The Durham History of Science, Technology, and Medicine Research group has scheduled events for Easter term. Next talk by Richard Bellis (St Andrews) - Entitled 'Morbid Anatomy in Britain, 1790-1830)
Department of History Building
Abstract: The ‘birth of the clinic’ in Paris at the beginning of the nineteenth century is a well-known and well explored development in the study of disease, but what happened elsewhere in Europe? In this paper I examine the study of disease in Britain. In the only major examination of such work in this period, Russell Maulitz characterised Britain as a conservative, intellectual backwater in comparison to the continent. However, I argue that there was a distinctive practice of the study of disease in Britain in the early nineteenth century: morbid anatomy. Instead of clinical work, I show that this practice prioritised the description in text and rendering in illustration of the textures of the body changed by disease. Following the example of Matthew Baillie (1761–1823), morbid anatomists made preparations of diseased appearances, formed museum collections, and attempted to produce generalised, anatomical descriptions of their sensory experiences interacting with the diseased cadaver. Rather than being simply conservative, many morbid anatomists were part of the ‘conservative reform movement’ that Carin Berkowitz has identified in Britain in this period. I show that the disinterestedness in Parisian developments that Maulitz identified in Britain in this period was not reactionary, but stemmed from the focus on morbid anatomy as a productive method of inquiry for those studying disease in Britain in the period.