What do ancient Romans and New York Yankees have in common? Clean shaves. Explore the growing cultural significance of beards with this great infographic. (Advanced Dermatology)
How did hair influence and inform culture in ancient Rome, anyway? We took a time machine to get the “word on the via.”
Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit, and be sure to check out the great thesis on “The Culture of Beards in Shakespeare.”
- The Advanced Dermatology article says “facial hair is ‘in’ right now.” Is it? Do a survey: How many teachers, fathers, brothers, friends, and other men known by members of your class have some sort of beard? Use this phrenology-friendly map of facial geography to chart what types of beards you encounter—mutton chops to goatees.
- There aren’t as many beardies as you’d think here at Nat Geo. Most of our bearded explorers are out exploring and our executives are clean-shaven.
- The infographic focuses on the history of beards in Western Europe. What do you think facial hair signifies or might have signified in the history of other civilizations? (This has “great term paper” written all over it.)
- Eastern Europe? Read about that time Peter the Great declared war on beards in Russia.
- the Maghreb? This article outlines the significance of beards in the Arab world.
- sub-Saharan Africa? Former South African President Kgalema Motlanthe is one of few sub-Saharan African leaders who wears a beard.
- China? Here is an interesting article on the “beard movement” in Chinese dance.
- the Indian subcontinent? Here are Filmfare’s “12 Best Bollywood Beards.” (We love Bollywood.)
- Australia? Here’s a beautiful photo of an Aboriginal Australian with the most beautifully kept beard you’ve ever seen.
- the Americas? Indian Country Today reports that “Do Native Americans have body hair?” is one of the most ridiculous search terms about Native Americans. (And “ridiculous” is being generous.)
- Take a look at the infographic. How have beards historically reflected cultures and attitudes about masculinity?
- Ancient Egypt: All hair on men was seen as a low-class sign of animal tendencies.
- Mesopotamia: A beard’s length and style signified a man’s class and power.
- Ancient Greece: Beards were a sign of wisdom and masculinity.
- Germanic Tribes: As soldiers could not cut their beards until they had killed an enemy or avenged a defeat—according to Roman sources, at least—beards could signify failure or cowardice.
- 20th-century America: Beards were adopted by young men of the 1950s and 1960s to signify cultural resistance. The contemporary beard may signify “rugged masculinity, environmentalism, and rebellion against 9-to-5 office jobs.”
- Think about other ways men modify their bodies to reflect cultures and attitudes about masculinity. How have meanings changed across time and geography for these body modifications? Does significance change depending on the ethnicity and class of the person engaging in the body modification? (It might be a good time to think about cultural appropriation here.)
- hairstyles. Think about the significance of dreadlocks, queues, or payot—the famous Hasidic side-curls. Think about the ways men have colored and altered the texture of their hair. (It’s true, Bob Ross did not have naturally curly hair.)
- tattoos. Think about the significance of “tribal” tattoos, scarification, or “prison ink.”
- piercings. Think about the significance of pierced ears, noses, or tongues.
Advanced Dermatology: The Cultural Significance of Beards
Rachael Warmington, editor-in-chief, Watchung Review: “The Culture of Beards in Shakespeare”
The Afternoon Map: Mapping the Facial and Spacial Geography of the Beard
Nat Geo: Word on the Via: Tryphosa (interview with an ancient Roman hairdresser)
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