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Web-conference: Disenfranchised Bodies – Comparing, Standardizing, Judging, Living: 1450-1850

Comparisons have the power to order the world and its perception. Comparing means to detect, to assert, and to construct similarities and differences. Multiple links exist within frames of comparison. Those links may be ambiguous, but they prove to be dynamic and elastic when the unfamiliar needs to be integrated into a comparative order or a world order based on comparison. At this conference, we will discuss the question of how comparing helped historical subjects to understand and order the world. We are especially interested in religious, geographical, cultural, and social border and contact zones.
The field of practices of comparing grew alongside the increasing global integration during the early modern period. This becomes especially clear in the realm of the history of knowledge. Therefore, the body will be at the center of our conference. The increasing number of bodies, which could be compared, posed a new challenge for the body, the perception of the body and the related concepts of order and nature. We would like to discuss the consequences that grew out of this development. This increase of comparable bodies also meant new and different ways of comparing: Which criteria were newly added into the canon of comparing? Which criteria – like the color of skin – changed their meaning, and which consequences emanated from these changes? Which meaning did these comparisons have for global and local interaction based on natural law, for conflict resolution and colonization, for the fundamental question of belonging and humanity?

Between 1450 and 1850, a wide variety of bodies – human, animal, female, male, young, old, dark, light, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, large, small, healthy, and broken – stood at the center of competing discourses and claims to power. We would like to know more about the structure of the practices of comparing that were used. Which criteria of comparing (tertia) contoured and constructed the units of comparing (comparata)? We hope to explore which power of interpretation and power of agency over the body (also in the sense of self-assertion) individuals and groups claimed, created, or questioned. We assume that competing concepts of body and law in the Americas, on the African continent, or in the different regions of Asia also influenced practices and concepts of the body and of law that European actors offered and advanced. To accommodate the wide variety of practices and places to some extent, the conference tries to extend its contributions beyond practices of comparing that were created in Europe. It seeks to integrate situations of encounter and of conflict between religions and worldviews, between traditional and unfamiliar practices, and between legal definitions of physical integrity and notions of what human bodies are and could be.

The conference will be held online. You will be provided with the access data before the start of the event (leo.sieker (at) uni-bielefeld.de).