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Harpur College

Harpur Calendar of Events

3:00pm - 5:30pm
Old Union Hall, University Union

The Medical Case in Pre-modern Europe and China: Comparative History of an Epistemic Genre

Friday, May 4 at 3 p.m.
Old Union Hall, University Union

Presented by: Gianna Pomata, Professor of History of Medicine at John Hopkins University

What is a medical case? It is, in a nutshell, are port of the course of disease in an individual patient. We find this kind of text in various medical cultures at different historical periods. The medical case narrative is an "epistemic genre," namely, one of those basic textual forms that develop out of scientific practices and feature a distinctively scientific — rather than literary — cognitive endeavor.

The medical case narrative is a genre of astonishing longevity, spanning the centuries from antiquity to modernity. In those medical cultures that are based on a long and continuous tradition of learned medical knowledge, such as the European and the Chinese, case narratives are among the oldest extant medical records. In both Europe andChina, however, the medical case emerged in antiquity only to go subsequently through long centuries of oblivion. It was only in the sixteenth century, in China as in Europe, that the medical case emerged as an autonomous form of writing, becoming an established genre with an uninterrupted tradition reaching up to the present day.

Pomata will compare the early modern European medical case collections (or, as they were called, "Observationes medicae") with the "case statements" (Yi'an) that developed in early modern Chinese medical culture. She will survey the similarities of the genres in the two contexts, while also briefly considering their main points of difference. Her main question will be: In Europe as in China, what kind of medical thinking — and which intellectual and social practices — formed the backdrop for the emergence of the case narrative as a distinct epistemic genre?

RSVP by April 27 to or call 607-777-6799.

Reception to follow. Sponsorship provided by Mario and Antoinette Romano Endowment, Harpur College of Arts and Sciences Dean's Office and the History Department.


Last Updated: 10/27/17