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Histories of surgical training, skills and knowledge in early modern Europe

On September 23 and 24, 2022, the workshop “Learning to cut, bandage and cure. Histories of surgical training, skills and knowledge in early modern Europe” is held at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris.

In the past decades, historians of medicine and science have scrutinised early modern scholarly practices and book cultures, rediscovered genres of medical writing and reframed key issues concerning the relation between theory and practice. New thriving scholarship has delved into the production and transfer of medical knowledge, and has offered new histories on practices of bedside teaching and other forms of training. These research trends, however, have only tangentially touched upon surgery. Historians of surgery have instead largely focused upon mapping the contours of a very elusive occupational group. While excellent studies have illuminated medieval and renaissance learned surgery, the quotidian knowledge cultures of vernacular practitioners warrant further exploration. This is particularly the case for the 16th and 17th centuries, where little scholarly attention has been devoted to surgical education and training. Although scholars agree that surgery was a highly mobile activity, implying different skills and levels of literacy and learning, not much is known about how these were actually acquired by practitioners across their life-course, diverse as they were from the modest bloodletter to the university-trained surgeon. Moreover, the relationship of theory and practice in this branch of medicine that inherently featured a bigger role for manual intervention and was often characterised as the operative part of medicine, remains relatively unproblematized and to some extent still dependant on modern understandings of surgery.

The aim of this conference is to extend our understanding of surgical training and education across Europe c. 1500-1800. Examining books, images, instruments and other learning aids, we aim to chart their role in the transfer of know-how and skills, shining light on the changing landscape of surgical culture. Papers are invited that situate the rich and complex knowledge practices of surgeons of all stripes within multiple circuits of transmission. Particularly welcome are studies which analyse printed and manuscript books as texts and material objects to tackle the appropriation of knowledge by different audiences within the trade; examine the place of textual and experiential knowledge across diverse learning and training environments; investigate the function of instruments and visual images in surgical teaching; and any other aspects that might gain new insight into the process of learning by doing and doing to learn.

Proposals are invited from PhD students and early career scholars in the history of medicine, science and technology, literature, art and visual culture and other related fields. This is envisioned as an in-person workshop to take place at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. The organisers are applying for funding and hope to be able to cover travel and accommodation expenses.

Deadline CfP: February 15, 2022.
Please send a paper title, abstract of c. 300 words, and short biography to Maria Pia Donato (mpiadonato@gmail.com), Elaine Leong (e.leong@ucl.ac.uk) and Juliette Rigaud (Juliette.Rigaud@ens.fr).