What is the History of the Body?
One day Colloquium: 14th March 2014, Institute for Historical Research
In an essay published in an edited collection in 1991, Roy Porter called for historians to turn their attention to the body. In a revised edition of the collection ten years later, he was satisfied to see that many different researchers had answered his call: “Body history [had] become the historiographical dish of the day.” More than ten years later, this colloquium asks if the history of the body has finally come of age.
What is the history of the body? Many historians have pointed out that “the body” is a worryingly broad historical theme, covering topics as diverse as anthropometrics, dancing, gesture, clothing, sexuality, gender, childhood, animals, ageing, death, illness, class, food, sport, and spirituality. Everything and anything is related to bodily experience, and it is tempting to suggest that what is needed is not a history of The Body, but a history of bodies. Yet, despite the array of apparently independent topics that relate to the body, there are connections to be drawn. As the medical anthropologist Anne-Marie Mol has pointed out, in practice “the body “is more than one – but less than many.” Somehow, different representations and experiences of the body “hang together.”
This colloquium will focus on questions of how bodies have historically achieved this. We invite proposals for papers focusing on case studies with wider implications for how historians understand what the history of the body is. Did people at different times in different places have bodies that hung together in the same ways? How have the roles of gestures, sports, dance, and clothing changed over time? What fundamental changes to experiences of the body can be traced through the nutritional revolutions of recent times? What effects do secularization and religious revivals have on how bodies are used? We particularly invite postgraduate and early career researchers, and papers that make contributions to the conceptualization of the history of the body and questions of spatial and temporal continuities and differences.
The colloquium will take place on Friday 14th March 2014 at the Institute of Historical Research. Professor Douglas Haynes (Dartmouth College) and Shrikant Botre (University of Warwick) will give a plenary talk on sexuality in western India.
Proposals for 20 minute papers should be sent to Kate Imy (Rutgers) and Will Pooley (University of Oxford) at email@example.com by 12th Januuary 2014.
Supported by the Modern European Research Centre of the University of Oxford and the Institute of Historical Research.
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