Grease and Sweat: Race and Smell in Eighteenth-Century English Culture

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From 1690 to 1800 texts printed in England linked racial di erence and foul odour through understandings of occupation, food, cosmetics and sweat. Even by the end of the eighteenth-century racial odour was represented as a labile, culturally and environmentally determined characteristic. This article traces how the social ‘use’ of olfactory stereotypes, particularly their links with cosmetics, food, and odorous spaces, determined the mobilization of explanations for and attitudes to racial scent. It argues that ideas of race should not be considered monolithic or described in terms of narratives that posit a divide between the body/culture, but that racial stereotypes should be understood as collections of traits, of which smell was one, with distinctive histories.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)307-322
JournalCultural and Social History
Issue number3
Early online date4 Jul 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • race
  • embodiment
  • smell
  • senses
  • sweat
  • cosmetics


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