Rebekka von Mallinckrodt
»Man entsage dem Betruge der misgeleiteten Vernunft; […] so wird man sehen, daß man schwimmen kann.« – Schwimmpraktiken und -debatten im 18. Jahrhundert
This article deals with practices of and debates on swimming in late 18th century Europe. In contrast to the dominant view in recent historiography, which is still informed by the foundation myth of the Enlightment as a period of new departures, here the »invention« of bourgeois swimming is perceived in distinction from already existing practices rather than as something entirely new. Contemporary debates show a deep doubt about the human ability to swim that led towards the construction of swimming machines as an alternative to swimming by oneself. Therefore, there were different and even competing »progressive« ways of dealing with the dangers of water. Finally, discussions about the establishment of the first European swimming school in Paris in 1784 demonstrate interests and conflicts that revolved around issues of traffi c, the military and the economy rather than focussing on hygienic and medical questions that have taken center stage in historical research so far.