Practices and Social Relations of Obstetrical Objects
Inspired by feminist science studies on ontology (such as new materialisms), this working group will investigate the theory, practices, and social relations that produce specific obstetrical objects in a variety of spaces. We shift focus away from theoretical conceptions of the reproductive body and objects to how these objects were enacted in practice in different situations. In doing so, we seek to uncover the instability of objects and the reproductive body. This approach requires paying particular attention to the practices producing and surrounding these objects. Each of the eight workshops, therefore, will center on an obstetrical object in order to interrogate its instability and entanglement with the reproductive body in different contexts. We encourage conversations that explore the material semiotics of obstetrical objects—the entanglements of materiality, discourse, practices, and the social.
Meetings are held monthly on second Thursdays at 11:00 AM Eastern Time during the 2020-2021 academic year.
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Thursday, May 13, 2021 11:00 am to 12:30 pm EDT
By: Jennifer Kosmin
April 8, 2021
"The Experimentation of the Cesarean Section in Early Twentieth-Century Brazil"
By: Isabela Dornelas, Federal University of Minas Gerais (Brazil)
Brazil has the second-highest rate of cesarean section in the world. The surgery today considered to be overused in the country was not always a safe obstetric practice. Until the 1950s, the cesarean section was a dangerous resource, and it has killed and mutilated women over the years.
To investigate the past of cesarean section is also to explore how Brazilian obstetricians used the experimentation as a strategy. The most renowned obstetricians of the country Dr. Fernando Magalhães (1878 - 1945), Dr. Hugo Werneck (1878 - 1935), and Dr. Raul Briquet (1887-1953), were professors and directors of different philanthropic maternity hospitals where the procedures happened and where women of color and the disenfranchised ones sought for assistance in childbirth.
The discussion about the experimentation of techniques and the appropriation of hygienist and eugenicist ideas is mandatory to elucidate the historical paths of bioethical issues involved in the cesarean section's technical development in Brazil. The paper is a work in progress that will focus on the argument that Brazil's poverty and racial tension provided the human resources for establishing the C-section as an experimental technique to expand obstetrical knowledge and improve the surgical procedure.
Isabela Dornelas is a Ph.D. candidate in History at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, in Brazil. She holds a scholarship from the Minas Gerais Research Foundation and was recently awarded the best dissertation prize conferred by the Brazilian Society of History of Science. Her current research interests are technical experimentation, History of intervention in childbirth during the XIX and XX centuries.
March 11, 2021
"Curving the Pelvis: The Sociomaterial Practices of André Levret's Curved Forceps"
By: Scottie Hale Buehler, Insitute for Historical Studies, University of Texas at Austin
In 1747, André Levret presented his newly invented curved obstetrical forceps to the Académie Royale de Chirurgie. He claimed they would save more lives and were more humane than other forceps because they conformed to the maternal body, at least if they were used properly. In this work-in-progress paper, Scottie explores the sociomaterial practices that produced Levret's curved pelvis and forceps.
Scottie Buehler is a midwife turned historian of medicine. She earned her PhD in the history of science, technology, and medicine from UCLA in 2020. Currently, she is adapting her dissertation into a book, tentatively titled Being and Becoming a Midwife in the French Atlantic 1750-1820. It explores local negations around the widespread implementation of midwifery training courses across the French Atlantic.
February 11, 2021
"Contracted pelvises, complicated births--Pelvic research and obstetric practice in the 19th century"
By: Karen Nolte, the University of Heidelberg
Using the pelvic collection of the University Women's Hospital Würzburg, Dr. Nolte will work out which questions motivated pelvic research and the collecting activities of obstetricians in the 19th century and which ethical questions arose from the results of this research for obstetric practice.
In February 2018 Dr. Karen Nolte has been appointed professor and director of the Institute for History and Ethics of Medicine at the University of Heidelberg, Germany. Prior to this appointment she held a research appointment at the Institute of History of Medicine, University of Wuerzburg. She is a nurse by training and has studied history, cultural anthropology/European ethnology and sociology at the University of Goettingen in Germany. Her current research interests are: history of gynaekology, nursing history, material cultures in medicine and care in the 19th and 20th century
January 14, 2021
"How to undo the pelvis: Hugo Sellheim’s experimental obstetrical research and the enactment of a new birthing body"
By: Martina Schlünder, research scholar Max Planck Institute for the History of Science
At the turn of the twentieth century, German obstetrician Hugo Sellheim (1871-1936) embarked upon a research project on the laws of birth mechanics. In a comprehensive experimental program, he tried to find out what kind of mechanical and expulsive forces were at work in the birthing process. In my presentation I argue that studying Sellheim’s experimental practices offers an excellent lens to examine the epistemic shifts that obstetrics underwent in the early twentieth century when it moved from an anatomical to a physiological thought style, leaving the focus on the pelvis-skull ratio behind, instead studying the impact of mechanical laws on soft tissues, its content of water and thus its flexibility. Through Sellheim’s extensive experimental work new tools like birthing objects and machines as well as new concepts came into being, and at the end a new birthing body emerged not defined by the anatomy of mother and child, rather composed and defined by a set of mechanical forces. Sellheim aimed at establishing a new norm, a physiological, standard procedure of delivery based on experimental, scientific knowledge that also captured all of its possible deviations, turning treatments from improvised and experience-based interventions into standards based on scientific norms. I analyze Sellheim’s experimental system from a perspective of sociomateriality (aka relational ontology or praxeography), which emphasizes the world-making capacities of (scientific) practices. Thus, matter e.g. obstetrical tools and bodies are not understood as given, they are effects of practices and emerge and disappear with their respective practices that enact them.
Martina Schlünder (MD/PhD) is a research scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (Berlin, Germany) with a research focus on the history of the life science, medicine and the technoscientific turn in the history of reproduction in the 20th and 21st centuries.
December 10, 2020
Reproduction and Representation: Visualizing the Maternal Body, 1880–1900
By: Jessica M. Dandona
This paper comprises a close look at the visual culture of medicine in the late 19thcentury, investigating how physicians in three early centers of medical training—Paris, Edinburgh, and Philadelphia—conceptualized the female reproductive body in pictorial terms. Created during a time of growing interest in public health and widespread anxiety over rising infant mortality, these representations define the ideal female body as youthful, fertile, and above all productive: the female body is, without exception, a pregnant body. I will look at three examples of works produced in this period, each of which explores the materiality of paper--at once ubiquitous, fragile, malleable, and portable--as a vehicle for representing reproduction.
Jessica M. Dandona earned her B.A. from Brown University in French Studies and the History of Art and Architecture and her Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley in Art History, with a specialization in 19th-century French art and visual culture. She is currently professor of art history at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, where she teaches courses on art and empire, the body in art and visual culture, and modern art. Dr. Dandona has been the recipient of research grants from the Fulbright Association, the Boston Medical Library, the American Philosophical Society, the Huntington Library, and other institutions. Her current book project, The Transparent Woman: Medical Visualities in Fin-de-Siècle Europe and the United States, 1880–1900, examines the pictorial and material dimensions of teaching anatomy and midwifery at the end of the 19th century.
November 12, 2020
By Margaret Carlyle and Marcia D. Nichols
Professors Carlyle and Nichols will lead the group through a discussion of interactive anatomies, particularly those relating to the "science of women."
Margaret Carlyle is an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia Okanagan, where she teaches in the history of science and technology. Margaret is working on two book projects: one on the history of Enlightenment anatomy and the other on the history of midwifery technologies.
Marcia D. Nichols is an associate professor at the University of Minnesota Rochester, where she teaches literature and gender studies. Marcia is in the final stages of her first book project, Fixing Women: The Birth of Obstetrics and Gynecology in Britain and America, which will be forthcoming from the University of California Medical Humanities Press. She is also collaborating with a biosciences colleague on a Bakhtian exploration of contemporary pedagogies of scientific discourse.
October 8, 2020
A Tale of Two Stories: Unearthing the 1939 Dickinson-Belskie Birth Series Sculptures & the Process of Sharing Them With Many Different Worlds
By: Rosemarie Holz, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
In this 2-part presentation, Rose Holz will spend most of her time discussing the little-known but hugely influential 1939 Dickinson-Belskie Birth Series, a series of sculptures created for the 1939-1940 World's Fair in order to educate lay and medical audiences the mechanics of in-utero human development from fertilization through delivery. Not only did these sculptures shape modern obstetrical education for aspiring practitioners and educate lay individuals in matters of pregnancy -- giving rise to modern understandings of pregnancy radically different from those which held sway in the 1800s -- but in so doing they articulated over three decades in advance the language and imagery that would become the hallmarks of the modern pro-life movement, a curious irony given that Dickinson himself was a staunch proponent of the provision of abortion. Thus embedded in this story is the subjectivity of the knowledge we create about our bodies. Also embedded in it, however, are striking new ways to discuss the abortion debate in ways that bridge the pro-choice/pro-life divide.
Holz will then conclude by turning to more methodological considerations, in this case about the process of publication. Drawing upon her experiences publishing this story in two different academic settings, she will open the conversation to what it's like to translate the stories we tell to different academic audiences while at the same time remaining true to one's own voice and desire to reach beyond the walls of the academy.
September 10, 2020
Methodologies: From Material Culture to Practices
Scottie Buehler (CPM, PhD) is a midwife turned historian of medicine. After earning her BA in Sociology and Women and Gender Studies from the University of Texas at Austin, she became licensed as a Certified Professional Midwife and founded and operated a homebirth midwifery practice in Austin, Texas. She received her Ph.D. in history with a concentration in the history of science, technology, and medicine from UCLA. Scottie’s current book project applies practice and object-oriented methodologies to the study of midwifery training programs across the French Atlantic in the eighteenth century. She was a Research Fellow in the Consortium in 2019.
Martina Schlünder (MD/PhD) is a research scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, Germany. From 2015-18 she held a Marie Curie Fellowship at the Technoscience Research Unit at Women and Gender Studies Institute at University of Toronto with a project on the technoscientific turn in the history of reproduction in the 20th and 21st centuries. In the working group she is particularly interested in the exploration of the material culture of experimental systems in obstetrical research at the beginning of the 20th century (in Germany) when obstetrics turned away from anatomical based research and started to conceptualize delivery as a physiological process.