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Fertile Bodies Course Syllabus Spring 2022
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A Cultural History of Reproduction from Antiquity to the Enlightenment

Professor Melissa Reynolds

HIS 491/GSS 491/HUM 491

Location: McCosh Hall 26

Time: Tuesdays, 1:30–4:20 pm

Office Hours: Mondays, 10:00 am –12:00 pm. Please schedule an appointment on Wase, or email me directly if you need to meet at a different time.

Contact: or 609.258.8858


The ancient Greeks imagined a woman’s body ruled by her uterus, while medieval Christians believed in a womb touched by God. Renaissance anatomists hoped to uncover the ‘secrets’ of human generation through dissection, while nascent European states wrote new laws to encourage procreation and manage ‘illegitimate’ offspring. From ancient Greece to enlightenment France, a woman’s womb served as a site for the production of medical knowledge, the focus of religious practice, and the articulation of state power. This course will trace the evolution of medical and cultural theories about women’s reproductive bodies from ca. 450 BCE to 1700, linking these theories to the development of structures of power, notions of difference, and concepts of purity that proved foundational to ‘western’ culture.


Each week we will read a primary source (in translation, if necessary) alongside excerpts from scholarly books and articles. We will begin in classical Greece with Hippocratic writings on women’s diseases, move through the origins of Christian celibacy and female asceticism in late antique and medieval Europe, follow early anatomists as they dissected women’s bodies in Renaissance Italy, explore the origins of state regulation of women’s fertility in early modern England, Germany, and France, and finally, learn how Enlightenment ideals were undergirded by new “scientific” models of anatomical sexual and racial difference. The class will takes trips to Special Collections at the Firestone Library to view the earliest printed anatomies and to the off-campus classroom of the Princeton Art Museum to view artworks pertaining to Christian motherhood.


Grades will be awarded according to History Department criteria, reproduced at the end of the syllabus. The final grade will be weighted as follows:


Class Participation: 20%

In-class presentation (15-minute): 10%

Response Essays (2–3 pages, 3x): 30% (or 10% each)                            

Final research paper (12–15 pages): 40% total, comprised of:



Students will read between 100–150 pages per week from a combination of primary sources (i.e. texts written by historical figures in the past) and secondary sources (i.e. scholarly books and articles). All of our readings are available online, either via the Firestone library’s digital subscriptions or via our course Canvas.



This seminar requires your full participation. Complete all assigned readings before class, including annotations of primary sources on Perusall. Come to class on time, prepared with comments and questions. Class participation will be evaluated by the overall quality of your contributions, which includes attendance and listening as well as speaking, and on your engagement with primary sources on Perusall. If you tend to be a talker, please share your thoughts but be sure to make room for others. If you tend to be quiet, know that your voice is essential in our classroom. You will always show respect for your fellow students, even when you disagree with their ideas. Given that this course is a weekly seminar, only one unexcused absence is allowed; every unexcused absence after that results in an automatic deduction of 10% from your final grade. The only excused absences in this course are varsity athletic competitions, approved accommodations, documented emergencies or illnesses, and observance of religious holidays.


Response Papers

Students will choose three topics/readings to which they will respond in a short (2­­–3 page) essay. This essay should briefly summarize the secondary reading, relate the reading to the primary source, and pose questions or problems that arise from a juxtaposition of the two readings. These papers do not require outside research or reading beyond that assigned in the syllabus. Though students will only present on one of these papers to the class, the student should be prepared to share problems or questions developed in their response paper over the course of that class’s discussion.

In-class presentation

Students will choose one of their response paper topics/readings and create a fifteen-minute presentation for the class based on the issues raised within their response paper. The presentation should, first, situate the readings within the context of the other readings done thus far in the semester, looking for ways to draw connections between past readings and the current one. The student should be prepared with two or three topics to discuss with the class from the readings, and ideally, these topics should be approached through focused discussion questions. In addition, if background knowledge is necessary to understand the reading (i.e. terminology needs defining, a particular argument needs contextualizing), the student should have done whatever minor outside research is necessary to engage the class. Presentations will be chosen on the first day of class.


Final Research Paper

Each student will produce a research paper of 12–15 pages at the end of the semester in lieu of a final exam. Throughout the semester, graded benchmark assignments (a source description, annotated bibliography, and prospectus and outline) will keep students on track to completion. Students may select one of the primary sources already listed on the syllabus as a jumping-off point for selecting a research topic, or may consult with the instructor directly to discuss other topics of interest. Students will meet with the instructor during office hours at least once to discuss paper topics before Week 5. Research paper topics and a description of the primary source chosen are due in Week 6. A preliminary annotated bibliography with at least five secondary sources is due in Week 10. The final paper is due on Dean’s Date.


Late Work

Unless otherwise stated, all deadlines in this course syllabus are firm. Work that is not submitted on time will be subject to a 1/3 letter grade penalty for each day it is late, unless you have contacted me for an extension prior to the deadline. Work that is more than a week late will not be accepted.


Communication Policy

I am delighted to communicate with students about the class and academic work more generally. I reply to emails, usually within 24 hours, but often office hours are a better forum for discussion, especially of substantive issues. Please note that I do not regularly check email over the weekend.


Laptop Policy

Students may bring laptops to class and use them to refer to our course readings, nearly all of which are available in digital editions. However, I ask that students disconnect from the Princeton WiFi network, and students must close their laptops during student presentations. If laptop use becomes distracting or disruptive at any point, I reserve the right to ask you to close your laptop and, if necessary, leave the classroom.

Honor Code

All student work should meet the requirements of the University’s Honor Code. At the end of any written work completed outside of class for a grade, please type or write out and sign the following statement: "This paper represents my own work in accordance with University regulations." For electronic submissions, you may type your name preceded by the notation /s/, which stands for “signature.”   Any suspected infractions will be referred to the Faculty-Student Committee on Discipline or the Honor Committee in accordance with University policy.  If you are found to have plagiarized or copied the work of another scholar or student on any portion of an assignment or exam, you will receive an automatic “0,” which may result in a failing grade for the course.


Accommodations for Disabilities

Students must register with the Office of Disability Services (; 258-8840) for disability verification and determination of eligibility for reasonable academic accommodations. Requests for academic accommodations for this course should be made at the beginning of the semester, or as soon as possible for newly-approved students. I encourage students with approved accommodations to contact me at the beginning of the semester, and again before major course assessments. Please note that no accommodations for a disability will be made without authorization from ODS, or without advance notice.


Academic Resources


Resources for Mental Health

If you or someone you know needs support or is looking to access specific services, consider reaching out to these university and student-led resources:



Unit One: Ancient Medicine and Philosophy

Tuesday, January 25: The Greeks Discuss Generation

**Syllabus discussion; selection of response paper and presentation topics**

Course Readings:

  1. Nicholas Hopwood, Rebecca Flemming, and Lauren Kassell, “Reproduction in History,” in Reproduction: Antiquity to the Present [hereafter Rep:AP], (Cambridge, 2018), pp. 3–17. [Available via Cambridge Core Online]
  2. Helen King, Hippocrates’ Woman: Reading the Female Body in Ancient Greece, pp. 21–39. [Pro-Quest E-Book Central]


Primary Sources:

  1. Ann Ellis Hanson, “Hippocrates: ‘Diseases of Women 1.” Signs 1, no. 2 (1975): 567–84. [JSTOR]
  2. Read and annotate Aristotle, On the Generation of Animals, Book I, pp. 49–127 on Perusall.


Tuesday, February 1: Roman Medicine and the Stuff of Generation

        Presentation: Nafisa Ahmed

        Response Paper: Jessica Lee

                Course Readings:

  1. Thomas Laqueur, “Destiny is Anatomy,” Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud (Cambridge, 1990), pp. 25–62. [ACLS Humanities E-Book]
  2. Marie-Hélène Congourdeau, “Debating the Soul in Late Antiquity,” in Rep: AP, pp. 109–21. [Cambridge Core Online]


Primary Sources:

  1. Read and annotate Galen, On the Usefulness of the Parts of the Body, Vol. II, trans. Margaret Tallmadge May (Ithaca, 1968), pp. 620–654 on Perusall.
  2. Porphyry, To Gaurus on How Embryos Are Ensouled, trans. by James Wilberding (New York, 2011), pp. 52–56 (from section 16 to the end) on Perusall.
  3. Soranus’ Gynecology, trans. Owsei Temkin, pp. 3­–7, 27–49, 58–68, 79–80. [ACLS Humanities E-Book]

Unit Two: Chastity & Holy Motherhood

Tuesday, February 8: Christian Mothers and Martyrs

**Mandatory office hours this week to discuss final paper topics**

        Presentation: Hope Perry

        Response Papers: Vicky Escalante, Meredith Summa, Nafisa Ahmed, Chaya Holch

        Course Readings:

  1. Peter Brown, The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (Cambridge, 1990), pp. 33–64, 140–59, 366–386. [ACLS Humanities E-Book]        

        Primary Sources:

  1. The English Bible, King James Version: The New Testament and the Apocrypha, ed. Gerland Hammond and Austin Busch (New York, 2012), 1 Corinthians 7: 1–40; Ephesians 5: 1–33. [Canvas]
  2. St. Jerome, “Contra Jovinianus,” in St. Jerome: Letters and Select Works, tr. W. H. Fremantle. Select Library ofNicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. 2, Vol. VI (Edinburgh, 1892). [Canvas]
  3. “The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas,” in The Acts of the Christian Martyrs, Vol. II, ed. and trans. Herbert A. Musurillo, Oxford Early Christian Texts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972). [Canvas]
  4. In class: Watch “From Jesus to Christ: Pt. 2” [53:00–1:18:00]


Tuesday, February 15: Jesus as Mother, Adam as Androgyne

**Mandatory office hours continue this week to discuss final paper topics**

        Presentation: Sophie Evans

        Response Papers: Vicky Escalante, Nafisa Ahmed

                Course Readings:

  1. Caroline Walker Bynum, Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages, pp. 110–170. [ACLS Humanities E-Book]
  2. Leah DeVun, The Shape of Sex: Nonbinary Gender from Genesis to the Renaissance  (New York, 2021), pp. 16–39. [JSTOR]


Primary Sources:

  1. Peter Cantor, "On Sodomy," ed. and trans. John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century (Chicago, 1981), pp. 375–378. [ACLS E-Book]
  2. Otto of Freising, The Two Cities: A Chronicle of Universal History to the Year 1146 A.D., eds. Charles Christopher Mierow, Austin P. Evans, and Charles Knapp (New York, 1996), pp. 469–471. [ACLS E-Book]
  3. Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love Recorded by Julian, Anchoress at Norwich, ed. Grace Warrack (London, 1901), Chapters 58–62.


Tuesday, February 22: The Virgin Mary

**Class visit to see items from Princeton’s art collections; NO CLASS PRESENTATIONS**

                Course Readings:

  1. Clarissa Atkinson, The Oldest Vocation: Christian Motherhood in the Medieval West (Ithaca, 1991), pp. 101–193. [JSTOR]


Primary Sources:

  1. The English Bible, King James Version: The New Testament and the Apocrypha, ed. Gerland Hammond and Austin Busch (New York, 2012), Matthew 1: 1–25; Luke 1–2: 23 [Canvas]
  2. Anselm of Canterbury, The Prayers and Meditations of Saint Anselm with the Proslogion, “A Letter to Gundolf,” “Prayer to St. Mary (1),” and “Prayer to St. Mary (2),” pp. 106–114. [Canvas]
  3. Jacobus de Varagine, The Golden Legend, or Lives of the Saints, trans. William Caxton, Volume 5 (Westminster: William Caxton, 1483), 47–54. [Canvas]

Unit Three: Medieval Medicine and the Secrets of Women

Tuesday, March 1: Medieval Obstetrics

**Research Paper Topic & Primary Source Description Due**

        Presentation: Vicky Escalante

        Response Papers: Hope Perry, Meredith Summa, Sophie Evans

                Course Readings:

  1. Monica H. Green, Making Women’s Medicine Masculine, pp. 118–62. [ACLS Humanities E-Book]
  2. Monica H. Green, The Trotula: A Medieval Compendium of Women’s Medicine, “Introduction” pp. 1–14, 48–52. [Canvas]
  3. Monica H. Green and Daniel Lord Smail, “The Trial of Floreta d’Ays (1403): Jews, Christians, and Obstetrics in later medieval Marseille,” Journal of Medieval History 34, 2 (2008): 185–211. [Science Direct]


Primary Sources:

  1. Monica H. Green, The Trotula: A Medieval Compendium of Women’s Medicine, “On the Treatments of Women,” pp. 116–65. (Don't panic! It's a facing-page translation with Latin on every other page, so it's really just 25 pages of primary source material in English.) [Canvas]




Tuesday, March 15: Dissecting Women's Secrets

**Class visit to Special Collections to view early printed anatomies**

        Presentation: Meredith Summa

        Response Papers: Hope Perry, Sophie Evans, Madison Stewart, Chaya Holch

                Course Readings:

  1. Katharine Park, Secrets of Women: Gender, Generation, and the Origins of Human Dissection, pp. 77–119, 161–260. [ACLS Humanities E-Book]


Primary sources:

  1. Get a head start on our trip to Special Collections by thinking about different anatomical portrayals of the interior of women’s bodies by viewing the online exhibit, Historical Anatomies, via the National Library of Medicine:

Unit Four: The Reformation and the Supernatural

Tuesday, March 22: The Reformed Womb

**Annotated Bibliography due**

        Presentation: Chaya Holch

        Response Papers: Leslie Kim

                Course Readings:

  1. Mary Fissell, Vernacular Bodies: The Politics of Reproduction in Early Modern England, pp. 1­–52. [Pro-Quest E-Book Central]
  2. Kathleen Crowther-Heyck, “‘Be Fruitful and Multiply’: Genesis and Generation in Reformation Germany,” Renaissance Quarterly 55 (2002): 904–35. [JSTOR]


Primary Sources:

  1. Susan C. Karant-Nunn and Merry Weisner-Hanks, eds., “Childbirth,” in Luther on Women (Cambridge, 2003), pp. 171–185. [Canvas]
  2. Excerpts from Eucharius Roeslin, The Byrthe of Mankynde, trans. Thomas Raynalde (London: 1545). [Canvas]
  3. In-class transcription/translation work with childbirth charms in manuscript


Tuesday, March 29: Witches and Monsters

        Presentation: Madison Stewart

        Response Papers: Juliette Carbonnier, Leslie Kim

                Course Readings:

  1. Mary Fissell, "The Womb Goes Bad," in Vernacular Bodies: The Politics of Reproduction in Early Modern England, pp. 53–89. [Pro-Quest E-Book Central]
  2. Lyndal Roper, “Witchcraft and Fantasy in Early Modern Germany,” in Oedipus and the Devil: Witchcraft, Religion, and Sexuality in Early Modern Europe (New York, 1994), pp. 200–227. [Pro-Quest E-Book Central]
  3. David Harley, “Historians as Demonologists: The Myth of the Midwife-Witch,” Social History of Medicine 3, no. 1 (1990): 1–26. [Oxford Academic]


Primary Sources:

  1. Amboise Paré, On Monsters and Marvels, trans. Janice L. Pallister (Chicago, 1983), pp. 3–42. [Canvas]
  2. Selections from the witchcraft pamphlets from the late sixteenth-century Essex trials. [Canvas]

Unit Five: Reproduction and State Power

Tuesday, April 12: Motherhood & the State

**Prospectus and outline due**

        Presentation: Leslie Kim

        Response Papers: Juliette Carbonnier, Jessica Lee

                Course Readings:

  1. Laura Gowing, Common Bodies: Women, Touch, and Power in Seventeenth-Century England (New Haven, 2009), pp. 1–16, 149–176. [JSTOR]
  2. Leslie Tuttle, Conceiving the Old Regime: Pronatalism and the Politics of Reproduction in Early Modern France (Oxford, 2010), pp. 41–77. [Oxford Scholarship Online]


Primary Sources:

  1. Arlette Farge and Michel Foucault, Disorderly Families: Infamous Letters from the Bastille Archives, pp. 158–170. [Canvas]
  2. James Hitchcock, ed., “A Sixteenth-Century Midwife’s License,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 41 (January 1967): 75–76 [JSTOR]
  3. Excerpts of various “English Poor Laws” [Canvas]


Unit Six: Science and the Discovery of Difference

Tuesday, April 19: The Science of Reproduction

        Presentation: Jessica Lee

        Response Papers: Madison Stewart

                Course Readings:

  1. Lisa Forman Cody, Birthing the Nation: Sex, Science, and the Conception of Eighteenth-Century Britons (Oxford, 2005), pp. 84–119, 152–197, 237–68. [Pro-Quest E-Book Central]
  2. Londa Schiebinger, Nature’s Body: Gender in the Making of Modern Science, “Theories of Gender and Race,” pp. 143–183. [ACLS Humanities E-Book]
  3. Mary Fissell, “Man-Midwifery Revisited,” in Rep:AP (Cambridge, 2018), pp. 319–332. [Cambridge Core Online]


Primary Sources:

  1. William Harvey, Disputations Touching the Generation of Animals, trans. and introd. Gweneth Whitteridge (Oxford, 1981), pp. TBD. [Canvas]
  2. George Garden, “On the Modern Theory of Generation,” in The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Vol. III: From 1683 to 1694, ed. Charles Hutton, Richard Pearson, and George Shaw (London, 1809), pp. 431–35. [Canvas]
  3. Engravings of Sartjie Baartman and a transcription of the court case to free her  [Canvas]
  4. Samuel Stanhope Smith, An Essay on the Causes of the Variety of Complexion and Figure in the Human Species (Philadelphia, 1788), pp. 151–53, 168–74, 184–86. [Canvas]

** FINAL PAPER DUE on Dean’s Date: Tuesday, May 3**

Department of History Grading Policy


A student who receives an A for participation in discussion in precepts or seminars typically comes to every class with questions about the readings in mind. An ‘A’ discussant engages others about ideas, respects the opinions of others, and consistently elevates the level of discussion.

A student who receives a B for participation in discussion in precepts or seminars typically does not always come to class with questions about the readings in mind. A ‘B’ discussant waits passively for others to raise interesting issues. Some discussants in this category, while courteous and articulate, do not adequately listen to other participants or relate their comments to the direction of the conversation.

A student who receives a C for discussion in precepts or seminars attends regularly but typically is an infrequent or unwilling participant in discussion.

A student who fails to attend precepts regularly or to adequately prepare for discussion risks the grade of D or F.


An A or A- thesis, paper, or exam is one that is good enough to be read aloud in a class. It is clearly written and well-organized. It demonstrates that the writer has conducted a close and critical reading of texts, grappled with the issues raised in the course, synthesized the readings, discussions, and lectures, and formulated a perceptive, compelling, independent argument. The argument shows intellectual originality and creativity, is sensitive to historical context, is supported by a well-chosen variety of specific examples, and, in the case of a research paper, is built on a critical reading of primary material.

A B+ or B thesis, paper, or exam demonstrates many aspects of A-level work but falls short of it in either the organization and clarity of its writing, the formulation and presentation of its argument, or the quality of research. Some papers or exams in this category are solid works containing flashes of insight into many of the issues raised in the course. Others give evidence of independent thought, but the argument is not presented clearly or convincingly.

A B- thesis, paper, or exam demonstrates a command of course or research material and understanding of historical context but provides a less than thorough defense of the writer's independent argument because of weaknesses in writing, argument, organization, or use of evidence.

A C+, C, or C- thesis, paper, or exam offers little more than a mere a summary of ideas and information covered in the course, is insensitive to historical context, does not respond to the assignment adequately, suffers from frequent factual errors, unclear writing, poor organization, or inadequate primary research, or presents some combination of these problems.

Whereas the grading standards for written work between A and C- are concerned with the presentation of argument and evidence, a paper or exam that belongs to the D or F categories demonstrates inadequate command of course material.

A D thesis, paper, or exam demonstrates serious deficiencies or severe flaws in the student's command of course or research material.

An F thesis, paper, or exam demonstrates no competence in the course or research materials. It indicates a student’s neglect or lack of effort in the course.