Historians who study European women of the Renaissance try to measure "independence", "options", and other indicators of the degree to which the expression of women's individuality was either permitted or suppressed. Influenced by Western individualism, these historians define a peculiar form of personhood: an innately bounded unit, autonomous and standing apart from both nature and society. An anthropologist, however, would contend that a person can be conceived in ways other than as an "individual." In many societies a person's identity is not intrinsically unique and self-contained but instead is defined within a complex web of social relationships.
In her study of the fifteenth-century Florentine widow Alessandra Strozzi, a historian who specializes in European women of the Renaissance attributes individual intention and authorship of actions to her subject. This historian assumes that Alessandra had goals and interests different from those of her sons, yet much of the historian's own research reveals that Alessandra acted primarily as a champion of her sons' interests, taking their goals as her own. Thus Alessandra conforms more closely to the anthropologist's notion that personal motivation is embedded in a social context. Indeed, one could argue that Alessandra did not distinguish her personhood from that of her sons. In Renaissance Europe the boundaries of the conceptual self were not always firm and closed and did not necessarily coincide with the boundaries of the bodily self.