Portrait of Professor Anna Katharina Schaffner

Professor Anna Katharina Schaffner

Professor of Cultural History


Anna Katharina Schaffner is Professor of Cultural History, a writer, and a coach. She is interested in the theory and living practice of self-improvement, exhaustion, cultural history, the medical humanities, the histories of sexuality, psychiatry, and psychoanalysis, and mind-body theory.

Her latest book on the long history of the idea of self-improvement was published by Yale University Press in 2021. While self-improvement has been both weaponised and commercialised in recent times, the idea of cultivating the self is much older, reaching back all the way to ancient China. Drawing on philosophical, theological, medical and other sources, The Art of Self-Improvement: Ten Timeless Truths narrates the history of the idea of the changeable self from the age of antiquity to the present day.

Anna has also written a novel, The Truth about Julia (Allen & Unwin, 2016), and is editor-in-chief of the Emerge website. Her journalism has appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, the Guardian, Psychology Today, Positive Psychology, Aeon, PSYCHE, and other places. Her research has been discussed on BBC Radio 4 and WBUR, as well as in Vogue, the Atlantic, National Geographic, the TLS, Philosophie Magazine, Psychology Today, de Volkskrant and New Republic.

Research interests

Anna’s previous book, Exhaustion: A History (Columbia University Press, 2016), charts the forgotten history of exhaustion from classical antiquity to the present day, examining the role of exhaustion symptoms in syndromes including melancholia, acedia, nervousness, neurasthenia, depression, and burnout. Exhaustion: A History has been widely reviewed and discussed in national and international media.

Anna’s monograph Modernism and Perversion: Sexual Deviance in Sexology and Literature, 1850-1930 (Palgrave, 2012) explores the construction of the sexual perversions in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century medical, psychiatric, and psychological discourse, and illuminates the role played by literary texts in the formation of sexological knowledge. She has also published on David Lynch, contemporary German-speaking literature, and on avant-garde poetry.


Anna Katharina teaches on modernism, vampires, literature and capitalism and creative and critical approaches to writing.   


Anna Katharina welcomes applications for doctoral study in her areas of research expertise.    

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