This Mortal Coil: The Human Body in History and Culture

ISBN : 9780199599035

Fay Bound Alberti
304 ページ
156 x 234 mm

To many people the idea that 'the body' has its own history might sound faintly ridiculous. The body and its experiences are usually seen as something that we share with people from the past. Like 'human nature', it represents the unchanging in a changing world. Bodies just are...But the body does have a history. The way that it moves, feels, breathes, and engages with the world has been viewed very differently across times and cultures. For centuries, 'we' were believed to be composed of souls that were part of the body and inseparable from it. Now we exist in our heads, and our bodies have become the vessels for that uncertain and elusive thing we call our 'true selves'. The way we understand the material structure of the body has also changed radically over the centuries. From the bones to the skin, from the senses to the organs of sexual reproduction, every part of the body has an ever-changing history, dependent on time, culture, and place. This Mortal Coil is an exploration of that history. Peeling away our assumptions about the unchanging nature of the human body, Fay Bound Alberti takes it apart in order to put it back anew, telling the cultural history of our key organs and systems from the inside out, from blood to guts, brains to sex organs. The understanding of the 'modern body' she reveals in the process is far removed from the 'eternal' or timeless object of common assumption. In fact, she argues, its roots go back no further than the sixteenth century at the earliest - and it has only truly existed in its current form since the nineteenth century.


Introduction: The Body in Parts
1 Getting it Straight: Spines, Scoliosis and the Hunchback King
2 Beauty and the Breast: from Paraffin to PIP
3 'Country Matters': The Language and Politics of Female Genitalia
4 'Soft and Tender' or 'Weighed down by Grief:' The Emotional Heart
5 Mind the Brain: From 'Cold Wet Matter' to the Origin of Thought
6 From Excrement to Boundary: Rethinking Skin
7 Tongue-Tied? From Nagging Wives to a Question of Taste
8 Fat. So? Gut Knowledge and the Meanings of Obesity
Conclusion: Towards Embodiment
Further Reading


Fay Bound Alberti is a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow and Senior Research Fellow in History at Queen Mary University of London, having taught previously at universities throughout the UK, including Manchester, UCL, and Lancaster. A founding member of the Centre for the History of Emotions, she has written extensively in the fields of history, medical history, and women's history, including Matters of the Heart: Locating Emotions in Medical and Cultural History (2010), also published by Oxford University Press, which was shortlisted for the Longman History Today book of the year award. She is also an experienced philanthropy advisor who has worked as Head of Philanthropy for the Arcadia foundation and Head of Medical Humanities Grants for the Wellcome Trust.