International Workshop



Escuela Española de Historia y Arqueología en Roma 

Roma, 21-22/11/2013

This workshop aims at analysing in deep the multiple values attributed to the female womb in pre-modern and ethnographic societies from a historical perspective. In religious, philosophical, and medical discourses the uterus has been the focus many authors have used in the construction of cultural-determined ideas of women’s bodies as well as of gender notions of what women were and how they were to be dealt with. The Hippocratic notion of the “wandering womb”, which still inspires streams of scholar literature nowadays, is a good example of how a specific picturing of the uterus can not only determine patterns of medical intervention and body control, but also validate ideas of social position, moral values and personal capacities of women. The strong academic focus on specific cultural phenomena (such as the “wandering womb”), however, has probably overshadowed other ideas, representations, attitudes and thoughts present in ancient and, more generally, pre-modern trends of thought and practice of other groups and areas. Having this in mind, we want to transcend the Eurocentric vision by bringing into the discussion a number of case studies taken from different cultural and social realities (the Mediterranean, the Ancient Near East, Pre-Columbian America, East Asia, Africa, etc) that will be explored from the methodological perspectives offered by a variety of disciplines (history, philology, anthropology, cultural studies, etc).
We intend to address a set of historical questions that may bring out the multiple aspects associated with the uterus through the dissection of both learned and popular sources, material evidence, iconography, and representation. In the course of this workshop, we will begin by addressing questions regarding the vocabulary of the womb (euphemisms, learned terminology, popular names, etc) in order to map out historical attitudes towards the female sexual parts. The womb has been historically taken by as a representation of the female in a pars-pro-toto-type of relation, and women have been seen as containers, ovens, or even tombs, suggesting a strong association between female anatomy and the world of the dead, nature and fertility. The uterus can also be employed to express notions of feeling and moral qualities, both positive and negative, or even to think and recreate the world metaphorically. There are evidences even to “male wombs” and examples of metaphoric attribution of certain female physiological functions to man in an attempt of emphasizing certain values and notions of love and care. All the symbolic, representational and metaphoric dimensions of the uterus will play, therefore, a key role in the articulation of the workshop’s programme. We will also deal with “womb worlds” and the devices used to depict the unseen, that is, how the womb anatomy and the foetus existence in the gravid womb was pictured and imagined.
All in all, by focusing on the womb and its many values, we intend to combine different but complementary approaches that include women’s studies, cultural history, history of medicine and religious studies in order to offer new understanding on body and culture.

Workshop programme

21st November
13:15 Opening
13:30-15:00 PANEL 1
Paolo DELAINI (Uni. Bologna)
“The Sasanian King and the physiology of pregnancy”
Zubin MISTRY (UCL London)
“Unnatural Symbol: Imagining Abortion from the Womb in the Early Middle Ages”
15:00-15:30 Coffee break
15:30-17:00 PANEL 2
Caterina MORO ("Sapienza")
        “Science and Wonder: Formation and Life of the Embryo in the Womb according to Judaism”
Érica COUTO-FERREIRA (Cluster of excellence "Asia and Europe" / Uni. Heidelberg)
“Uterine architectures: depicting the womb in Sumero-Akkadian sources”

22nd November
9:15-9:30 Address
9:30-11:00 PANEL 3
Anna ANDREEVA (Cluster of excellence "Asia and Europe" / Uni. Heidelberg)
“Understanding the Uterus in Premodern Japan”
Sonia-Maura BARILLARI (Uni. Genova)
“Matrix tanquam fera sylvestris... Medicina e ostetricia fra XII e XIII secolo”
11:00-11:30 Coffee break
11:30-13:00 PANEL 4
Alessandro LUPO ("Sapienza")
“Dalle sette caverne alla sala parto: un excursus su concezioni e pratiche intorno all’utero nel Messico antico e moderno”
Helen KING (Open University)
“A womb with a view: describing the womb in words and images in the ancient Greek medical tradition”
13:00-14:00 Lunch
14:00-15:30 PANEL 5
Cathie SPIESER (Uni. Freibourg)
“Aspects of the womb and embracing the dead in Ancient Egypt”
Giovanni PIZZA (Uni. Perugia)
“Animalità del corpo. Nuove riflessioni sulla metafora dell'utero-ragno a partire da una etnografia in Italia meridionale”
15:30-16:00 Coffee break
16:00-17:30 Final discussion


There will only be 20 seats available in the workshop room for the general public.

People wishing to attend the workshop should register by
filling out the following online registration form by November the 15th.
The 2-day workshop fee amounts to 15 euros that will have to be paid the 21st November at the workshop registration desk.
Fee covers:
-    Access to all the lectures.
-    Certificate of attendance.
-    Coffee and lunch breaks.
-    Workshop materials in electronic form.

Organizers and contact information

M. Érica Couto-Ferreira       mail erica    academia
Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe” - Universität Heidelberg link
Seminar für Sprachen und Kulturen des Vorderen Orients - Assyriologie
Hauptstr. 126 69117 - Heidelberg
Lorenzo Verderame               mail    link
Istituto Italiano di Studi Orientali - “Sapienza” Università di Roma 
Facoltà di Lettere e Filosofia
“Sapienza” Università di Roma
P.le Aldo Moro 5
00185 - Roma

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