Currently reading : Anthropometamorphosis: Man Transform’d, or the Artificial Changeling.
Anthropometamorphosis literally means ‘humanity-changing’ and this exceptional book is thought to be one of the first studies in comparative cultural anthropology. Published in 1653 the book heavy emphasises on looking at how humans around the world were modifying their bodies in the then present and past.
The author John Bulwer is best known for pioneering and practicing the importance of educating deaf people following the outbreak of the English Civil War but he also wrote this fascinating book thought to be one of the first books ever dedicated to body modification.
However this very rare book looks at a wide range of modificatory practices such as tattooing, piercing, binding, shaving, scarification and branding throughout the world. It also focused on how differing parts of the body such as the head, limbs, genitals, facial features and hair and how they can be transformed through an abundance of excellent woodcut illustrations.
The main body of the text consists of 23 sections, of which 15 are concerned with deformations or modifications to the head or face. Bulwer’s paints a pretty monstrous account of body modification constantly referring back to how unnatural it is. Although there was no direct comparison to Bulwer’s contemporary political situation his begrudging attitude of the self fashioning suitably aligns itself with the broader political transformations of the English seventeenth century.
Bulwer’s aim, according to the full title, is to expose the “mad and cruel gallantry, foolish bravery, ridiculous beauty, filthy fineness, and loathsome loveliness of most nations, fashioning & altering their bodies from the mould intended by nature”. Bulwer describes in detail how people around the world artificially modify their appearance, noting that every nation has a “particular whimzey as touching corporall fashions of their own invention.”
Besides from its political context the illustrations alone are fascinating as an understanding of how accurate they are (which they probably aren’t) will be difficult to decipher. You can have a look through some of our favourites below.