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Introduction

  • Kimberly Anne Coles
  • Ralph Bauer
  • Carla L. Peterson
  • Zita Nunes
Chapter

Abstract

Social scientists, historians, and literary historians have struggled to explain why group identity and group difference were so often mapped onto the human body in pre-modern and early modern times, when biology was not yet available as an explanatory model; nonetheless, it is clear that the articulation of systems of social discrimination through a language of the body predates the emergence of biology as a science. The Cultural Politics of Blood surveys 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. In gathering this collection of essays, we explore how medical theory, at different points in Western history, has supported fantasies of human embodiment and human difference that serve to naturalize hierarchies already in place. We begin with the assumption that one of the most enduring and controversial signifiers of difference, namely that of “race,” is still under construction today and that our understanding of the term would profit through an engagement with its long, evolving, history. The essays here interrogate how fluid transactions of the body have been used to justify existing social arrangements over four hundred years in England and Spain and in the Anglo- and Ibero-Americas.

Keywords

Sixteenth Century Humoral Theory Early Modern Period Human Difference Mechanical Philosophy 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 2.
    Bartlett, The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization, and Cultural Change, 950–1350 (Princeton University Press, 1993), 197.Google Scholar
  2. For the counter-argument, see Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, “On Saracen Enjoyment: Some Fantasies of Race in Late Medieval France and England,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 31 (2001), 113–46; 115–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Much of the argument put forward in this section has already been rehearsed by David Nirenberg in his excellent essay, “Was there Race before Modernity? The Example of ‘Jewish’ Blood in Late Medieval Spain,” in The Origins of Racism in the West, ed. Miriam Eliav-Feldon, Benjamin Isaac, and Joseph Ziegler (Cambridge University Press, 2009), 232–64; particularly 233–6.Google Scholar
  4. See also, Nirenberg, “Race and the Middle Ages: The Case of Spain and Its Jews,” in Rereading the Black Legend: The Discourses of Religious and Racial Difference in the Renaissance Empires, ed. Margaret Greer, Walter D. Mignolo, and Maureen Quilligan (University of Chicago Press, 2007), 71–87.Google Scholar
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  6. 4.
    The introductions to a number of collections published in the 1990s importantly stressed the diversity of meanings in early modern race, as well as its cross-section with understandings of region, nationality, religion, and gender. Most of these, however, emphasized race as a cultural understanding rather than an embodied term. See Margo Hendricks and Patricia Parker (eds), Women, “Race,” and Writing in the Early Modern Period (London: Routledge, 1994).Google Scholar
  7. Joyce Green MacDonald (ed.), Race, Ethnicity, and Power in the Renaissance (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1997); The William and Mary Quarterly 54.1 (Winter 1997), special edition, “Constructing Race: Differentiating Peoples in the Early Modern World.”.Google Scholar
  8. 5.
    There have been three recent (or recent enough) monographs that consider the humoral basis of early modern race in England: see Roxann Wheeler, The Complexion of Race: Categories of Difference in Eighteenth-Century British Culture (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Mary Floyd-Wilson, English Ethnicity and Race in Early Modern Drama (Cambridge University Press, 2003).Google Scholar
  10. Jean Feerick, Strangers in Blood: Relocating Race in the Renaissance (University of Toronto Press, 2010).Google Scholar
  11. 7.
    Ania Loomba and Jonathan Burton make this point at the start of their documentary companion, Race in Early Modern England: A Documentary Companion (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 1.Google Scholar
  12. 9.
    See Gail Kern Paster, The Body Embarrassed: Drama and the Disciplines of Shame (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993), 194.Google Scholar
  13. 10.
    Ibid., 215–80. See also, Rachel Trubowitz, “‘But Blood Whitened’: Nursing Mothers and Others in Early Modern Britain,” in Maternal Measures: Figuring Caregiving in the Early Modern Period, ed. Naomi J. Miller and Naomi Yavneh (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000).Google Scholar
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    See, as an example, Jaques Guillemeau, Child-birth, or The happy deliuerie of vvomen (London, 1612), “The nursing of children,” Ii4v. Laurent Joubert asserts in his Popular Errors the extreme view that the milk of the wet-nurse exceeds the influence of parents’ sperm in its influence on the infant’s humoral complexion; he therefore likens the selection of a wet-nurse to that of a wife in that her “ancestry, [her] blood, and [her] conduct” must be researched in order “to have the best lineage possible” (see Popular Errors [c. 1578], trans. Gregory David de Rocher [Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1989], 193).Google Scholar
  15. 19.
    Jennifer DeVere Brody, Impossible Purities: Blackness, Femininity, and Victorian Culture (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998), 3.Google Scholar
  16. 20.
    Eckhard Kessler, “The Intellective Soul,” in The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy, ed. Charles B. Schmitt et al. (Cambridge University Press, 1988), 503.Google Scholar
  17. 21.
    Philip Melanchthon, Liber de anima, in Opera quae supersunt omnia, ed. Carolus Gottlieb Bretschneider and H. E. Bindeil, 28 vols (HalleBraunschweig, 1834–60), XIII. col. 16: “Anima rationalis est spiritus intelli- gens, qui est altera pars substantiae hominis, nec extinguitur, cum a corpore discessit, sed immortalis est. Haec definitio non habet physicas rationes, sed sumpta est ex Sacris literis” (quoted in Kessler, “The Intellective Soul,” 517).Google Scholar
  18. 22.
    See Sachiko Kusukawa, The Transformation of Natural Philosophy: The Case of Philip Melanchthon (Oxford University Press, 1995), 91–2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 24.
    Angus Gowland, The Worlds of Renaissance Melancholy: Robert Burton in Context (Cambridge University Press, 2006), 42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  21. 27.
    Timothy Bright, A Treatise of melancholie (London, 1586), iiir. That Bright seeks to counter this apprehension situates his work within the wider cultural debate that was taking place not only in England but also in continental Europe. Bright’s treatise is fairly unique in terms of its Platonic situation of these arguments, driven by his own inclination toward Calvinism. While William Perkins and other English Calvinists devote a good deal of time and ink to trying to drive a wedge between soul and body (in an attempt to recuperate spiritual crisis as an instrument of God in no way connected to the body or to the humoral excess of melancholy), Bright is isolated as a medical theorist who advances the position. (Even in his reliance upon Bright in his later Anatomy of Melancholy, Robert Burton does not reproduce this argument; his section on “religious melancholy” is a case-in-point.) The rehearsal of all of the arguments and actors in this debate is impossible, but Dennis Des Chene provides an excellent overview. See Life’s Form: Late Aristotelian Conceptions of the Soul (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000), particularly chapter 4; see also, Kessler, “The Intellective Soul,” in The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy, 485–534.Google Scholar
  22. 28.
    Intellectual historians such as Angus Gowland and James Hankins have recently argued that belief itself—the excess, defect, or lack of religion—was apprehended and understood largely in terms of temperament in the latter part of the sixteenth century, although the initiation of such thinking, and the theory upon which sixteenth-century Christian physicians directly draw, is derived in the fifteenth. See Gowland, The Worlds of Renaissance Melancholy, and “The Problem of Early Modern Melancholy,” Past and Present 191 (2006); and Hankins, “Monstrous Melancholy: Ficino and the Physiological Causes of Atheism,” Laus Platonici philosophi: Marsilio Ficino and his influence, ed. Stephen Clucas, Peter J. Forshaw, and Valery Rees (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 25–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 33.
    Thomas Wright, The Passions of the Minde (London, 1601), 6; emphasis added.Google Scholar
  24. 34.
    Garrett Sullivan, Sleep, Romance and Human Embodiment: Vitality from Spenser to Milton (Cambridge University Press, 2012), 137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 37.
    While Descartes accepted William Harvey’s theory that blood circulated, he did not accept Harvey’s account of the heartbeat, forceful systole. Whether this misunderstanding on the part of Descartes was an actual or willful one is an open question. But Harvey’s account of circulation appealed to Descartes because it allowed for a single motion of the heart to be the source of all motions in the body by particle to particle transfer—that of muscle, veins, glands, and spirits. There was no need, then, for secondary causes or other faculties. For an account of this, and how Harvey’s theories concerning blood influence Descartes, and are circulated by him, see Roger French, “Harvey in Holland: Circulation and the Calvinists,” in The Medical Revolution of the Seventeenth Century, ed. Roger French and Andrew Wear (Cambridge University Press, 1989), 46–86, 50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Kimberly Anne Coles, Ralph Bauer, Zita Nunes and Carla L. Peterson 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kimberly Anne Coles
  • Ralph Bauer
  • Carla L. Peterson
  • Zita Nunes

There are no affiliations available

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