Whitney Laemmli

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Doctoral Candidate
Entered 2009
B.A., Duke University, 2007
M.A., University of Pennsylvania
Contact Information
Office Address: 
370 Cohen Hall
Email Address: 
laemmli@sas.upenn.edu
Research Interests: 

My dissertation examines the curious history of human movement analysis in the twentieth century.  In the decades following World War II, the evaluation, control and replication of bodily movement became a central preoccupation of a diverse range of scientific and technological fields, from aerospace engineering to anthropology to animal behavior studies to psychotherapy.  The notation techniques these fields utilized, however, did not originate within the scientific community.  Instead, they drew upon the earlier efforts of a small group of dancers and choreographers who, since the 1930s, had been working to develop a system to capture a dance’s subtle artistic core in a standardized, written, “objective” form.

Using the surprising path of Labanotation as a guide, my dissertation charts the changing look and meaning of bodily movement in the twentieth century.  From the spotlight stage to the dingy basement labs of computer engineers and the films of Margaret Mead, a new moving body—one that was a source of copious information, capable of being manipulated, replicated, and easily deconstructed—came into being.  My work addresses the scientific analysis of human motion, questions of historic preservation and universal communication, the relationship between artistic and scientific production, and the use of inscription technologies to produce particular kinds of bodies.  Stated most generally, I ask: From where did the 20th century obsession with charting human movement spring and what were its consequences?      

My broader interests include science and popular culture, gender, the body, and the interactions between science, technology, and artistic endeavor.  Before arriving at Penn, I received a B.A. in history from Duke University and spent two years as an assistant editor at Oxford University Press.   

Curriculum Vitæ: