At last, two years in the making, the book I contributed to is finally out!
Published by Palgrave and edited by Jennifer Evans and Alun Withey, New Perspectives on the History of Facial Hair is an interdisciplinary exploration of the history of facial hair. The eight essays range in topic from beards in early modern portraiture, facial hair in post-war Britain, to facial hair on women. My chapter, “Combing Masculine Identity in the Age of the Moustache, 1860-1900” uses a moustache comb in the collection of the New-York Historical Society to discuss late nineteenth century standards of masculinity:
Basically, American men of Anglo-Saxon ancestry felt insecure about their masculinity in a rapidly diversifying America (sure sounds like present times, doesn’t it?). Darwin’s theory of evolution inspired debate about the meaning of facial hair – if beards represented man’s animal ancestry, then just how different were man and beast? Enter the moustache, a style of facial hair that balanced this conflict of barbarism verses civility. By having a moustache, a man demonstrated that he was manly enough to grow facial hair, yet civilized enough to subdue his inner beast. A moustache comb was a civilizing implement used to accomplish this middle ground. For a shorter, less academic version of my chapter, the crux of my argument is in my Atlas Obscura article, accessible here.
While this study began with the moustache comb in the New-York Historical Society, the one illustrated in this volume is not that exact comb. A few years ago I was fortunate to find an identical one on eBay (yay eBay!) and took my own photos for use in the book (yay to no rights and permissions headaches and fees!):
In the chapter I explore other moustache paraphernalia, such as the moustache cup:
And also moustache spoons (I have yet to get one of those!), along with various patents for managing the moustache, like a moustache guard.
I can’t believe it’s been two years since I submitted the abstract for this project. The chapter is based on my master’s qualifying paper (MA, Bard Graduate Center 2013), so I’ve been deep into this subject for a few years now. Even though it’s a topic I’ve spent years thinking about, it was still quite challenging to present all my ideas in this manner. To see it in print is simply unreal and to say I’m ecstatic feels like an understatement! I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity and feel the need to share some acknowledgements:
First, thank you Jennifer Evans and Alun Withey for this amazing opportunity.
My qualifying paper advisor Ivan Gaskell deserves many thanks for encouraging inquiry into this peculiar topic and enthusiastically guiding me through the research and writing process. I am fortunate to have attended an institution like the Bard Graduate Center that promotes such unique areas of study. I am also grateful to my classmates for their continued enthusiasm and support.
I also owe gratitude to Margaret Hofer and Ted O’Reilly of the New-York Historical Society for their research assistance. I appreciate having access to closer inspection of the moustache comb and related archival material.
I also want to thank Jamie Eves for transforming my perception of the study of History as an undergrad at the University of Connecticut. When you began that first lecture with, “I will stand up here and tell you stories,” you sent me down a path I never thought to tread and I’ve never looked back.
Beecher Ogden I thank for donating his moustache comb to the New-York Historical Society. Who would have thought such a little thing could tell such a big story?
I would also like to thank all the bewhiskered men of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who dared to flaunt what nature gave them. To gentleman of the present, may you have the courage to take after your bearded and mustachioed forefathers in all your hirsute glory.
I thank my family for supporting my creative pursuits and seeking outlets for me to cultivate my strengths. I am grateful for the art lessons, the museum trips, and historic house tours, as they contributed greatly to my interest in material culture. I also appreciate how love of the written word was instilled in me at a young age. Amy, I’m sorry I don’t remember all of those library trips, but I know they’re behind the sense of wonder felt at the turn of every aisle and every page.
March 14, 2018 at 9:48 am
Awesome news, congrats! It’s on such an interesting topic too (I read your Atlas Obscura article, and I love how Social Darwinists totally twisted hairiness in their favour – like, yeah, hairiness is totally a sign that a race is closer to apes, unless it’s on a white man, because I said so). It sounds like a useful book – not quite on the same topic, but when I was doing my Master’s (almost a decade ago now, yikes!) I wanted to write a paper on the importance of the wig in 18th century society for one of my classes, but couldn’t find a single secondary source to use (and couldn’t be bothered to try to cobble something together from all primary ones) – so I think any books relating to the history of the body are great!
March 18, 2018 at 5:55 pm
Thank you! And thanks for reading the AO article! Yeah, the comments made by Social Darwinists were pretty ridiculous. Too bad your 18th century wig paper didn’t work out, but there’s definitely more research out there now if it’s a topic you ever want to return to. Some secondary sources I’ve consulted include Victoria Sherrow’s Encyclopedia of Hair, and Richard Corson’s Fashions in Hair. I agree – history of the body is fascinating and I’m glad it’s been getting more attention. I’m almost finished with that book you mentioned – Victorian’s Undone. I had to put it down because I needed to edit my chapter, but I intend to finish it and post a review soon!
March 19, 2018 at 7:42 am
I highly doubt I’m going to start writing academic papers for fun any time soon, but it’s good to know that there’s more information out there. And to be fair, there might have been secondary sources a decade ago, just not ones that were available at my university library (and I was way too lazy to go to go all the way to the British Library and check. I actually just had a look to see what I ended up writing about instead, because I couldn’t remember, and it was apparently 18th century London through the writings of Tobias Smollett and John Gay. Not as interesting as wigs). I look forward to hearing your thoughts on Victorians Undone!
March 21, 2018 at 9:48 pm
Yeah, academic papers are not exactly fun. I prefer writing for a popular audience but an academic friend discovered this opportunity and it would have killed me to not be a part of it. As for sources, I understand – my program has a great decorative arts/design library but I had to go to NYPL for most of my general history sources. Agreed, that doesn’t sound quite as interesting as wigs haha. As for Victorians Undone, of course the Darwin’s beard chapter is my favorite, but more on that soon!