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Imperial Bodies: the Classical Body, Self, and Society (CLA3121)

StaffDr Daniel King - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks; Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

Does the body have a history? Is it a natural, unchanging phenomenon which is understood consistently across different cultures? How might we understand the relationship between the physical body and the cultural contexts in which that body emerges? How has the notion of the “Classical body" been adopted and developed by later cultures?

This module addresses these questions and more. The module will begin by examining the development of different approaches to and ideas about the body in different ancient discourses. You will focus particularly on scientific views of the body (especially medicine, biology, and physiognomics), and approaches to the body in performative contexts, such as oratory or rhetoric, athletics. You will also explore questions of how the body is central to the development and maintenance of gender identities, class status, and religious identity. In addition to investigating how different cultural contexts led to the development of different ways of approaching, understanding, and experiencing the body, you will also investigate how later societies have explicitly made use of the classical body to emphasise or construct notions of gender (such as modern advertising or the film 300) or substantiate political or cultural power (i.e. the Nazis or Napoleon).  

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Engage critically with ideas about the history of the body from antiquity onwards, using a range of different sources
  • 2. Analyse critically the factors that inflect the treatment of the body in different societies, contexts, or media

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. Approach a broad historical theme from different angles, drawing pertinent connections from a variety of theoretical approaches
  • 4. Demonstrate appreciation of the issues involved in using different types of our source material to aid our historical understanding of the ancient world
  • 5. Show knowledge and understanding of how later societies have made use of the ancient world and shaped our interpretation of it

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 6. Employ critical reasoning and independent thought
  • 7. Demonstrate your ability to construct clear and coherent arguments from complex data
  • 8. Demonstrate your interpersonal and team working skills through study groups and peer interaction

Syllabus plan

Seminars across the terms will be divided into blocks focussed on specific areas of ancient cultural discourse or the themes in reception (for example: a 4-week segment on medical approaches to the body; a 2-week block dedicated to the reception of the male body in modern cinema and visual media). 

An indicative list of topics to be covered:

  • The body and medicine
  • The performing body (e.g. rhetorical performance, dramatic performance, etc.)
  • The athletic body
  • The sensory body
  • Torture and the body
  • The classical body in modern politics
  • The classical body in modern advertising

The module will be structured around a combination of specific readings of primary material, either ancient (e.g. Philostratus’ On Gymnastics)or modern (advertisements by modern perfume companies, or Hollywood epics). These will be coupled with theoretical writings which will help us investigate the primary material under discussion.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching441 x 2 hour seminar per week
Guided Independent Study256Independent study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Group presentation/discussion20 minutes1-8Oral comment from lecturer and peers

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Research essay OR website design453000 words1-7Mark and written feedback
Oral / digital presentation OR website (OR similar) review1510 minutes or equivalent to 1000 words1-7Mark and written feedback
Blog entries OR short responses303 x 1000 words (each worth 10%)1-7Mark and written feedback
Engagement in seminar and online learning activities10Weekly contribution to discussion fora, group work, etc.1-8Mark and written feedback

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Research essay OR website designResearch essay1-7Referral/Deferral period
Oral / digital presentation OR website (OR similar) reviewTranscript of presentation (1000 words), with accompanying handout and/or visual aid; OR website review.1-7Referral/Deferral period
Short responses OR blog entriesShort responses OR blog entries (word length equivalent to missed pieces)1-7Referral/Deferral period
Engagement in seminar and online learning activitiesReflective essay (1000 words) on student discussions and learning1-7Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Brown, P. The Body and Society: Men, Women and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (Lectures on the History of Religions, n.s., 13; New York, 1988).
  • Bynum, W & Kalof, L. (eds.) A Cultural History of the Human Body (vols 1-6; The Cultural Histories Series; London, 2014--).
  • Judovitz, D. The Culture of the Body: Genealogies of Modernity (Michigan, 2001).
  • Laqueur, T. Making Sex: Body and Gender from Greeks to Freud (Massachusetts, 1992).
  • Montserrat, D. (ed.) Changing Bodies, Changing Meanings (Studies of the Body in Antiquity; London, 1997).
  • Porter, J. (ed.) Constructions of the Classical Body (The Body in Theory; Michigan, 1999).
  • Porter, R. ‘History of the Body’, in P. Burke (ed.) New Perspectives on Historical Writing (Cambridge, 1991), 206-32.
  • Porter, R. ‘History of the Body Reconsidered’, in P. Burke (ed.) New Perspectives on Historical Writing (2nd. Edition; Cambridge, 2001), 232-60.
  • Turner, B. The Body and Society: Exploration in Social Theory (Second Edition; Thousand Oaks, CA, 2008).
  • Wyke, M. (ed.) Parchments of Gender: Deciphering the Bodies of Antiquity (Oxford, 1998).

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Key words search

Body, perception, classical body