European bodies

Posted on April 28, 2010


I use Thomas Laqueuer’s Making Sex to frame my discussion of the European tradition of thinking about sex. While I only require two chapters, I make reference to others in my own lectures. By asking students to consider how external genitalia could be understand as evidence for one sex at one point in history, and for two distinct sexes at another, I continue the work begun with Fausto Sterling’s book of questioning the grounding of fixed sex categories in “natural” biological facts.

Laqueuer’s book also works beautifully as a way to consider the interplay of texts and images in advancing ideas, something that I ask students to apply throughout the course in relation to art history, history, and archaeology.

The individual articles for the student panels contrast bioarchaeological research with documentary history. The focus of these three very different articles is on daily practices at the level of the individual in intimate relationships: with family members, friends, and close community members. Ideally, students will start to think about these different kinds of social relationships as structuring sex/gender.

A major issue that always comes up concerns questions about methodology: as an interdisciplinary course, it is common to have some students with specific disciplinary training and others who do not know how, for example, a bioarchaeologist can establish lifestyle influences on bone health. I use these articles less to talk about the facts– although I will bring those back into the conversation later– and more to talk about methods.


Laqueur, T. 1990: Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press: Chapter 4, 5.

Articles discussed by individual student panels:

Agarwal, S., M. Dumitriu, G. A. Tomlinson, and M. D. Grynpas 2004: Medieval trabecular bone architecture: the influence of age, sex, and lifestyle. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 124:33-44.

D’Emilio, J., and Freedman, E. B. 2002: “Family Life and the Regulation of Deviance” Pp. 141-165 in Sexualities in History, Kim Phillips and Barry Reay, eds. New York: Routledge.

Smith-Rosenberg, C. 1983 (orig 1975): “The Female World of Love and Ritual: Relations Between Women in Nineteenth-Century America” Pp. 27-55 in The Signs Reader, E. Abel and E. K. Abel, eds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.