Bodies & Sexuality – Inherited Learning

An early modern image of female sexuality.

Digital Archives, Built by Students, For Students

Leaving learning resources richer than when we found them.

About this Project

BodiesAndSexuality Starting with a set of images already being used in the module and supplemented by what they could find online, University of Hertfordshire students enrolled in the ‘Bodies and Sexuality in Early Modern England’ module were challenged with building a virtual digital archive of historical sources, replete with context and metadata. Each student was asked to identify visual primary sources related to each weekly topic, and the ‘best’ items as determined by the class were added to the digital archive. Each item is connected to the history of early modern bodies and sexuality and they opened up up new discussions and comparisons for the class that were not otherwise obvious.

Though all of these items had already been digitised, this project brings them together into an ‘invented archive’ where they can be recombined into histories that provide new interpretations.

Module Aims

This module explores popular and medical ideas about the body and sexuality in the early modern period. The body was fundamental to gender roles, social relationships and experiencing everyday life. Students examine a diverse range of primary source material and supporting historiography in order to evaluate assumptions that underpinned early modern notions of normal and abnormal bodies. The module also considers the importance of sexuality and sexual behaviours to early modern life, focusing on what was seen to be normal and abnormal behaviours, challenging students to think about how activities were monitored and policed. The module provides experience of researching and using a range of unusual source materials including medical treatises, portraits, jokes, and erotic literature.

Project Aims

  • Become aware of digital archives holding visual primary sources related to the topics you are studying.
  • Learn about metadata standards for describing visual primary sources
  • Learn to integrate visual primary sources in your research essays.

Project Outputs

  • Omeka Logo “Bodies and Sexuality in the Early Modern Period” (2017-Present), This Omeka archive provides a simple browseable digital archive of primary sources related to nine topics related to bodies and sexuality in the early modern period.
  • Ian Chowcat, ‘University of Hertfordshire, Inherited Learning: Digital Archives Built by Students for Students’ JISC, (2018).

Software and Primary Sources

This project uses Omeka to host all primary sources and metadata.

Students gathered images from around the web, but found the image collections of the Rijksmuseum and the Wellcome Collection particularly useful.

Student Contributors

The following students made contributions to the archive:


  • TBD

Project Team

Please direct any correspondence, including takedown requests, to Jennifer Evans (

Jennifer Evans
Dr Jennifer Evans
Bodies & Sexuality Project Director
Senior Lecturer, History
University of Hertfordshire.
Ms Keavy Hunnigal-Gaw
Teaching & Learning Assistant
University of Hertfordshire