Saturday, April 24, 2010

Barnes, Berkowitz, and British Medicine at the Wagner

Posted by Darin Hayton on 04/24 at 10:50 PM

Carin Berkowitz presented the recent PACHS colloquium at the Wagner Free Institute of Science. Her paper titled “Rhetoric, Reform, and Revolution: Making ‘British Medicine’ in Early Nineteenth-Century London” raised a number of issues about a British style of medicine, about the relationship between politics and medicine as well as economics and medicine.

David Barnes commenting on Carin Berkowitz’s paper at the recent PACHS colloquium at the Wagner

David Barnes opened with a fine commentary on Berkowitz’s paper. He raised a number of issues central to her chapter, including how politics and nationality manifest themselves in British medicine and how these characteristics distinguished it from medicine practiced elsewhere. He also asked about one of the key terms, “practical,” and pressed Berkowitz to explain what made British medicine practical. Once the Q&A started in earnest, attendees focused on some of these same themes: politics, economics, nationality, practical. The problem or question of politics came up in a variety of guises. Berkowitz pointed to some of the ways medicine was related to politics, but she stressed that we couldn’t reduce British medicine to politics. The audience was not content with this reply and pressed her on how ideologies informed medical practice, how funding—clearly tied to politics—influenced medical practice, and finally, how politics could be seen as both a resource and a constraint that affected how physicians thought about and practiced their medicine.

Another set of questions asked Berkowitz to cut through the rhetoric to the practice: Can we see the rhetoric play itself out in the practice? Do different British physicians use instruments differently? Do they draw on different technologies or, more interestingly, do they use the same technologies differently? These are some great questions that Berkowitz couldn’t yet answer, but was clearly interested in exploring. Regrettably, at this point I had to depart, long before the Q&A ended. If the evening continued as it had begun, the audience gave Berkowitz a lot to think about. (If anybody reading this stayed longer, please fill in the missing parts in the comments below, or send your thoughts to me and I’ll work them in here.)

The crowd seemed a bit smaller than usual, no doubt because of the location. It is unfortunate that people seem to avoid the Wagner, or simply not to know it exists. It is a wonderful space, creaky, evocative of an earlier period. The auditorium is a wonderful place to hear a lecture. Because I had to leave early, I missed dinner, which apparently took place in the upstairs gallery amongst the specimens and fossils (see Christa Teston’s tweet for some twitpics).

Tags: britain, carin berkowitz, david barnes, medicine, pachs colloquia, politics