Medical Science As Pedagogy In Early Nineteenth-Century Britain: Charles Bell And The Politics Of London Medical Reform

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In the early nineteenth century, Charles Bell and Francois Magendie became embroiled in a priority dispute over the discovery of the roots of motor and sensory nerves. I use this priority dispute to open an examination of pedagogy and medical reform, looking at the importance of visual displays in both the classroom and in print, the development of different audiences with the expansion of medical and scientific journals, the significance of experiment and practice in medical education, and the role of national and professional politics that were involved in practically every issue in the medical community. During the period in which the discovery was actively contested, 1823-1842, British medical audiences and communities were reconfigured by the simultaneous development of a new university and new hospital schools in London and by the birth of medical periodicals. Many medical periodicals declared their positions openly, representing particular political and professional factions. While other historians have documented the work of radical reformers, my dissertation focuses on another group of reformers, one that claimed to be preserving and enhancing what was "characteristically British." These "conservative reformers" sought to improve medical education in Britain by creating more practical training for surgeons, physicians, and general practitioners. They proposed offering joint training in medicine and surgery, connecting lectures on fundamental subjects like anatomy to cases in London's hospitals, and emphasizing the importance of ward-walking and clinical lectures in the hospital. Although these conservative reformers gave pedagogy pride of place, print culture grew increasingly important for organizing medical communities. The many medical journals founded in the 1820s relied for the bulk of their published material on classroom lectures and notes taken by students, while at the same time rendering such classrooms irrelevant by publishing the material of lectures themselves (sometimes against the wishes of the lecturer). Thus, even with the birth of medical journals, the classroom remained the center of British medical innovation and of attempts to reform and systematize it. It is to the classroom that we should look for the birth of British medical science.
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