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CECS Day Conference: Medical Matters

Saturday 9 March 2013, 10.00AM to 5.00pm

Medical Matters: the cultural politics of the body in eighteenth-century Britain


‎Conference Organisers: Mary Fairclough and Joanna Wharton

Professor Peter Kitson (University of Dundee) will present the conference keynote paper. Other confirmed speakers are Dr Michael Brown (University of Roehampton), Dr Jeremy Davies (University of Leeds), Dr Mary Fairclough (University of York), Dr Clark Lawlor (Northumbria University), Professor Sharon Ruston (University of Salford), Dr Corinna Wagner (University of Exeter), and Joanna Wharton (University of York).

Venue: the King's Manor

This interdisciplinary day conference will investigate representations of the human body as a site of cultural and political debate during the long eighteenth century. Papers will explore how it was possible to produce representations of the body and its operations at this period, and what were the political implications of such representations.

During the eighteenth century, medical accounts of the body often constitute sites of peculiar tension between enlightenment celebrations of progress and older, occult folkloric traditions, and between the rigours of empirical investigation and the necessity of visionary speculation. Medical texts are often marked by political division and debate, as medical advances are heralded as evidence of radical political progress, while also functioning to entrench essentialised conceptions of gender and racial difference.
Our speakers will not only address the medical literature of the period, but will investigate the significance of medical debates in literary, philosophical and political texts. Conference papers will discuss the significance of literary conventions in medical representations of the body, in particular the use of the conventions of narrative, and the highly figurative qualities of medical texts. But they will also explore the way in which medical theories are used to underpin aesthetic, social and political speculations during this period.

The conference has been generously supported by the British Society for the History of Science.


10.00 Registration

10.30 Welcome

10.45-11.45 Panel 1
Clark Lawlor ‘“The fair ones feel such maladies as these, When each new night-dress gives a new disease”: Thinking Fashionable Disease and Literature in the Eighteenth Century’

Mary Fairclough ‘“The grand instrument of life”: Eighteenth-century Electrical Therapy’

11.45-12.00 Coffee

12.00-1.00 Panel 2
Joanna Wharton ‘Materialising the Mind: Barbauld and Priestley’

Corinna Wagner ‘Pathological Bodies: Medicine and Politics in the Age of Revolutions’

1.00-2.00 Lunch

2.00-3.30 Panel 3
Jeremy Davies ‘Coleridge and the Sense of Sensing’

Sharon Ruston ‘Humphry Davy and Thomas de Quincey: Medical Experiments with Drugs and Drink'

Michael Brown ‘A Theatre of Compassion: Emotion and Affect in Early Nineteenth-Century Surgery’

3.30-3.45 Coffee

3.45-5.00 Keynote and response
Peter Kitson ‘British and Chinese Medical Exchange in the late Eighteenth Century’

5.00 Close


Online registration is now available. Registration fee is £12, which includes tea, coffee and a simple sandwich lunch.

Registration for members of the University of York is free, but please email to secure your place. Lunch (optional) is £5.00 - please enquire about payment in your registration email.




Location: K/122