Identifying the differently humoured
in Bodies complexioned
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To trace the persistence of bodily discrimination based in humoralism, this chapter turns to advertisements for wanted persons. By the mid-eighteenth century not only English cities like Bristol and Norwich, but also Edinburgh and Dublin, Boston and Philadelphia, had newspapers whose readers drew upon and continued to feed London’s press. Serial publication of advertisements made possible an information dragnet which people used to locate offenders, fugitives, and the missing. Examining these notices in series allows us to witness physical discrimination at work on a daily basis. We can reconstruct lines of sight, establish the most commonly drawn bodily contrasts, and evaluate their contemporary meaning for ordinary folk. Using a custom-built database indexing some 23,600 physical descriptions, the chapter shows how distinctions on the basis of somatic variation were clearly being drawn much earlier but the resulting patterns are unfamiliar. We can explain their peculiarity once we understand their reliance on humoral typing. This typing was traditionally concerned with questions of health and social status, and it was a process of categorising appearances which usually relied on a number of somatic signs even as skin coloration was gradually becoming the single most important marker for establishing difference.

Bodies complexioned

Human variation and racism in early modern English culture, c. 1600–1750


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