“Damaging the Body”: New Seminar Series

We may think that the idea of “damage” to the physical body is self-evident, but countless historical, anthropological and social studies have indicated that concepts of damage emerge through a variety of concerns. An ongoing seminar series, funded by the Wellcome Trust, explores such questions from both medical, cultural and individual perspectives. How, the seminars ask, are such modern categories as self-harm, addiction and cosmetic body modification constructed in relation to ideas of body, mind and self? By presenting these topics from a historical perspective, this seminar series encourages reflection on medical and non-medical concepts of damage, which, it will be argued, cannot be regarded as a natural category. The very term “damage” is problematic and unstable, and often defies definition.

The first seminar takes place at the Wellcome Library this evening, at 6pm. Historian Åsa Jansson will discuss the way in which the concept “suicidal” emerged in the mid-nineteenth century, and was differentiated from “suicide” itself. How did Victorian asylum psychiatrists determine “suicidal” as a medical concept, and what was its perceived relation to the diagnosis of “melancholia”? Further seminars, in April and May, will give similarly challenging perspectives on changing models of alcohol harm, and debate around “vitriol” (acid) throwing in Victorian Britain. Two further panel sessions in London and Bristol will encourage increased debate in the topic. On 21 May in London, the anatomical specimens of the St Bartholomew’s Hospital Pathology Museum will provide an intriguing background to the topic of the relation of the “foreign body” to the human body: anatomically, surgically and in individual experience. In Bristol,on 28 June, a panel of experts will offer varying perspectives on the way in which ideas of “eating disorders” are, and have been, expressed in gender-specific terms.

For full details of seminars, and to join the mailing list to receive full details of the panel sessions when available, visit the Damaging the Body website. All events are free of charge.

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