Workshop Sex and Science in Early Modern Europe

22 February 2019

Sex is a relatively recent invention. Reproduction isintrinsic in human beings, yet sex and sexuality are conceptual constructions of later ages. In the early modern period physicians, anatomists, philosophers and literary authors became fascinated by human desire and sexual behavior. Diving into classical texts, humanists collected ancient knowledge about love and lust. Pornographers catalogued sexual variations to arouse desire. The scientific revolution and early enlightenment encouraged innovative experiments and new theories on desire and reproduction.

CLUE+ and ACCESS (Amsterdam Center for Cross-disciplinary Emotion and Sensory Studies) invite you to a one-day Workshop on Sex and Science in Early Modern Europe. How did scholars define sex and envision its place in our bodies and minds? What knowledge techniques did they employ to gather information about sexual acts and the reproductive system? An international, interdisciplinary panel of speakers, will explore these topics and debate the agenda for further research on the history of sexuality in early modern Europe.

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam,

Main building 08A33

Friday 22 February 2019, 9-17h

Registration is free. To sign up, email:






9.00 – 9.30 Registration & Coffee
9.30 – 11.00 Karen Hollewand (Utrecht University) – Opening Lecture

Sex and Science in the Early Modern Dutch Republic


Nigel Smith (Princeton) – Focquen-wat? Libertine Literature and Cultural Revolution Through the Dutch Republic

11.00 – 11.30 Coffee /tea
11.30 – 13.00 Clorinda Donato (California State University) – Writing Desire, Lust, and Science in Eighteenth-Century Italy: Giovanni Bianchi’s Brief History of Caterina Vizzani, 1744
  Sarah Toulalan (University of Exeter) – Child Rape and Sexual Knowledge
13.00 – 14.00 Lunch
14.00 – 15.30 Ruben Verwaal (University of Groningen) – Seminal Knowledge: Materiality of Semen in the Eighteenth Century

Darren Wagner (University of Berlin) – When Sex became Electric: Experiment and Representation in the Eighteenth Century

15.30 – 16.00 Coffee / tea
16.00 – 17.00 Inger Leemans (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) – Discussion and conclusion



Graduate conference The Body and Politics, 18-19 March 2019, University of Cambridge:

Graduate conference The Body Productive, 8 Dec. 2018, Birkbeck, University of London:

Seminar series in Body History

You are all cordially invited for the next meeting of the Seminar series in Body History on Wednesday 7 November 2018, 13.15-15.00; Venue: Janskerkhof 2-3/room 115, Utrecht. Sara Ray  will speak ‘On Mothers and Monsters: Maternal Testimony, Monstrous Births, and Embryology, 1700-1849′; Amber Striekwold‘s talk is titled: ‘By sheer weight of numbers. Ideas about man and health in the practice of insurance medicine for modern life insurance companies 1880-1920′.

Sara Ray (Doctoral Candidate, History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania, currently Fulbright Scholar at the UvA, where she will be researching ‘Human Anatomical Collecting and the History of Disability in the Netherlands 1820-1850′): On Mothers and Monsters: Maternal Testimony, Monstrous Births, and Embryology, 1700-1849

 In 1704, Czar Peter the Great issued an order forbidding midwives, surgeons, or mothers from killing or burying infants born with congenital abnormalities. Instead, these “monstrous” bodies were to be sent to Peter’s museum to be collected, anatomized, and studied. Along with the bodies, Peter collected information about the mother and her pregnancy: was she healthy? Injured? Frightened? Were other children in the village similarly deformed? 150 years later, the Dutch anatomist Willem Vrolik published a catalog of his museum, which contained 500 preparations of “monstrous births.” In the catalog, Willem— like Peter— included information about the mother and her pregnancy alongside individual cases. Though separated by a century and a half, the two men collected these bodies and information in pursuit of shared a scientific question: what caused a child to be born monstrous? 

In the period separating Peter and Willem, scientific beliefs about gestation changed dramatically with monstrous births acting as crucial “test cases” for competing embryological theories. This paper examines how maternal testimony was used in scientific arguments about the cause and the significance of bodily abnormality. Was the mother to blame for her monstrous child? Was her account of her pregnancy reliable? Could her imagination influence the child’s body or was the body’s form shaped by other means? Examining maternal testimony alongside embryological theory highlights how moral and social meanings are written into the body even when it has just been born. 

Amber Striekwold (student Research Master History, Utrecht University): By sheer weight of numbers. Ideas about man and health in the practice of insurance medicine for modern life insurance companies 1880-1920

How to determine if someone is healthy? And what is the probability of that person staying healthy? These questions were on the minds of life insurance medical directors at the end of the nineteenth century, when the discipline of insurance medicine was taking form. To make an ‘objective’ and accurate ‘risk-assessment’ about the life of an applicant, different medical techniques were developed and used like urine-analysis, and height- and weight tables based on statistical knowledge. Using corpulence as a case-study, it is found that the height- and weight tables used to make risk-assessments are neither neutral, nor objective. Health is not a pre-discursive entity, it is –to a certain extent – produced within social, cultural and medical practices. The standards for healthy weight produced by insurance medicine became general guidelines for society and determine what we currently perceive to be a healthy body. 

Olfactory Fictions research talk

Bas Groes:

I’m giving a research talk about new research mapping smell and (childhood) memory at the UvA this Thursday. For more details, please see 

The lecture is in preparation of a new research project on smell and culture in the UK.

Op vrijdag 9 november 2018 vindt aan de Universiteit Gent het symposium ‘Gender en Emoties. Historische perspectieven’ plaats. Vijf sprekers presenteren hun onderzoek in sociale, culturele en politieke geschiedenis van gender en emoties. Het programma en het adres staan op de poster in bijlage. Voor verdere info en inschrijvingen:

Before the Aftermath: Emotion, Affect and Time

CLUE + & the The Amsterdam Centre for Cross-Disciplinary Emotion and Sensory Studies (Access)

invite you to a festive book launch and mini-colloquium:

Before the Aftermath:
Emotion, Affect and Time

Tuesday 23 October 2018, 16.00–17.00, drinks afterwards

VU University, Kerkzaal

Frans Willem Korsten and Jan Frans van Dijkhuizen (University of Leiden) will present their recent monographs A Dutch Republican Baroque: Theatricality, Dramatization, Moment and Event (Amsterdam University Press, 2017) and A Literary History of Reconciliation: Power, Remorse and the Limits of Forgiveness (Bloomsbury, 2018).

In their presentations, van Dijkhuizen and Korsten will focus on the relations between emotion, affect and time – crucial concepts in current debates in emotion history on which they will offer complementary perspectives.

Korsten’s book argues that the seventeenth-century Dutch Republic was fascinated by the idea that the existing world emerged from a moment at which for a split second, two or more possible realities are equally real – the course of history as yet undetermined  – and after which only a singular one is actualized. Korsten examines this fascination by drawing on a distinction between emotion and affect.

Van Dijkhuizen’s book examines literary representations of interpersonal reconciliation from the early modern era to the present era. It shows how literary writers imagine reconciliation as forever deferred, while presenting feelings of remorse over wrongdoing as never-ending. In the aftermath of grievous wrongdoing – with history having run its course – reconciliation seems to remain beyond reach.

The festive event will be illuminated by a “remorse/reconciliation poetry reading” & by a mini scent event.