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A young patient's rotted teeth, due to poor dentistry, are revealed at London's Friern Hospital (previously known as the Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum) circa 1890–1910.

Project (2018-)

A Global History of Human Teeth

Much has been written on the history of dentistry but not as much has been written on the history of the human teeth. The first aim of this project will be to explore the limits of global history when applied to the constituent parts of the body. I propose that human teeth are endowed with cultural values and political meanings that could serve to produce a different global history of exchanges and resistances. On the one hand, I will explore non-Western representations and practices regarding teeth, including Chinese, Japanese, and also Middle Eastern. This will give me the opportunity to question the alleged universality of some of the most prominent emotions involved in the surgical care of Western teeth: from fear to resignation. On the other hand, I will consider the influence, syncretism, and penetration of Western practices in both Latin and North America.

As individual and material objects, human teeth have travelled as religious and lay relics, mainly from the East to the West. Their cultural signification has also been subjected to their traffic and visual exploration. Their knowledge was present in early ethnographical and anthropological questions. Though placed in the human jaw, individual teeth also have a life of their own. Their history falls within many different categories and involves a great diversity of representations. I will explore in detail both the traffic of this precious part of the human anatomy as well as the production and distribution of false teeth.