The Myth of the One-Sex Body – Katharine Park, 22 November 2021

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Monday 22 November 2021, 15:00 (CET), Sala del Capitolo, Badia Fiesolana, hybrid mode

Speaker: Katharine Park (Harvard University/Villa i Tatti)

In Making Sex (1990), Thomas Laqueur argued for a dramatic shift in Western medical understandings of sex difference circa 1800, falsely claiming that prior to this period, women were generally understood as imperfect men; their genitals trapped inside their bodies by their lack of complexional heat. In fact, the period before 1800 saw the co-existence of multiple traditions relating to genital anatomy and function, in which Arabic medical compendia played an important role, although largely ignored by Laqueur. Only one of these, which was written by the eleventh-century medical author Ibn Sina, transmitted without significant modification Galen’s speculative account of the genital homologies in On the Use of Parts. This was not translated into Latin until the early fourteenth century and played no part in the development of Latin European understandings of sex difference before then. Even after that point, interest in the inside/out model of the genitals was only specific to the late medieval surgical tradition. Elaborated by two sixteenth-century surgeons, Jacopo Berengario of Carpi (in Latin) and Ambroise Paré (in French), it was moribund in learned European medicine by 1600, although it continued to flourish for several decades in vernacular medical and non-medical literature as it invited the explicit discussion of sexual practices. In short, unable to read Latin, Laqueur was forced to cobble together his account using texts available in English translation, specifically Galen’s On the Use of Parts, Berengario’s Brief Introduction, and Paré’s On Monsters and Prodigies. Ignoring the 1300-year gap between Galen and the two early modern surgical writers, he assumed strict continuity between them. In this way, he recapitulated the teleological master narrative underpinning the early historiography of Western science and medicine, which was heavily invested in ignoring the Arabic medical tradition, to instead establish a tight continuity between ancient Greek medical ideas and early modern and modern European medicine.

This event is jointly organised by the History of Science and Medicine Working Group and Queer and Feminist Studies Working Group.

To register for on-site participation or to get a zoom link, please register with Zoe Lauri.

Categories: EUI Events, LGBTIQ WG