HIST 3120 O - History of the Body

Web course

The ways in which the human body has been viewed, interpreted, controlled, tended, healed, exercised, measured, pleasured, clothed, and reproduced to create representations of social, political, and cultural relationships. Regions and periods will vary.(Field e). Prerequisite(s): a 2000-level history course or third-year standing and 1.0 credit in history.

This course will be divided into a series of weekly online modules built around the history of particular body parts: bones, stomachs, the Devil’s Anus, facial scars, hair, wombs and breasts, skin, penises, blood, legs, eyes, heads, and hearts.

One week, for example, we will look at the history of “bones” through examining case studies about the creation of ossuaries (places where skeletal remains are kept) in late-medieval Europe opposite debates about the repatriation of bones and museum collections today. Another week, we will examine the politics of hair in Revolutionary France, Haiti, and USA, opposite controversies today about identity and hair length, colour, and straightness. In a module on “legs,” we will discuss public discourse about disabled ex-soldiers after World War One, the history of wheelchairs, and contested ideas about male roles in society in interwar Europe.

The goal of the course is not to fetishize certain body parts (like an episode of that creepy TV show Criminal Minds) but to explore how we can understand changes in hierarchies and the human condition over time by examining society from the perspective of the body. In other words, we will be historicizing attitudes about the body and in doing so, we will be studying the development of ideas about class, race, gender, sexuality, religion, empire, the nation, technology, and, above all, ableism.

CRN for section O: 12943

Instructor: Danielle Kinsey

Danielle Kinsey

About the instructor: Growing up in Calgary, I was never interested in the history of one particular nation. Many of my friends weren’t born in Canada and I could see how faraway places could hold sway over people’s lives. Devoting myself to the study of a single national framework seemed inauthentic. But if I wasn’t going to write the history of a nation, what kind of history was I going to write? So began my intellectual journey to find other ways to approach the past. It has led me down many pathways, but one in particular has become a passion: the history of the body. At first I dismissed it as only medical history, but it is so much more than that: how we feed ourselves, clothe ourselves, move, see, love, hurt one another, what we breathe, how we work, and who does which job. The body is everywhere –- from reproduction to foodstuffs, from prison systems to warfare.

In my course, I break down the topic into the history of various body parts - bones, eyes, stomachs, and so on. Each part allows us to approach the history of the body from a different angle. In the eyes unit, we discuss how meanings of blindness have changed over time; in stomachs, we consider the history of food. A major theme in the course is ableism and how the definition and meaning of the “able-bodied” versus the “disabled” have changed over time. I love teaching this course because every historical subject has a body angle to it, you just have to discover it!

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For more information, please contact: 613.520.4055 or email CUOL at cuol@carleton.ca