FYS-193 Cultural Perspectives on the Body

Instructor: Professor Barbara A. Sommer
Department: History

Course Description:
This seminar explores the human body in multiple cultural contexts around the globe and through time. While all human beings share an essential physicality, each society understands and relates to the body differently. Tattooing, scarification, and piercing are ancient practices that have gained popularity in the U.S. recently, yet their meanings have changed dramatically in the process. Some societies fatten up, while others slim down. Some modify the shape of particular body parts, such as flattening the cranium, while others use special clothing and adornment to display their social identity. Yet the differences go beyond what meets the eye. We will study theories of conception and personhood, race and gender categories, punishment and surveillance, and the post-mortem body. Students will be encouraged to think creatively about a subject that is both personal and public, as they ponder larger social and ethical problems.