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date: 17 May 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This essay that sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europeans told many competing and conflicting stories about sexual differences and gender identities. These stories came from a wide range of sources, including the Bible, natural philosophical and medical texts, and travelers’ tales of exotic locales. Ideas about sexual difference were profoundly shaped by three interrelated historical developments: the religious upheavals of the Reformation; dramatic changes in medicine and science; and European exploration and colonization. The Protestant rejection of clerical celibacy led to new views of the differences between men and women and their respective roles in marriage and in society as a whole. Developments in science and medicine, specifically the recovery of ancient Greek medical texts, the rise of anatomical dissections, and the new importance of alchemy, as well as exploration and colonization of non-European lands and peoples, all shaped understandings of sexual differences.

Keywords: gender, sex, marriage, clerical celibacy, medical humanism, anatomical renaissance, alchemy, colonialism, travel literature, race

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