The Early History of Cleanliness in America

Document Type



Religion (CGU)

Publication Date



Arts and Humanities | History | United States History


The historical study of common people has also brought us in recent years to a study of the commonplace. The revived interest in Norbert Elias's History of Manners, originally published in 1939 and after nearly forty years of neglect translated into English and reprinted in 1978, suggests how our sense of the historical has enlarged to include the most pedesterian conduct. Elias's analytical structure gave broad signifiance to eating with a fork, using napkins, blowing the nose, spitting, and elimination. In a review in the New York Review of Books, Keith Thomas complimented Elias on his analysis of those mundane matters and went on to suggest important behaviors still to be treated: laughter and weeping, clothes and the treatment of body hair, and cleanliness.

Rights Information

© 1988 Organization of American Historians