16 November 2011

Centre for the History of Medicine, University College London


The Image of Modern Medicine: Professional Identity and Aesthetic Belonging

John Harley Warner
Avalon Professor and Chair, History of Medicine, Professor of History
Yale University

This talk explores physicians’ strivings to re-enchant the art of healing in the age of scientific medicine.  Historical understanding of the shaping of modern medicine has been transformed during the past two decades by attention to the extent to which late-19th -century doctors took up banner of experimental science as a powerful cultural tool they could use in the marketplace, and to how, in particular, they attached their collective image to that of the laboratory.  This attention to how displaying the trappings of science took part in the remarkable social elevation of the profession that ensued has been important in sorting out the relationships between science and professional authority in the early 20thc, yet at the same time it risks reducing aesthetic choices to mere show.  I instead want to suggest that they were constitutive elements of medical culture and crucial to private constructions of self, that is, important ingredients in telling doctors who they were.  Focusing on the U.S. from the late-19th through the mid-20th centuries and on counter-currents to a reductionist aesthetic in medical projects of self-representation, the lecture seeks to widen our understanding of the choices doctors made in crafting an image of themselves, their profession, and their work, and to consider the meaning of those choices for our larger understanding of the grounding of modern medicine.

For further details and poster: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/histmed/events