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4 Private Body – What Do Self-Narratives Bring to the History of the Body?

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Chapter Summary

This chapter is concerned with the various uses self-narratives can have for the history of the body and how these can be applied in a methodologically sensible way. It thus focuses primarily on methodological and theoretical problems. The chapter also attempts to see where a self-narrative-based history of the body could be positioned in the discussion about experience versus discourse history. The starting point of the chapter is the lapidary question of how authors of self-narratives in the eighteenth century regarded the body. The main body of sources was formed by approximately fifty hand-written and unedited eighteenth-century self-narratives. Self-narratives vary so much in form, range, content and function that the genre of 'self-narrative' is often defined through a listing of its subgroups. The open discourse of the eighteenth century developed a new interest in body, health, illness and medicine. Body history based on self-narratives reveals itself to be discourse history.

Keywords: body history; eighteenth-century; health; illness; medicine; methodological problems; self-narratives; theoretical problems



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