Birthing the Nation: Sex, Science, and the Conception of Eighteenth-Century Britons

Paperback | August 15, 2008

byLisa Forman Cody

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How could the professional triumph of man-midwifery and contemporary tales of pregnant men, rabbit-breeding mothers, and meddling midwives in eighteenth-century Britain help construct the emergence of modern corporate and individual identities? By uncovering long-lost tales and artefacts aboutsexuality, birth, and popular culture, Lisa Forman Cody argues that Enlightenment Britons understood themselves and their relationship to others through their experiences and beliefs about the reproductive body. Birthing the Nation traces two intertwined narratives that shaped eighteenth-centuryBritish life: the development of the modern British nation, and the emergence of the male expert as the pre-eminent authority over matters of sexual behaviour, reproduction, and childbirth. By taking seriously contemporary caricatures, jokes, and rumours that used gender, birth, and family to makeclaims about religious, ethnic and national identity, Cody illuminates an entirely new view of the eighteenth-century public sphere as focused on the bodily and the bizarre.In a monarchy arbitrated by its official religion, regulation of reproduction and childbirth was vital to the very stability of British political authority and the coherence of British culture, challenged as it was by Catholicism, the French Revolution, and social change. In the late seventeenthcentury, the English feared the power of female midwives to control the destiny of the royal family, yet men-midwives and male experts had hardly proved their superiority to manage the successful birth of children. By the mid-eighteenth century, however, male midwives became experts over thedomestic world of pregnancy and childbirth, largely replacing female midwives among the middling and elite families. Cody suggests that these new professionals provided a new model for masculine comportment and emergent intimate relationships within the middle-class and elite home.Most surprisingly, Cody has discovered many interconnections between obstetrics and politics, and shows how male experts transformed what had once been the private, feminine domain of birth and midwifery into topics of public importance and universal interest, leading even Adam Smith and EdmundBurke to attend lectures on obstetrical anatomy. This is the first book to place the eighteenth-century shift from female midwives to male midwives as the dominant experts over childbirth in a larger cultural and political context. Cody illuminates how eighteenth-century Britons understood andsymbolized political, national, and religious affiliation through the experiences of the body, sex, and birth. In turn, she takes seriously how the political arguments and rhetoric of the age were not always made on disembodied, rational terms, but instead referenced deep cultural beliefs aboutgender, reproduction, and the family.

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How could the professional triumph of man-midwifery and contemporary tales of pregnant men, rabbit-breeding mothers, and meddling midwives in eighteenth-century Britain help construct the emergence of modern corporate and individual identities? By uncovering long-lost tales and artefacts aboutsexuality, birth, and popular culture, Lisa...

Lisa Forman Cody is Associate Professor of History at Claremont McKenna College.

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Hardcover|Mar 28 2002

$259.99 online$315.00list price
Format:PaperbackDimensions:374 pages, 9.21 × 6.14 × 0.87 inPublished:August 15, 2008Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:019954140X

ISBN - 13:9780199541409

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction2. Mothers, Midwives, and Mysteries3. Abortions, Witches, and Catholics: Reproduction and Revolution4. 'Is not your Lordship with child too?': Pregnant Fathers and Fathers of Science5. Imagining Mothers6. Breeding Scottish Obstetrics in Doctor Smellie's London7. Revolutionary Bodies in the Britain of George III8. Sex, Science, and Race9. The State Takes Charge: Conceived, Consummated, and Counted10. Epilogue

Editorial Reviews

`Cody straddles some of the most significant and distinctive themes of the long eighteenth century ... [she] teases out a novel interpretation of a well-rehearsed medical development, and presents it in a way which cannot help but have impact on the reader.' Alysa Levene, Reviews in History