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Lecture by Elisabeth Mansén about Swedish Spas

Nov 05, 2021 | 04:00 PM - 06:00 PM
The Spa of Sabbatsberg, Stockholm, Sweden. Watercolour by Josabeth Sjöberg, artist and spa guest, 1856. Stockholm City Museum

The Spa of Sabbatsberg, Stockholm, Sweden. Watercolour by Josabeth Sjöberg, artist and spa guest, 1856. Stockholm City Museum

Elisabeth Mansén. Photograph: Jonas Ellerström

Elisabeth Mansén. Photograph: Jonas Ellerström

A Paradise on Earth. Utopian Aspects of Swedish Spas and Watering Places 1680–1880

Spa culture in Sweden was dependent on complex processes of cultural transfer, influenced by medical networks, overseas travel, and international guests. Nevertheless, Swedish spas soon developed a national character, inspired by chemist Urban Hiärne and physician Carl Linnaeus, tying it close to nature. The spa was presented as a utopian society allowing unconventional interaction between the sexes and between different social classes. Spa guests could experiment with ideas connected to the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, not only with notions of nature, reason, utility, health, happiness, science, medicine, sensibility and the five senses but also with ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity – even the rights of women – at least for a couple of weeks during the short Swedish summer. Spa culture was supposedly a part of the healthy country life, sometimes even religiously motivated by references to a paradise on earth.

Elisabeth Mansén is Professor of the History of Ideas, Stockholm University, Sweden. She has published extensively on the history of Swedish spas and is the author of the book Ett paradis på jorden. Om den svenska kurortskulturen 1680-1880 (A paradise on earth. On the Swedish spa culture, 1680-1880) (Stockholm: Atlantis 2001).