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Bulletin of the History of Medicine 78.1 (2004) 227-228

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Daniela Vaj. Médecins voyageurs: Théorie et pratique du voyage médical au début du XIXesiècle, d'après deux textes genevois inédits: les "Mémoires sur les voyages médicaux (1806-1810)" de Louis Odier et les "Carnets du voyage médical en Europe (1817-1820)" de Louis-André Gosse. Bibliothèque d'histoire de la médecine et de la santé. Geneva: Georg, 2002. xix + 345 pp. Ill. Sw. Fr. 54.00 (paperbound, 2-8257-0780-5).

In France, the term médecins voyageurs, like the associated term médecinsnavigants, frequently connoted naval physicians or surgeons who traveled on ship; for the land-locked Swiss, it simply meant physicians who traveled. Two of Geneva's peripatetic medical men, Louis Odier (1748-1817) and Louis-André Gosse (1791-1872), composed the unpublished manuscripts investigated in this volume, namely Odier's proposals of fellowships for medical travel and Gosse's travel journals. Daniela Vaj, whose previous work includes an account of a trip to Italy undertaken by Odier's daughter, quotes at length from these manuscripts with the aim of showing the Genevan medical community's contribution to the evolving definition of the term médecin voyageur.

Louis Odier was a University of Edinburgh medical graduate (1770) of Neo-Hippocratic leanings whose time in Edinburgh overlapped with that of Benjamin Rush, and his education and the requisite medical grand tour took him to Paris, Leiden, and other European centers. Less of an innovator than an inveterate recycler, Odier admired the comprehensive programs for health sketched by Johann Peter Frank and found inspiration in Oxford University's Radcliffe fellowships which had funded medical men for travel and study outside of England since the early eighteenth century. In the first decade of the nineteenth century he drew up a fellowship scheme where an established physician and a younger protégé would travel and document the reigning illnesses of the regions they visited and would examine local institutions of healing, medical education, and medical and scientific professional societies. After pleading his case before Geneva's Société Medico-chirurgicale du Samedi, Odier lobbied the French [End Page 227] Institut for a French-funded fellowship to be awarded by the Paris medical school faculty; neither proposal found sponsorship.

The final two-thirds of this book feature excerpts from the voluminous travel journals of Louis-André Gosse. Born in 1791 into the family of the Genevan pharmacist, naturalist, and politician Henri-Albert Gosse, Louis-André learned taxidermy in his father's ornithological museum and completed medical studies in Paris in 1817 with a thesis on the illnesses of artisans. Between 1817 and 1820 he logged some 8,000 kilometers of travel (2,500 of it on foot) to Italy, Austria, Saxony, Prussia, Germany, Holland, England, Scotland, and Ireland. Gosse gave medical consultations en route, used Gall's phrenological methods on the cranium of the long-deceased Scot patriot Robert the Bruce, and took hospital rounds with many of Europe's great clinicians. Vaj has done a good job of reconstructing itineraries and composing maps and tables that show the means of transportation and the locations visited. The journals go well beyond Odier's recommendations for medical and hygienic observation, providing an astounding fund of drawings and narrative details on architecture, women's hair styles, hats, shoes, domestic technologies like mechanical clothes-wringers, and the printing press of the Edinburgh Medical Journal. As such, they combine medical cosmopolitanism with a heterodox ethnography of post-Napoleonic Europe.

The journals adopt something of a busman's holiday tone and it is difficult to see them as the direct descendants of Odier's methods and theories of medical travel. Gosse, though ready to show up for dinner and accept hospitality, was not...


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