The Body and Identity (EASM154)

StaffDr Corinna Wagner - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15.00
NQF Level7
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This module aims to understand how cultural, medical and social shifts in the modern era gave rise to debates about the human body, identity, and the relationship between mind and body. Our interdisciplinary study will involve a variety of texts and genres: alongside novels and poetry, we will examine medical writing, memoirs and journalism. Since we will be interested in the various representations of the human body --  gendered, diseased, criminalized or sexualized  -- this course will include a substantial visual component (paintings, graphic satire and caricatures). We will supplement our study of these visual and verbal texts with critical readings, focusing particularly on the work of Michel Foucault. One of our key aims in this module will be to investigate how conceptions of the body were (and continue to be) intimately tied to questions surrounding gender, politics and power. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the gendered body, the monstrous body and the racially-differentiated body came under intense scrutiny and dissection (literally and figuratively). Enlightenment thinkers and Victorian scientists were keen to identify the bodily origin of such things as passion, virtue, violence, and those impulses that threatened a productive and morally-ordered society. This legacy continues: the central component of the civilising offensive (to use Norbert Elias’s phrase) is to categorize and define the nature and function of the human body. This area of investigation, which fascinated eighteenth- and nineteenth-century writers, artists, philosophers and scientists, continues to generate profoundly impassioned debates in literary studies and social and cultural history.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Demonstrate a detailed knowledge of a variety of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century texts, including journalism, poetry, novels, political propaganda, scientific treatises and visual art.
  • 2. Demonstrate an advanced knowledge of researching a variety of literary and other media from the eighteenth-century using physical and electronic resources
  • 3. Demonstrate an advanced critical understanding of some of the key themes, topics and debates surrounding the nature of the human body and the relationship between mind and body
  • 4. Engage effectively in significant critical debates concerning such related issues as gender politics, racial categorization, the ethics of medicine, etc
  • 5. Demonstrate an advanced capacity to apply historical and cultural knowledge to aesthetic criticism

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 6. Demonstrate a sophisticated and intellectually mature ability to analyse the literature, film and art of the modern era and to relate the concerns and modes of expression expressed in such genres to historical context
  • 7. Demonstrate an advanced and autonomous ability to interrelate texts and discourses specific to their own discipline with issues in the wider context of cultural and intellectual history
  • 8. Demonstrate an advanced and autonomous ability to understand and analyse relevant theoretical ideas, and to apply these ideas to literary and visual texts
  • 9. Demonstrate an advanced ability to digest, select, and organise interdisciplinary material and to trace the development of debate across disciplinary boundaries.
  • 10. Demonstrate an ability to devise, research, and execute a programme of archival research.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 11. Through seminar work and presentations, demonstrate advanced communication skills, and an ability to articulate their views convincingly both individually and in groups
  • 12. Through essay-writing, demonstrate advanced research and bibliographic skills, an advanced and intellectually mature capacity to construct a coherent, substantiated argument and to write clear and correct prose
  • 13. Through research for seminars, essays, and presentations demonstrate an advanced proficiency in information retrieval and analysis
  • 14. Through research, seminar discussion, and essay writing demonstrate an advanced and intellectually-mature capacity to question assumptions, to distinguish between fact and opinion, and to critically reflect on their own learning process.
  • 15. Through organizing and planning for an interdisciplinary research project, demonstrate independence of thought and confidence in developing ideas and formulating initial questions

Syllabus plan

Week 1: Introduction to Bodies in Art History: viewing of paintings engravings and caricatures by Goya, Henri Fuseli, Caspar David Friedrich, William Blake, James Gillray and others; introduction to methodologies, online research resources, and archives


Week 2 & 3: Mind, Body and Monstrosity (Swift, Locke, Descartes, Foucault, Canguilhem)


Week 4 & 5: Sexuality and Confession Bodies (Rousseau, Foucault)


Week 7: Sexuality and the Body (Winterson)


Week 8: Illness, Disability (Burney, Martineau, Weir)


Week 9 & 10: Psychology and the Body (Zola, Lombroso, Foucault)


Week 11 & 12: Race, Criminality and Gothic Bodies (Marsh, Galton, Nordau)

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled 20seminars
Guided independent100seminar preparation (independent)
Guided independent180reading, research and essay preparation

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Presentation on Research 1515 minutes1-5, 6-10,11 and 13Cohort feedback via seminars
Research Report 252500 words1-10, 12-15Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up
Essay605000 words1-10, 12-15Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Presentation on Research Repeat study or mitigation1-5, 6-10,11 and 13Referral/deferral period
Research ProjectResearch Project1-10, 12-15Referral/deferral period
EssayEssay1-10, 12-15Referral/deferral period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Core Reading

Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, (OUP, 2005)

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Confessions ed. Patrick Coleman, Angela Scholar (OUP, 2008)

Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality (vol. 1)

Harriet Martineau, Life in the Sick-room (Broadview, 2003)

Jeannette Winterson, Sexing the Cherry (Vintage, 1989)

Emile Zola, La Bete Humaine (The monomaniac) (OUP, 2009)

Richard Marsh, The Beetle (Broadview, 2004)


Secondary Reading 

Thomas Laqueur Making Sex (Harvard, 1992)

Georges Canguilhem, The Normal and the Pathological (Zone Books, 2007)

Eds. Laura Lunger Knoppers, Joan B. Landes, Monstrous Bodies/Political Monstrosities in Early Modern Europe (Cornell, 2004)

Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (Vintage, 1995)

Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality: An Introduction, vol. 1 (Vintage, 1990)

The Body, ed. Donn Welton, (Blackwell, 2004)

Barbara Maria Stafford, Body Criticism: Imagining the Unseen in Enlightenment Art and Medicine (MIT, 1993)

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Other resources

Bill Douglas Centre Special Collections Reading for week 1: Gulliver's Travels

Available as distance learning?


Last revision date

June 2013

Key words search

Enlightenment, Romantic, medical humanities, body, visual culture