'As to the plan of this work … we think Dr. Baillie has done wrong': changing the study of disease through epistemic genre in Georgian Britain

Richard Thomas Bellis*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

In the eighteenth century, the writing of case histories, incorporating findings at post-mortem, was central to how the study of disease was practised. The use of this epistemic genre reflected the work of medical practitioners with their patients. By contrast, Matthew Baillie's Morbid Anatomy (1793) was a work of anatomy on the subject of disease that promoted an anatomical approach to the study of disease and stemmed from his own, different practice, which was anatomical. This was criticized by contemporaries who were sceptical that such an approach would prove useful to the physician's practice. Baillie's work took on the features of anatomy books, and omitted many of the features central to the writing of case histories, such as patient narratives. Instead he focused on describing, in generalized terms, the changes in structure caused by disease. These descriptions were valued by contemporaries, who incorporated his descriptions into their own works, changing the way that cases included anatomical findings. At the same time, Baillie's later editions contained more features of cases, such as descriptions of symptoms. Thus, individual books worked to integrate epistemic genres, and change practice in the study of disease.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages20
JournalNotes and Records of the Royal Society
Early online date15 Jan 2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 20 Mar 2020

Keywords

  • Matthew Baillie
  • Epistemic genre
  • Morbid anatomy
  • Case history
  • Study of disease
  • Eighteenth century

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