History, Department of


Date of this Version

November 1993


Published in Medicine and the five senses, edited by W. F. Bynum and Roy Porter. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, New York, & Victoria, 1993, pages 154–178. Copyright © 1993 Cambridge University Press. Used by permission.


This chapter focuses on medical teaching at a time when many still hoped that a 'scientific' language could be unambiguous, yet lecturers struggled to convey what they could not, in fact, say about the body and disease. Specifically, it examines how late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century London medical men instructed pupils who came from a broad range of backgrounds to use their senses to acquire knowledge from objects (such as the dead) and patients. Based on a reading of advice manuals and over fifty sets of students' manuscript lecture notes dating from 1750 to 1820, this study concentrates on three of the common medical subjects taught in London: anatomy, surgery and physic. Exploring both the explicit and implicit injunctions about the senses offered to young men entering the professions allows a closer look at two of the intertwined themes that run through eighteenth-century medicine and surgery. First, lecture notes carry a host of assumptions about the relationships between language, objects, knowledge and authority, in particular the role of formal medical systems and the place of the 'surgical point of view' in organizing medical perception. Second, they reveal much about the encounters between practitioners and their patients, which in turn shaped the contours of appropriate clinical experience.

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