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Professor Heikki Lempa’s Book Explores the History of the Body in Nineteenth-Century Germany

Bethlehem, Pa., August 8, 2007— Dr. Heikki Lempa, assistant professor of modern European and German history at Moravian College, recently authored Beyond the Gymnasium: Educating the Middle-Class Bodies in Classical Germany, published by Lexington Press. The book is the first systematic effort to examine the history of the body in modern Germany. By looking into medical dietetics, walking, dancing, gymnastics, cholera, and classrooms, Lempa reconstructs the ways the middle-class body became a source of political and social autonomy and a medium of social interaction.

During the first two decades of the nineteenth century, German physicians defined the middle-class body as qualitatively different from the lower-class body. This belief was supported by a contemporary science known as dietetics. Lempa provides a comprehensive history and analysis of this science. Beyond the Gymnasium also analyzes the social implications of court dancing and gymnastics. In the eighteenth century, the French court dances set the standards of upper- and middle-class conduct. In the 1810s, the gymnastics movement challenged this tradition by promoting vigorous physical exercise and egalitarian social interaction. In 1819, a ban on gymnastics contributed to the rapid spread of dancing clubs, ballrooms, public promenades, and spas; the old forms of bodily interaction underwent a renaissance. These two trends--the quest for bodily autonomy and the continuity of traditional bodily conduct--played an important role in the status of the German middle class in the nineteenth century. In social interaction, it continued to cultivate those forms that had endowed the Old Regime with its specific character and flair. To explain this, the book explores the forms of social recognition in dancing, greeting, and walking and discovers that the German middle-class displayed an aptitude for social recognition of asymmetrical relationships.

Lempa finds the body a fascinating subject because it is so familiar and intimate, but at the same time so strange. His interest in the history of the body, its various practices, such as dancing, walking, gymnastics, and medical treatment goes back to his first book Der deutsche Philanthropismus (1768-1788) which explored the beginning of modern education in eighteenth-century Germany. “I discovered evidence of a lack of interest in things intellectual among the German school reformers around 1800,” Lempa said. “This was the golden era of German education. It saw the foundation of the modern German high school (gymnasium), the first modern research university, the University of Berlin (which later became the model for our research universities and also modern liberal arts education), and a bit later the rise of modern early childhood education (Friedrich Froebel and in invention of kindergarten). There was no lack of research on this era and topic but what had been overlooked was the fundamental meaning of the body and its practices for this era. This is my main finding. It confirms discoveries in a number of recent studies that have investigated the politics of gender around 1800.”

In one of the chapters, he explores the ways the cholera epidemic of 1832 broke out. “A disease is always an individual tragedy but in the case of an epidemic it was also a societal catastrophe,” Lempa noted. “How could one protect oneself from this disease if there was no effective cure? The only answer was preventive medicine, to harden one’s body to stand against the disease.”

The book explores this intersection between the most private of German peoples’ lives and the most public and political of all social arrangements. An example, Lempa notes is that walking was a central physical practice in nineteenth-century Germany. “It was an individual pleasure but it needed societal arrangements, parks, sidewalks, and plazas to become possible,” he said.

Lempa joined the History Department at Moravian College in 2001. His research and teaching interests focus on politics, culture, daily life, emotions, education, and the use of historical knowledge.  A native of Finland, Lempa studied at the University of Turku before earning his doctorate at the University of Chicago.

Lempa is currently collaborating with a Moravian College student, Tiffany Jamann, on a project that seeks to shed more light on the ways German physicians understood the body and its politics. Jamann is in Erfurt, Germany, collecting materials for her honors thesis, which will focus on the founding father of homeopathic medicine, Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), and analyze his concept of the body, its diseases, and cures. His next endeavor is to study of the idea of honor in Germany between 1700 and 1945.  Through a series of case studies, Lempa will explore how the sense of honor changed in Germany during the formative centuries of German culture and how these changes shaped German political and social landscape. He has laid the foundation to his studies with trips to the Herzog-August-Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel in 1997 and 1998 and to Max-Planck-Institut für Geschichtswissenschaft in Göttingen in 1999.

Moravian College is a private, coeducational, selective liberal arts college located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Tracing its founding to 1742, it is recognized as America's sixth-oldest college. Visit the Web site at www.moravian.edu.