Going to the beach for a vacation is a common, but relatively recent, practice. Throughout most of history, the seashore was a place to be feared, with sea monsters, pirates, and destructive storms. The people that lived and worked there knew different, but they didn’t think of the beach as a treat, either. How did all that change? Historian Alain Corbin fills us in.
Around the mid-18th century, according to Corbin, European elites began touting the curative qualities of fresh air, exercise and sea bathing. Especially in Britain, home of the Industrial Revolution, aristocrats and intellectuals became preoccupied with their own health and hygiene. They viewed workers, whose numbers were multiplying in factories and new industrial towns, as strengthened through labor. By comparison, the upper classes seemed fragile and effete: lacking in physical prowess and destined for decline. The notion of the “restorative sea” was born. Physicians prescribed a plunge into chilly waters to invigorate and enliven. The first seaside resort opened on England’s eastern shore in the tiny town of Scarborough near York. Other coastal communities followed, catering to a growing clientele of sea bathers seeking treatment for a number of conditions: melancholy, rickets, leprosy, gout, impotence, tubercular infections, menstrual problems and “hysteria.” In an earlier version of today’s wellness culture, the practice of sea bathing went mainstream.
The view of the beach as a restful, restorative place took some time to spread to other places and classes. But there have been consequences of our fascination with beach getaways, both culturally and environmentally. Read about the history of beach vacations at Smithsonian. -via Boing Boing