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Title: Attitudes towards infertility in early modern England and colonial New England, c. 1620-1720
Author: Benoit, Marisa Noelle
ISNI:       0000 0004 5358 9349
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2014
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This thesis examines attitudes toward infertility in early modern England and colonial New England from c.1620 to 1720 through infertility’s representation in contemporary medical, religious, and literary sources. This study uses an expanded definition of infertility, namely a 'spectrum of infertility', to capture the tensions that arose during periods of infertility and experiences of reproductive failure such as miscarriages, stillbirths, monstrous births, and false conceptions. A spectrum, more than a modern definition, more accurately represents the range of bodily conditions experienced by early modern women and men that indicated reproductive disorder in the body; by extension, the language of infertility expressed fears about disorder in times of social, religious, and political crisis in early modern society. The two societies' relationship was often described through reproductive language and the language of infertility appears in both societies when order - within the body, within marriages, or within and between communities - was threatened. This thesis contributes to a growing body of scholarship on infertility in early modern society by analysing its presence in communications within and between early modern England and colonial New England. It argues that understanding the English origins of the colonists' attitudes toward infertility is fundamental both to understanding the close connection between the two societies and to providing context for the colonists' perceptions about their encounters with new lands, bodies, environments, and reasons for emigration. As a result, this thesis seeks to break new ground in providing an overview of social, medical, and cultural reactions in both England and New England, demonstrating that similar language and tropes were used in both regions to communicate concerns about infertility. Exploring the interplay between the many sources addressing this health issue more accurately represents the complexity of early modern attitudes toward infertility, and the intimacy of the relationship between the fledgling New England colonies and their metaphorical Mother England.
Supervisor: Pelling, Margaret; Charters, Erica Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Early Modern Britain and Europe ; History of medicine ; History of North America ; history of infertility ; history of reproduction ; social history of colonial New England ; social history of Early Modern England