Department of History and Sociology of Science
University of Pennsylvania
2015 to 2016
Surface and Self: Science and the Social Economy of Skin in the Twentieth Century
The central project of this dissertation involves identifying the dynamics of different social configurations and experiences of skin in the twentieth century—from a boundary organ to a mirror of overall health, and from site of regulation of industrial production to the target of scientifically-oriented consumer culture. Using both material objects and textual sources drawn from popular journalism, consumer advertising, and printed and archival material from biochemists, physicians, and dermatologists, my work seeks to capture historical shifts in how people understood the skin as an organ and managed both its routine care, minor blemishes, and diseases. In doing so, this dissertation explores how human skin was involved in questions of personal identity, cultural meanings of beauty, in addition to military planning, scientific consumer culture, and state welfare regulation.