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Week 4: The rise of 'experience' in medicine, 1500-1720

Lecturer: Claudia Stein

This session looks at the rise of personal experience and experimentation in the making of medical knowledge since 1500. We will focus on the practice of anatomical dissection and experimentation which became prominent during the mid-sixteenth century in order to explain these changes. Why does personal experience became suddenly so important to medical practitioners such as the sixteenth-century anatomist Andreas Vesalius? Why do we tend to characterise his work as 'revolutionary' today and is this actually correct to do so?


Discussion Questions/Essay Topics

  • What are the reasons for the rise of experience during the 1500 century?
  • Why was personal experience in medicine of lesser importance before?
  • Did Vesalius revolutionise medicine?

Required Readings:

Dear, Peter, Revolutionizing the Sciences: European Knowledge and its Ambitions, 3rd ed. (Chicago, 2013). Chapter 2 (pp. 29-46) E-Book



Further Readings:

Baldasson, Renzo: ‘The Role of Visual Illustrations in the Scientific Revolution: A historiographic Inquiry’, Centaurus 48,2 (2006): 69-88.

Carlino, Andrea, Books of the Body: Anatomical Ritual and Renaissance Learning (Chicago: 1999).

Cunningham, Andrew, The Anatomical Renaissance: The Resurrection of the Anatomical Projects of the Ancients (1997).

French, Roger, Dissection and Vivisection in the European Renaissance (Aldershot, 1999).

French, Roger. William Harvey's Natural Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Klestinec, Cynthia, ‘A History of Anatomy Theatres in the Sixteenth Century Padua’, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 59 (2004): 375-412. E-Journal

Nutton, Vivian, ‘Introduction’, in Andreas Vesalius, De humanis corporis fabrica, trans. Daniel Garrison and Malcolm Hast. http://vesalius.northwestern.edu

Park, Katharine, Secrets of Women: Gender, Generation, and the Origins of Human Dissection (New York, 2006), Chapter: The Empire of Anatomy, pp. 207-260. (famous book with a very interesting interpretation of Vesalius’s title page).

Website: historical anatomies on the web http://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/historicalanatomies/vesalius_home.html