The Word as Scalpel: A History of Medical Sociology

By Samuel W. Bloom | Go to book overview

2
American Sociology before 1920
From Social Advocacy to
Academic Legitimacy

The emergence of medical sociology can only be understood within the context of the American university. Even though the English and German universities were, in many ways, the models for American institutions, a more organized social science was produced in American universities than anywhere else in the world, and medical sociology developed as an intrinsic part of its parent discipline. The character of this historic development did not become clear until after the American Civil War.

At that time, in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, both social science and medicine in the United States took great leaps forward. Before that, they were intellectually dependent on European scholars. To be professionally current, many Americans studied at the universities of Germany, France, and England. Separation from these scholarly roots and independent national growth was only possible with the radical reorientation of American universities away from the scholasticism of their Christian theological sources and their transformation into secular, empirical science–based institutions. This happened when the first generation of college teachers with Ph. D. degrees were beginning to make their careers within the nation's universities. 1 Both intellectual development and the institutional arrangements were fundamentally changed. The research university was born, and all of the major types of intellectual activity were included in this transformation, including both sociology and medicine. 2

This was also the period when the modern medical school first emerged in the United States. Medical education became closely aligned with the university, grafting the basic biological sciences of the graduate school to the bedside teaching model of the English hospital schools. Medicine, during the prior century, had been dominated by clinical private practice. Even medical education was largely private and for profit, in schools where local clinicians lectured for a fee, followed or paralleled by individually supervised apprenticeship toward qualification. There were some university medical schools as early as the 1770s, but they were few and were poorly supported. Not until the late nineteenth century

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