An American English Professor in Paris

“You are going where to do what?”

I hear this question a lot. I understand it, to a point–I have always been a square peg, you see, and even members of my academic community are occasionally at a loss about what I do. Which is what? you may ask… I suppose the most correct categorical term would be medical humanities, but like many of my colleagues, I make my home in an English department. (I have my PhD in 18th century studies, after all–never mind that in the Augustan to the Georgian period that included everything from literature to medicine and history).

The Break Down:

I research: the medical history of birthing devices and burgeoning neuroscience in the 1700’s, moral cures of the Victorians, gender constructions of Gothic literature, and all that is weird and wonderful about medicine before the 20th century.

I write: articles on literature from Jane Eyre to Moby Dick, Mary Astell to John Locke, Gothic Lit to pedagogy praxis–and fiction, two YA series and an adult novel (which you can preview on this blog from the top menu).

I teach: undergraduate and graduate classes, 18th century literature, Romantic literature, women’s and gender studies, YA fiction and creative writing.

I edit: I am the managing editor for a medical anthropology journal, Cultural, Medicine and Psychiatry–on cross-cultural health research. I am guest editing for Journal of Liberal Arts and Sciences, too, and I review medical humanities books when the occasion calls for it.

Image“Yes, but why Paris, then?”

Ah. Why not Paris, really? It is home to great architecture, incredible culture and–more to the point–medical history. Louis Pasteur, Charcot, Gregoire–the list goes on and on. My own interest presently, however, is Madame du Coudray, the “King’s Midwife,” who practiced the art of midwifery at the Hôtel-Dieu de Paris. Though she trained exclusively women, a strange shift in midwifery practice was happening in London in the 18th century. Male surgeons were replacing female midwives, culminating in the ascension of William Hunter as physician midwife to Queen Charlotte. Adrian Wilson tracks this history in his Making of Man-Midwifery, and I make reference to it in my recent work on William Smellie’s birthing phantom. It is fascinating history, and it occurred to me that the gender shift between countries (and its ramifications for practice in America) would be excellent subject matter for a Women’s and Gender Studies (WAGS) class. And so, this summer, I am leading a travel study–not for the English department, but for the WAGS department. Thanks to brilliant colleagues and contacts abroad, I will be shepherding the students from Paris (Musée de l’histoire de la medicine, Musée Flaubert et d’histoire de la medicine) to London (Wellcome Library) to Rochester, MN (Mayo Clinic Birthing Center). Our progress may be tracked on the class blog: WAGS 348.

So. I am an American scholar of British literature–teaching the history of midwifery–to nursing and English students–in Paris–for a WAGS department.

Makes perfect sense to me.

On to Paris–à bientôt!

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