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Living by InchesThe Smells, Sounds, Tastes, and Feeling of Captivity in Civil War Prisons$
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Evan A. Kutzler

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781469653785

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: January 2021

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469653785.001.0001

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Bite and Be Damned!

Bite and Be Damned!

(p.61) Chapter Three Bite and Be Damned!
Living by Inches

Evan A. Kutzler

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter shows how lice shaped the feeling of captivity in Civil War prisons. The organizing idea—non-human historical agents are significant to human history—is common in animal histories; however, it is often missing from scholarship on the Civil War era. Yet lice mattered to Civil War prisoners. Initial feelings of lice assaulted prisoners' conceptions of themselves as civilized men. Over time, the inescapability of prison lice and other vermin pushed prisoners to soften antebellum prejudices against these insects—and people infested with them. It also led to the popularization of public self-care performances of delousing that projected hygiene in unclean environments. Reimagining the louse as a participant, a trickster of sorts, reveals a new historical force and exemplifies the importance of looking beyond the human/nonhuman divide. Lice first made prisoners cringe, then laugh, and this should make historians think about what was lost and gained in the process.

Keywords:   lice, vermin, masculinity, humour, hygiene, self-care

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