Instructor: Professor Danielle Kinsey

Maud Wagner

In the early 1900s, Maud Wagner (shown in the image) achieved fame in the U.S. by exhibiting her own body and tattooing others.  She performed in circuses and vaudeville acts and was seen as something of a “freak” on the fringes of “normal” society. How does her body and her career reflect the society she lived in?

Description: This course asks two questions: how have ideas about the body changed over time and cultural setting? And how can historians study ideas about the body to find out about politics, society, and culture in a given historical context? We will explore the “History of the Body” as both a topic and a methodology, using examples from (mostly) Western history. The course will be divided into a series of weekly online modules built around the history of particular body parts: bones, eyes, stomachs, the Devil’s Anus, wombs, skin, penises, blood, legs, and so on.  One week we will look at the history of “bones” by examining ossuaries and cemeteries in European history opposite debates about the repatriation of bones and museum collections today.  Another week, we will discuss “legs” by looking at public attitudes towards disabled World War One veterans, wheelchairs, and masculinity in interwar Europe.  The goal of the course is not to fetishize certain body parts (like the bazillion serial killer shows on television) but to explore how we can understand changes in hierarchies and the human condition by examining society from the perspective of the body.  In other words, by historicizing attitudes about the body, as well as resistance to these attitudes, we will be studying the development of ideas about class, race, gender, sexuality, religion, empire, the nation, technology, and, above all, ableism.

Format: this course will be delivered completely online through cuLearn. Because every student will be expected to participate in weekly online discussions and weekly modules will only become available shortly before they begin, you cannot complete the entire course in a few days. It will be up to each student to manage their own weekly schedules for when they will view the online material, do the assigned readings, participate in online discussion, complete weekly quizzes, and work on the other assignments.  If you are the sort of student who always struggles to get things done on time and requires a lot of reminding to finish your assignments, this course may not be right for you. Students who are comfortable with cuLearn, searching the internet, and the computing world, in general, might find that they are well-suited to taking an online course. Seriously consider these points before registering.  My standards for this course are the same as my face-to-face third-year history courses: students will be expected to read both primary and secondary historical sources, thoughtfully discuss ideas with peers, engage with lecture material, do research, and write essays.  I expect students to put in the same amount of time and effort into this online course as they would face-to-face courses.

Evaluation: students will be expected to view/read/listen to all required material within the course (including academic articles, primary source readings, movies, images, podcasts, and websites), complete quizzes on the week’s material, participate in weekly group discussions, complete journal entries, a short project proposal, a 7-8 page research paper, and a do-at-home final exam (which may consist of short or long answer questions).

Readings for the course will be made available online; there will be no textbook to purchase.