- Reproduction: Antiquity to the Present Day ed. by Nick Hopwood, Rebecca Fleming, and Lauren Kassell
Reproduction: Antiquity to the Present Day is an enormously ambitious interdisciplinary collaboration by over sixty scholars that attempts to trace the history of human reproduction from ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia to the twenty-first century. Edited by Nick Hopwood, Rebecca Fleming, and Lauren Kassell, the volume collects forty-two essays, as well as forty "exhibits"—short essays dealing with particular images and artifacts. Reproduction draws on a wide variety of academic fields, from sociology to the history of science, from art history to demographics, not to mention philosophy, theology, and botany. The volume addresses an impressively [End Page 115] broad range of topics, including Galenic medicine, scholastic theology, theories of family resemblance, techniques for breeding livestock, eugenics, contraception, abortion, in-vitro fertilization, and much more besides. Feminist and postcolonial perspectives are well represented, along with more traditional historical work. The scholarship throughout is at the highest level, the writing is engaging and informative, and the volume is lavishly illustrated.
It could be difficult to maintain focus in a collection of such scope, but the editors have done an admirable job. The main transition structuring the volume is that between traditional notions of generation and the more modern and abstract idea of reproduction. The concept of generation, "the active making of humans and beasts, plants, and even minerals" (659), focused broadly on how things, including children, came to be. From the ancient world to Enlightenment Europe, debates over generation explored not merely how bodies were produced but also how the soul came into existence. "Reproduction," a term first introduced in 1749 in the writings of the Comte de Buffon, director of the King's Garden in Paris, refers more specifically to the potential of living organisms to replicate themselves physically. Thinking about reproduction rather than generation tends to downplay questions about the soul, but it also raises new questions about populations rather than individuals, in particular how populations can be quantified, shaped, "improved," increased, or decreased.
As with many comprehensive histories of "the West," Reproduction begins in the ancient Middle East, moves to the Mediterranean world of Greece and Rome, and then focuses primarily on medieval and early modern Europe, with some coverage of Islamic civilization. The volume then spreads into the wider world to follow the expansion of European colonization and empire and thus arrives at a global perspective in its treatment of the last hundred years. There is a certain logic to this procedure, though it tends to reinforce a Eurocentric approach even while incorporating a global perspective and an awareness of cultural diversity. Ideas about reproduction from the traditional cultures of China, Japan, and India are not addressed, and neither are indigenous perspectives from sub-Saharan Africa or the Americas. Certainly the European tradition, broadly conceived, is enough material to cover in one volume, but the volume's shift to a global view in its concluding sections at times suggests a universality the collection does not entirely offer. Despite its title and its massive scope, the volume is not a global history of reproduction. All the same, a collection that begins with phallic imagery on Egyptian papyrus and ends with the international market for surrogate mothers is a very impressive achievement.
Reproduction is divided into five sections: the first, "Inventing Generation," deals with the ancient Mediterranean world, covering Galenic and Aristotelian ideas of how life begins, family and legal structures, and debates [End Page 116] over how souls come into the world. The second section, "Generation Reborn and Reformed," covers the medieval and early modern periods in Europe and the Mediterranean, including Islamic medicine and ideas of generation in the Ottoman Empire, medieval European childbirth practices, scholastic philosophies of generation, the relation between fertility and astrology, and the impact of print on popular notions about sexuality and generation. Part 3, "Inventing Reproduction," addresses the shift in the eighteenth century from earlier notions of generation and Enlightenment...