90063 - History, Science and Society (1) (LM)

Course Unit Page


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Quality education Gender equality

Academic Year 2021/2022

Learning outcomes

The aims of the course is to refine the student’s analytical skills and demonstrate: the ability to interpret both the primary and secondary literature so as to contextualise the history of scientific thought in relation to the history of philosophy, intellectual and cultural history, social and political history and the institutional history of the time; to carry out archival and bibliographical research making use of databases, online catalogues, and bibliographical inventories; to contribute to class discussion with a series of coherent and properly justified comments about the assigned themes (via short presentations and class discussion); to produce a series of written outputs (reviews, reflexive notes, essays) with the appropriate scholarly apparatus (footnotes, bibliography, illustrations), particularly in view of their dissertation.

Course contents

Exploring Bodies in Pre-modern Europe: Dissection and Representation

The functioning of the human body has fascinated humans for centuries. The difference between the sexes, gender roles, as well as human diversity and hereditary traits, have puzzled natural philosophers and doctors since antiquity. This course explores the history of the body through the study of the practice of anatomy as it emerged as a scientific discipline through a few key authors and themes. These include:

-medieval medicine and the early anatomical school at Bologna (c. 4 hours)

-the role of gender and generation in the development of medieval and renaissance dissection as a university practice (c. 6 hours)

-the criminal and the saintly body (c. 6 hours)

-the spectacle of dissection (c. 4 hours)

-anatomical illustration from Leonardo to Hunter (c. 6 hours)

- malleable bodies: ceroplastic and the tridimensional representation of the human body (c. 4 hours)


Katharine Park, Secrets of Women: Gender, Generation and the Origins of Human Dissection (New York: Zone Books, 2006)

-"The Criminal and The Saintly Body: Autopsy and Dissection in Renaissance Italy," Renaissance Quarterly, 47.1(1994), pp. 1-33

Sachiko Kusukawa, Picturing the Book of Nature: Image, Text, and Argument in Sixteenth-Century Human Anatomy and Medical Botany (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2012), Ch. 10.

Giovanna Ferrari, "Public Anatomy Lessons and the Carnival: The Anatomy Theatre of Bologna," Past and Present, 117 (1987), pp. 51-106.

Monica Azzolini, "Exploring Generation: A Context to Leonardo's Anatomies of the Female and Male Bodies," in: Leonardo da Vinci's anatomical world. Language, context and «disegno », Venezia, Marsilio, 2011, pp. 79 - 97

-"Leonardo da Vinci’s Anatomical Studies in Milan: A Re-examination of Sites and Sources," in: Visualizing Medieval Medicine and Natural History, 1200-1550, Aldershot, Ashgate, 2006, pp. 147 - 176

-Lucia Dacome, Malleable Anatomies: Models, Makers, and Material Culture in Eighteenth-Century Italy, Oxford, Oxford UP, 2017

-Rebecca Messbarger, The Lady Anatomist: The Life and Work of Anna Morandi Manzolini, Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 2010


Students who choose not to attend, or attend less than 2/3 of classes, should also prepare to answer questions on the following texts:

Nancy G. Siraisi, Medieval and Early Renaissance Medicine: An Introduction to Knowledge and Practice (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990).

-“Segni evidenti, teoria e testimonianza nelle narrazioni di autopsie del Rinascimento.” In Fatti: storie dell’evidenza empirica. Simona Cerutti and Gianna Pomata, eds. Special issue, Quaderni Storici 108 (2001): 719–44.

Teaching methods

The course will be delivered as a seminar. A brief lecture by the professor will be followed by a discussion on the primary and secondary sources assigned for every class. Students' preparation and participation in class discussion are crucial to the success of the course.

Students will be assigned individual presentations based on specific images, articles/texts, or specimen. Each presentation will last 10 min max.

If the COVID-19 situation permits it, there will be two site visits during the semester.

Assessment methods


For those attending classes: 50% coursework (essay: 3000 words, on a topic agreed with the professor); 30% oral exam; 20% presentation in class.

For those NOT attending: 50% essay; 50% oral exam


Criteria for evaluation:

The course aims to meet the following objectives:

-to demonstrate adequate knowledge of the main aspects of the course;

-to demonstrate the ability to approach critically both the primary and the secondary sources so as to situate the primary sources within the historiographic debate that emerged over time;

-to demonstrate the ability to elaborate a coherent and organic analysis both in writing and orally around a specific theme, aspect, or question (both textual and historiographical), with the aim of reaching some original conclusions based on the evidence in the text(s);

The oral exams will start with the discussion of the essay and proceed to test additional knowledge and skills.

The criteria adopted for the evaluation of the candidate and their work are the following:

1. familiarity with the content of the texts;

2. the ability to understand and analyse the texts;

3. the ability to construct an argument and use evidence appropriately to support it both in writing and orally.

The assessment aims at assessing the methodological and critical skills acquired during the semester. The examination will focus on the student's command of both the primary and the secondary literature. The student will be invited to discuss the texts covered during the course and to contextualise them in their historical period. Top marks (28-30) will be given to students who demonstrate a thorough knowledge of the material discussed in class and contained in the texts, critical and analytical skills, and the ability to express ideas and concepts clearly and cogently. Those students who will demonstrate a good knowledge of the material but tend to repeat it mechanically rather than demonstrate full understanding and the ability to build connections and present an argument will be rewarded with average to high marks (23-27). Students who demonstrate superficial knowledge, gaps in preparation, poor critical and analytical skills and difficulties of expression will receive average to low marks (18-22). Severe lacunae in one or more areas listed above could lead to the student repeating the exam.

Teaching tools

Slides; images; museum visits.

Office hours

See the website of Monica Azzolini