Undoubtedly, the rise of body history from the late 1980s was strongly connected to the cultural and linguistic turns. The cultural turn paved the way for an attention to human behaviour in daily life, including illness, health, and sexuality, while the linguistic turn stimulated historians to study representations of gender and the body in symbolic practices, images, and discourses. The latter shift to the representation of the body led to a wealth of studies on the historical framing of diseases such as tuberculosis, hysteria, and anorexia, but also on the construction of gendered bodies and individual body parts, such as the skin or the vagina These studies have revealed the body as so much more than a natural, biological entity and have given us insight into the historically variable meanings projected onto bodies. They have demonstrated how the body is often used (or abused) by political ideology, how difference is attached to bodies, but also how the body is made productive, especially in the modern era. In short, the history of the body has been a fruitful lens through which to approach not only social and cultural history, but also history writing more broadly. As Roger Cooter notes, the ‘somatic turn’, which was strongly connected with the postmodern linguistic turn, discussed more than just the body as a discrete object of enquiry: ‘The “somatic turn” (of which body history was a part) was broadly a means to explicate and illustrate how concepts and categories like “the body” and practices like “history” served to naturalize, rationalize and cohere a reality that was increasingly felt by many late twentieth century intellectuals to be fragmented.’ Cooter argues that the corporeal turn problematized an essentialist view of the body, just as it critiqued the modernist notion of objective, coherent history writing.
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Dr. Willemijn Ruberg
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