Is the history of medicine “that of its instruments?” (Henri Sigerist). In spite of the importance of material tools for diagnosis and therapeutic practices since Antiquity, we have insufficient knowledge of medical equipment, its uses or production. Yet, recent studies have emphasized the importance of the forceps in the successful management of difficult births, the role of ceramic in the storage and commercial display of drugs in early modern Europe, the development of toyware and that of metallic trusses sent to the colonies, or the visual technologies that linked corpses, printed images, wax artefacts and instruments for diagnosis. To give one example, the study of drug commercialization put emphazis on the majolicas used for storage and display of remedies, which had been imported from Italy since the 15th century to Northern Europe, before their manufacturing near the largest places of distribution, like London, thanks to migrants from Southern France or the Low Countries around 1650s.
The conference aims to present highly innovative interdisciplinary research on the material culture and practices of medicine, at the crossroads of medical history, the history of technology and economic history. Considering Europe and its colonies between 1600 — the beginning of herniary surgery in France — and 1850 — the launching of world fairs — the conference will address two major issues:
1. The medical “life of things”
What was considered instrumental to medicine? Patients and practitioners have used a wide variety of tools – trusses, plasters, forceps, cutting knives, herniary bandaging, electrical devices, baths, orthopaedic machines, models, tools for diagnosis, up to plants transformed into medical commodities or “medicines”. Some were similar to devices that are still in use today; others have fallen into oblivion, thus challenging medical museums’ curators who wish to present them before the public. What were the technologies of the early modern patient and practitioner – surgeons, midwives, barbers, nurses, etc.? To what extent did the early modern medical equipment contribute to the management of health, by patients and/or practitioners and to the redefining of medical knowledge and know-how? What type of medical trades did they help to set up or to challenge? How did tools and commodities help redefining medical work? How did they get into use, and how did they circulate among the medical community?
2. Medical technologies, industry and commerce.
How were the products conceived and marketed? How was the production of medical instrumentation organized? To what extent had the trade recourse to patenting, the expert evaluation of academies, such as the Académie royale de chirurgie? Which industrial trades and production sectors did it bring together? How was it funded? Did medical instruments’ makers exploit new channels for the retailing of their instruments — such as nineteenth-century French industrial fairs — or use old ones? What were the routes of medical instruments to individual practitioners, public charities, national armies or to the colonies?
This international conference to be held at the École normale supérieure and the Académie nationale de medicine (Paris) will bring together experts working in a wide range of disciplines and geographical areas with view to contributing to a European history of medical technologies in its global context. We now invite scholars to submit abstracts of 300-400 words (English or French), outlining new research addressing or related to the questions posed above, and giving their institional and contact details. Papers that attempt to challenge traditional disciplinary or geographical boundaries are particularly encouraged, as are those that raise methodological issues about research into the global history of medical technologies. Abstracts should be sent to Dr Christelle Rabier (email@example.com) no later than 31 March 2010. All those who submit abstracts will be notified by 15 April whether their papers can be included in the conference programme and their expenses met with.
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