Sexing the Body: Medical and Scientific Conceptions of Gender and Sexuality

HISTORY 103D.002

Fall 2015
107 Mulford
Day & Time: 
W 2-4P
This seminar will examine how physicians and scientists have sought to explain sex, gender, and sexuality. We will focus on how their concepts of the human body have shaped definitions of masculinity, femininity, and sexual identity over time. Throughout the course, we will use specific examples and case studies to highlight the relationship among medicine, science, and their cultural context. The course focuses on America but takes into account the transnational nature of medical and scientific theories. The seminar starts with less familiar concepts such as the humoral body, influential in Western medicine well into the 1800s, and students will discuss the shift from a one-sex to a two-sex model in eighteenth-century medicine and science. Other topics include sex-specific diseases such as “hysteria,” the medical attention to hermaphroditism and sexual inversion in the late nineteenth-century, the making of male and female sex hormones in endocrinology, explanations of sex determination in terms of chromosomes, and new conceptualizations of sexual orientation, intersexuality, and transsexuality in the twentieth-century. In addition to secondary sources, we will analyze primary sources (texts and images) to tease out how bodies were thought, talked about, and imagined.
Sandra Eder is a gender historian of 20th century U.S. history. Her research explores how notions of sex, gender, and sexuality emerge within medicine and science. Her current book project investigates the formulation of the concepts of gender and gender identity in mid-20th century clinical practice. In this medical history of gender, she utilizes patient files to show how gender became a new and separate concept from sex at the intersection of a specific clinical context and a particular American understanding of social roles in the 1950s.  Dr. Eder completed her PhD at the Institute for the History of Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University. 

Course Books

Herculine Barbin: being the recently discovered memoirs of a nineteenth-century French hermaphrodite by Foucault, Michel Vintage. ISBN: 978-0394738628 Required