Testing the Limits of the Gendered Body: Extreme Corporeal Experiences in Modernity (long 18th and 19th centuries).

Dear colleagues,
Please find below a call for contributions for a symposium at the 11th European Society for the History of Science Conference (ESHS Barcelona 4-7 Sept 2024):
Testing the Limits of the Gendered Body: Extreme Corporeal Experiences in Modernity (long 18th and 19th centuries).
Nuns that survived only on breathing air, mesmerized people that underwent surgery without feeling pain, “hunger artists,” fakirs, Houdinian escapists, and other freaks of the spectacle; explorers, divers, climbers; spiritists, self-experimenters, and testers of drugs: a motley crew that put their bodies to the limit in the name of religion, science, honours, self-esteem or business. Indeed, the list can be sundry and lengthy. However, all these people have at least two things in common. First, the idea, the hope perhaps, that their will, their sang-froid, their exhausting training, their knowledge, or their faith will help them. Second, a close sense of being observed, of having their public, as the fascination that these cases arose was discussed in convents, plazas, journals, and scientific venues alike.

It is precisely the tension between these two poles, the intimate struggles in their tormented bodies and the public gaze of the spectacle that interests us, as the boundaries between the normal and the extraordinary, life and death, human and non-human, science and fraud, future and past and the subconscious and the rational, are tested and questioned, embedded in a gendered body.

We seek papers that examine how the body and its limits become matters for empirical experimentation with a gender approach. How did these people perceive the working of their senses, mind, emotions, will, etc. in these extreme conditions? How did they negotiate the public reception of their experiences in scientific and public spaces? What were the rhetorical devices that they used and how did they deploy their witnesses? Which technologies and objects were involved? How different were these experiences in male and female bodies and their public displays?
We invite contributions based on case studies that can address (but not limited to) the following issues:
– The construction of self-extreme gendered mind/bodily experiences
– The gendered narrative of testing body limits
– Self-experimenters in extreme bodily conditions
– Technologies and objects used to test these gendered limits
– Public/scientific gendered reception and controversies

Submission guideline
Abstracts should be at most 250 words long (with bibliography)
Please attach a short biography highlighting your academic background and research interests (50 words max.)
Submissions should be emailed to:
The deadline for submissions is 18 November 2023.

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