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Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine

Whither the history of nineteenth-century medicine?

Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, University of Manchester
10.30 am - 5.00 pm, Friday 21 May 2010 [please note new date]

Call for papers

During the 1980s and early 1990s, the nineteenth century lay at the very heart of medical historical scholarship.  Indeed, many historians chose to focus on this period precisely because they believed that it was in the nineteenth century that modern medicine was born.  Historians charted the 'rise' of the profession and of hospital and laboratory medicine.  They traced the development of social medicine and public health and reflected on the increasing involvement of medical practitioners in everyday life.  Meanwhile, historians of psychiatry, spurred on by the intellectual legacy of Michel Foucault, sought to understand the asylum as a social, cultural and political institution. 

In the last decade or so, however, things have changed.  Historians of medicine continue to work on the nineteenth century but the energy and sense of purpose which used to infuse so much of the earlier work seems to have subsided.  By and large, scholars are content to work within their own particular field without addressing the ‘big’ questions which used to frame the analyses of an earlier generation.  Meanwhile, many historians of medicine are now looking to the twentieth century, perhaps under the impression that the major themes of the nineteenth have already been thoroughly researched.

This workshop seeks to address this state of affairs and to ask where the history of nineteenth-century medicine goes from here.  Exciting and important research is certainly being carried on but what are the key questions that historians are asking?  What are the major themes being examined and what areas remain unexplored?  Is it, for example, possible to write 'new' accounts of psychiatry or public health?  How are new histories of institutions, such as hospitals and asylums, to be written?  Are there new histories of 'big' diseases to be uncovered or histories of neglected diseases and conditions, especially the chronic and non-fatal? Can we elaborate a more effective account of the nineteenth-century medical marketplace? And with all the work that has been done on representation, it is now time to write a history of practice?

There is no conference fee, but please email the organisers to let them know that you are planning to attend.  Morning coffee, a sandwich lunch and afternoon tea will be provided.


10.30-11.00 Registration and coffee

11.00-12.30 Session 1 – Practice

Mick Worboys (CHSTM, University of Manchester)
Practice and the Science of Medicine in Nineteenth-century Britain

Robert G. W. Kirk and Neil Pemberton (CHSTM, University of Manchester)
The Medical Leech and the Moral Economy of Bloodletting in Nineteenth-Century Europe

12.30-13.30 Lunch

13.30-15.00 Session 2 – Spirits and Nerves

Sebastian Normandin (University Canada West)
Materialism, Spiritualism and Vitalism: Towards the “Soul” of Nineteenth-Century Medicine

Katharine Daneski (School of Health Science, Swansea University)
How far can Foucault take us?  Methodological issues in researching apoplexy in the Nineteenth-Century

15.00-15.30 Tea

15.30-17.00 Session 3 – Professions and Identities

Ian Miller (School of History and Archives, University College Dublin)
New Directions in Regional Nineteenth-Century Medicine: Irish Identity and Medical Reform, c. 1820-1858

Michael Brown (CHSTM, University of Manchester)
Professionalism as Identity and Ideology: Rethinking the Analytical Categories of Nineteenth-Century Medical History

17.00-1800 Round table discussion


Organisers: Michael Brown and Michael Worboys


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