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When physicians gathered in medical societies to present, share, discuss, evaluate, publish and even celebrate their medical studies, they engaged in a community with specific practices, rules and manners. This book explores the formal and subtle ways in which such norms were set. It analyzes societies’ scientific publishing procedures, traditions of debate, (inter)national networks, and social and commemorative activities, uncovering a rich scientific culture in nineteenth-century medicine. The book focuses on medical societies in Belgium, a young nation-state eager to take its place among the European nations, in which the constitutional freedoms of press and association offered new possibilities for organized sociability. It situates medical societies within an emerging civil culture in Ghent, Brussels and Antwerp, and shows how physicians’ ambitions to publish medical journals and organize scientific debates corresponded well to the values of social engagement, polite debate and a free press of the urban bourgeoisie. As such, this book offers new insights into the close relation between science, sociability and citizenship. The development of a professional academic community in the second half of the century, which centered around the laboratory, went hand in hand with a set of new scientific codes, mirroring to a lesser extent the customs of civil society. It meant the end of a tradition of ‘civil’ science, forcing medical societies to reposition themselves in the scientific landscape, and take up new functions as mediators between specialties and as centers of postgraduate education.

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Joris Vandendriessche

The introduction highlights rarely studied aspects of medical sociability. When physicians gathered in societies to present, discuss, evaluate, publish and celebrate their studies, they followed specific rules and manners. By paying attention to the performative aspect of sociability, it becomes possible to uncover these manners and lay bare their origins in nineteenth-century civil society. Belgium is presented as a case study to this end. The presence of a liberally oriented bourgeoisie in the country’s major cities, the hesitant development of state infrastructure and the slow modernization of universities offered much room for civil engagement in the medical sciences.

in Medical societies and scientific culture in nineteenth-century Belgium
Joris Vandendriessche

This chapter discusses the foundation and transformation of medical societies in the Southern Netherlands from the late eighteenth century to 1840. It explores, how the model of eighteenth-century learned societies, like other institutions of the Ancien Régime such as universities, was refashioned into a new, uniquely medical institution. Central to this refashioning was the transformation of societies’ focus on usefulness to the general public ‒ an ideal that was typical of late eighteenth-century learned culture ‒ into a more concrete promotion of science among a newly conceived professional community of physicians. The chapter analyzes shifts in societies’ membership, mission and social role against the background of shifting political regimes (respectively the Austrian, French, Dutch and Belgian authorities), which paralleled successive stages of medical reform.

in Medical societies and scientific culture in nineteenth-century Belgium
Joris Vandendriessche

This chapter focuses on the function and the formalities of scientific debate in medical societies. Within an emerging (liberal) political culture of public speaking (practiced in spaces such as parliament and the court room), physicians depended on their rhetorical and performative skills when presenting scientific findings to their colleagues. Medical societies, in that sense, were performative spaces in which one’s capacity with the spoken word, as well as with the demonstration of surgical techniques and with the use of visual aids (e.g. medical drawings and plaster casts), proved essential to establishing one’s authority. The chapter pays particular attention to the attitudes and codes that underlay such successful performances. Physicians, in presenting their findings, needed to embody ‘openness’ in the communication of scientific results, while remaining polite and eloquent at the same time, and thus establishing themselves as gentlemen. By the end of the century, this tradition of eloquence and oratory gradually disappeared. As laboratory methods eclipsed traditional methods of clinical observation and discussion, the polite dialogues between gentlemen lost their importance as the primary roads to scientific truth.

in Medical societies and scientific culture in nineteenth-century Belgium
Joris Vandendriessche

This chapter discusses medical societies’ efforts to publish scientific journals. It discusses authors’ motivations for submitting articles, reviewers’ responses and ways of criticizing, editors’ decisions to reach new audiences, and publishers’ role in the financing and spreading of these journals. The chapter starts by tracing the origins of societies’ journals, placing their emergence against the cultural backdrop of a growing uneasiness with the practice of contrefaçon or reprinting (without authors’ permission). Central to societies’ unique position in the medical press was the reviewing of studies. This allowed medical societies to differentiate their journals from others by publishing original work. In the second half of the century, scientific publishing became more exclusive. Private practitioners succeeded less and less frequently in making it through the review process. The simultaneous appearance of new specialized medical journals meant that the ‘general’ journals published by medical societies became trapped in-between a specialized and an (equally emerging) popular medical press. By the end of the century, medical societies’ role as publishing houses seemed indeed played out.

in Medical societies and scientific culture in nineteenth-century Belgium
Joris Vandendriessche

This chapter highlights the role of medical societies in the circulation of anatomical objects. It shows how Belgian anatomists used societies to realize one of the most prestigious contemporary medical projects ‒ to give the young Belgian nation its own anatomical collections and traditions. Societies’ networks of correspondents allowed academics such as the Ghent professor Adolphe Burggraeve to expand their academic collections. By donating or presenting anatomical specimens, rural physicians or those from smaller cities received recognition for partaking in scientific study. In the second half of the nineteenth century, these networks changed. On the level of the participants, students and young researchers replaced private practitioners as the main providers of new specimens. In addition, an accurate scientific description was required from these providers to receive credit. Simply donating a specimen was no longer regarded as a sufficient contribution to the sciences. On the level of scientific standards, finally, the ideals of rarity, curiosity and aesthetics became superseded by accuracy and seriality ‒ a shift that reflected the growing importance of quantification in medicine as well as the rise of pathological anatomy as a scientific specialism.

in Medical societies and scientific culture in nineteenth-century Belgium
Joris Vandendriessche

This chapter discusses societies’ role in the forging of a scientific community. It focuses on society members’ engagement with commemorative practices ‒ practices that established a shared, collective memory. Such practices, the chapter shows, were highly normative: through eulogies and biographical sketches society members, in fact, reinforced common ideals of scientific study. Within a context of Belgian patriotism in the early and mid-nineteenth century such ideals were strongly connected to the young Belgian nation. The commemoration of famous ‘Belgian’ physicians from the past functioned as a means of emphasizing physicians’ contributions to this nation. This link between medicine and the nation was gradually eroded in the second half of the century. While historical references to a gentlemanly medical culture could still function as a means to criticize present-day medicine, society members increasingly constructed their own ‘scientific’ set of beliefs and norms, and sought closer affiliation to academe. Festivities were organised in honor of university professors. Mourning rituals accompanied their deaths. Through these rites, the scientific community presented itself as a ‘family’, celebrating its ‘fathers’ for their guidance and praising the ascetic life they led in the name of science.

in Medical societies and scientific culture in nineteenth-century Belgium
Joris Vandendriessche

This chapter considers societies’ shifting position in the scientific landscape during the last two decades of the nineteenth century. It measures the effects of the specialization and professionalization of medical research. Medical societies, the chapter shows, were again ‘refashioned’ during a period of intense organizational reform, comparable to the medical reforms of the 1830s and 1840s. As the relationship between ‘specialized’ and ‘general’ research fully shifted in favor of the first ‒ an evolution exemplified most clearly in the bifurcating of new, specialized research institutes ‒ societies saw their scientific role finally eroded. Yet this did not necessarily lead to their disappearance. As ‘general’ institutions, they took up new functions as mediators between the specialized disciplines and by offering postgraduate education to a broad medical community.

in Medical societies and scientific culture in nineteenth-century Belgium
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Joris Vandendriessche

The conclusion takes stock of the variety of scientific practices and performances that animated the meetings of nineteenth-century medical societies. It identifies a process of growing autonomy of the medical sciences as a connecting thread. It also highlights how societies met a need for deliberation and debate among physicians, and acted as spaces where scientific standards could be set and imposed. This need for a broader basis did not disappear with the advent of professionalized science, the book concludes, but was articulated in new ways in the twentieth century.

in Medical societies and scientific culture in nineteenth-century Belgium
Joris Vandendriessche

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.

in Medical societies and scientific culture in nineteenth-century Belgium