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THE CENTURY OF SEX? GENDER, BODIES, AND SEXUALITY IN THE LONG EIGHTEENTH CENTURY

  • KAREN HARVEY (a1)
Abstract

The past two decades have witnessed a burgeoning of the history of the body and sexuality. Seeking to historicize sex differences, historians have widely incorporated the study of the body and sexuality into the history of women and gender. This review considers the place of the body and sexuality in women's and gender history. Recent work posits the long eighteenth century as the century of change in the ways in which bodies were understood, sexuality constructed, and sexual activity carried out. Yet in turn, the incorporation of such new topics also reinvigorates older narratives of economic and political transformation. This historiographical review assesses this recent work, arguing that key facets of the historiography need to be reconsidered. Explanatory models of historical change need to incorporate issues such as life-cycle changes and historical persistence. Approaches to cultural exchange have to develop which can accommodate cultural diversity, and the complexities of cultural transmission. Finally, analyses of the material contexts of the body and sexuality – both corporeal and textual – need to be undertaken.

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I am grateful to Sandra Cavallo, Mark Jenner, the late Roy Porter, Lyndal Roper, Nick Stargardt, and particularly to Amanda Vickery and Penelope J. Corfield for reading earlier drafts. This work was supported by the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library and the British Academy.
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The Historical Journal
  • ISSN: 0018-246X
  • EISSN: 1469-5103
  • URL: /core/journals/historical-journal
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