General:Female Diagnosticians and Healers in Eighteenth-Century Britain



User Story Creator Identification

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Name: Heather Meek


Tell us something about your level of study and the type of institutional appointment you hold. 
Choose any of the terms below that apply to you:
* undergrad
* grad
* part-time instructor
* pre-tenure faculty member
* tenured faculty member
* archivist-librarian
* independent scholar
* creative practitioner
* interested citizen

Role: Assistant Professor

Institution: University of Regina

Field of Study/Creative Endeavor: English


Please write a paragraph about your persona as a researcher: your position, your discipline, your general research interests, 
and the extent to which you use computers in your research. 
You may wish to mention particular tools that you use with some regularity.

I am a literary scholar and teacher specializing in eighteenth-century literature and women’s writing. My most recent work focuses on cultural, literary, and medical representations of hysteria in the Age of Reason, and I am currently exploring the relationship between illness and creativity in a group of women writers. Though I rely heavily on print texts not yet digitized, I use various databases (including Eighteenth-Century Collections Online, Google Books, JSTOR, and MLA bibliography) frequently in my research and teaching.


Please provide a short description of the larger project from which this story emerges.

Most of my work to date has focused on recovering and analyzing materials on eighteenth-century hysteria (a condition akin to modern depression). I have considered how women's accounts of hysteria both intersect and collide with received medical wisdom that described the condition as rooted in wandering wombs, weak nerves, and inherently disordered female bodies. The majority of relevant medical literature is online, but the women’s accounts have been harder to track down (most of them are scattered in print versions of letters, journals, and diaries). I will not be able to pursue certain ideas until more of these works become available in digital form.


In an ideal scenario, I would use online databases to retrieve written accounts by eighteenth-century women who were amateur medical practitioners of sorts. My analysis of these works would look at the significance of female diagnosticians and healers in eighteenth-century Britain, and to what degree these women had an impact on the medical culture of the time. This type of inquiry would expand on work done by George Rousseau and Roy Porter, who note that widespread medicalization had not yet occurred in this period, and therefore medical knowledge was not limited to physicians; rather, it was shared, open, and somewhat eclectic. This body of women’s writing might be viewed, then, as an alternative discourse that informs our understanding of eighteenth-century medicine. It might also tell us something about the eighteenth-century woman writer’s literary productivity and her varied engagement with themes and genres.

The scope of my study would depend largely on the number of texts retrieved, but I would narrow my focus by looking at medical issues that were of particular relevance to eighteenth-century women, and by limiting my texts to women’s medical treatises and life-writings. The medical issues of interest might include: hysteria (and other forms of mental illness), chlorosis (which some modern commentators align with anorexia nervosa), miscarriage, and childbirth. The generic boundaries I have established would allow for a multi-layered exploration of the women’s engagement with medical discourse. Medical treatises by female ‘doctors’ would provide descriptions of diagnoses and treatments of real patients. The life-writing, which would comprise the bulk of my primary material, would offer medical information and case studies written by the sufferers themselves. Both genres, I suspect, would offer commentary and criticism on established medical wisdom.


Discovery I: First, I would embark on a search of women who actually practiced medicine in their communities – either as midwives, healers, or dabblers in folk remedies – and wrote about it (Jane Sharp’s treatise on midwifery and Elizabeth Freke’s lists of home ‘recipes’ – contained within her memoirs – are examples of works I would use as starting points in this phase of the study). The current Orlando textbase would provide me with a list of these women.

Discovery II: I would search for women writers who offer their informal expertise – through narrations of personal experiences, unofficial case studies, and casual anecdotes – within their life-writing. In this phase, the Orlando textbase would provide me with a preliminary list. This list would be rather long as it would be difficult to know for sure whether certain women discuss the relevant issues in their works.

Selection I: Working from the list of medical treatises (see “Discovery I”), I would use a tool, ideally a new Orlando interface, that would allow me to access the relevant texts online – either through a direct link or by providing the names of databases that I could access on my own. From here, I would create a bibliography of medical treatises.

Selection II: Consulting the list of life-writing (see “Discovery II”), I would work with a database offering full-text versions of eighteenth-century diaries, letters, memoirs, commonplace books, etc. This database would have a tool that would allow me to do detailed searches on the medical issues of interest (hysteria, chlorosis, miscarriage, and childbirth). In this way, I would create a bibliography of life-writing.

Secondary Research: I would consult a number of databases, including JSTOR and MLA Bibliography. The most useful database, however, would be limited to secondary sources on seventeenth- and eighteenth-century critical material, and geared towards literary scholars pursuing interdisciplinary research projects (this database does not exist as of yet). In this phase of my work, I would create a working bibliography of secondary sources.

Reading, Analysis, and Writing: I would read through my primary and secondary materials, take notes, compile drafts, draw conclusions, and produce a monograph on female diagnosticians and healers in the eighteenth century.

How broadly do the practices described in this story apply to others in same field, in related fields, etc?
* broadly applicable
* shared by some
* shared by few or none

Scope: These practices are broadly applicable to those working in the fields of literature and medicine, and eighteenth-century women's writing.

Does your story describe current research activities that you think CWRC will enhance (present), 
or future research possibilities that you can only dream of now? (future)

Timeline: Eighteenth Century

Please provide some keywords that will allow us to group or cluster related stories--or aspects of stories. 
Use as many of the ones listed below as relevant or provide your own.
* Aggregate
* Annotate
* Consider
* Discover
* Interact
* Publish
* Archive/Preserve
* Share
* Visualize
* Map
* Historicize
* Edit
* Network
* Collaborate
* Integrated History of Women's Writing in Canada
* Orlando

Keywords: consider; discover; historicize; Orlando

Are there parts of the story that relate to other CWRC stories? 
Please provide title(s) and link to the relevant story page.

Related Stories: Legal Advice to Women in the Eighteenth Century; Making 'em Laugh: Images of Law in Eighteenth-Century Popular Culture; Hysteria and Creativity in Eighteenth-Century Writing by Women

Are there tools that do some of the sorts of things you'd like to see in CWRC? 
If so, what are they?

Related Tools: ECCO, MLA Bibliography, JSTOR, Orlando, Google Books