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This Mortal Coil: The Human Body in History and Culture

Fay Bound Alberti

Summary

To many people the idea that 'the body' has its own history might sound faintly ridiculous. The body and its experiences are usually seen as something that we share with people from the past. Like 'human nature', it represents the unchanging in a changing world. Bodies just are... 

But the body does have a history. The way that it moves, feels, breathes, and engages with the world has been viewed very differently across times and cultures. For centuries, 'we' were believed to be composed of souls that were part of the body and inseparable from it. Now we exist in our heads, and our bodies have become the vessels for that uncertain and elusive thing we call our 'true selves'. The way we understand the material structure of the body has also changed radically over the centuries. From the bones to the skin, from the senses to the organs of sexual reproduction, every part of the body has an ever-changing history, dependent on time, culture, and place. 

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