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Narrating the Body. New Perspectives on the Connection of Corporeality and Narrativity (c. 1500–1800)

The international and interdisciplinary symposium in cooperation with the SNSF Ambizione Research Project „Corporeal Optimization in Early Modern Europe” brings historians and literary scholars into dialogue about the connections between corporeality and narrativity.

Narrating the Body. New Perspectives on the Connection of Corporeality and Narrativity (c. 1500–1800)

Since the 1980s the human body has received increased attention in the Humanities. The linguistic turn of the 1990s and the material turn of the 2000s have further increased the interest for the body, which has come to be seen as a cultural construction, though its materiality still matters. Multiple disciplines such as gender, historical, or literary studies have been using different approaches to the body as a heuristic instrument. Bringing them together, improves our skills in analyzing the influence of the body on several levels, ranging from content and materiality to writing practices and formations of subjectivity.

The symposium invites scholars to reflect upon the intersections of corporeality and narrativity. We are interested in a number of questions, as for example the following ones: Which role did the body play when writing (i.e., concentration, agility, capability, dis/ability, imagination, tacit knowledge, sight, reason etc.)? How did this materialize? How did the body influence the narrative about the body and the author? To what extent did these aspects vary depending on gender, age, or socio-economic, confessional, and other cultural factors, such as level of education, language, or environmental causes. Which tropes about the body were typical for the early modern period, albeit less common or less conceptualized than those of melancholics, barbarians, the noble savage etc.? Furthermore, in which ways did people not only write with but on their bodies? How did such signs (tattoos, scarifications, beauty spots, raggeries, and other temporal paintings) alter the ways in which a body was read?

Then on a methodological level, we ask, how we can trace the physical in the sources. Additionally, what approaches are most apt to grasp the ways in which the author’s body forms the text and its narrative and how the latter shapes the author’s body and/or the image it draws thereof? In short, the symposium aims at examining the interplay between corporeality and narrativity.


Thursday, 08 June 2023

Jan Blanc (Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, University of Geneva): Opening Message

Vitus Huber (University of Geneva): On Influences and Interdependences of Corporeality and Narrativity: An Introduction

Session 1: The Power of Narratives
Chair: Martin Rueff (University of Geneva)

Sarah Toulalan (University of Exeter): “Childish folly:” Representing Sexual Acts Among Children in Seventeenth-Century Pornography

Effie Botonaki (University of Thessaloniki): “Fraile” Bodies Writing and Disrupting Life-Narratives

Coffee Break

Benjamin Steiner (University of Munich): Body and Power: Narratives of the Body in Early Modern Political History


Session 2: Autobiographic Writing
Chair: Frédéric Tinguely (University of Geneva)

Andreas Würgler (University of Geneva): Narrating her Life as an Amazon: Katharina Franziska von Wattenwyl’s Mémoire (1714)

Stanis Perez (Université Sorbonne Paris Nord): “Mon ame ne prend autre alarme que la sensible et corporelle:” Les Essais de Montaigne en tant qu’autobiographie corporelle

Coffee Break

Session 3: Women’s Bodies
Chair: Christine Weder (University of Geneva)

Sonia Wigh (University of Exeter): “Delicate lips, wicked words:” Exploring Female Physiognomy in Early Modern South Asia

Nadine Amsler (University of Fribourg): The Pregnant Body in the Letters of Empress Maria Theresia to Maria Beatrice d’Este


Chair: Marie Houllemare (University of Geneva)

Lyndal Roper (University of Oxford): The Body of the Peasant and the Story of the Peasants’ War 1524–1526


Friday, 09 June 2023

Session 4: Narrating Vulnerability
Chair: Taline Garibian (University of Geneva)

Micheline Louis-Courvoisier (University of Geneva): Sensation, expression, transmission du symptôme: la puissance du langage dans la médecine du 18e siècle

Nicole Nyffenegger (University of Bern): Shakespeare’s Skin Narratives and the Stage

Coffee break

Session 5: Colonial Narratives
Chair: Guillemette Bolens (University of Geneva)

Robert Folger (University of Heidelberg): Somatic Writing and Colonial Semiosis in Colonial Latin America: The Case of Diego de Landa

Aldair Rodrigues (State University of Campinas): Conflict Readings of African Body Markings in the Colonial Archive (Brazil, 18th Century)

Final Discussion


Vitus Huber
University of Geneva
E-Mail: vitus.huber@unige.ch