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Level 7

7AAH2006 The Body and Society in Early Modern Europe

Credit value: 20
Module convenor/tutor 2019/20: Professor Laura Gowing
Teaching pattern : 10 x 2-hour weekly seminars 
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
Assessment: 1 x 4,000-word essay
Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand: there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years.

This course takes the history of the body as a way into studying early modern society and culture. In the period 1500-1800 medical discourse, moral reform, popular culture and collective identities shaped a distinctively pre-modern body. The balance of fluids and humours was a constant concern, determining health. Body and mind, or soul, were profoundly interconnected; heartbreak was not just a metaphor. Posture and gesture were the tools of power, and the reform of  manners ranged from spitting to sexual morals; by the end of our period, in many ways, the body was more private. Constructs of sex and race were in the process of invention. Body knowledge was local, transnational and imperial.

This module brings together perspectives from social, cultural, medical and gender history, together with a range of original sources, to examine the changing relationship between bodies and their social and cultural context. It highlights early modern Britain and Europe, but also includes material on early America and the Caribbean. Topics will include civility; race; popular medicine; plague and pox; sexuality; the senses; and reproduction. Some primary sources will be provided (in English, but not modernised)

Suggested introductory reading

This is suggested reading and purchase of these texts is not mandatory

Laura Gowing, Common Bodies

Margaret Pelling, The Common Lot

Mary Lindemann, Medicine and Society in early modern Europe 

Empire of the Senses: The Sensual Culture reader ed David Howes (several key pieces)

Hillman and Mazzio, The Body in Parts (essays, many of which are very useful)

Gail Kern Paster, The Body Embarrassed

Mary Fissell, Vernacular Bodies

Thomas Laqueur, Making Sex (a must-read)

Faramerz Dabhoiwala,  The Origins of Sex 

Burton and Loomba, Race in early modern England (collection of documents with excellent introduction)


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