As a History of Science PhD student, I’m working on English and French surgeons’ identity from the Renaissance to the French Revolution. At the time, despite various social conditions ranging from poor, roaming tooth pullers to barber-surgeon shopkeepers and reputed anatomy scholars, surgeons were “artisans of the body”, deemed subordinate to physicians because they were manual workers. I study their tendency to write stories about themselves and their work, considering it part of their many efforts towards upward social mobility.
I show how Early Modern surgeons endeavoured to shape a new model identity for young surgeons – always searching for the right balance between promoting their manual abilities and their theoretical claims, through biographies, obituaries and diaries, but also poems and surgical anecdotes. I also study how they appropriated this new image for themselves through autobiographical or diary writings.
I particularly focus on some recurrent features of surgeons’ identity, such as triumph over money and family problems, as well as the dynamics of patients/surgeons’ relationship. Indeed, surgeons’ manual work and subordinate status lead them to take charge of patients’ anxiety and pain, which required a greater level of involvement and more human closeness. Part of my research focus on this aspect of surgeons’ identity, and its possible consequences on surgeons’ works, in contradiction to the progress of emotional detachment traditionally admitted by medical historians.
Could you please tell us a bit more about your scholarship/exchange programme?
I benefited from a monthly scholarship from the Maison Française. It is a great opportunity for me to gain access to the Bodleian Libraries and complete my corpus of manuscript sources, and also to get in touch with many scholars at the MFO and in Oxford.
First impressions of Oxford/the University?
Oxford is a beautiful, warm city, and in the winter it’s quiet and cosy with a small Christmas Market and many Christmas choirs and concerts. As for the University, it’s steeped in history, and the Libraries are truly breath-taking. It is the promise of a very rich soil for research.