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: email@example.com 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Students must register with the Office of Disability Services (firstname.lastname@example.org; 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.
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:
Tuesday, January 25: The Greeks Discuss Generation
**Syllabus discussion; selection of response paper and presentation topics**
Tuesday, February 1: Roman Medicine and the Stuff of Generation
Presentation: Nafisa Ahmed
Response Paper: Jessica Lee
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
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
Tuesday, February 22: The Virgin Mary
**Class visit to see items from Princeton’s art collections; NO CLASS PRESENTATIONS**
Tuesday, March 1: Medieval Obstetrics
**Research Paper Topic & Primary Source Description Due**
Presentation: Vicky Escalante
Response Papers: Hope Perry, Meredith Summa, Sophie Evans
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
Tuesday, March 22: The Reformed Womb
**Annotated Bibliography due**
Presentation: Chaya Holch
Response Papers: Leslie Kim
Tuesday, March 29: Witches and Monsters
Presentation: Madison Stewart
Response Papers: Juliette Carbonnier, Leslie Kim
Tuesday, April 12: Motherhood & the State
**Prospectus and outline due**
Presentation: Leslie Kim
Response Papers: Juliette Carbonnier, Jessica Lee
Tuesday, April 19: The Science of Reproduction
Presentation: Jessica Lee
Response Papers: Madison Stewart
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.