This article analyzes the career of Giovanni Battista Cortesi (1552–1643)—the son of a poor tailor who started his career as barber and steam bath attendant and became university professor at Bologna and Messina—and places it in the context of the profession of surgery in early modern Italy. The article investigates how a surgeon had to establish close relationships with universities, civic authorities, wealthy upper-class patients, hospitals as sites of clinical education and acquisition of manual skills, the printing industry and the book market, and students. Moreover, the article explores the fluidity between professional and cultural boundaries between learned and empirical knowledge from the perspective of a graduate surgeon who was not supposed to be. Finally, the article aims at describing the figure of the “graduate surgeon,” typical of the Italian medical landscape.
“Custom is a second nature” is a saying that circulated long before the early modern period and in many different cultural settings. But the maxim had special salience, reference, and force in dietetic medicine from the late medieval period through the eighteenth century. What did that saying mean in the early modern medical setting? What presumptions about the body, about habitual ways of life, and about the authority of medical knowledge were inscribed within it? And what was the historical career of the saying as views of the body, its transactions with the environment, and the hereditary process changed through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries?
Pestis minor is a pathological category that at the height of the third plague pandemic (1894–1959) fueled extensive debate and research among medical scientists. Referring to an attenuated or benign form of plague, evidence of pestis minor or pestis ambulans was produced in medical reports across the world so as to raise the question of whether the disease could survive measures against it by means of temporary transformation. Afflicting its victims only by the slightest lymphatic swellings, this theory went, the disease could thus lurk in the human body until conditions allowed it to break out again in its true, malignant form. This article draws for the first time a history of this contested pathology, the diagnostic and epidemiological questions raised by it, and the way in which it came to play a significant role in debates about the nature of plague at the turn of the nineteenth century.
Set in rural Georgia, the 1953 health film All My Babies: A Midwife’s Own Story was a government-sponsored project intended as a training tool for midwives. The film was unique to feature a black midwife and a live birth at a time when southern health officials blamed midwives for the region’s infant mortality rates. Produced by the young filmmaker George Stoney, All My Babies was praised for its educational value and, as this article demonstrates, was a popular feature in postwar medical education. Yet as it drew acclaim, the film also sparked debates within and beyond medical settings concerning its portrayal of midwifery, birth, and health care for African Americans. In tracing the controversies over the film’s messages and representations, this article argues that All My Babies exemplified the power and limits of health films to address the complexities of race and health during an era of Jim Crow segregation.