An Early Modern Era Historical Success?
by manofthematch on October 26, 2016 - 12:41pm
Upon an initial observation, the first thought that struck me was the size of this book. It is extremely small and light. An approximate measurement of the book’s size is 3x5 inches and it weighs about one pound. The book is called The Compleat and Experienced Midwife by Culpepper and was written in 1751, which makes it over 250 years old. The book is written in English and contains 213 pages (with only one picture) on how women should birth and nurture children.
Apart from the book’s incredibly small size, it is also very cheaply made. The cover is a simple brown leather with a weak binding. In fact, the cover was detached when the book was received. The pages are foxed, this means the paper turned brown. Thus, the book was made with cheap paper. The book’s pages are also ripped which means it must have been used a lot and the paper has a distinct musty smell. A unique characteristic about this book is that there is an ink spill that seeped through the first few pages. Other unique characteristics are words at the corners of each page, in order for the printer to successfully arrange the pages. Also, there is a letter at the bottom of each page. This letter, example A, B, C,D, allows the stitcher to properly stitch sections of the book.
Since this book was produced in the 18th century , it must have used the printing press in order to increase its production. It was much easier and faster to use the printing press rather than scribes. In fact, Albinia de la Mare states “ The Ripoli Press produced 1025 copies; the scribe would have turned out one. The language used in this book also has great meaning.
The book was written in English, thus it was meant for people of lower education such as a midwife. Education represented social status. “ It is true to say that the sixteenth-century physician who used Latin was regarded as superior to the surgeon who did not” (Eisenstein 36).
This book was made and intended for midwives, hence the title. Its objective however, is for midwives to self educate themselves without the need of a master. With a large amount of books surfacing towns, due to the printing press’ overproduction of books, people we able to self-educate themselves. “Gifted students no longer needed to sit at the feet of a given master to learn a language or academic skill… they could swiftly achieve mastery on their own.
This medical book has a few similarities to today’s medical books such as sections, chapters, a table of contents, etc. However, there are many more differences in the book’s content than today’s medical books. The booked that was examined was based purely on experience rather than researched facts. The book’s main objective is to teach midwives on how to deliver and nurture babies. Culpepper accomplishes this by making the novel a how-to guide. The book is written based on effective techniques experimented over time. In today’s medical books, there would be facts and evidence on child birth. A modern book would be able to properly justify their theories and techniques with researched information.
Another example of a difference between eras is that there are no pictures in The Compleat and Experienced Midwife. Delivering a baby is a serious matter and must be done properly, however sometimes the best way to learn something is by visualization. In The Compleat and Experienced Midwife there are no pictures actually showing how to deliver a baby. In a modern book, there would be plenty of pictures to examine. Many of the medical books I have seen contain a lot of pictures.For example, it is much easier to understand the digestive system of humans with a visual representation.
In conclusion, there are many disparities between medical books from the Early Modern era when compared to today’s books. Books from a few centuries ago didn’t have proper justifications for their experiments. This could be because of a lack of technology or simply because of a different paradigm. Although this little book is relatively useless compared to todays’ medical books, it still hold great value because we can learn a lot about the production of medical knowledge during this period.
Elizabeth Eisenstein, “Defining the Initial Shift,” The Prnting Revolution in Early Modern Europe, 2nd Edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005): 13-45.
Albinia De la Mare, “Vespiano de Bisticci Historian and Bookseller,” (Ph.D. diss., London University, 1965),207.