PhD candidate in History of Science, Harvard University
2023 to 2024
The Finishing Touch: Cleaning and Feeling Modern American Bodies, 1890-1970
Some of the most iconic and ubiquitous retail commodities of the modern age—detergents, soaps, lotions, deodorants, perfumes, cosmetics—also serve in regimens of personal bodily care. The rise of personal care, both as an intimate practice and as a flourishing business, serves as a nexus of commerce, technology, hygiene, and notions of the modern self. In the 20th century United States, cleanliness took on greater private and public urgency through the technologies that allowed unprecedented manipulation of its experience. In this dissertation, I offer three case studies that each explore a technology of manipulating the form and perception of clean. For manufacturers, advertisers, psychologists, and consumers alike, cleanliness and personal care rituals were a space to investigate, profit from, grapple with, and even find pleasure in, the fragility of the ancient bare human body amidst what was feared to be an increasingly commodified, technologized, and polluted world.