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""Resuscitating the 'Great Doctor': The career of biography in medical history," in "

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(2007)Thomas Söderqvist, ed., The History and Poetics of Scientific Biography (Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 2007):221-39

This article is based on a presentation, "'Great Doctors,' 'Great Scientists': The career of biography in the history of medicine and science" that Beth Linker prepared for a conference, "The Poetics of Biography in Science, Technology, and Medicine" in Copenhagen, Denmark, 22-26 May 2002.

The article begins as follows:

"The study of the history of medicine began as a practice of teaching and writing about individuals. In the first history of medicine courses taught in American universities during the late nineteenth century, instructors told stories of 'great doctors,' mapping out a straight line of historical advancement. Early educators in the history of medicine (most of whom were physicians) validated their practice by claiming that historical study would have a humanising effect on their students. Progressives who believed that medicine held the key to human health and happiness worried that as medicine became more scientific, students would lose the moral and cultural foundations necessary to guide them. Early proponents of medical history hoped that by putting human faces on the increasingly abstract content of their fields, teachers could inculcate classical virtue. In such an educational atmosphere, the writing of biographies flourished.

Things are very different today. . . ."

To read the entire article, please click the PDF option at the top of this page.


At the time I posted this article (May 2015), Beth Linker is Associate Professor in the Department of History & Sociology of Science, and Director of the Health and Societies Program, at the University of Pennsylvania.

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