Date of Award

2010

Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Department

English Language and Literatures

First Advisor

David S. Shields

Abstract

Eve Keller locates the emergence of the masculinist "modern, liberal self" in seventeenth century embryology through the close-reading of a wide array of texts invested in articulating embryological theories. In doing so, she points out "the value of reading [medical texts] not a straightforward registers of historical practice but primarily as rhetorical constructs, as public performances offered for commercial consumption, intended not so much to instruct as to promulgate certain images and identities of the practitioners." My dissertation, "The Man-Midwife's Tale: Re-reading Male-Authored Midwifery Guides in Britain and America, 1750-1820," builds upon on recent work in gender relation, sexuality and the history of medicine to elucidate a nuanced history of the rhetorical constructions of masculinist self-hood and the sexed female body in midwifery manuals. My contribution is a comparative analysis of the material texts themselves that enriches the current scholarly understanding of obstetrics, gender and sex. Much of my research has been to compare and contrast multiple editions and iterations of the same titles across the long eighteenth century. Such comparisons shed new light on the interactions of authors, publishers and readers and exposes the ways in which ideas about gender and sex were formed, transformed and entrenched over time. The construction of women as "the Sex" emerged gradually, in correlation with the perceived authority of man-midwifery. The profession's authority derived in great measure from the successful deployment of the trope of what I will call the "hero-accoucheur." Applying literary techniques to medical texts reveals the rhetorical strategies and fictions of medicine. My project seeks to understand midwifery guides as texts--as reading material, written for and consumed by, a public interested and in childbirth and generation. I attempt to elucidate a nuanced history of the rhetorical constructions of masculinist self-hood and the sexed female body in midwifery manuals. My contribution is a comparative analysis of the material texts themselves that enriches the current scholarly understanding of obstetrics, gender and sex. Much of my research has been to compare and contrast multiple editions and iterations of the same titles across the long eighteenth century. Such comparisons shed new light on the interactions of authors, publishers and readers and exposes the ways in which ideas about gender and sex were formed, transformed and entrenched over time. The construction of women as "the Sex" emerged gradually, in correlation with the perceived authority of man-midwifery. The profession's authority derived in great measure from the successful deployment of the "hero-accoucheur."

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