Research output per year
Research output per year
I am a cultural historian of the early modern period with a particular interest in the history of the body and its interactions with the material 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 bodyweight in early modern Germany and I am currently revising this work for publication as a monograph. As the first book-length study of bodyweight 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.
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.
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'. 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.
My research on the project focuses on 'Latitudes of Sleep'. The key questions behind this research are: Which climatological, meteorological and topographical factors were judged to affect sleep quality? What material strategies did people deploy to control the photic and thermal conditions of their sleep environments at different times of year?
I am particularly interested in early modern people's use of material culture to create healthy sleep 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. My latest article based on this research was published in German History in 2021.
This project is the first extended study of bodyweight 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 bodyweight 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 bodyweight 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.
To examine the wide-reaching significance of bodyweight in this society, the project uses a diverse set of sources including visual images and material objects, self-narratives, literary texts, sermons and moralising works, cookery books, medical texts and travel accounts. It also brings together a range of fields of study including the history of the body, the history of emotions, religious history, medical history, food history, and the study of visual and material culture. Through this interdisciplinary analysis the project argues that ideas about bodyweight permeated almost all areas of contemporary life. The size and shape of the body held consequences for notions of personal identity, femininity and masculinity, and understandings of the ageing body. Bodyweight was implicated in personal relationships, particularly between spouses, and it could also be conceived of in terms of cultural belonging, including in relation to specific environmental contexts. Germans, for instance, were understood to be fatter and more solidly build than southern Europeans thanks to the cold and northerly climate of Germany. Moreover, ideas about bodily form and the flesh could be integrated into fundamental debates about what it meant to be a Christian, including the nature of the resurrected body and the matter of the Eucharist. The project thus demonstrates how the size and shape of the body could be made to matter in specific ways and in particular contexts, as part of cultural, embodied arguments about values and identities.
Recent scholarship has demonstrated the role of the body as the medium through which early modern people experienced and made sense of the world. This project shows how this experience was itself moulded by perceptions of bodily size and shape. In uncovering this significance, the project transforms our understanding of how early modern Germans conceived both of themselves and their surroundings, offering a new lens through which to study human experience in early modernity. This exploration of the cultural significance of bodyweight, fatness and thinness, is also highly pertinent to current discussions concerning body image, fat acceptance, obesity and public health.
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 will take place in June 2022. The conference is funded by the DFG. See our call for papers here.
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
'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.
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):
Research output: Contribution to journal › Article › peer-review
Research output: Contribution to journal › Article › peer-review
Research output: Contribution to journal › Book/Film/Article review › peer-review
Research output: Contribution to journal › Literature review › peer-review
Fletcher, Holly (Recipient), 1 Dec 2021
Prize: Prize (including medals and awards)
1 Media contribution
Press/Media: Blogs and social media