Personal profile

Overview

I am a cultural historian of the early modern period with particular interests in the history of the body, material culture and environments in the German and English speaking world.

As of October 2021, I am a Research Associate on the Wellcome Trust funded project 'Sleeping Well in the Early Modern World: An Environmental Approach to the History of Sleep Care' at the University of Manchester. This project analyses sleep habits as historically situated environmental practices, uncovering an environmentally informed culture of 'sleep care' in Britain, Ireland and early America c. 1500-1750. Within the project, my research focuses on the material strategies deployed by early modern people to create healthy sleep environments in response to differing climatological, meteorological and topographical factors.

Prior to joining Manchester, I taught early modern history at the University of Sussex. I hold a BA, MPhil and PhD from the University of Cambridge. My doctoral research examined the cultural significance of body size in early modern Germany and I am currently revising this work for publication as a monograph. As the first book-length study of body size in early modernity, this project uncovers how ‘fatness’ and ‘thinness’ were understood in this period as well as the role of bodily form in shaping early modern experiences of the world. 

Research interests

Sleeping Well in the Early Modern World

I am a Postdoctoral Research Associate on the Wellcome Trust funded project 'Sleeping Well in the Early Modern World: An Environmental Approach to the History of Sleep Care'. 

My research for the project focuses on the material culture of sleep, including the material strategies early modern people deployed to control their sleeping environments.  

Body Size and Shape in Early Modern Germany

My doctoral thesis examined the cultural significance of body size and shape in early modern Germany and I am currently revising this work for publication as a monograph. I have published two articles based on this research in German History in 2021 (winner of the German History Article Prize), and Food & History in 2023. 

This project is the first extended study of body size in early modernity. It explores how contemporaries conceived of ‘fatness’ and ‘thinness’, uncovering both the cultural and material significance of bodily size and shape in the German-speaking regions across the sixteenth century. It relates ideas about body size to shifting ideals for German women’s and men’s bodies in this period, further considering how such fashionable forms were confronted by the actual embodied experiences of early modern protagonists.

By showing that body size mattered in early modern Germany, the project challenges the common view that concern with body size is a modern phenomenon and that if fatness was considered at all in past societies, it was merely understood as a sign of wealth and prosperity. Instead the project demonstrates that such concerns were ever-present in sixteenth-century Germany, becoming embedded in wider discussions regarding religion, gender, selfhood and society.

Conferences

In connection with my research on the religious significance of bodily form, in 2019 I organised an international conference on 'The Reformation of the Body' at the University of Cambridge. This was funded by the Faculty of History and the DAAD. 

Together with Prof. Christine Ott (Frankfurt) and Prof. Jill Burke (Edinburgh) I am the co-organiser of an international conference on 'Fat Bodies in the Early Modern World' which took place in June 2022. The conference was funded by the DFG. See our call for papers here. An edited volume based on the conference contributions entitled 'Fat Bodies in Early Modern Europe' is under contract with Routledge.

 

Material Culture & Early Modern Bodies

I have long-standing interests in early modern material culture and the history of the body which unite the two projects outlined above. In 2017 I completed my MPhil at the Unviersity of Cambridge for which I examined a range of small statuettes of an naked, elderly woman from 1520s Germany. I used these figures to explore contemporary conceptualisations of the ageing female body in relation to questions of beauty, gender, religion, witchcraft and identity. My article based on this research, 'Age, Gender and the Body in the Bronze and Pearwood Statuettes of 1520s Germany', was published in Gender & History in 2020.

I am a member of The Bodies, Emotions and Material Culture Collective at Manchester.

 

Recent Talks and Presentations

Body Size, Gender and Marriage in Reformation Germany’, Embodying Reformation, KFG Polycentricity and Plurality of Premodern Christianities, Goethe-University, Frankfurt. May, 2023.

‘Making Beds and Stuffing Pillows: Sleep, Materials and Environmental Change in Early Modern England’, American Society for Environmental History Conference, Boston. March 2023.

‘Making Beds in Early Modern England: Sleep, Materials and Environments’, Renaissance Society of America Annual Meeting, San Juan. March 2023.

‘Making Beds and Stuffing Pillows: Sleep, Materiality and Environment in Early Modern England’, Europe 1500-1800 Seminar, Institute for Historical Research, London. January 2023.

'The Boundaries of Body Size in Early Modern Germany', German History Society Conference, Sheffield Hallam University. September 2022.

'Fat Wonder: Admiring Fat Bodies in Early Modern Germany' (keynote), Fat Bodies in Early Modern Europe, University of Edinburgh & Goethe-University Frankfurt. June 2022.

'Body Size, Gender and Marriage in Reformation Germany', REFORC Conference on Early Modern Christianity, 'Body and Soul', Freie Universität Berlin. May 2022.

'Sleeping Well in the Early Modern World: An Environmental Approach to the History of Sleep Care' (with Sasha Handley, Leah Astbury & Lucy Elliott). History Research Seminar, University of Lancaster. March 2022.

'Food and Fat: Constructing Body Size in Early Modern Germany', Centre for the Study of Medicine and the Body in the Renaissance, Pisa. January 2022.

'Transgressive Bodies: Bodyweight and Excess in Early Modern Germany', Scales, Norms, and Limit Values in Times of (Digital) Change, (Annual Conference of the Society for the History of Technology and the Society for the History of Science, Medicine and Technology). Technical Museum, Vienna. September 2021. 
 
‘The ‘Fat World’ of the Hutterite Brethren: Food and Fatness in the Criticism of Hutterite Anabaptists in Early Modern Germany’, Fat Worlds. Feasters and Loafers in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Times, Goethe-University, Frankfurt. September 2021

‘Contextualising the Body of the Artisan in Early Modern Augsburg’, German History Society Conference, University of Roehampton. September 2021.

‘Measures of Fleshiness: The Materiality of Bodyweight in Early Modern Germany’, Latitudes of the Body, Centre for the Study of Medicine and the Body in the Renaissance, Pisa. July 2021. 

‘Fleshy Bodies: The Cultural Significance of Bodyweight in Early Modern Germany’, guest lecture at Goethe-University, Frankfurt as part of the DFG funded project Fette Welten: topische und anti-utopische Diskurse über Essen und Körper in der Vormoderne. June 2021.

‘The Material Body in Marriage: Co-Producing Bodyweight in Early Modern Germany’, Experiencing the Material Body in Early Modern Europe, University of Stockholm. June 2021. 

‘Excess and Moderation: Disciplining the Body in Reformation Germany’, LUMEN-conference Reformation and Everyday Life, Aarhus University. May 2021.

‘Dress, Undress and the “Actual” Body in Early Modern Germany’, Fifteenth Workshop on Early Modern German History, German Historical Institute, London. May 2021. 

‘Fatness and Fashion: The Dressed Experience of Bodyweight in Early Modern Germany’, The Sartorial Society. April 2021.

‘Dress and the Materiality of Bodyweight in Early Modern Germany’, Early Modern German Culture Seminar, University of Oxford. March 2021.

‘Fatness and Fashion: Dressing the Body in Early Modern Germany’, Body and Food Histories Workshop, University of Cambridge. February 2020.

‘Luther and the Body’, German History Research Group, University of Cambridge. February 2020.

 

 

 

Prizes and awards

My article '"Belly-Worshippers and Greed Paunches": Fatness and the Belly in the Lutheran Reformation' was awarded the prize for the best article published in German History in 2021. This piece also won the runner up prize in the German History Society's Postgraduate Essay Competition in 2019.

In July 2021 I was awarded a Santorio Fellowship from the CSMBR (Centre for the Study of Medicine and the Body in the Renaissance). 

My PhD research (2017-2020) was funded by a Vice Chancellor's Award from the Cambridge Trust.

 

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action

Fingerprint

Dive into the research topics where Holly Fletcher is active. These topic labels come from the works of this person. Together they form a unique fingerprint.
  • 1 Similar Profiles