Early Modern Embodiment (seminar)

For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

This was a spring 2004 semester seminar.

Over the past twenty years, scholars have investigated a wide range of issues regarding early modern representations of gender, status, race, and sexuality. As was appropriate for new fields of study, much of this work tended to focus on one or two discrete axes of identity-homoeroticism, for instance, or gender and nationhood-or to treat several modes of embodiment sequentially and independently. This seminar continued to explore the ways in which embodiment was experienced, represented, and imagined through ideologies and practices of gender, marriage, reproduction, and kinship; labor, rank, status, and violence; religious, political, ethnic, and national affiliation; health and sickness, pleasure and desire. Rather than respecting established conceptual parameters, however, we were guided throughout by the question: how do these various modes of embodiment interact, both in representation and lived experience? To what extent, for instance, do gender, status, and race together affect the expression of erotic desire? Can scholars speak simultaneously of classed and racialized sexualities? How did the labor one performed, along with the threat of sickness or violence, affect one's pursuit of bodily pleasure? In addition to analyzing literary, medical, and/or visual representations-chosen by seminar participants from their own research projects-participants engaged with historiographic and methodological questions: How do we know eroticism when we see it? To what extent is it possible to gain access to the material practices of sex? What kind of "evidence" of social practices are medical books, political satire, pastoral painting, or the language of bawdy?


Director: Valerie Traub is Professor of English and Women's Studies at the University of Michigan. She is the author of The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern England (2002), Desire and Anxiety: Circulations of Sexuality in Shakespearean Drama (1992), and coeditor of Feminist Readings of Early Modern Culture: Emerging Subjects (1996).