Mapping Embodiment in the Early Modern West: Anatomy, Cartography, and the Prehistory of Normality


ACLS Fellowship Program


English and Women's Studies


This project demonstrates that, as the sixteenth century drew toward a close, various scientific discourses in Western Europe created the possibility for a style of reasoning that today goes by the name of the normal. Close readings of natural history illustration, anatomical plates, costume books, and voyage illustrations from the late medieval period to the late seventeenth century show how they collectively provided a spatial idiom that was appropriated by cartographers for their images of human figures on country, continent, and world maps. Such ethnographic maps were widely produced and disseminated across Europe and as far away as China. The result of their circulation was a paradigmatic shift in the evaluation of material and cognitive life, whereby a medieval style of reasoning governed by appeals to nature was absorbed into and gradually superseded by a modern reasoning based on norms.