Paris Journey at its End

May 10-May 18–eight days, two train rides, one “security breach,” numerous museums and more French bread than a reasonable constitution can consume without practice. At last, we (Women’s and Gender Studies class on history of birth) have returned from Paris.

I can safely say the students enjoyed the journey (feel free to check out their blog at WAGS348). I also greatly enjoyed the trip–that’s me in the cemetery looking very queen-of-the-dead pleased with myself–but by evensong, I was too exhausted to be particularly consistent with the blog.

Alas, I provide the summary instead:

I allowed the students the weekend to adjust. They were encouraged to visit museums in groups. Classes began in the morning (except for Sunday, when a number of them went to Notre Dame cathedral). We discussed the books, the class parameters and–of course–the mysteries of the Metro. We met again for dinner each evening to detox and discuss the day. Then, by Monday, the concentrated museum visits began.

Musée d’histoire de la médecine

We began with the museum in downtown Paris at l’Universite Paris Descartes. A wonderful collection of tools, it helped to illustrate what our books had been teaching us about the history of medecine.

Musée Flaubert et d’histoire de la médecine — The Museum of Flaubert and the History of Medicine

Tuesday, we trained to Rouen to see two museums. We went to the Natural History museum, which has an excellent collection and very knowledgeable tour guides. Birth and care of infants among animals was primary. More specific to our class was the museum of medical history that housed Madame du Coudray’s last surviving birthing phantom–a doll the students had read about, right before their eyes! The guide, who spoke excellent English (necessary as the students were not fluent in French), gave us extra details–including a look at an ossified fetus. It had been found during the autopsy of a woman, and had been inside her body for over 20 years!

Wellcome Library

We had the best of intentions to go to the Wellcome Library in London on Wednesday. However, a security breach (in the form of an open fire door) closed down the station for so long that we had to cancel the trip. It was very disappointing, as the students were going to get reader cards, have a presentation and see materials at the collection. However, we made the best of it and several students were able to see the catacombs on this day instead–the end rather than the beginning of life.

The students have demonstrated their confidence, their aptitude, and their ability for creative thinking. They have made connections between history and culture that are not possible without such experiences. I look forward to their final projects (all of which sound interesting) and to our final excursion–a trip to the Mayo Clinic Birthing Center. We have traveled through time and space on this gender-studies tour of birth; I am pleased to say that it has been a success (though an exhausting one for the professor, who has been juggling schedules and receipts for 15 people in total…and doing most of the daily translation!)

Thank you to all who participated, all who provided help or opened your doors to the students and myself.

Note: I have not said much about the food. I don’t need to. They have all been taking photos and posting about every morsel. I shall try to compile some of that–but in the meantime, I leave you with a quote from my student Becky:

I thought it was heaven, but it’s cheese. And its better!


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