Portrait of Professor Anna Katharina Schaffner

Professor Anna Katharina Schaffner

Professor of Cultural History


Professor Anna Katharina Schaffner is a literary critic and a writer. She is interested in the medical humanities, cultural history, the histories of sexuality, psychiatry and psychoanalysis, and mind-body theory. 

Her most recent 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, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and burnout. Exhaustion: A History has been widely reviewed and discussed in national and international publications including in the Times Literary Supplement, New Republic, National Geographic, New Scientist, Psychology Today, BBC Future, Metro, The Irish Times, The Week, Knack (Belgium), New Zealand Listener, Die Welt am Sonntag (Germany), and Le Matin Dimanche (Switzerland), as well as on BBC Radio 4, CBC (Canada), WBUR (USA), Wisconsin Public Radio (USA), and Newstalk (Ireland). 

Anna writes a blog, 'The Art of Self-Improvement: What we can learn from the ancients' for Psychology Today.

Research interests

Anna Katharina's monograph, Modernism and Perversion: Sexual Deviance in Sexology and Literature, 1850-1930 (Palgrave, 2012), charts 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. Her first novel, The Truth about Julia, was published by Allen & Unwin in March 2016. 

She is currently writing a history of the idea of self-improvement, which is contracted for publication with Yale University Press. 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, Self-Improvement: A Global History narrates the history of the idea of the changeable self from the age of antiquity to the present day.  

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


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

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