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 concepts of sexual orientation, intersexuality, and transsexuality in the twentieth-century. In addition to secondary sources, we will analyze primary sources (texts and images) to explore how bodies were thought, talked about, and imagined.
Sandra Eder is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History.