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Hampf: Tomb, Temple, Machine, Self: American Concepts of the Body from Enlightment to the 20th Century

HS 32422(Magister):

Tomb, Temple, Machine, Self: American Concepts of the Body from Enlightenment to the 20th Century.


(Di 10-12, max. 30 Teiln.) JFKI, Raum 203


In this class we will examine the social and cultural history of the body in America from the 19th century to the present and analyze its impact on the social construction of gender, sexuality, and self. The human body, which had been described by late eighteenth century physician Benjamin Rush as “a minute fabrick, a Centre of Wonders”, became the site of intense debates around issues such as prostitution, hysteria, obscene literature and pornography as well as homosexuality and solitary sex. These discourses not only defined sexual identities and gender roles, but also shaped the institutions of the State, tested democracy, and questioned the values and vision of America. Preachers, prostitutes, journalists, feminists, union bosses, free-thinkers, medical doctors, and judges alike led the discussion on sexual matters representing different visions of class, gender, race and ethnicity in their struggle to define what is right or wrong, what is healthy or sick, what is newsworthy or not, and what is defined as legitimate or obscene in the larger society. Why did the relationship between the individual body, rising industrial capitalism and the newly emerging social system become so problematic? In which ways did solitary sex, hysteria, obscenity, prostitution and homosexual desire become major threats to patriarchal society at exactly the same time that it defined the new technology of sex and of the modern self?

Requirements: Regular participation in class and online, presentation of research project in class, 20-page research essay

Reading: A course pack will be made available at the beginning of the semester. Sources and additional read­ing will be provided through the e-learning platform Blackboard.

Introductory literature:

Thomas Laqeur, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud, Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1990.

Stoff, Heiko, Diskurse und Erfahrungen. Ein Rückblick auf die Körpergeschichte der 90er Jahre. 1999. 1999; 14(2): 142-160.

Lorenz, Maren, Leibhaftige Vergangenheit. Einführung in die Körpergeschichte. Tübingen, 2000, 15-41.