Christelle Rabier (London School of Economics)
Simon Chaplin (Wellcome Library)
Fitting for Health: The early modern lives of medical technologies
“Technology” has served a heuristic approach in the materiality of medical practices, as used by medical-care agents, from practitioners to patients. Positively responding to Arjun Appadurai’s invitation to follow the “social life of things” and chase how human beings endowed them in meaning in practice and trade, the paper analyzes different commodities, ranging from materials – such as quinquina, steel, and papier mâché – to devices – trusses, electrical machines, anatomical models and books. The paper adresses two interconnected issues, explored from 1600 to 1850: how did a technology become – or stop being – medical? how has medicine become technological?
The political economy of anatomy: body parts as medical technology in 18th century London
Bodies – in the form of both ‘fresh subjects’ for dissection, and preserved specimens or ‘preparations’ made from dissected corpses – were an essential technology for the delivery of teaching and research in anatomy in the 18th century. As manufactured objects preparations could, unlike fresh cadavers, be openly and legally traded, and entered into systems of both commercial and gift exchange. At the same time, preparations were also inherently unstable commodities, in that their commercial value rarely reflected the cost of their production and maintenance. The gap between their monetary value in the marketplace and their cost has important implications for understanding their role as carriers of embodied cultural capital. Using a contemporary model of the political economy – that of Adam Smith – I suggest that in the case of preparations, this cultural capital enabled practitioners of dissection to present their work in the context of those ‘liberal and honourable professions’ such as law and medicine which were ‘in point of pecuniary gain, evidently under-recompensed’.
Open to all. No registration required
Part of the Things: Early Modern Material Cultures Seminar series.
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