The Politics of Medical Topography

Notes, Summaries & Reviews, Thesis Research

Harriet Deacon, “The Politics of Medical Topography: Seeking healthiness at the Cape during the nineteenth century,” 279-297, in Pathologies of Travel eds. R. Wrigley and G. Revill (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2000).

Deacon focuses primarily upon the imperial, moral, and economic reasons that Cape Town faded as an important health resort spot in the 19th century. It was longer on an important trade route and was unable to compete with Mediterranean or, more significantly, European health resorts in society and status.

I didn’t find a whole lot useful here, mostly because the focus was not on the role that science played in the Cape’s downfall (and attempts to remain relevant). Deacon spends a lot of time fleshing out the moral implications that the developing city with few aristocratic or other high-ranking imperial officials seemed to have for some of those who commented on it. While its climate was originally held to be quite healthful, the discourse on climate and its deterministic role in the making of the individual increasingly cast doubt onto the location’s healthfulness. Deacon argues that this change was one explained better by imperialistic and economic motives than medical or scientific ones.

The Last Resort

Uncategorized

Vladimir Jankovic, “The Last Resort: A British Perspective on the Medical South, 1815-1870,” Journal of Intercultural Studies 27, no. 3 (2006): 271-298.

In this piece on British health travel to the Mediterranean, Jankovic aims to focus on the “…ways in which the medical reasoning and disease etiology impinged on the choice of resorts and regimens, and how such choice meshed with the broad understanding of the region based not only on the geographical and medical documents but also on its changing cultural stereotypes.” (272) He argues that medical opinion explained some aspects of health travel, but not all, as evidenced by the rapidly changing resort hotspots. Though Jankovic asserts that the “career of British climatotherapy… often drew upon the lay rather than scientific consensus and… often passed it verdicts in accordance to the Victorian environmental mores rather than observations, mortality tables or climatological statistics…,” he acknowledges the vital role that the “garb of impartiality and… use of scientific jargon…” played in legitimizing and differentiating different resorts. (272-73)

Visualization

Summaries & Reviews

Visible Empire: Botanical Expeditions & Visual Culture in the Hispanic Enlightenment, Daniela Bleichmar

            Author Daniela Bleichmar bases her study of Hispanic botanical expeditions around the images created during them in order to analyze the place of illustration in the Enlightenment natural philosophical era. Through these images, Bleichmar elucidates the motivations behind their production (to exploit natural colonial resources and make colonial flora “mobile”), their place in and exemplification of the international botanical network, and what they said (and did not say) about the places from whence they came. Bleichmar also takes the opportunity the images provide to discuss and analyze Hispanic colonial changes in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-centuries and the economic motivations for botanizing expeditions. Underlying her entire analysis is an insistence and explanation of the importance of visual epistemologies in Enlightenment science, especially in the Spanish Empire. 

The Image of Objectivity, Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison

            In a survey of atlases of the nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries, authors Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison trace changing ideas in the scientific community about visual representations of natural phenomena. The predominate methods of representation in the nineteenth-century concerned themselves with being “true to nature.” Experts who put together the atlases were supposed to, with their professional knowledge of a subject, use their judgment to create images that would be representative of natural things. A different view, a mechanical objectivity, began developing mid-century and stressed instead the importance of ridding scientific representations of their human components, or subjectivity. Judgment on the part of even professional scientists was viewed as immoral; professional scientists were expected to refrain from inserting themselves into their objective representations of natural phenomena. This mentality propelled imaging machines to the forefront of representational technology, especially the camera, and encouraged publication in atlases of multiple images of the same thing, so that the burden of representation was transferred to the audience.

The role of visual epistemologies was also addressed in Daniel Margoscy’s Commercial Visions. The standards for anatomical representations — the way that different anatomists vied for various methods of representation as superior — stands in stark contrast to the homogeneity in opinion about the hierarchy of botanical representations. At least as Bleichmar presents it, most naturalists were in agreement that visual representations were better than textual or physical renditions of plants. That being said, the goal of a representative, ideally easily reproducible representation was common to both anatomists and botanists. The goal of classification, such a powerful component of Enlightenment natural philosophy, deemed the standardization of nature necessary.

The role of the artist was addressed in both Visible Empire and The Image of Objectivity, and both works depicted the relationship between artist and scientist as a contentious one in some respects. The implied subjectivity of the artist was a source of tension, as was their propensity for creative license. Scientists felt the need to very literally look over their shoulders as they attempted to conform to the scientists’ particular definition of “objective.” What Galison and Daston and Bleichmar stress, however, is that standards of objectivity were quite subjective themselves. The leaving out of parts of plants, for example, was common practice in colonial Spanish scientific representations of colonial flora. These representations were also selective in that they portrayed only the plant, even simply parts of the plant, and left out their surroundings completely. Additionally, as Daston and Galison highlight, standards for objectivity in representation have changed over time, indicating further their transitory nature. It seems that the very subjectivity scientists were attempting to eliminate from their representations was present nonetheless, inherent in the selectivity scientists imposed upon the subjective artists they employed.