The Birth of the Clinic, 1750–1850

Professor Laurence Brockliss, Magdalen College

Modern medicine is traditionally seen as being built on the foundations of the new science of clinical pathology, which supposedly developed at Paris at the turn of the nineteenth century. Course sessions cover the following themes:

  1. The traditional role of the hospital
  2. The development of the hospital as a site for the study of disease in the eighteenth century.around 1800
  3. Clinical pathology at Paris in the early nineteenth century
  4. The development of clinical pathology in other countries.
  5. Medical societies and the medical press in the early nineteenth century
  6. The difference between hospital and private medical practice in the first part of the nineteenth century
  7. The growing tension after 1820 between the hospital and the laboratory as centres of medical science
  8. The connection between changes in medical science and broader political, social and cultural change
Course objectives

The aim of the course is threefold: (1) To trace the development of the myth of the Paris school; (2) To test Foucault’s belief that clinical pathology at Paris was a qualitatively different science from that taught elsewhere; (3) To see to what extent developments in medicine are autonomous. Students will be expected to become acquainted with the current debate over the significance of the Paris School and understand why Paris, even in Foucault’s overstates its originality, became such an important medical centre in the early nineteenth century. For the most part, the course concentrates on the history of the clinic in France, but students will also be expected to know about contemporary developments in Britain, Germany and Austria.

Course Requirements

The course will be taught in eight classes on Fridays in Hilary term in Professor Brockliss’s room in Magdalen College. Students will be expected to submit a short essay for each session, which will be either submitted beforehand or collected in at the end dependent on numbers. Essay topics will be assigned at the previous meeting. Students will be expected to have read widely for the class and be able to discuss other issues than those they have written about in their essays. Secondary literature is nearly all in the Wellcome Unit library, but students will also be expected to read some primary printed material in the Bodleian.

Key texts