Academic journal article Nursing History Review

Against the Spirit of System: The French Impulse in Nineteenth-Century American Medicine

Academic journal article Nursing History Review

Against the Spirit of System: The French Impulse in Nineteenth-Century American Medicine

Article excerpt

Against the Spirit of System: The French Impulse in Nineteenth-Century American Medicine By John Harley Warner (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003) (427 pages; $24.95 paper)

John Harley Warner's Against the Spirit of System: The French Impulse in Nineteenth-Century American Medicine is a well-written and easy-to-read account of how nineteenth-century Americans used their medical studies at the Paris Clinical School to advance a professional identity that emphasized empiricism and denigrated rationalistic systems. Warner's skillfull writing allows his reader to accompany scores of nineteenth-century medical men and women on their medical trips to Paris. Through Warner's expert use of primary sources, Americans voice their opinions, feelings, and thoughts about the Paris School and its implications for American medicine. His exhaustive research not only results in a full history of Americans' respect for and promotion of select elements of Parisian medicine, but also offers historians projects that will elucidate further the French medical impulse in the United States.

Warner takes the reader on a nineteenth-century medical trip to Paris. He explains what motivated medical men and women to journey there, their feelings prior to departure, the hardships they experienced aboard ship, their travels in London and other European destinations, their experiences in the capital of nineteenth-century scientific medicine-Paris-and their return trips to the United States. The person who reads Warner's book gets to escort Americans on their journeys through the French capital. They attend lectures given by the great names in French medicine, tour the massive French hospitals, and witness care provided at the bedsides of countless French men and women. Warners goal in recounting the stories told by these American pilgrims is to show that medical students and physicians who made their way to Paris appreciated the access that they had to bodies and clinical material. On their return to the United States, they stressed that their time in France had taught them about the wisdom of empiricism and the dangers of system building.

Warner's excellent depiction of Parisian medical life and what it meant to American medical professionals relies on a tremendous amount of primary source research. He seamlessly weaves the voices of fresh medical students as well as seasoned physicians into his account. His description of Elizabeth Blackwell's experiences is only one of countless examples founded on remarkable primary source research. …

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