Pathological dissections in early modern Europe: practice and knowledge

De Renzi, Silvia; Bresadola, Marco and Conforti, Maria (2018). Pathological dissections in early modern Europe: practice and knowledge. In: De Renzi, Silvia; Bresadola, Marco and Conforti, Maria eds. Pathology in Practice: Diseases and Dissections in Early Modern Europe. The History of Medicine in Context. London: Routledge, pp. 3–19.

URL: https://www.routledge.com/Pathology-in-Practice-Di...

Abstract

Between 1500 and 1750 cadavers were frequently dissected for a variety of reasons, including to find out the causes of death and disease. Historians have focused on the social, religious and political goals of the practice, but we still lack an examination of how it intersected with medical knowledge. This chapter examines the reasons for this omission and argues that building a long view of how post-mortems informed the understanding of pathology opens new perspectives on critical aspects of early modern medicine. In particular, debates on the pathological emerge within the humoral tradition that were much more dynamic than previously thought, including on the seat of diseases. Fresh accounts can be produced of the relationships between pathology and anatomy and a new map drawn of physicians’ responses to the epistemological challenges created by the evidence of cadavers, for example how to generalise pathological knowledge. Post-mortems can also contribute significantly to recent reassessment of the boundaries between practitioners and how medical and lay knowledge interacted in relation to the experience of illness and concepts of diseases.

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