The history of the body as a separate field was shaped in the 1980s and 1990s. This new attention to the body has been variously referred to as the corporeal, bodily, or somatic turn. Before this corporeal turn, historians had, as the French medievalist Jacques le Goff put it, written the histories of men (and to a lesser extent, women) ‘without bodies’, that is histories of disembodied people’s thoughts and ideas The body in history had mostly been discussed by historians of medicine, who, however, assumed the body to be an unchanging biological entity. It was the British historian Roy Porter who first provided an overview of the new history of the body in 1991, in a volume edited by Peter Burke that distanced itself from a more traditional history focused on the ‘objective’ reconstruction of political events. The new history, by contrast, was concerned with socio economic, cultural and political dimensions, an analysis of structures and daily life ‘from below’, all of this based on an interdisciplinary analysis of a variety of primary sources and keen to present opposite viewpoints Within this new perspective, Porter addressed the history of the body, remarking that so far this had been neglected because both the classical and the Judeo-Christian traditions held a dualistic division of man, privileging mind over body. However, Porter pointed to many developments, both in academia and in society, which had stimulated greater attention for the body, also among historians: Marxism, the work of Russian philosopher and literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin, the French Annales historians, cultural anthropology, sociology and medical sociology, feminism, historical demography and the impact of AIDS These factors had led historians to write about, for instance, the history of pain, hysteria, sexuality and beauty.
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Dr. Willemijn Ruberg
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