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Contemporary historians and other scholars of the body frequently use "writing" and "inscription as metaphors. Katherine Dauge-Roth's Signing the Body: Marks on Skin in Early Modern France (Routledge, 2019) is an absorbing book that emphasizes literal, material forms of writing the body, taking skin as a "privileged surface," a physical site of expression, experience, and representation. Examining different types of corporeal marking from the later part of the sixteenth century through the eighteenth, the book focuses on inscription "from the outside," such as tattoos and branding, as well as marks on skin believed to have been made by supernatural forces, including stigmata and the "Devil's mark," the traces of God or of demonic possession/collaboration.
Examining a range of cases from France and the "French Atlantic" context, the book engages with the histories of Christianity, witchcraft, travel, settler colonialism, slavery, crime, and punishment. It takes up questions of religious belief, spirituality, gender, and sexuality within a broader context of great cultural and political upheaval, emergent and shifting technologies of writing and identity. Moving from convents and sites of pilgrimage to colonial and prison contexts, the chapters work as distinct case studies in conversation with multiple, complex historiographies that are linked to one another in and through bodily signs and markings. Along the way, Dauge-Roth complicates our understandings of agency and power, public and private, the role of the state, and the fashioning of the self throughout this period of French, European and imperial history. A history of early modern France, Signing the Body also holds much that will fascinate readers interests in the longer trajectory of body marking right up to the present.
Roxanne Panchasi is an Associate Professor of History at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada who specializes in twentieth and twenty-first century France and its empire. If you have a recent title to suggest for the podcast, please send her an email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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