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Abstracts: Practices and Epistemologies

Christelle Rabier, (Institut d’ Histoire Moderne et Contemporaine, Paris)

Changing Crafts: Refashioning Surgeons in 18c Paris and London


The surgeon’s craft underwent deep changes during the Enlightenment, which have been interpreted as a “rise” or a “professionalization”: one sign of this success took place in 1745 as Paris and London barbers were definitely excluded from the practice of surgery. Considering Paris and London guilds, the aim of the paper is to study how this major occupational change took place between 1600 and 1750 and its epistemological consequences. In doing so, my paper establishes the multiple factors of the distinction which fashioned a new learned occupational identity. I will show how the fashion of hair-dressing had major consequences on the professional education of young practitioners, who explored alternative routes to knowledge and hands-on experience. Expanding the market for their therapeutic services, surgeons thus invented a new approach to medicine.


David Beck (University of Warwick)
Robert Plot’s investigation of nature

Robert Plot (1640-169 6) was an avid investigator of nature, spending over four years touring through the countryside examining both everyday phenomena and unusual curiosities in Staffordshire and Oxfordshire. In an effort to widen his knowledge of these counties he spoke with locals, experimented to determine the properties of echoes, and corresponded extensively. His two printed county natural histories were held up by contemporaries as models to be followed, combining information from fields which we now refer to as separate disciplines, including botany, geology, mineralogy, heraldry, cartography and genealogy.

This paper will explore the processes that Plot used to produce his county natural histories. Firstly it will identify which locals he saw as capable of providing evidence and the methods he used to assess their statements. Secondly it will discuss the theories that informed his experimentation. Thirdly it will map the extents of his correspondence networks; these were vital to his projects, as Plot acknowledges himself on several occasions. I will argue that these networks, combined with Plot’s wide-ranging interests, were central in the combination of naturalistic and antiquarian endeavour which, though short lived, was hugely influential on the development of modern scientific inquiry.