Conference: "Bloodwork: the Politics of the Body 1500-1900"
May 6 and 7, 2011 at the University of Maryland, College Park
Sponsored by the Center for Literary and Comparative Studies,
Department of English
Ralph Bauer, Kimberly Coles, Zita Nunes, Carla L. Peterson
This conference will explore how conceptions of the blood‹one of the
four bodily fluids known as humors in the early modern period‹permeate
discourses of human difference from 1500 to 1900. "Bloodwork" begins
with the assumption that the concept of "race" is still under
construction and that our understanding of the term would profit through
an engagement with its long, evolving, history. Specifically, it asks
how fluid transactions of the body have been used in different eras and
different cultures to justify existing social arrangements.
Recent scholarship has opened up the question of the continuities and
discontinuities between early modern and modern rationalizations of
human difference. In early modern England, "race" commonly referred to
family lineage, or bloodline, and relied upon pervasive notions of what
were believed to constitute the properties of blood. The anxieties
anatomized in Thomas Elyot's Boke named the Governour (1537) about the
degradation of "race", or the corruption of noble blood, describe the
physical technologies by which virtue both physical and moral‹was
thought to be conveyed through bloodlines. Daniel Defoe's later satire
"A True-Born Englishman" (1708) echoes this rationale for difference.
The language of his poem not only insinuates the crossover of the term
"race" from family lines to national groups, but also supplies evidence
that both kinds of racial ideology‹whether affirming social hierarchy or
national superiority rest upon the invisible qualities of the blood. In
late eighteenth-century Anglo-America, Thomas Jefferson invokes such
notions as "White," "Indian," and "Negro" blood in order to suggest an
essential difference between what he calls "the races," a difference
that he sees as "fixed in nature," thereby anticipating modern racialism.
A comparative conference such as ours, that is trans-historical and
transnational and draws literary critics and historians of cultures on
both sides of the Atlantic world, will make a significant contribution
to this ongoing debate about the "invention" of race.
Jennifer Brody, Department of African and African American Studies,
Michael Hanchard, Department of Political Science, Johns Hopkins University
Ruth Hill, Department of Spanish, Italian & Portuguese, The University
Mary Floyd-Wilson, Department of English, University of North Carolina
at Chapel Hill
- How does blood rationalize bodily difference in the period in which you work?
- How is blood used as a metaphor in your period? How is it contested?
- How‹and why‹is the idea of blood transforming? How does it operate in the body?
- What are the physical technologies of the body and how are these
pressed into the service of difference? Conversely, how is the
rationalization of bodily difference embedded in "scientific" discourse?
- Is religious difference figured in cultural or somatic terms?
- Does the body have a moral constitution?
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