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Negotiating Touch

Negotiating touch: a second conversation

The second meeting will take place on Monday 17 May, 2-3.30. The link for the meeting is here:

Click here to join the meeting

We plan to continue our conversation on 'Negotiating Touch'. We will hear from the following people:

'The human touch' at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge

You might be interested in an exhibition on 'The Human Touch' at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge - details of which are here. Although the Museum is of course closed at the moment, the curators and contributors are holding an online book club to discuss the catalogue - details (and booking link) here.

A potter's view on 'Touch'

You might also like to have a look at this short film on 'Touch', created by Leamington-based potter David Jones. Dr. David Jones (PhD, English and Comparative Literary Studies, Warwick) is the elected representative for the UK, Ireland and Benelux countries on the global Council of the International Academy of Ceramics, NGO in official partnership with UNESCO. He is a Fellow of the Crafts Potter Association of the UK

David Jones, 'Memories of Touch-alone in the time of Covid'

David Jones, 'Memories of Touch - Alone in the time of Covid'

Negotiating touch: a first conversation

On Monday 8 February (week 5), we started the conversation with very short reports (5 min each) on selected readings (see the list below).

  • Rosa Salzberg on Alexander Cowan, "'Not Carrying out the Vile and Mechanical Arts': Touch as a Measure of Social Distinction in Early Modern Venice." In The City and the Senses: Urban Culture since 1500, edited by Alexander Cowan and Jill Steward, 39-59. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2007.
  • Stuart Middleton on Jose Rizal, Noli Me Tangere (1887) (Penguin 2020).
  • Michael Bycroft on Norbert Elias, Civilising Process.
  • Zoë Strimpel, on the chapter on 'Elements of Philomatology' from Pablo Maurette, The Forgotten Sense, and 'How Touch Shapes Our World'
  • Claire Shaw on Emaa Widdis Socialist Senses: Film, Feeling and the Soviet Subject, 1917-1940 (Indiana, 2017).
  • Charles Walton on Marc Bloch, Royal Touch
  • Mark Philp on Constance Classen, The Deepest Sense: A cultural History of Touch (U of Ill. 2012) Introduction to Session
  • Anne Gerritsen on Elizabeth Hsu, 'Towards a science of touch, Part I: Chinese pulse diagnostics in early modern europe.' in Anthropology & Medicine 7.2 (200): 251–268.
  • Martha McGill on Laura Gowing, Common Bodies: Women, Touch and Power in Seventeenth-Century England (New Haven: Yale UP, 2003).
  • Chris Sirrs on Nancy Tomes, The Gospel of Germs: Men, Women, and the Microbe in American Life (Harvard University Press, 1999)
  • Guillemette Crouzet, Ewa Lajer-Burcharth, The Painter’s Touch: Boucher, Chardin, Fragonard, Princeton University Press, 2017

It struck us that whatever happens in the coming months (perhaps even years?) with COVID-19, the one thing we’ll have to do with a lot less of is probably ‘touch’. The boundaries between the permissible, the required, the forbidden, the welcome, the yearned for but unrequited, the creepy and the intrusive in respect of touch will be successively redrawn and renegotiated – as indeed they have been in the past, whether in response to cultural invasion or transformation, new technologies, the emergence of new cultural practices, and so on.

It is, of course, a topic that has been explored by historians before, but we felt it might be a stimulating topic to discuss in the coming year, when so much of our attention will go to avoiding touch. We are considering this initially to be a topic for discussion, by a group of people who might have an interest in this. Once we have such a group of people together, we might plan initially a discussion of some of the readings we know of so far (a sample is at the end of this email, but we’d need more! From more diverse authors, and about more diverse places!), before following on with a conversation around the ways in which we ourselves might work on this, and perhaps hosting a half-day workshop with some external people who work on this, too. If this seems productive, then we might move on to something more formal, funded perhaps by IAS or even externally.

See here for a preliminary reading list

Indian doctor taking the pulse of a patient. Attributed to a painter from Tanjore (Thanjavur), ca. 1840. Wellcome collection

Thomas Rowlandson, 'The miseries of travelling' 1807. Met museum

Theresa May and Donald Trump holding hands

Bernini, 'Capture of Persephone'