Medical societies and scientific culture in nineteenth-century Belgium

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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