Expertise and advice
in Medical societies and scientific culture in nineteenth-century Belgium
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This chapter analyzes the participation of public health experts in nineteenth-century medical societies. It examines societies’ relation to urban politics and professional medical organizations by scrutinizing how these experts mediated between the worlds of science and politics, making use of medical societies in the process. The general line that runs through the chapter is a shift in the way expertise in public health was framed in the course of the century. Early and mid-nineteenth-century experts conceived of their work as the voluntary, philanthropic work of engaged citizens. For them, medical societies formed a vehicle through which they could express such citizenship. State investments in public health gradually brought forth a new class of public health professionals in the second half of the century. These new experts stressed the scientific grounding of their studies to differentiate them from popular works or lobbying efforts. Participation in urban medical societies, which increasingly defined themselves as ‘scientific’ institutions as opposed to professional organizations, allowed them to realize their ambitions. The label of public health studies as a form of ‘applied science’ proved helpful to convince both medical colleagues and politicians.

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