Boundary Stones in the Body: Kidney, Bladder and Gall Stones as Markers of Early Modern Concepts of the Human Body and Its Relations with the Outside World, 1525-1675

01 October 2015 → 30 September 2018
Regional and community funding: Special Research Fund
Research disciplines
  • Humanities
    • History
Project description

How did early modern Europeans make sense of painful and uncanny bodily excretions? Rather than dismissing such afflictions as a nuisance to be eliminated by the ‘life sciences’, pre-modern patients had many options to make illness meaningful. Over the past decades historians have shown that bodily experience involved medical, natural-historical, scientific, and religious approaches. We can now go further: how did medical, philosophical and religious discourses interrelate in concepts of the body and its interactions with the outside world? This project contributes to understanding early modern ideas of embodiment and its implications, by studying the omnipresent affliction of bladder, kidney and gall stones. Building on recent work aiming to restore ‘cultural coherence’ to bodily experience (Park 2006, Touber 2013), I will chart how the perception of body stones shifted between living and lifeless matter; between intestinal physiology, celestial influences, and divine intervention. I focus on the period 1525-1675, when both the study of nature and religious experience changed drastically; and on two confessionally divergent areas, the northern Low Countries and Italy, to appreciate the impact of religious diversity on bodily experience. In a sequence of 3 subthemes (medical, natural historical, religious) I will show how the relative import of God, astral forces, lifeless nature and physiology was reappraised in early modern concepts of human embodiment.