Thesis ID: CBB219382625

Origin Stories: The Rhetorical Ecology of American Birth Medicine (2020)


This dissertation explores the intersections of medicine and religion through a rhetorical historiography of nineteenth century birth medicine in the United States. It asks: How did religious sensibilities motivate and shape rhetoric in response to human suffering in the field of midwifery/obstetrics? What religious images, metaphors, or tropes have shaped or percolated into medical rhetoric about birth? In terms of rhetorical change, what can be discovered by mapping the development of childbirth medicine alongside shifting religious views? Origin Stories addresses these questions by considering the particular ways Protestant rhetoric and values permeated the establishment of mainstream or “orthodox” birth medicine. The first chapter situates this project within the subfield of rhetoric of health and medicine. Chapter Two argues that early nineteenth century American medical writers employed hermeneutical practices drawn from Christian natural theology to reconcile their religious and medical beliefs as well as to establish the legitimacy of birth medicine. Chapter Three shows that Protestant terministic screens shaped how mid-century medical practitioners interpreted the cause(s) of maternal suffering and the types of interventions they believed were appropriate during childbirth. Chapter Four formulates the concept of “theo-moral physiology” as a unique late-nineteenth century medical orientation that enabled physicians to define the problem of infant mortality as a social pathology and to invent the figure of the premature infant. The fifth chapter discusses the implications of this project for scholars in rhetoric and the medical/health humanities. By bringing attention to the religious dimensions of medical rhetoric, Origin Stories reveals that the history of childbirth contains significant, but often overlooked, cooperation and integration between religion and medicine.

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Authors & Contributors
Martin, Morag
Berkenkotter, Carol
Cook, Harold John
Filippini, Nadia Maria
Kline, Wendy
Kosmin, Jennifer F.
Bulletin of the History of Medicine
French Historical Studies
Medical History
Social Science History
Cahiers François Viète Center for Epistemology and History of Science and Technology (CFV)
University of Minnesota
University of South Carolina
Columbia University
Franz Steiner Verlag
Johns Hopkins University Press
Obstetrics and pregnancy
Medicine and gender
Medicine and religion
Rhetorical analysis
Rhetoric in scientific discourse
Darwin, Charles Robert
Huxley, Thomas Henry
Smellie, William
Time Periods
19th century
18th century
Early modern
20th century
16th century
United States
Great Britain
Georgia (U.S.)

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