Date of Award

Spring 5-2022

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Art & Art History

Advisor/Committee Chair

Sarah Cohen


The eighteenth century in Europe was a time of intellectual and cultural advancement, with new systems of thought rooted in observation. Medically, observable evidence and experimentation served to advance the understanding of how the body operated. During an age of curiosity, the growing professionalization of medicine, increasingly literate population, and the expansion of print culture into scientific learning created a market for the popularization of medical texts. Medical manuals often included illustrated prints, as these images were integral modes for learning and teaching. As the reproductive female body became included in the study of anatomy and appeared in medical manuals, it marked the gendered shift in the attitudes of childbirth from a female midwife dominated affair to a male medical professional one. With the medical professionalization of midwifery and obstetrics came the growing requirement for education and training, especially regarding instrumentation developments like the forceps and anatomical knowledge, including that of the pelvis. Through the medical texts and illustrations produced under three practitioners in Northern Europe, the developments within the field of obstetrics in the eighteenth century can be observed. The Dutch physician Hendrik van Deventer became the author of The art of midwifery improv’d (1701), the Scottish physician William Smellie wrote A sett of anatomical tables with explanations and an abridgment of the practice of midwifery with a view to illustrating a treatise on that subject and a collection of cases (1754), and the French midwife Angélique Marguerite Le Boursier du Coudray published Abrégé de l’art des accouchements (1769). As such, the three medical texts and illustrations can serve as a case study of the sexual politics and cultural, geographic, religious, and temporal differences in the advancements of gynecology and obstetrics, especially in the conception of the pelvis and the application or elimination of forceps in practical procedure.

Available for download on Thursday, December 01, 2022

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