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Despite the social sciences’ growing fascination with tattooing — and the immense popularity of tattoos themselves — the practice has not left much of a historical record. And, until very recently, there was no good context for writing a serious history of tattooing in the West. This collection exposes, for the first time, the richness of the tattoo’s European and American history from antiquity to the present day. In the process, it rescues tattoos from their stereotypical and sensationalized association with criminality.
The tattoo has long hovered in a space between the cosmetic and the punitive. Throughout its history, the status of the tattoo has been complicated by its dual association with slavery and penal practices on the one hand and exotic or forbidden sexuality on the other. The tattoo appears often as an involuntary stigma, sometimes as a self-imposed marker of identity, and occasionally as a beautiful corporal decoration.
This volume analyzes the tattoo’s fluctuating, often uncomfortable position from multiple angles. Individual chapters explore fascinating segments of its history — from the metaphorical meanings of tattooing in Celtic society to the class-related commodification of the body in Victorian Britain, from tattooed entertainers in Germany to tattooing and piercing as self-expression in the contemporary United States. But they also accumulate to form an expansive, textured view of permanent bodily modification in the West.
By combining empirical history, powerful cultural analysis, and a highly readable style, this volume both draws on and propels the ongoing effort to write a meaningful cultural history of the body. The contributors, representing several disciplines, have all conducted extensive original research into the Western tattoo. Together, they have produced an unrivalled account of its history. They are, in addition to the editor, Clare Anderson, Susan Benson, James Bradley, Ian Duffield, Juliet Fleming, Alan Govenar, Harriet Guest, Mark Gustafson, C. P. Jones, Charles MacQuarrie, Hamish Maxwell-Stewart, Stephan Oettermann, Jennipher A. Rosecrans, and Abby Schrader.