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Miente Pietersma MA

PhD candidate


Area(s) of interest: European History, History of Knowledge, History of the Body, Medieval Studies

Easier done than said. Uncovering the body in knowledge management in Italy and Germany, 1400-1550
Rijksuniversiteit Groningen
Supervisor(s): Prof. C.G. Santing (RUG), Prof. R. Schmid Keeling (Univ. Bern)

This project explores the function of manuals for physical exercises which first emerged in Italy and the Holy Roman Empire between 1400 and 1550. These books generally lack a straightforward body of text, and instead contain series of brief instructions for executing bodily techniques, sometimes accompanied by illustrations. The historian is then presented with a challenge, as a traditional textual analysis is insufficient to comprehend the form and function of these documents. To remedy this, the project approaches them as guidelines for experimentation which readers were supposed to enact as part of the reading process. By using an experimental analysis, the project will explore how these guidelines then mediated between learning from texts and learning from experience. This approach directly touches upon a crucial epistemological debate currently held in the Humanities. New scholarship has in recent years begun to criticise the Linguistic Turn’s sharp divide between texts and the material world. Within the historical sciences, this ‘Material-’ or ‘Embodied Turn’ has led to the new research field of Experimental History, a discipline acknowledging how texts can have a practical dimension that invites their readers to experiment. So far this approach has mainly been used to study the history of ‘learning by making’, focusing on subjects such as cooking, painting and metallurgy. This project will take the logical next step in this new discipline by studying the history of ‘learning by doing’, the crucial difference being a focus on experimentation with the body rather than with the material world outside it.