New Directions in the History of Nursing: International Perspectives

By Barbara Mortimer; Susan McGann | Go to book overview

12

Common working ground

Joan E. Lynaugh

Modern nursing emerged as a distinct entity only during the last 150 years or so in Germany, England, Scandinavia and North America. It became an idea so formidable, and so seemingly inevitable, that nursing now encircles the world. The nursing I speak of is the modern, recognizable, standardized occupation of nursing. In turn, modern nursing rests, however uneasily, on a time-immemorial idea of nursing or mutual aid among humans that seems to date from ancient, even prehistoric, times. Whether modern or ancient, nursing deals with birth and death, health and illness; it is ubiquitous and essential. Those who study the history of nursing have a broad field indeed, and several audiences for their musings.

America's early nurse historian, Lavinia L. Dock, focused in on one of those audiences in 1907. As a determined professionalizer, she saw history as a means and a tool to make nurses self-conscious of their own identity and potential power. She spoke directly to them. 'Only in the light of history can she (the modern nurse) clearly see how closely her own calling is linked with the general conditions of education and of liberty that obtain-as they rise, she rises, and as they sink, she falls'. 1 As historian Sioban Nelson explains so well, Dock and other promulgators of her traditional view and use of history were, indeed, very effective in creating a collective self-image and group identification for the new field. 2

But, encouraged by Nelson's argument, I am more interested in discussing one of the other audiences historians of nursing must consider. That audience is ourselves. An international history of nursing cannot be realized unless there is an international body of scholars. To return once more to an early historian of nursing, let me quote American Adelaide Nutting writing in the International Council of Nurses Bulletin in 1924; 'we must…find somewhere, between the extremes of thought and opinion, the best common working ground'. 3 In this brief essay I consider three elements that I believe are fundamental as we historians think about our own 'common working ground.'

First, it seems to me that certain historical subjects are of universal importance-making them attractive to study and likely to build the field. For now I will suggest eight subject areas from my own experience. No doubt there are many other possibilities that will intrigue scholars.

Next, to build a body of scholarship, we need to be both cognizant of and

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