Introduction: Infertility in History: Approaches, Contexts and Perspectives

  • Tracey LoughranEmail author
  • Gayle Davis


This Introduction argues that historical scholarship offers a vital corrective to present-minded assumptions about infertility, which often conflate the experience of infertility with the effects of reproductive technologies. Infertility is as old as recorded history, and yet for the most part its history remains unwritten. This neglect stems partly from difficulties in defining infertility. Medicalized definitions often hide political and structural issues that affect how infertility is researched. This problem is compounded by the secrecy, shame, and silence that has often surrounded infertility in past and present societies. Historians must develop creative techniques for locating and reading surviving evidence of infertility. Historicized perspectives can alter our understandings of four topics central to studies of infertility in contemporary societies: medicine and reproductive technology, kinship, stratified reproduction, and gender. Even more importantly, newly historicized understandings of infertility can help sufferers to understand and to exert increased control over the condition.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HistoryUniversity of EssexColchesterUnited Kingdom
  2. 2.School of History, Classics and ArchaeologyUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghUnited Kingdom

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