest times, “the Orient” has been identified with sensuality, luxury and decadence. Learn about the sensory pleasures of the trade in luxury goods in Imperial Rome (The Sensens in the Marketplace).

Picture of the ceiling and balcony inside Haghia Sophia Mosque, Turkey, Istanbul

City of wealth and wonders

In the medieval period, visitors to Constantinople were amazed by its opulence. But its fortunes were built less on its own trading activities than on its skill in exploiting its location to direct, organize and profit from the trade that was carried on by others. The story is explained in Two thirds of the wealth of this world.

Picture showing bottles of Fiji water

A Precious Commodity

We think of ‘designer water’ as a 21st century invention but water could be a luxury good in Early Modern Europe too. In Liquid Food: Drinking for Health David Gentilcore relates how named mineral waters became fashionable luxuries alongside ice, wine, chocolate and coffee.

Picture showing people gathered together in a saloon

Conspicuous consumption

In eighteenth-century Europe, rising social mobility and the expansion of world trade meant that items previously considered the preserve of the super-rich became accessible to those with more modest incomes. Discover how the increasing affordability of luxury attire, such as wigs, came into conflict with the sumptuary laws of the period in Status.

Picture of Castle Hill Mansion on The Crane Estate,designed by architect David Adler circa 1928.

What is luxury today?

What is luxury today? For Dieter Kienast, reflecting on the increased density of urban living, “the garden is the last luxury of our time because it claims what has become rare and valuable in our society: time, devotion and space.” Explore the development of landscape architecture over the 20th century in Use and Reception.

Plagues and Pandemics

Image showing flagellants in the Netherlands.

Beyond the black death

Between 1300 and 1500 the population of Europe collapsed. We know that the Black Death played a major part in this catastrophic decline but was it more important than war, or famine, or other diseases of the age such as leprosy? Learn about the many and varied causes of human mortality in the Middle Ages.

Picture of famine in the middle ages-nineteenth-century-trade-card-picture-id113451168

The wrath of god

There were few effective cures for the diseases of the Early Modern period. In the absence of scientific knowledge, people wanted plausible stories to make sense of recurrent outbreaks of infectious disease. And there was a simple explanation: epidemics were God’s punishment for the sinfulness of man. Margaret Healy offers an introduction to divine rage and human health in the Renaissance.

Copy of an albumen silver print by henry peach robinson.

What’s in a (medical) name?

Consumption, phthisis, pulmonary tuberculosis, TB … all these terms were used to describe the same disease over the course of the nineteenth century. Michael Worboys explains how these name changes reflected shifts in the medical understanding of the disease and in social attitudes towards it.

Picture showing soldiers during World War I, hunting the cootie in well constructed German trenches in the Vosges 1915.

Military combat and disease

Typhus was first described in the fifteenth century but has been especially deadly during periods of extended military conflict such as the Napoleonic Wars and the Crimean War. Read how the infection was passed from soldier to soldier through their lice-infested uniforms and learn how, in the trenches of the First World War, attempts to kill the lice by chemical means were as toxic to humans as they were to insects.

Photo showing 'Free HIV Testing' spelled out in blue & white neon letters hanging in a storefront window behind security gates in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, NYC.

Changing attitudes to HIV/AIDS

How have modern epidemics affected social values? Gender, Sex and the Shaping of Modern Europe reveals how attitudes surrounding the origins of HIV/AIDS evolved and were expressed in laws across the continent.


Relief portraying a woman and a child at a feast.

Affection or indifference?

The “family” was central to ancient Greek and Roman societies. It was also understood to include slaves, property and land as well as parents and children and the extended kin group. Within such a large social unit and in circumstances where infant mortality was commonplace, was there a space for parents to love their children? Read the arguments for and against in this long-running historiographical debate.

Schoolchildren at their books, UK, AD 1338-1344. From Bodleian manuscript MS.

Preparing for a life of work in the Middle Ages

Imagine a young girl seated on the floor of a house in fourteenth-century London. With miniature pewter jugs, cups, and plates, she serves an imaginary meal for her younger siblings. Is she playing, learning, or working? In the eyes of her mother, she may be doing all three. Discover how parents in the medieval period regarded child education and how they saw learning and helping as interchangeable activities.

Portrait of Chiara Albini Petrozzani with their children in prayer. Painting attributed to Pietro Facchetti (1535 or 1539-1619).

Gender roles and expectations

How were girls and boys treated differently in Renaissance society? The French physician Laurent Joubert argued that strictness of discipline should be the only experience that was common to all children: “the boy ought to be well fed, well beaten and poorly dressed; and the girl, well dressed, well beaten and poorly fed.” Karen Raber and Stephanie Tarbin plot how attitudes around gender shaped the lives of children from baptism onwards.

Picture showing children working in a rope factory - from 18th century engraving.

Working children

We associate child labor with the factories and mines that sprang up with the Industrial Revolution but in earlier periods children from the age of six years onwards were expected to make a contribution to the family economy. Learn how their work was deemed both essential to the success of the household and central to their moral education in the years of the Enlightenment.

Picture showing A Giant Snowball, by William Weekes (Photo by © Fine Art Photographic Library/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Creating the modern family

For centuries, Christian teaching emphasized the innate sinfulness of children. But from the early nineteenth century, this attitude gave way to Romantic ideas of the child as an exemplar of innocence, virtue and hope. Explore how conceptions of childhood were reshaped in the Victorian era and how child-rearing then came to be regarded as the most important function of the family.

Photo of the costumes worn by the girls in Chelsea, London's Bohemia.

Youth culture and consumption

The term ‘teenager’ was coined by American market researchers in the 1940s and was linked from the beginning to the expansion of consumer culture and the creation of a youth market. Bill Osgerby explains how ideas of ‘teenagers’ and ‘youth’ came to carry other meanings, reflecting broader social and culture shifts in post-war Britain.

Costume and Dress

The sacred robe of Athena held up by cult officials, and Athena and Hephaistos, 438 BC. From the Elgin collection, British Museum.

Dress and belief in Ancient Greece and Rome

Dress was a dynamic part of the religious lives of ancient Mediterranean people: it fostered identity, reinforced community and group bonds and boundaries, displayed the values of community members, and solidified institutional structures. Discover the role of costume in demarcating sacred space and festive time, facilitating ritual experience and marking key rites of passage and initiation in Ancient Greece and Rome.

Antoine Verard (- 1573), Chronicles of Saint Denis, Full-length Portrait of Saint Louis (Louis IX) (1214-1270) holding a scale model of the Sainte-Chapelle, 1493, Paris, Bibliotheque Sainte Genevieve.

Sumptuary laws in medieval Europe

Every form of dress carries some indication of the status of its wearer. Status, defined as social difference, is a social relationship which dress makes visible to others. Beginning in the 13th century, sumptuary laws governing dress, food consumption, banquets, and ceremonies such as births, weddings, and funerals, were enacted across Europe to regulate public consumption and display in accordance with social status.Explore the changing relationship between dress and status in the period from the 12th century through the 14th..

Brera gallery, Milan. San Marco preaching in Alexandria (detail). Giovanni Bellini. (Photo by: Godong/UIG via Getty Images).

Costume and the identification of foreigners

In Renaissance Europe, costume became an important means of classifying people of different origins, especially Muslims or Turks (a term that extended to all members of the Ottoman Empire). A new kind of publication – the costume book – showed the plurality of Ottoman society. But it also contributed to the formation of racial and gender stereotypes. Learn how costume and costume books were used to identify foreigners in sixteenth-century Europe.

Portrait of the Marquise de Pompadour (1721-1764), ca 1758. Found in the collection of the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh.

Costume becomes fashion

The advance of global trade in the 18th century brought new luxury items to Europe and promoted a taste for the exotic: the Cabinet des Modes boasted that “French women, particularly those in the capital which is the centre of taste, know how to imitate and to appropriate the costumes of all nations.” Barbara Lasic explains how the fascination with luxurious novelties (often publicised through stage costumes) helped to nurture an emerging fashion industry.

Tokyo, JAPAN: In this file picture taken 17 Feburary 2006, Kei Aran (C) performs as Oscar Francois de Jarjayes

Costume and national identity

In theatrical productions, costume choices have often given expression to debates around national identity. Michelle Liu Carriger and Aoife Monks discuss how the contested terrain of identity has played out in two countries – Japan and Ireland – over the course of the 20th century.


 CIRCA 2002: Relief from a sarcophagus depicting scenes of everyday life. Roman Civilisation, 2nd Century. Rome, Museo Della Civiltà Romana.

The Meaning of work in the Ancient World

As societies based upon slavery, Ancient Greece and Rome had no vocabulary to refer to ‘work’ or ‘labour’ in the way that those terms are understood today. Nonetheless, work was ubiquitous in Antiquity. Ephraim Lytle introduces us to the complexities of this world as revealed in literary texts, inscriptions, and archaeological data while Lena Larsson Lovén and Agneta Strömberg explain the interconnections between work, the family economy and social status in the ancient world.

Oil painting of two women milking cows in a barn, In the centre stands a white cow.

Portfolio working in the Sixteenth Century

In a famous survey conducted in 1688, English statistician Gregory King estimated that 88 percent of his fellow countrymen and countrywomen were engaged in agriculture. What this meant could vary hugely according to the season, the region and the demand for migrant workers. Explore the astonishing range of activities encompassed by the term 'agricultural labour’. in Early Modern Europe.

Picture showing the interior of an English factory. Late 18th century. Nineteenth-century colored engraving.

Adam’s curse redefined?

In the Christian tradition, work was God’s curse on Adam for his disobedience. But by the eighteenth century attitudes had changed: Voltaire argued in his novel, Candide, that work was the answer to the three major problems of life: boredom, vice and poverty. Discover how this more positive attitude was reflected in artistic representation of work during the years of the Enlightenment.

Engraving showing women inspecting newly made paper before dispatch.

Women on the move

Spurred by industrialization and urbanization, people of all social classes became more mobile over the course of the nineteenth century: between 1850 and 1913 about 30 million European migrants left for the United States and another 10 million for South America. While many moved much shorter distances in search of work, for women in particular migration was always both an opportunity and a risk. Learn about women’s patterns of work migrationin a period of rapid economic and social change.

Team of happy entrepreneurs having fun on a break while playing table soccer.

Balancing work and leisure in the modern era

With the growth of mass entertainment in the twentieth century, opportunities for leisure expanded hugely in the United States and Western Europe. Achieving a good balance between work and leisure proved much more elusive: periods of economic instability undermined workers’ successes while government- or corporate-sponsored leisure programs failed to recognize that a fulfilling leisure life was dependent upon a rewarding work experience. Randy D. McBee explains how leisure can be meaningful only if work is.


In this image a clergyman reads the sermon with the aid of a magnifying glass to a sleeping congregation while another clergyman ogles a sleeping woman.

The Birth of Boredom

When did boredom become a thing? People have found themselves in boring situations from time immemorial but the word “boredom” did not enter the English language until the 19th century. Peter N. Stearns explains how boredom as a recognised emotional state emerged in the Victorian era as a result of cultural shifts (such as the rise of individuality and the increasing expectation of happiness) as well as of changing circumstances (such as access to new and more varied kinds of entertainment).

Image showing a bewildered doctor checking the pulse of lovesick young woman, while her concerned mother comforts her.

“There are as many forms of love as there are moments in time.” – Jane Austen

We think of love as a constant but what it feels like, how it should be expressed on the body and in language, and who should experience it (and towards whom) has varied hugely over time and place. In medieval Europe, love of God took precedence over love for a spouse or a child but this did not preclude passionate attachments between elite men that were considered “ennobling” because they were based on the love of virtue in another person. In the 19th century, by contrast, romantic love was promoted as a desirable state in itself but it also had practical and moral advantages: it discouraged sex before marriage (particularly for women) and it helped to limit birth rates after marriage at a time when restraint was the only sure method of birth control. 

The mezzotint illustrates Achilles mourning the death of Patroclus.

Shrouded with Sorrow

We think of love as a constant but what it feels like, how it should be expressed on the body and in language, and who should experience it (and towards whom) has varied hugely over time and place. In medieval Europe, love of God took precedence over love for a spouse or a child but this did not preclude passionate attachments between elite men that were considered “ennobling” because they were based on the love of virtue in another person. In the 19th century, by contrast, romantic love was promoted as a desirable state in itself but it also had practical and moral advantages: it discouraged sex before marriage (particularly for women) and it helped to limit birth rates after marriage at a time when restraint was the only sure method of birth control. 

The mezzotint illustrates Achilles mourning the death of Patroclus.

Ew! Manufacturing Disgust for non-French Foods

Disgust evolved in humans, at least in part, as a protective response to the risks involved in eating foods which might endanger us. But disgust is also a cultural product and has been used throughout history as a distancing mechanism whether of geographically remote cultures or of minorities within a majority culture. From couscous to dog-meat, learn how home-cooking magazines in Paris between the wars portrayed disgusting foods from colonial cuisines, reinforcing negative stereotypes of the “other”.


Image showning the Indian Corn Harvest.
The Indian Corn Harvest (Getty Images)

Nationhood and food in Europe

The phrase ‘You are what you eat’ is most commonly applied to an individual but it can just as easily be applied to a nation of people. For the early Europeans diet was integral to their nature but why was diet, and in particular dietary consistency, so important? This Chapter examines why diet was so closely linked to national ‘temperaments’ and ‘natures', and why changes in diet could affect the health of both the nation and its inhabitants.

Image showing a man in bed with vegetables sprouting from all parts of his body.
The effects of taking vegetable pills (Wellcome Collection)

The Vegetarian Option

If ever there was an area of diet that illustrates the gap between medical advice and real food consumption, then that of vegetable foods must be it. Vegetables have undergone quite a significant image change over the centuries. From being considered harmful and ‘devoid of nourishment’ in the sixteenth century to present day where everyone is actively encouraged to eat ‘five a day’ for a healthy diet. Explore more in this chapter on The Vegetarian Option.

Two photographs of people cutting rice in Java.
Photos of rice cutting in Java (Rijksmuseum Collection)

Commercial Rice Cultivation

In this chapter, Paul H. Kratoska looks at the expansion of the rice industry in southeastern Asia. Trading and settlement patterns across Asia owe much to the availability of rice in particular locations. In the early nineteenth century, the majority of those who ate rice also grew it, but a century later a large and growing number of people depended on specialized producing areas, particularly in mainland Southeast Asia, for their supplies of rice. By the early twentieth century, commercial rice production in Southeast Asia accounted for more than 80 per cent of the rice entering the world export market.

Rations (Getty Images)

Rationed Diets

For the most part, throughout history, the consumption of food has been shaped by state policies as well as by nature, agriculture, culture, religion and the market. The influence of the state has been especially powerful during wartime. The complex system of wartime rationing tried to fine-tune Germans’ diets according to the amount of work they did, how old they were, their familial status and ‘racial’ designation: by 1945, there were 16 categories of ‘ration receivers’. Find out more about the micromanagement of consumption under the Nazi regime.

The Picture is showing a Reinassance banquet.
The Reinassance Banquet (Getty Images)

Food Production

In ‘A Cultural History of Food in the Renaissance’, Allen J. Grieco explores food production in the late medieval and early modern EuropeAlthough, food production was undeniably conditioned by the growing and rearing conditions that the environment provided, it was also influenced by social and cultural factors, which left a deep and lasting imprint; an imprint that has persisted, in large part, to recent times. The higher levels of society often disregarded what might have been more rational and high-yield food production solutions in favor of low-yield foodstuffs such as durum wheat that were particularly in demand among the more privileged, such as durum wheat in central Italy or beef consumption in Mediterranean climates.


Image showning a disabled soldier.
The disabled soldier (Wikimedia Commons)

Disability and Masculinity in Weimar Germany

The metaphor Stahlbad (steel bath) was often used by German politicians to describe the First World War and the rejuvenating effect it would have in toughening up national ideas of manhood. In this chapter Sabine Kienitz studies the physical traumas of war disability, and its impact on body image. With approximately 2.7 million German men left with disabilities by the end of the war, the physical trauma of combat was combined with experiences of marginalisation and a loss of their masculine identity. In a society that constructed and reinforced ideas of manhood through physical capability and work, disabled veterans who were not able to carry out physical labor lost a sense of self, setting in motion what Kienitz calls ‘the reinterpretation of ascriptions by others’.

Image showing a mad man
Title page of [A] New Mad Tom of Bedlam, 1695? (By permission of the British Library)

Mental Disability in the Renaissance Period

Bloomsbury Cultural History provides exclusive online access to the entire Cultural History of Disability set. This chapter from A Cultural History of Disability in the Renaissance explores contemporary perceptions of mental health and the stereotypes that reinforced them. The terms used to describe mental disability during the early modern period were vague, and often “social opinion was the best way to determine who was or was not mad”. Sonya Loftis examines this ambiguous understanding of mental illness, with a focus on melancholia as a symbol of madness, and the relationship between mental disability and the supernatural. Though material from the period is sketchy, the records of Bethlam Hospital, also known as Bedlam, are used to discover the treatment of those who suffered from mental illness.

Image showing a paralympic athlete in Rio
First Day of Athletic Races at the Paralympics Rio 2016 (Wikimedia Commons)

Promoting Cultural Change in the Twenty-First Century

Modern advocates for change in society’s ideas about disability contend that it is not an inherently defined condition, but rather a cultural construct of society itself. This chapter describes how deep-seated prejudices are reinforced by legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which marked disabled peoples as a separate community thereby reinforcing the divide. Inclusion in social activities plays a key part in realising a cultural norm that includes rather than isolates those with disabilities. Explore how changes in sports, notably the Special Olympics and Paralympics, encourage such shifts in belief and promote cultural change round the world.

A meeting of deaf workers of the “Paris Commune” factory with the Stakhanovite Smetanin in 1935 (Courtesy of Viktor Palennyi of the All-Russian Society of the Deaf)

Deafness and Selfhood in Soviet Russia

The Milan Conference of 1880 banned sign language in schools for the deaf, declaring that oral speech was superior to the gestured word. The perceived dominance of speech has come to define the struggles of Western deaf history, and the isolation of those unable to communicate. However, the All-Russian Society of the Deaf (Vserossiiskoe obshchestvo glukhikh, VOG), a deaf-run state organization founded in 1926, provided frameworks for deaf people to establish themselves as equal citizens, advocating alternative methods of sensory perception and sign language, thereby questioning the deaf identity that had developed since the Bolshevik Revolution. Read more about the issues of hearing and speech in the Soviet deaf community, and the implications such limitations had on structures of selfhood and identity.

The Cripples (1568) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.
Cultural Representations of Disability (Wikimedia Commons)

Cultural Representations of Disability

Bloomsbury Cultural History offers an exclusive Lesson Plan by Dr Ella Houston that traces representations of disability through history, from antiquity to the twenty-first century. It provides thorough and comprehensive coverage of this important topic, exploring disability as a lived experience that is shaped by the culture and society of the time. Each week-by-week section examines representations of disability within a different historical framework and offers selective key reading, thought provoking discussion questions and suggested homework tasks. Explore the full Lesson Plan, a helpful research tool for students conducting independent study, as well as tutors creating their own academic programme.

Image showing a loathly Lady
Cultural Representations of Disability (Wikimedia Commons)

Facial Disfigurement in Middle English and Early Modern Gawain Romances

Disability and disfigurement within literature is often viewed as a plot device, establishing the body as a site of great meaning that can reinforce - and also challenge - social perceptions of ‘normal’ or ‘otherness’. This chapter explores disabling facial disfigurement in the middle English and early modern Gawain romances and ballads, from the perspective of chivalry and courtesy. Focusing on the ‘loathly lady tales’ of King Arthur and his court, the chapter places the tales within their social, political and historical context, exploring the agency of gazing and empowerment. The loathly ladies’ intrusion into the affluent court of King Arthur and the chivalric elite exposes the injurious nature of desire, levelling the dichotomies between assumptions of beauty and deformity.

Peace and Conflict

Image showning the Dalai Lama speaking in Tokyio, October 31, 2009.
The Dalai Lama speaking in Tokyo, October 31, 2009 (Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert / Alamy Stock Photo)

A Cultural History of Peace

The brand new and digitally exclusive multi-volume reference work A Cultural History of Peace explores how different cultures and societies have thought about and developed the concept of peace over the past 2500 years. This chapter from A Cultural History of Peace in the Modern Age delves into the complex history of the term ‘Peace’. Until the mid-twentieth century, the dominant discourse on the topic of peace was a virtual monopoly of two groups: Western male policy makers, and Western philosophers and legal theorists. Over the past century however, previously ignored peace advocates and peacemakers have made their voices heard, and this chapter provide a more globalised view of the definition of peace.

This image shows two women standing under a tree exchanging an olive branch and music.
England and Ireland (© Wellcome Collection)

War and Peace in the Early Modern Period

Bloomsbury Cultural History offers an exclusive Lesson Plan on the history of War and Peace during the Early Modern Period. It provides thorough and comprehensive coverage of this important topic, and questions one’s understanding of the term ‘peace’. Each week-by-week section examines important areas of war and peace within a historical context and offers selective key reading, thought provoking discussion questions, and suggested homework tasks. Click here to explore the full Lesson Plan, a helpful research tool for students conducting independent study, as well as tutors creating their own academic programme.

This image shows the negotiations for the Pacification of Amboise in 1563.
The Pacification of Amboise (© Wellcome Collection)

The Pacification of Amboise

The etching of Jean Perrissin’s The Pacification of Amboise depicts the negotiations between the Queen Mother, regent for Charles IX, and the Huguenots, which bought peace - albeit temporarily - to the two factions. The Pacification of Amboise in 1563 allowed Huguenot nobles to worship freely, though it limited the worship of the common people to just one town in each district. Created in 1563 in Île aux Bœufs, Loire in France, Perrissin’s etching is now part of the Wellcome Collection. Click here to explore a high resolution digitised image of the original 1563 etching in exquisite detail.

Image showing World War I ambulance Pittsburgh 20th Century Club.
World War One Ambulance (Wikimedia Commons)

Medical Pacifism and War

In this chapter from Medicine in First World War in Europe, Fiona Reid explores the relationship between peace and medicine following the First World War. Pacifism, although far from widespread, had become more organized and influential. During the First World War, medical services were harnessed and organized in the service of the military to an unprecedented degree, but there were also those who saw medicine and war as quite incompatible. Indeed, the medical profession had a particular role to play in the war, in part because many pacifists sought a medical role once war became established.

This image shows a bombarded Berlin street.
Destruction on a Berlin Street (Wikimedia Commons)

Peace Politics in Postwar West Germany

A chapter on Cold War Communities by Irene Stoehr explores the peace politics of women’s groups in Germany following the Second World War. The individuals who organized women’s committees and other political groups at a local level in Germany between 1945 and 1947 had one point in common that united them beyond their political differences: they felt responsible for maintaining peace. These organisations desired an independent status not tied to a political party, and they placed a high priority on securing peace. Click here to find out more about the phenomenon of ‘women’s pacifism’, and its role in the postwar period.


Image showing Greek open air shower baths for men.
Greek open air shower baths for men (© Wellcome Collection)

A Cultural History of the Human Body

The digitally exclusive multivolume reference work A Cultural History of the Human Body presents a historical overview with essays on the centrality of the human body in birth and death, health and disease, sexuality, beauty and concepts of the ideal, bodies marked by gender, race, class and disease, cultural representations and popular beliefs, and self and society. This chapter from A Cultural History of the Human Body in Antiquity by Brooke Holmes delves into the complex history of the human body as a site of identity and self, and the physical attributes as marks of constructed gender.

Image showing the <i>The Proportions of the Human Figure</i> (Vitruvian Man)
The Proportions of the Human Figure (Vitruvian Man), Leonardo da Vinci, 1490. Pen, ink, and watercolor over metalpoint (Wikimedia Commons)

The Body and Modernity

Bloomsbury Cultural History offers an exclusive Lesson Plan by Darren N. Wagner to give students the opportunity to critically explore some of the many ways in which changes relating to the body were tied to the Enlightenment era and the emergence of modernity. Themes addressed include identity and nationhood; health and disability; selfhood and psychology; sex and reproduction; science and art; display and embodiment; and race and gender. Each week-by-week section examines the human body within a different historical framework and offers selective key reading, thought provoking discussion questions and suggested homework tasks. Explore the full Lesson Plan, a helpful research tool for students conducting independent study, as well as tutors creating their own academic programme.

This image shows the crimes of corset and how it cripples and restricts the bodily organs in women.
The Crimes of the Corset (© Wellcome Collection)

The Crimes of the Corset

This digitised engraving from the Wellcome Collection illustrates the physical effects of the corset and ‘denounces’ the internal disfigurement it inflicts on women’s bodies. In A Cultural History of Dress and Fashion in the Age of Empire, Ariel Beaujot traces the origins of the corset back to the aristocracy in the first half of the sixteenth century, and explores the use of such fashion items as an act of gendering. Beaujot points out that the French word for corset is “corp” meaning body, demonstrating linguistically that clothing and woman’s flesh and bone were one and the same.

This image shows Lorenzo Niles Fowler’s detailed system of phrenology shown on this phrenological head.
Fowler’s Phrenological Head (© Wellcome Collection)

Fowler’s Phrenological Head

The digitized image collections made available on Bloomsbury Cultural History offer a rich and enticing insight into the cultural history of the human body. In this photo from the Wellcome Collection, Lorenzo Niles Fowler’s detailed system of phrenology is shown on a phrenological head. Phrenologists believed that the shape and size of various areas of the brain (and therefore the overlying skull) determined personality. For instance, the area under the right eye was thought to relate to language and verbal memory; the desire for foods and liquids was thought to be located in front of the right ear. Fowler led a revival in phrenology after its decline in the 1850s, and his system was just one of many during this period.

Image shpwing Gekidan Kaitaisha. <i>Bye Bye Phantom</i>. Colony (Miyauchi Katsu)
Gekidan Kaitaisha. Bye Bye Phantom.  Colony (Miyauchi Katsu)

The Performing Body in Japan

Adam Broinowski’s Cultural Responses to Occupation in Japan examines how the performing arts, and the performing body specifically, have shaped and been shaped by the political and historical conditions experienced in Japan during the Cold War and post-Cold War periods. This study of original and secondary materials from the fields of theatre, dance, performance art, film and poetry, probes the interrelationship that exists between the body and the nation-state. This chapter looks at Gekidan Kaitasha, a theatre company that uses performance to deconstruct ‘what is’ at the site of the body.


Image showing a bourgeois school of girls in Paris.
Abraham Bosse, A bourgeois school of girls in Paris

A Cultural History of Education

A Cultural History of Education is the first comprehensive and interdisciplinary overview of the cultural history of education from ancient times to the present day. With six illustrated volumes covering 2800 years of human history, this is the definitive reference work on the subject. Each volume covers: church, religion and morality; knowledge, media and communications; children and childhood; family, community and sociability; learners and learning; teachers and teaching; literacies; life-histories. This chapter from A Cultural History of Education in the Renaissance delves into media, communication, and information exchange in Europe between 1480 and 1650, and outlines the main educational challenges of the period.

Image showing Saint Sava National College (Bucharest)
Saint Sava National College (Wikimedia Commons)

Education in Romania Since WWII

In this chapter from Romania Since The Second World War: A Political, Social and Economic History, Florin Abraham explores the state of the national school system in Romania since the Second World War, and explains how the preoccupation of the communist regime with education brought a certain progress to school infrastructure compared to the interwar period. The general picture shows a massive investment in education at the beginning of communism, however, during the 1980s, the education system was submitted to drastic cutbacks, signalling its marginalization. This was emphasized by the 781975 policy of compulsory governmental placements, which meant that higher education graduates were forced to accept jobs offered by the regime.

Image showing primary health care workers giving a puppet show to a group of people in a village in India
Leprosy Health Education. (© Wellcome Collection)

Health Education in India

Bloomsbury Cultural History offers a range of images collections sourced from global archives and galleries such as the Rijksmuseum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art to complement academic research and encourage a well-rounded understanding of cultural history. This photo from the Wellcome Collection, taken by the Leprosy Mission International Organization, shows primary health care workers in a village in India using performance to educate and raise awareness of leprosy to facilitate control programs.

This image shows the The initial P showing a monk talking to a group of pupils.
The initial P showing a monk talking to a group of pupils. The interpretation of Aristotle’s Categories, France, circa 1300 (© The British Library Board)

Education Beyond the Classroom in Medieval Europe

A vast spectrum of educational provision existed in the medieval West, in terms of training children and adolescents for adult life. The nature of that provision was neither consistent nor uniform across Europe—it might be determined by a large number of considerations, including gender, location, religion, social status, and wealth. This chapter fromA Cultural History of Childhood and Family in the Middle Ages takes the discussion of education beyond the formal world of the schools by considering the nature of instruction within royal and noble households, and the value attached to practical, work-based learning at lower social levels.

This image shows the book cover of <i>Vichy France and Everyday Life</i>.
Vichy France and Everyday Life (© Ed. Lindsey Dodd and David Lees)

Adapting Schools in Vichy France

A history of the school system under Vichy is first of all a history of what happened in schools themselves – a history of the difficulties and the banalities of a daily life continuously disrupted by the ordeals of war and occupation. In this chapter from Vichy France and Everyday Life, Matthieu Devigne explores the policies, reforms and charitable initiatives that took place, and explains why, during these ‘dark years’, schools proved to be a hub of moral and material resistance, not only for children, but for all the men and women involved in their day-to-day life and organization.


Image showing Residential buildings in Hong Kong, China.
Abraham Bosse, A bourgeois school of girls in Paris (© Nikada via Getty Images)

A Cultural History of Objects

How have objects have been created, used, interpreted and set loose in the world over the last 2500 years? Over this time, the West has developed particular attitudes to the material world, at the centre of which is the idea of the object. A Cultural History of Objects brings together over 50 scholars to examine how the world of human subjects shapes and is shaped by the world of material objects. The themes explored are: Objecthood; Technology; Economic Objects; Everyday Objects; Art; Architecture; Bodily Objects; Object Worlds. Click here to read more and discover the cultural history of objects.

Image showing Gdańsk in the XVII century
Gdańsk in the 17th century, by Wojciech Gerson (© Wikimedia Commons)

Writing Material Cultural History

Objects themselves are not simple props of history, but are tools through which people shape their lives. Writing Material Culture History (2021), now in its second edition, examines the methodologies currently used in the historical study of material culture. In this chapter, Anne Gerritsen and Giorgio Riello explore the material landscapes of global history, and the circulation of such goods across continents and global markets.

This image shows a wooden sculpture of a temple guardian: Misshaku Kongo (Agyo)
Wooden sculpture of a temple guardian: Misshaku Kongo (Agyo) (© TRijksmuseum Collection)

Discover Bloomsbury Cultural History’s Digitised Image Collections

Bloomsbury Cultural History provides access to carefully curated collections of digitised museum objects from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Rijksmuseum, and the Wellcome Collection. These rich and extensive digitized image collections provide a unique and invaluable pathway for students, researchers and instructors to explore the material history of objects from around the globe. This particular wooden sculpture of temple guardian Misshaku Kongo (Agyo) comes from 14th century Japan. Made of wood and traces of polychrome, temple guardians such as this are placed at the entrance of a temple to ward off evil.

This image shows Olof Fridsberg, Countess Ulla Sparre in her writing cabinet, 1760s
Photo: Cecilia Heisser (© Nationalmuseum)

Objects of Comfort in Swedish Country Houses

How were daily comfort and feelings of home created through objects and the display of interiors in a house? Which objects, both furniture such as beds or tables to smaller items such as tea and coffee sets or bed linen, were essential for a comfortable home in eighteenth-century Sweden, and how can we interpret the comfortability of an item? These are the questions explored by Johanna Ilmakunnas in this chapter from The Comforts of Home in Western Europe, 1700 – 1900, 2020. Using comfort as an analytical tool, Ilmakunnas uncovers how technology, architecture, objects and things influenced feelings of home in eighteenth-century Sweden.

Image showing a paralympic athlete in Rio
First Day of Athletic Races at the Paralympics Rio 2016 (Wikimedia Commons)

A Cultural History of Disability

To support Disability History Month 2021, Bloomsbury Cultural History is offering unrestricted access to the entire set of The Cultural History of Disability, an unrivaled collection that spans 2,500 years, exploring disability from antiquity to the present day. With contributions from over 50 experts, the volumes describe different kinds of physical and mental disabilities, their representations and receptions, and what impact they have had on society and everyday life.

The theme for this year's disability history month is 'Relationship and Sex. Disability and Hidden Impairment'. In this chapter from A Cultural History of Disability in the Modern Age, Bee Scherer provides an intersectional (queer-/crip-/trans-) feminist cultural-philosophical view on atypical bodies in the Modern Age, infused by Buddhist “theology”. To read more about the cultural history of disability, visit our Featured Content Archive.

The Cultural History of Fairy Tales

How have the fairy tales of different cultures changed over the centuries? What do they tell us about our fears and hopes?

In a work that spans 2,500 years these ambitious questions are addressed by over 50 experts, each contributing their overview of a theme applied to a period in history. With the help of a broad range of case material they illustrate broad trends and nuances of the fairy tale in Western culture from antiquity to the present.

Delve into the world of the marvellous and fantastical, and explore the Cultural History of Fairy Tales through the ages.

From Volume I: In Antiquity

Socialization: Fairy Tales as Vehicles of Moral Messages by Dominic Ingemark and Camilla Asplund Ingemark

Drawing on a range of examples from Greek and Roman literature, this chapter from A Cultural History of Fairy Tales in Antiquity explores the use of fairy tales in the ancient world to warn against moral failings such as greed, envy, and infidelity, as well as to convey politically and socially sensitive messages in a palatable form. One example of a message too sensitive to discuss in direct terms is the moral condemnation of rich and influential citizens of Rome, which was instead conveyed obliquely in Horace’s tale “The Country Mouse and the City Mouse”. Many such stories are explored in this chapter, from writers including Apuleius, Xenophon, Livy, Horace, and Euripides.

From Volume II: The Middle Ages

Gender and Sexuality: The Beauties and Beasts of Medieval Romance by Lynn Shutters

This chapter on medieval romance from A Cultural History of Fairy Tales in the Middle Ages looks at key tropes governing gender and sexuality in the genre. The four tropes surveyed include courtliness, virtue, the marvelous, and rape. Like a medieval tapestry, these tropes are interwoven in complex ways which are untangled by Shutters, who considers them both in isolation and in synthesis. She does so through reference to a variety of primary texts in medieval romance, a genre which was never defined at the time but is thought to have begun around 1100 CE and is associated with legendary settings, idealized characters, knights’ adventures, and the marvelous, magic, and love.

From Volume III: The Age of the Marvelous

Humans and Non-Humans: Animal Bridegrooms and Brides in Japanese Otogizōshi by Laura Nüffer

The Seventh Night numbers among a large body of tales from medieval Japan prominently featuring animals. The roles that animals play in these tales are many: they can be benefactors, foes, or allegorical figures—and sometimes, they can be lovers. This chapter from A Cultural History of Fairy Tales from the Age of the Marvelous explores medieval Japanese narratives of animal-human marriage, with a focus on the fraught and sometimes fatal relationships between animal grooms and human brides. Readers acquainted with Western fairy tales will find familiar echoes here—beauties and beasts, princesses and frogs—but the romances of these odd couples do not always develop in the direction Western readers might expect.

From Volume IV: The Long Eighteenth Century

Monsters and the Monstrous: Of Ogre Pyramids, Ruby-Eyed Dragons, and Gnomes with Crooked Spines by Kathryn A. Hoffmann

To read monsters in fairy tales of the long eighteenth century is to encounter giants with eyes on stalks, griffins, sphinxes, winged serpents, ruby-eyed dragons, and a bee-like apparition the size of a whale, its abdomen covered in crystal tiles. Because the vast bulk of eighteenth-century fairy tales were written in France from the 1690s on, this chapter from A Cultural History of Fairy Tales in the Long Eighteenth Century concentrates on French examples, with a few from Italy, Germany, England, and Russia. During this period, a particular kind of ludic monstrous explodes, producing innumerable works of imaginative literature of various and often intermingled genres.

From Volume V: The Long Nineteenth-Century

Space: Physical, Liminal, and Other by John Pennington

In George MacDonald’s 1895 fantasy romance Lilith, Mr. Vane admits: “I was lost in a space larger than imagination”. For the rest of his journey in this fantastical realm of the seven dimensions, Mr. Vane must lose his self by accepting the reality of this alternative world. Vane’s space that is larger than the imagination is an apt metaphor for the variety of spaces and places that are found in fairy tales. Fairy-tale writers of the long nineteenth century were equally consumed by timeless spaces and places in fairy tales. Three examples in this chapter highlight the importance of such spaces in fairy tales.

From Volume VI: The Long Modern Age

Power: The Archeology of a Genre by Kimberly J. Lau

Inspired by (but not limited to) Foucault’s theories of power and his archaeological method, this chapter by Kimberly Lau seeks to articulate the normalized logics at the heart of fairy-tale studies to explore what other(ed)—and thereby marginalized and overlooked—discourses reveal about genres, geopolitics, and the possibility for productive literary disruptions and cultural subversions. Of course, considerations of power are by no means new to fairy-tale studies. This chapter from A Cultural History of Fairy Tales in the Modern Age reads Helen Oyeyemi’s fairy-tale novels as examples of how racially inflected contemporary fairy tales might highlight, as well as attend to, such critical absences.


From video content and eBooks to the digitally exclusive Cultural History series, this topic in focus is your gateway into the cultural history of race throughout the ages.

The Evolution of the Idea of Race: From scientific racism to genomics

How did the four predominant racial categories emerge? What can history tell us about contemporary racial discourse in the USA? Tanya Golash-Boza, a Professor of Sociology at the University of California, interrogates these questions and highlights the methods used to justify racial oppression in the USA throughout its history.

This clip is part of a longer webinar between the editors of A Cultural History of Race. Watch the full webinar.

A Cultural History of Race

How have definitions of race varied and changed over time? What impact have religion, science and politics had on race throughout history, and how has our concept of it been changed as a result? In the multi-volume A Cultural History of Race (2021) these ambitious questions are answered by 61 experts who – drawing on perspectives from history, sociology, anthropology, literature and medical humanities – deepen our understanding of how race has developed conceptually and in reality, between antiquity and the present day. In the Introduction to the third volume, its editors consider three modern works by Black artists which refigure Renaissance paintings to inspire discussions around race.

Memory, Ethnicity and the British Home Front

In this chapter on memory, ethnicity and the British home front from British Cultural Memory and the Second World War (2014), Wendy Ugolini states that there is still a need within Britain to embed the experience and memory of the two world wars into ‘a more multiracial and international framework’. Focusing on the narratives of two groups who served and subsequently settled in Britain, male West Indian RAF volunteers and Polish servicemen, and acknowledging the ‘virtually unrepresented and undiscussed intersection of nationality and ethnicity’ on the home front, this chapter explores the narrated experiences of migrant groups from their position of marginality within Britain’s cultural memory of the Second World War.

Race and Hair in Medieval Identities

Hair types, hairstyles, facial hair, and hair coverings all feature among medieval markers of ethnic difference. Distinctions of culture and religion outweighed perceptions of bodily difference in early medieval constructions of ethnicities, although the revival of humoral and climatological theory in twelfth- and thirteenth-century universities saw increasing interest in the body. As both an outgrowth of the body and a feature uniquely suited to modification, hair was regularly featured in descriptions of ethnic groups, and could serve to define the “in” as well as the “out” groups, and to be deployed in relatively neutral contexts as well as those featuring vitriol and persecution. Click here to read more from A Cultural History of Hair in the Middle Ages.

Race in Postwar Fiction, Film and Social Science

Caryl Phillips, the respected black British Caribbean novelist and political essayist, has argued that most white British writers of fiction and drama of the 1950s and early 1960s ignored questions of race and the growing presence in the UK of new migrants from the colonies and Commonwealth. Were black people as absent from the white literary landscape as Phillips claims? Were there significant differences in the way in which men and women as authors represented racial alterity not only in the literary and cinematic texts, but also in social science research of the period? These are the questions that Mica Nava seeks to answer in this chapter from Visceral Cosmopolitanism.

Beauty, Race and Scientists

In May 1867 the young Italian scientist Enrico Giglioli set out in search of ‘authentic’ Indigenous Australians, and obtained a series of cartes de visite by Melbourne-based travelling photographer Thomas Jetson Washbourne. Today these photographs have assumed new meanings in the context of descendants’ pursuit of native title. Indigenous Elder Gary Murray explains how these portraits have been drawn into the process of mapping connections to land and kin in the pursuit of native title. The cultural performances of this photograph over 150 years, in its transformation from scientific datum to activist tool, both complicate and destabilize totalizing notions of the colonial archive. Click here to read more about the cultural history of the collection.

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