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22 Mar 2007

Rise and Shine – a social history of humans and sunlight

Rise and Shine cover

Rise and Shine cover

When we don’t get enough, it can lead to depression; when we get too much it can lead to skin cancer. Pale is unhealthy; bronzed is healthy, or so we think. But why do we think that?

The many ways that humans relate to sunshine, past and present, can be found in new research published by Open University sociology lecturer Dr Simon Carter in a book titled Rise and Shine: sunlight, technology and health.

There has been little scholarly analysis of the sun and its place in our lives and yet it’s an important part of our material and social culture, as any visit to a chemist or travel agent during the summer will bear witness to. However, our current relationship to the sun has only existed for little more than a hundred years. Dr Carter has delved into the past to show us a unique history of humans and sunlight.

“My research starts from a time when the sun’s rays were thought to cause illness, insanity and degeneracy to Europeans exposed to its power and how these ideas about sunlight were used to justify a colonial status quo. In the first half of the twentieth century our relationship to sunlight began to change quickly with its use as a potential cure for rickets and tuberculosis, and even to times when architects sought to build the sun’s rays into people’s living and working spaces,” Dr Carter said.

“Our relationship to sunshine has evolved rapidly over the past 100 years to a point where we are again becoming concerned about the dangers of sunlight while at the same time being drawn to its pleasures. A history of sunlight reveals these changing attitudes to our bodies and our environments.”

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