Portrait of Professor Anna Katharina Schaffner

Professor Anna Katharina Schaffner

Professor of Cultural History


Anna Katharina Schaffner is Professor of Cultural History, a literary critic, and a writer. She is interested in the theory and 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 will be published by Yale University Press in November 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.  

Research interests

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, and burnout. Exhaustion: A History has been widely reviewed and discussed in national and international media. 

Anna Katharina'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. Her first novel, The Truth about Julia, was published by Allen & Unwin in March 2016. 


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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