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CFP – Hair & History: Early Modern Material Culture and the Body in Reformation Germany

Hair & History: Early Modern Material Culture and the Body in Reformation Germany

Faculty of History, University of Cambridge
Cambridge, United Kingdom
Organiser: Dr. des. Stefan Hanß
Date: 6th June 2016
Deadline: 30th November 2015

Confirmed keynote speaker: Professor Evelyn Welch (King’s College London)

On 6th June 2016, the History Faculty, University of Cambridge, will convene an international and interdisciplinary workshop to discuss the sociocultural significance of hair in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Germany. Anthropologists have long emphasised the importance of hair as a marker of age, gender, power, status, labour relations, and religion. Yet historians have rarely studied it. Researchers of gender, literary, and theatre studies have recently begun to uncover early modern meanings of hair: how it shaped personhood, group cultures, and emotional cultures. Such studies have merely set the stage for a wider debate, which so far focuses on early modern England, France, and Italy. The fundamental upheavals of Reformation Germany, however, shaped notions of social and religious order as much as ideals of taste, luxury, consumption, eroticism, maturity, and aesthetics. The workshop therefore geographically focuses on the Holy Roman Empire, examining the significance of hair in Reformation Germany within its wider contexts of Renaissance Europe.

By discussing sixteenth- and seventeenth-century hair, the workshop addresses the topic in its broadest sense by examining early modern hairstyles, beards, facial and body hair as well as animal hair. Women, men, and children of Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish faith staged identities through practices involving hair through everyday performances and innovative representation. This makes the question evident of how hair enabled people to represent and shape gender, religious, and confessional boundaries in everyday life. The workshop thus aims to discuss the early modern ambiguity of hair: On the one hand, hair gained its significance through its representation of societal, cultural, and gendered belonging in estate-based societies. On the other hand, hair could also be cut, styled, dyed, shaved, ornamented, and even changed. When dealing with the materiality of hair humans thus claimed significant agency in negotiating sociocultural differences.

Proposals should therefore address the following topics:

(1st) material culture of hair: Treating hair as things or artefacts shifts a researcher’s attention to practices and meanings that made the materiality of hair matter to early modern contemporaries. That section aims to address the materiality of hair and its embeddedness into a wider early modern material culture and to what extent that material culture both represented and shaped cultural concepts. Papers may discuss the display and consumption of hair as well as cosmetics, instruments of hair care, or the work of artisans of the body. The focus on the materiality of early modern hair also intends to encourage the submission of papers regarding the presentation and conservation of exhibits of Reformation hair in museums.

(2nd) body, sexuality, the senses, and emotions: Hair was intimately connected with notions of the body. Examining practices involving hair as body practices and emotional performances draws our attention to the significance of hair for sentiments and the senses. Since hair materialised gender, we may ask for the representation and shaping of emotional group cultures and emotional styles through hair. Papers could discuss questions regarding sexual honour, shame, bodily harm, hurt feelings, virility, femininity, aging, maturity, nakedness, depilation, or the skin.

(3rd) religion and confessions: Given the Reformation’s challenge and re-interpretation of traditional religious concepts, we shall discuss the multi-layered relationship between hair and the Reformation. Did the Reformation’s shifts in liturgical practices and devotional culture affect people’s attitudes to handling of hair? To what extent practices involving hair shaped and contributed to religious debates? That section may examine notions of the supernatural, the veneration of relics, hairdressing for worship services, or sermons regarding hair. Papers furthermore may discuss the everyday significance of hair for Protestants and Catholics as well as Christians and Jews in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Germany.

(4th) personhood and group cultures: In estate-based societies like early modern Germany hair represented and subverted civic order. Practices involving hair were thus subjected to laws. However, people made innovative usage of hair for staging political, religious, social, or scholarly affiliations as well as notions of personhood and subjectivity. In the light of current debates on ‘doing person’, the early modern interaction of hair and sociability shall be examined.

Seeking proposals from scholars at all stages of their academic career, the present CfP invites both established specialists and PhD students working on the topic to submit their proposals. Since the workshop is an interdisciplinary venture, the organiser encourages scholars from various disciplinary backgrounds to submit their proposals, e.g.anthropologists, art historians, conservators, historians, literary scholars, and museologists.

Containing an abstract of no more than 500 words and a short CV of 150 words, all proposals should be submitted to the organiser of the workshop, Stefan Hanß (, by 30th November 2015 at the latest.

The organiser applies for financial support, seeking to cover expenses like economy class travel costs. A publication of the workshop’s contributions is planned.