Seats and series: dissecting diseases in the seventeenth century

De Renzi, Silvia (2018). Seats and series: dissecting diseases in the seventeenth century. 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. 96–115.



According to the established view the goal of early modern post-mortems was to make sense of what had caused the illness and death of an individual, or to explain his or her exceptional characteristics. Examining the medical debates that erupted over the kidney stone and pleurisy in early modern Rome, this chapter argues that in fact by the early seventeenth century dissections had become key resources in physicians’ growing debates about specific diseases and what was shared by those who suffered from them. This focus on commonalities grew out of the revival of Hippocratism and a renewed attention to ancient nosology and the seat of diseases. Dissections were performed for a variety of purposes, but were also guided by these broad medical concerns. The chapter shows that while still professionally concentrating on individual cases, physicians were increasingly moving between the evidence from one and from multiple bodies, including those in hospitals. Although frequency and quantity were not expressed in numerically accurate form, they mattered and physicians met the epistemological challenge of building general knowledge from repeated post-mortem observations.

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