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Conference to examine body image in history

by Cindy Weiss - September 15, 2008


Concern about “body image” may bring to mind fashion magazines, runway models, and celebrity diets.

Now historians at UConn are hosting a conference to examine how early Americans thought about their bodies and others’.

“Corpus Americanus: Deciphering Bodies in Early America” is the topic of the third James L. and Shirley A. Draper National Graduate Student Conference on Early American Studies, Sept. 18-20.

The conference will examine events, objects, and abstractions of the body in early America and the relationship that early Americans had with bodies, both physical and metaphorical.

They complained about loosened corsets and uncomfortable wigs, for starters, and they passed laws to control what people wore.

But the body had more abstract meanings for them, too. Skeletons were carved on gravestones, and the body represented an earthly home for the soul.

The aim of the conference, says Jessica Linker, a history Ph.D. candidate, is to “foster a better understanding of how various images, abstractions, and interpretations of the body shaped and entered into early American society, from the beginnings of Native American, European, and African encounters down to the middle decade of the 19th century.”

The keynote speaker will be Walter Johnson, professor of history and African and African American Studies at Harvard University, a historian of slave markets and the American South. He will speak at Konover Auditorium on Sept. 18 at 4 p.m.

All talks are free and open to the public. Speakers include history graduate students from around the country.

Their topics range from the minuet to medical dissection, and include talks on witchcraft, social significance in colonial American clothing, and the Pequot enslavement.

The conference is co-sponsored by the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester.

The Draper conferences are supported by the endowment of the Draper Chair, which was established by alumni James L. and Shirley A. Draper to support UConn’s research and teaching strength in early American history.

Robert A. Gross, the James L. and Shirley A. Draper Distinguished Professor of History, works with the graduate students who plan the program, invite the speakers, and review the papers.

They included, in addition to Linker, Erin Bartram, Alea Henle, Linda Meditz, Gloria Boyd, Adam Jacobs, and William Mathews.

For more information, go to http://www.history.uconn.edu/draper/2008.html.

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