<image src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2010/7/20/New_Image.JPG" alt="tourist poster" />

Andy Croll recommends some summer reading

It’s that time of year again. Put down your history books for a couple of weeks, slap on the sun cream and head for the beach. Think again! Here’s some good news for you. You can take some history books with you next time you head for Barry Island.

As all good history students know everything has a history. This even goes for a space as apparently ‘natural’ as a beach. The Beach: The History of Paradise on Earth (1998) by Lena Lencek and Gideon Bosker is a wonderful reminder that the beach is in fact a social and cultural artefact – it has a history that changes over time.

If lying on a beach can seem like a timeless experience (surely people in every age have enjoyed frolicking in the waves on a hot summer’s day?) read about the ‘beach phobia’ that gripped medieval society, ponder the rediscovery of the beach that took place in the eighteenth century and consider the changing ways in which the beach has been experienced in the intervening two centuries – from a place of recuperation for the sick and weakly to a site of pleasure.

The Beach is longue durée history that will make you appreciate afresh an everyday phenomenon. You’ll never be able to don your swimming costume again without thinking about how much beach attire has changed – in just the last one hundred years.

From a formal three-piece suit in the Edwardian period to skimpy Speedos in just half a century – the speed with which we’ve exposed ever larger areas of flesh to the sun and to the gaze of strangers is another remarkable indicator of just how much the way we experience the beach – and our bodies – has been transformed over time.

So, pack your sun cream, swimming costume – and The Beach – and enjoy your summer holiday!

Andy Croll