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This Mortal Coil: The Human Body In History and Culture

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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.

Table of Contents

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

Author: Alberti Fay Bound
Pages: 289
ISBN: 9780199599035
Cover: Hardback
Edition Number: 1
Release Year: 2016

Fay Bound Alberti is a Reader in History and UKRI Future Leaders Fellow at the University of York. She is a TED speaker and has published widely on medicine, the body, gender and emotion in books and scholarly articles as well as in the media. She has taught at universities around the UK including UCL, Lancaster, Manchester, and York.

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