restricted access Geschichte des Ungeborenen: Zur Erfahrungs- und Wissenschaftsgeschichte der Schwangerschaft, 17.-20. Jahrhundert (review)
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Bulletin of the History of Medicine 78.1 (2004) 238-240



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Barbara Duden, Jürgen Schlumbohm, and Patrice Veit, eds. Geschichte des Ungeborenen: Zur Erfahrungs- und Wissenschaftsgeschichte der Schwangerschaft, 17.-20. Jahr-hundert. Veröffentlichungen des Max-Planck-Instituts für Geschichte, no. 170. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2002. 328 pp. Ill. €36.00 (3-525-35365-0).

The History of the Unborn starts with a provocative thesis: the editors want not only to shed new light on former perceptions and imaginations, but also to contribute to the present debate about pregnancy. They point out that the historical experience [End Page 238] of "being laden" as a genuine physical evidence has been displaced today by scientific information about the biological development of the embryo. The editors seek to historicize the present abstract concept of "2 in 1" in the same way that the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century concepts are historical. Consequently, the objectives of the book are to retrieve the lost perceptions of being laden, to record the construction of modern knowledge, and to relativize the present perception of the embryo as a being of one's own from the very moment of conception (p. 7).

The book begins with Barbara Duden's careful elaboration of the polymorphic shape of the unborn from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. In her view, anatomists, theologians, and philosophers shared a common view of the "hidden fruit" as sheltered by coverings. She describes the woman's perception of the "fruit" as a state of female physical evidence, and at the same time as not yet part of the factual world. Thus pregnancy was a state of uncertainty and hope. The following nine articles outline how church, medicine, and state shifted their focus from the expectant mother toward the fetus. Nadia Maria Filippini traces the conceptual replacement of the female experience of pregnancy by scientific anatomy, and the consequences of the change for the rise of cesarean birth in eighteenth-century Italy. Of special interest are two articles about the spiritualization of giving birth in the late seventeenth century. Patrice Veit finds pleas for assistance in Protestant hymnals to support the expectant mother. However, Ulrike Gleixner points to the ambivalence of this reliance in considering Pietist families: when giving birth became a female vocation and duty, it had to be endured without any sign of self-centered physical struggle. Gleixner wonders whether this passiveness might have paved the way for the subservience of patients to modern medicine (p. 97).

Juergen Schlumbohm and Paul Herschkorn-Banu examine the influence of maternal hospitals and their collection of data. According to Herschkorn-Banu, uncertainty changed into calculated risk when Paul Dubois, obstetrician in the Paris maternity hospital since 1825, collected data regarding the relation between the fetus's heartbeat and its health state. In consequence, statistical probability allowed physicians to identify risky situations and to intervene. A focus on the female experience and on individual cases was displaced by a focus on probability and risk as the prime parameter of obstetrics. Space does not allow me to discuss Ulrike Enke's interesting observations about Soemmerring's search for the "ideal type" of embryonic development as sustained by his identification with the fetus, nor Nick Hopwood's findings about the tediously construed pieces of evidence of embryonic development during the nineteenth century.

Finally, court decisions concerning the unborn are examined: Claudia Toengi interprets cases of violence against expectant mothers as a reaction not only against the mother but also against the unborn, thus highlighting the social existence of the unborn before birth. Cornelie Usborne looks at statements of women who were accused of abortion in the 1920s. She finds many expressions representing the female bodily experience as "bloodclots" instead of "fetus."

This important collection offers a fascinating and detailed account of how the [End Page 239] fetus changed from an incarnate part of female experience to a separate being, and of the role of religion, science, and the state in this transformation. The present-day assumption that individual life starts at...


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