The Woman (Doctor) Question and Nineteenth-Century Medical Journals

L0004377 Cartoon: 'Our pretty doctor' by Geral du Maurier, 1870

“The medical-women question is perennial. It knows no limits; we encounter it at every turn – at the universities and at the examining boards, at medical schools and in hospitals, in periodical literature and in works of fiction.”

(Lancet, 3 November 1877)

Of course, the readers of the Lancet were only too familiar with the ubiquity of the “medical-women question”, for it confronted them not only in their institutions and through popular culture, but in the pages of their medical journals as well. For the Lancet and its contemporaries were part of this wider debate over – or preoccupation with – the (im)propriety and (un)desirability of the female doctor: a new breed of practitioner who appeared on the British medical scene in the 1850s and 60s and had gained a foothold by the century’s close.

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The services of the sea serpent will not be required this year…

 over at the Royal Society has just put up a fantastic post on The Repository (the Royal Society’s History of Science Blog). Given the subject matter – large scale observation projects – and the citizen science bells that rings for us, she’s kindly let us re-post her work in its entirety here. For the original post, in-situ, head this way.

As one of two new cataloguers joining the Library team (and occasionally to be spied vanishing into the stores to fetch readers’ requests), it has been a great pleasure starting work on a series of archive volumes rather cryptically titled ‘New Letter Books’. These 74 volumes record outgoing correspondence from the President, Officers and Assistant Secretaries, covering the period 1885-1931, and offer a detailed insight into the Society’s day-to-day operations whilst based at Burlington House.

The correspondents involved vary tremendously and include Fellows, government officials, solicitors, bankers, publishers, printers, artists, engravers, engineers, plumbers and coalmen, to name but a few. The topics under discussion can be mind-boggling, from complaints regarding the unofficial use of the title FRS (by what appears to be a wig salesman no less) (NLB/4/1148), and neighbours at the Albany discarding items from their windows and blocking the Society’s gutters (NLB/1/472), to appeals to the Committee on Education bemoaning the neglect of elementary science in primary schools (NLB/4/187).

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Call for Papers: Working with Nineteenth-Century Medical and Health Periodicals

Working with Nineteenth-Century Medical and Health Periodicals
St Anne’s College, Oxford, Saturday 30 May 2015

The nineteenth century saw an explosion in the number of medical periodicals available to the interested reader. Publications such as the Lancet and British Medical Journal are familiar names to many of us, still published and widely read today. The period also saw a huge range of smaller journals appearing, as practitioners increasingly organised themselves into more discrete medical ‘specialisms’ towards the end of the century. The Asylum Journal, later Journal of Mental Science, for example, sought to bring together the knowledge of those working in the expanding field of psychiatry, whilst The Homoeopathic World provided a forum for discussion for those practicing homoeopathic medicine, and was read both by medical professionals and laypeople.

As digitization projects advance, an increasing number of these medical periodicals are becoming available to researchers. We are interested in learning more about the nature and methodologies of current research projects that involve working with these journals, as well as broader issues surrounding this kind of research: digitizing material, locating journals (particularly obscure ones), and using and searching collections. We will be asking questions about how to read periodicals, how to situate these materials within a broader historical medical context, and how to construct narratives based on periodical research. In the longer term we would like to build up a network of people working closely on or with medical and health periodicals.

We welcome proposals from researchers working on medical periodicals across the world. If you would like to give a short (c.10 mins) presentation on your work in this area, please email by 13 February 2015, including an abstract of not more than 250 words and a short biography. If you would like to attend the workshop without giving a paper, please register your interest by emailing us at the address above.

This workshop is being co-hosted by the ERC-funded ‘Diseases of Modern Life’ and AHRC-funded ‘Constructing Scientific Communities’ projects at the University of Oxford.

A Thing of Beauty

Periodicals as a source base for research are endless fun. Victorian periodicals in particular are loaded with odd stories written by characters that you tend not to hear about that often in histories of science. When I was starting my research for the ConSciCom project – which focuses on the use of illustrations within 19th century natural history periodicals – I came across a periodical full of interesting people, images, and even an object!

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