John Harley Warner “Narrative at the Bedside: The Transformation of the Patient Record in the Long Nineteenth Century” (Public Lecture, King’s College, 16 January 2013)

The King’s College Centre for the Humanities and Health warmly invites you to the Annual Lecture of the History of Health and Medicine seminar series:

16th January Anatomy Lecture Theatre, Strand Campus, 5pm

John Harley Warner (Avalon Professor and Chair, History of Medicine, Yale University) will give the History of Health and Medicine Annual Lecture on ‘Narrative at the Bedside: The Transformation of the Patient Record in the Long Nineteenth Century’

Abstract: Between the early and closing decades of the nineteenth century, the hospital patient chart was transformed. Drawing on surviving manuscript patient charts, and focusing on the United States, I first trace how a discursively rich record was supplanted by one that expressed narrative preferences for precision and exactitude, quantification and visualization, impersonality and detachment, uniformity and standardization, and an aspiration to universalism. In the process, the textual presence of not only the individuated sick person but also the individual physician all but vanished, part of a larger program to eradicate “the personal equation.” I then explore the epistemological, technical, and moral choices at work in shaping this modern medical case record, giving particular attention to how the new version of scientific medicine that the experimental laboratory emblemized brought to the practice of clinical narrative a new aesthetic preference. I suggest how this transformation in the clinical practice of writing took part in making and expressing a new kind of professional identity, reshaping clinicians’ conceptions both of patients and of themselves and setting in place one cornerstone in the grounding of modern medicine-with lasting biomedical and human consequences. I close by looking at efforts early in the twentieth century to establish this model for clinical narrative as the norm, and at the reaction against this program just after the close of the First World War, part of a broader postwar impulse to reenchant the art of healing in an age of medical science.

Further details of events in this series are available here.

About Centre for Medical Humanities

Centre for Medical Humanities
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