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Sean Trainor

Graduate Student

McNeil Center for Early American Studies (dissertation fellow, 2013-2014)
University of Pennsylvania
3355 Woodland Walk

Philadelphia , PA 19104

Curriculum Vitae

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  1. Doctoral Candidate in Dual-title Women's Studies & History Program
  2. MA, Pennsylvania State University, 2011
  3. BA, The George Washington University, 2007


“I am an historian of the early American republic with an interest in the intersection of labor, popular culture, and the body. My dissertation examines the history of men’s grooming – shaving, hair-cutting, beard- and wig-wearing, as well as the use of hair tonics, dyes, and restoratives – in the urban United States between the turn of the nineteenth century and the American Civil War. The project is both a cultural history of practice and a labor history of the body. It looks at how grooming practices and their meanings changed over time: at the movement of shaving from the public space of the barber shop to the privacy of the home, the explosion of beard-wearing, and the implication of these and other developments in the making and re-making of ideas about race, gender, and class.

But it also considers how different kinds of work and production – from the labor of English razor makers to that of African-American barbers and white women’s fashion writers – shaped the cultural and material landscapes in which these transformations occurred. In doing do, the project situates men’s grooming in larger histories of capitalism. It points to the increasingly far-flung networks of labor and capital required to perform even the most everyday tasks in the nineteenth-century United States, as well as the peculiarly ‘modern’ set of economic and social institutions surrounding men and their hair. Rooted in decentralized production, service labor, ‘branding,’ advertisement, and the cultivation of consumer affiliation, the marketplace of nineteenth-century men’s grooming, I argue, anticipated many features of twenty-first century capitalism.

Taken as a whole, the project shows how the meanings of men’s hair were negotiated by both the middle-class white men who commented most extensively on the subject of grooming and the working-class men and women who performed the labor required to enact middle-class grooming standards. It also points to the prominent role of grooming and conversations surrounding men’s hair in producing new ideas of white, middle-class manhood: ideas increasingly rooted in violence and white supremacy.

Additional interests include cultural biography, celebrity in the early republic, nineteenth-century popular sciences (or ‘pseudosciences,’ as they are more often called), and quantitative methodologies. I also have a strong interest in teaching and pedagogy. I’ve served as a teaching assistant for a wide range of introductory courses, including surveys of US and European history, as well as the history of the American Civil War. For the 2013-2014 academic year, I will be in residence at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania as a McNeil Center Consortium Fellow.”

Recent Publications:

“Fair Bosom/Black Beard: Facial Hair, Gender Determination, and the Strange Career of Madame Clofullia, ‘Bearded Lady,’” Early American Studies 12 (Fall 2014), forthcoming.

“The Racially Fraught History of the American Beard,” The Atlantic (online edition), January 20, 2014.

“A Risk and a Smile, For Neither a Penny: Peddlers, Barbers, and Early Models of US Service-Sector Exploitation, 1800-1860,” Organization of American Historians (OAH), Atlanta, GA, April 10-14, 2014.

“The Beard Goes to War: Men’s Grooming and the American Civil War,” Society of Civil War Historians (SCWH), Baltimore, MD,
June 12-14, 2014.

Awards and Service:

McNeil Center Consortium Dissertation Fellowship, McNeil Center for Early American Studies, University of Pennsylvania (2013-2014)
Kate B. and Hall J. Peterson Short-Term Fellowship, American Antiquarian Society (2013)
Filson Short-Term Fellowship, The Filson Historical Society (2013)
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Short-Term Fellowship, Library Company of Philadelphia (2012)


19th Century US


Hair: A History of Men’s Grooming in the United States, 1789-1865

Research Interests:

Cultural History, Body History, Gender and Sexuality, Class and Capitalism, Early American Republic, Urban History, Fashion and Appearance, Popular Science, Consumer Culture.
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