The Embodied Senses (symposium)

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This was a spring 2017 symposium led by Laura Gowing, Mark Jenner and Bruce Smith.

“Things,” wrote Montaigne, “are sensed through the understanding, understood through the senses.” However, the nature, value, and reliability of sensory experience was a constant preoccupation in early modern culture. Debates about its character and the extent to which it can be expressed and communicated continue to this day. A growing body of recent scholarship seeks to historicize precisely what the senses do offer; this symposium considers ways to reconstruct how early modern people lived, felt, and sensed their way through life. Contributions are sought from those working on and developing all the ways of thinking about the embodied senses, sensory embodiment, and the evocation and reconstruction of sensory perception between c.1500 and c.1750. Relevant intellectual fields and approaches include early modern natural philosophy, religion, neuroscience, performance theory, selfhood, habitus, and re-enactment; artistic creation and performance (including a variety of media); modes of encounter with the world (including touch, infection, erotics, and eating); forms of expertise relating to the senses (including commerce, midwifery, healing, service, and technology); and sensory reception and retrieval (including seeing, hearing, reading, remembering, and feeling).

Organizers: Laura Gowing is Professor of Early Modern History at King’s College, London, and author of Domestic Dangers: Women, Words, and Sex in Early Modern England (1996); Common Bodies: Women, Touch and Power in Seventeenth-Century England (2003); and recent articles on demeanor and bed-sharing. Mark Jenner is Reader in Early Modern History at the University of York. His research focuses on ideas of cleanliness and dirt in early modern culture. His publications include the co-edited collections Londinopolis (2000) and Medicine and the Market in England and its Colonies c.1450-c.1850 (2007) and articles on smell, taste, and pollution. Bruce Smith, Dean’s Professor of English at the University of Southern California, is the author of seven books, including The Acoustic World of Early Modern England (1999), The Key of Green: Passion and Perception in Renaissance Culture (2009), and Shakespeare | Cut: Rethinking Cutwork in Distracted Times (forthcoming).