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Department of History and Philosophy of Science


buffonA conference held in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, on 5–6 December 2011

Scholars have explored continuities and discontinuities in theories of sex and gender; knowledge of entities such as seeds, germs, embryos, monsters and clones; concerns about creation, evolution, degeneration and regeneration; investments in maternity, paternity and heredity; practices of fertility control, potency and childbirth; and health relations between citizen and state, individual and population. But we have paid much less attention to the huge changes in processes and media of communication. There is important work on specific practices, from education to advertising, conversation to mass entertainment, and on specific media, from ritual objects to printed books, films to the internet. But we lack synthetic and comparative accounts. This conference aims to explore how we might best ground debates about reproduction in changing practices of communication over the long term, though primarily within the Western tradition. Nor is reproduction just a lens through which to view the history of communication. For generation and reproduction are themselves potent metaphors for communication. Richard de Bury wrote in Philobiblon (1345) of the making of books as a form of generation across time and modern authors often frame the distribution of identical copies in terms of mechanical reproduction.

The conference will bring together scholars representing ancient to modern periods and various disciplines. Talks will be 20-minute summaries of pre-circulated papers, followed by commentary and discussion in one-hour slots in such a way as to promote dialogue and critical engagement between fields and approaches.


Monday 5 December
9.00–9.30am Registration and Coffee
9.30–9.45 Welcome and Introductions
Chair: Sarah Franklin
9.45–10.45 Mary Fissell (The Johns Hopkins University)
Plus ça change ... kinship in vernacular medical works, 1700–1880
Discussants: Elaine Leong, Staffan Müller-Wille
10.45–11.45 Solveig Jülich (Stockholm University)
Lennart Nilsson's A Child is Born: the many lives of a book on human reproduction
Discussants: Nick Hopwood, Peter Jones
11.45–12.45 Lunch
Chair: Lauren Kassell
12.45–1.45pm Helen King (The Open University)
Educating Lucina: midwives and the communication of reproductive knowledge, ancient and early modern
Discussants: Karin Ekholm, Jennifer Rampling
1.45–2.45 Catherine Rider (University of Exeter)
Communicating religious views of infertility in the Middle Ages
Discussants: Jennifer Richards, Lesley Hall
2.45–3.15 Tea
3.15–3.30 Walk to Cambridge Arts Picturehouse, St Andrew's Street
Chair: Francis Neary
3.30–5.15 Film presentation: Uta Schwarz (Federal Centre for Health Education, Cologne)
Introduction and Q&A to the film Helga (1967)
5.15–5.30 Walk to University Library, West Road
5.30–7.00 Reception in 'Books and Babies: Communicating Reproduction' exhibition at the University Library
7.30 Conference dinner at The Rice Boat, 37 Newnham Road
Tuesday 6 December
Chair: Richard Smith
9.30–10.30am Peter Jones (King's College, Cambridge) and Lea T. Olsan (University of Louisiana at Monroe)
Communicating charms for conception and childbirth in England, 900–1500
Discussants: Mary Fissell, Wendy Kline
10.30–11.30 Wendy Kline (University of Cincinnati)
Coming home: modern midwifery and the controversy over home birth
Discussants: Salim Al-Gailani, Helen King
11.30–12.00 Coffee
Chair: Peter Jones
12.00–1.00pm Staffan Müller-Wille (University of Exeter)
Reproducing species
Discussants: Jim Secord, Rebecca Flemming
1.00–2.00 Lunch
Chair: Jim Secord
2.00–3.00 Jennifer Richards (Newcastle University)
Reading, reproduction and The Woman's Book
Discussants: Lauren Kassell, Angelique Richardson
3.00–4.00 Angelique Richardson (University of Exeter)
Reproduction and the post-Darwinian novel
Discussants: Francis Neary, Vanessa Heggie
4.00–4.30 Tea
Chair: Nick Hopwood
4.30–6.00 Ludmilla Jordanova (King's College, London)
Closing comments followed by panel-led discussion
6.00 Conference ends

Organisers: Nick Hopwood, Peter Jones, Lauren Kassell, Francis Neary, Jim Secord

Funding: Wellcome Trust strategic award in the history of medicine on Generation to Reproduction

The registration fee of £40 (£20 for students/unwaged) includes lunch and tea/coffee on both days, a reception in the Books & Babies exhibition at the University Library and the film screening.

Generation to Reproduction


Cambridge historians of medicine and biology are taking a long-term, cross-disciplinary approach to the history of reproduction.

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Making Visible Embryos


Explore our online exhibition on the history of embryo images.

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The Casebooks Project


Browse and search Simon Forman's and Richard Napier's records of thousands of consultations.

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