The book summaries below are from my European History list with Heidi Voskuhl, a subsection titled “Bodies and Sexuality.” Since reading towards oral exams is not (only) an initiation rite, but also supposed to prepare me for my dissertation, I thought I’d post my current dissertation abstract before I provide the reading summaries. After all, hypotheses.org is for project-related blogs, not blogs of individual scholars. And this IS a project! Five to six years in grad school in preparation for this dissertation:
My dissertation traces and compares handedness and sex/gender as categories in the mind and brain sciences in Europe and the United States since the late nineteenth century. I inquire into the extent to which sex/gender and handedness were treated as unchangeable, innate qualities that originate from and impact the brain and mind. I also examine the interaction of changing conceptualizations of handedness and sex/gender on views of brains, selves, and groups of individuals sharing these characteristics. Particular attention is paid to the ways in which changes in scientific institutions and in society at large altered the understanding of the two categories. My work thus contributes to the historical scholarship on scientific classifications in different contexts: scientific laboratories, public policies, as well as social and cultural life more broadly. Since handedness has been largely neglected by historians, scientific publications as well as archival collections are crucial to this project. Combining close reading with large-scale digital text analyses will illuminate the practice and impact of scientific classifications. The dissertation will thus draw awareness to the continuities and ruptures in the meanings of two of the most pervasive categories in contemporary societies and to the relations between them.
Now you know what I’m talking about when I make statements about the ways in which these readings relate to my prospective dissertation topic (as I try to do more and more, as you will see even better in later and not-yet-posted essays). Continue reading