How does one go about cultivating a contemporary’s understanding of the body in historical popular cultures? In many cases, the traces that remain have to be judiciously gleaned from the sources that these cultures generated, like proverbs and “books of secrets,” or else from documentation which was instead often antagonistic. During the early-modern period, battle lines were drawn between professionalizing physicians and unlicensed healers branded as “charlatans.” In the case of sixteenth-century Venice, physicians had the support of the Venetian Republic, but this support was not only the result of physicians’ treatments being deemed more effective or safer to the human body. Documentation suggests that orthodox medicine’s corporeal schemas were also more compatible with the Republic’s conceptions of its own “body politic” than were more plebeian treatments of the body that were instead painted as a potential danger to both.
For Michelle Laughran, the study of history should be interdisciplinary, since “the past includes everything.” Professor Laughran’s research investigates the impact that epidemic diseases like the plague had on Italian renaissance society; in the process, this ongoing project has led her also to examine the history of the body, medicine, prostitution, cosmetics, and costume, among other topics. Professor Laughran’s most recent history course focused on the history of fairy tales.