Skip to main content

“Stand Up Straight”: Notes Toward a History of Posture

Abstract

The essay presents a set of interlinked claims about posture in modern culture. Over the past two centuries it has come to define a wide range of assumptions in the West from what makes human beings human (from Lamarck to Darwin and beyond) to the efficacy of the body in warfare (from Dutch drill manuals in the 17th century to German military medical studies of soldiers in the 19th century). Dance and sport both are forms of posture training in terms of their own claims. Posture separates ‘primitive’ from ‘advanced’ peoples and the ‘ill’ from the ‘healthy.’ Indeed an entire medical sub-specialty developed in which gymnastics defined and recuperated the body. But all of these claims were also part of a Western attempt to use posture (and the means of altering it) as the litmus test for the healthy modern body of the perfect citizen. Focusing on the centrality of posture in two oddly linked moments of modern thought—modern Zionist thought and Nationalism in early 20th century China—in terms of bodily reform, we show how “posture” brings all of the earlier debates together to reform the body.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  1. Anon. 1902. “The Stereotyped Attitudes and Postures of the Insane in Regard to Diagnosis and Prognosis.” The Lancet 159, no. 4094 (February): 465–466.

  2. Ash, Mitchell. 2002. “Wissenschaft und Politik als Ressourcen fur einander,” in Rudiger vom Buch and Brigitte Kaderas (eds.), Wissenschaften und Wissenschaftspolitik. Bestandsaufnahme und Perspektiven der Forschung. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Barad, Karen. 2007. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Duke University Press Books.

  4. Bein, Alex. 1974. Theodor Herzl: Biographie. Wien: Selbstverl. der Österreichisch-Israelischen Gesellschaft.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Bigg, Heather. 1910. “Civilization and the Corset.” The Lancet 175, no. 4507 (January): 203–205.

  6. Bigg, Heather, and Lætitia, H. 1909. Andrew-Bird. “Civilization and the Corset.” The Lancet 174, no. 4500 (November): 1630–1631.

  7. Bloch, R.J, Rubin, C. 1988. “How Can We Understand the Bends in the Upright Gait?” New German Critique. 45.

  8. Boyle, Marjorie O’Rourke. 1998. Senses of Touch: Human Dignity and Deformity from Michelangelo to Calvin. Brill Academic Pub.

  9. Brinkschulte, Eva, and Muniz de Faria, Yara Lemke. “Patienten im Atelier: die fotografische Sammlung des Arztes Heimann Wolff Berend 1858 bis 1865.” Fotogeschichte 80 (June 2001): 17–27.

  10. Brownell, Susan. 1995. Training the Body for China: Sports in the Moral Order of the People’s Republic. 1st ed. University Of Chicago Press.

  11. Burton, Robert. 1977. The Anatomy of Melancholy: What It Is, with All the Kinds, Causes, Symptomes, Prognostickes & Severall Cures of It. New York: Vintage Books.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Butler, Judith. 1993. Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex.” Psychology Press.

  13. Campbell, Harry. 1922. “The Erect Posture.” The Lancet 199, no. 5134 (January): 154.

  14. Chen Duxiu. 1915 “Jinride Jiaoyo Fanghen” (The Objectives of a Modern Education), New Youth (Xin Qingnian) 1 (Tokyo Daian reprint, 1962): 118.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. 1996. Monster Theory: Reading Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Copland, G. 1897. “Hints on Singing,” The Minim: A Musical Magazine for Everybody4. 43 (April): 164–165.

  17. Darwin, Charles. 1871. The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. London: J. Murray.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  18. Davis, Lennard J. 2002. Bending Over Backwards: Disability, Dismodernism and Other Difficult Positions. First Edition. NYU Press.

  19. Dikotter, Frank. 1995. Sex, Culture and Modernity in China: Medical Science and the Construction of Sexual Identities in the Early Republican Period. Univ of Hawaii Press.

  20. Engels, Friedrich. 1972. The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Enoxthompson, J. 1922 . “The Erect Posture.” The Lancet 199, no. 5133 (January): 107–110.

  22. Estabrooks, G. H. 1941. Man The Mechanical Misfit. 1st US Edition 1st Printing. Macmillan.

  23. Feldenkrais, Moshé. 1949. Body and Mature Behavior; a Study of Anxiety, Sex, Gravitation & Learning. New York: International Universities Press.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Fish, Cecil. 1909 . “Civilization and the Corset.” The Lancet 174, no. 4502 (December): 1774–1775.

  25. Foucault, Michel. 1995. Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Trans., Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage Books.

  26. Franits, Wayne, ed. 1998. Looking at Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art: Realism Reconsidered. Cambridge University Press.

  27. Gaulhofer, Karl. 1930. Die Fusshaltung. Ein Beitrag zur Stilgeschichte der menschlichen Bewegung. Kassel: Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft für körperliche Erziehung.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Galton, Francis. 1869. Hereditary Genius: An Inquiry into Its Laws and Consequences. London: Macmillan.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  29. Gibbons, Ann. 2009. “A New Kind of Ancestor: Ardipithecus Unveiled.” Science 326, no. 5949 (October): 36–40.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Gillerman, Sharon. 2003 . “Samson in Vienna: The Theatrics of Jewish Masculinity.” Jewish Social Studies 9, no. 2: 65–98.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Groller, B. 1901. “Die körperliche Minderwertigkeit der Juden,” Die Welt 16 (April 19): 3–5.

  32. Gützlaff, Karl Friedrich A. 1834. A Sketch of Chinese History, Ancient and Modern. Smith, Elder and Co.

  33. Haraway, Donna J. 1997. Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium. FemaleMan_Meets_OncoMouse: Feminism and Technoscience. Routledge.

  34. Haraway, Donna Jeanne. 1989. Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science. Routledge.

  35. Hau, Michael. 2003. The Cult of Health and Beauty in Germany: A Social History, 1890–1930. University of Chicago Press.

  36. Herder, Johann Gottfried. 1800. Outlines of a Philosophy of the History of Man. J. Johnson.

  37. Heinrich, Larissa N. 2008. The Afterlife of Images: Translating the Pathological Body Between China and the West. Duke University Press Books.

  38. Higate, Paul. 2003. Military Masculinities: Identity and the State. Praeger.

  39. Hitchings, Henry. 2005. Defining the World, The Extraordinary Story of Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Jarausch, Konrad Hugo. 1982. Students, Society, and Politics in Imperial Germany: The Rise of Academic Illiberalism. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Jefferis, B. G., and J. L. Nichols. 1894. Searchlights on Health: Light on Dark Corners A Complete Sexual Science and a Guide to Purity and Physical Manhood, Advice To Maiden, Wife, And Mother, Love, Courtship, And Marriage. Toronto: J.L. Nichols.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Jefferys, William Hamilton. 1910. The Diseases of China, Including Formosa and Korea. P. Blakiston’s Son & Company.

  43. Johnson, Wendy Dasler. 2001. “Cultural Rhetorics of Women’s Corsets.” Rhetoric Review 20, no. 3/4 (Autumn): 203–233.

  44. Jonson, Ben. 1640. The Workes of Benjamin Jonson. London: Printed for Richard Meighen.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Kant, Immanuel. 2007. “Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Aim,” trans. Allen Wood, The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant: Anthropology, History and Education, eds. Günter Zöller and Robert B. Louden. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  46. Kasson, John F. 1991. Rudeness and Civility: Manners in Nineteenth-Century Urban America. Hill and Wang.

  47. Keith, Sir Arthur. 1934. The Construction of Man’s Family Tree. Watts.

  48. Kendall, H.O, and Kendall, F.P. 1968 . “Developing and Maintaining Good Posture.” Physical Therapy 48, no. 4 (April): 319–336.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Kingdon, Jonathan. 2003. Lowly Origin: Where, When, and Why Our Ancestors First Stood Up. Princeton University Press.

  50. Knox, MacGregor, and Williamson Murray, eds. 2001. The Dynamics of Military Revolution, 1300–2050. 1st ed. Cambridge University Press.

  51. Knox Thompson, J. 1922. “The Erect Posture.” The Lancet 199, no. 5136 (February): 251.

  52. Kohn, M. 1995. The Race Gallery: The Return of Racial Science. Jonathan Cape.

  53. Laertius, Diogenes. 1925. Diogenes Laertius: Lives of Eminent Philosophers. Translated by R. D. Hicks. 9 vols. Loeb Classical Library.

  54. Lamarck, Jean-Baptiste de. 1809. Philosophie zoologique, ou exposition des considérations relatives à l’histoire naturelle des animaux … Dentu.

  55. Lamperti, M. 1939. The Art of Singing, revised, edited, and transl. by J. C. Griffith. London: G. Schirmer.

  56. Leroy-Beaulieu, Anatole, and Frances Hellman. 1895. Israel Among the Nations: a Study of the Jews and Antisemitism. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons; London: W. Heinemann.

  57. Livers, Keith A. 2004. Constructing The Stalinist Body: Fictional Representations of Corporeality In The Stalinist 1930s. Lexington Books.

  58. Longreich, Peter. 2013. Heinrich Himmler: A Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  59. Lovejoy, C. O. 1981. “The Origin of Man.” Science 211, no. 4480 (January 23): 341–350.

  60. ———. 1988. “Evolution of Human Walking.” Scientific American 259, no. 5: 118–25.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. ———. 2005. “The Natural History of Human Gait and Posture: Part 1. Spine and Pelvis.” Gait & Posture 21, no. 1 (January): 95–112.

  62. ———. 2005 . “The Natural History of Human Gait and Posture. Part 2. Hip and Thigh.” Gait & Posture 21, no. 1: 113–24.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  63. Liying, S. 2006. “Body Un/Dis-covered: Luoti, Editorial Agency and Transcultural Production in Chinese Pictorials (1925–1933).” PhD diss., Heidelberg.

  64. Malpas, Constance. 2004. “Jules Guerin Makes his Market: The Social Economy of Orthopaedic Medicine in Paris, 1825–45.” In Willem de Blécourt, Cornelie Usborne, eds, Cultural Approaches to the History of Medicine: Mediating Medicine in Early Modern and Modern Europe, 187–213. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

    Google Scholar 

  65. McNeill, William Hardy. 1995. Keeping Together in Time: Dance and Drill in Human History. Harvard University Press.

  66. “Medicine: Posture Lady.” 1937. Time, April 5. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,757573,00.html. Accessed November 7, 2013.

  67. Morris, Andrew D. 2004. Marrow of the Nation: A History of Sport and Physical Culture in Republican China. 1st ed. University of California Press.

  68. Mosse, George L. 1985. Nationalism and Sexuality: Respectability and Abnormal Sexuality in Modern Europe. New York: H. Fertig.

    Google Scholar 

  69. Munro, Robert. 1897. Prehistoric Problems, Being a Selection of Essays on the Evolution of Man and Other Controverted Problems in Anthropology and Archæology. Edinburgh, London, W. Blackwood and sons.

    Google Scholar 

  70. Nordau, Max. 1895. Degeneration. New York: D. Appleton.

    Google Scholar 

  71. Otto Fischer, 1899. Christian Wilhelm Braune. Der Gang des Menschen. B. G. Teubner.

  72. Parker, Geoffrey. 2007. “The Limits to Revolutions in Military Affairs: Maurice of Nassau, the Battle of Nieuwpoort (1600), and the Legacy.” The Journal of Military History 71, no. 2: 331–372.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  73. Presner, Todd Samuel. “‘Clear Heads, Solid Stomachs, and Hard Muscles’: Max Nordau and the Aesthetics of Jewish Regeneration.” Modernism/modernity 10, no. 2 (2003): 269–296.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  74. Pusey, James R. 1983. China and Charles Darwin. Harvard University Asia Center.

  75. ———. 1998. Lu Xun and Evolution. SUNY Press.

  76. Rabinback, Anson. 1991. The Human Motor: Energy, Fatigue, and the Origins of Modernity. University of California Press.

  77. Richards, Robert J. 1993. The Meaning of Evolution: The Morphological Construction and Ideological Reconstruction of Darwin’s Theory. University Of Chicago Press.

  78. Rocha, L.A. 2010. “Sex, Eugenics, Aesthetics, Utopia in the Life and Work of Zhang Jingsheng (1888–1970).” PhD diss., University of Cambridge.

  79. Rohrer, Joseph. 1804. Versuch über die jüdischen Bewohner der österreichischen Monarchie. [Camesina]

  80. Roller, Matthew B. 2006. Dining Posture in Ancient Rome: Bodies, Values, and Status. Princeton University Press.

  81. Roodenburg, H. 1997. “How to Sit, Stand or Walk: Toward a Historical Anthropology of Dutch Paintings.” In Wayne Franits, ed., Looking at Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art: Realism Reconsidered, 175–184. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  82. Rosen, Christine. 2004. Preaching Eugenics: Religious Leaders and the American Eugenics Movement. Oxford University Press, USA.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  83. Schudt, Johann Jakob. 1718. Jüdische Merkwürdigkeiten. Vol. 2. Frankfurt am Main: S. T. Hocker.

  84. Schumaker, John A. 1989. Human Posture: The Nature of Inquiry. State Univ of New York Press.

  85. Schwartz, Benjamin I. 1964. In Search of Wealth and Power: Yen Fu and the West. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

  86. Scott, Walter. 1893. The Waverly Novels 30 vols. Kenilworth vol. 12. London: Nimmo.

  87. Siebers, Tobin Anthony. 2008. Disability Theory. University of Michigan Press.

  88. Simms, Joseph. 1887. Physiognomy Illustrated: Or, Nature’s Revelations of Character. A Description of the Mental, Moral, and Volitive Dispositions of Mankind, as Manifested in the Human Form and Countenance. Murray Hill Pub. Co.

  89. Sloterdijk, Peter. 1993. Weltfremdheit. Erstausgabe. Suhrkamp Verlag.

    Google Scholar 

  90. Smith, Laura, Elizabeth. 1996. Brunnstrom’s Clinical Kinesiology (Clinical Kinesiology. 5th ed. F.A. Davis Company.

  91. Snyder, Sharon L., Brenda Brueggemann, and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, eds. 2002. Disability Studies: Enabling the Humanities. Modern Language Association of America.

  92. Stearns, Peter N. 1999. Battleground of Desire: The Struggle for Self -Control in Modern America. NYU Press.

  93. Schumacher, J.A. 1989. Human Posture: The Nature of Inquiry. Albany: State Univ. of New York Press.

    Google Scholar 

  94. Theweleit, Klaus. 2002. Männerphantasien. 2 vols. Frankfurt: Roter Stern.

  95. Traub, Rainer, Harald Wiesner, and Otto Klemperer. 1975. Gespräche mit Ernst Bloch. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

    Google Scholar 

  96. Trigger, Bruce G. 1967. “Engels on the Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man: An Anticipation of Contemporary Anthropological Theory.” Canadian Review of Sociology/Revue Canadienne De Sociologie 4, no. 3: 165–176.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  97. Tsu, Jing. 2005. Failure, Nationalism, and Literature: The Making of Modern Chinese Identity, 1895–1937. 1st ed. Stanford University Press.

  98. Tung, Mao Tse. Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung: “A Study of Physical Education.” (“Tiyu zhi yonjiu”). http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-6/mswv6_01.htm. Accessed November 8, 2013.

  99. Usborne, Cornelie ed. 2004. Cultural Approaches to the History of Medicine: Mediating Medicine in Early Modern and Modern Europe. Palgrave Macmillan.

  100. Veder, Robin. 2010. “The Expressive Efficiencies of American Delsarte and Mensendieck Body Culture.” Modernism/modernity 17, no. 4: 819–38.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  101. Vom Bruch, Rüdiger, and Brigitte Kaderas. 2002. Wissenschaften Und Wissenschaftspolitik. Bestandsaufnahme Zu Formationen, Brüchen Und Kontinuitäten Im Deutschland Des 20. Jahrhunderts. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag.

    Google Scholar 

  102. Ward, C.V. 2002. “Early hominid posture and locomotion: where do we stand?.” Yrbk. Phys. Anthropol . v. 45: 185–215.

    Google Scholar 

  103. ———. 2002. “Interpreting the Posture and Locomotion of Australopithecus Afarensis: Where Do We Stand?” American Journal of Physical Anthropology Suppl 35: 185–215.

  104. ———. 2003. “The Evolution of Human Origins” American Anthropologist New Series 105, no. 1: 77–88.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  105. Warneken, Bernd Jürgen and Blashofer-Hrusa, Anka, eds. 1990. Der Aufrechte Gang. Zur Symbolik Einer Körperhaltung.

  106. Wells, H. G. 1896. The Island of Dr. Moreau. Garden City NY: Garden City Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  107. White, T. D., B. Asfaw, Y. Beyene, Y. Haile-Selassie, C. O. Lovejoy, G. Suwa, and G. WoldeGabriel. 2009. “Ardipithecus Ramidus and the Paleobiology of Early Hominids.” Science 326, no. 5949 (October 1): 64–64, 75–86.

    Google Scholar 

  108. Willey, Angela. 2009 . “From Pair-Bonding to Polyamory: A Feminist Critique of Naturalizing Discourses on Monogamy and Non-Monogamy.” Phd diss., Emory University.

  109. Wood, Anthony à, and Philip Bliss. 1691. Athenae Oxonienses: an Exact History of All the Writers and Bishops Who Have Had Their Education in the University of Oxford: to Which Are Added the Fasti, or Annals of the Said University. London.

  110. Xenophon, 1968. Trans. by E. C. Marchant. Xenophon. 7 vols. William Heinemann.

  111. Xun, Zhou. 2000. Chinese Perceptions of the Jews’ and Judaism: A History of the Youtai. Routledge.

  112. Yelle, Robert A. 2006 . “The Rhetoric of Gesture in Cross-cultural Perspective.” Gesture 6, no. 2: 223–240.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  113. Yosifon, David, and Peter N. Stearns. 1998. “The Rise and Fall of American Posture.” The American Historical Review 103, no. 4 (October): 1057.

  114. Zirker, Max. 1903. “Vom Basler Schauturnen,” Die jüdische Turnzeitung . no. 9: 164–9.

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sander L. Gilman.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Gilman, S.L. “Stand Up Straight”: Notes Toward a History of Posture. J Med Humanit 35, 57–83 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10912-013-9266-0

Download citation

Keywords

  • Posture
  • Degeneracy
  • Health
  • Politics