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Charles Bell and the Anatomy of Reform

Sir Charles Bell (1774–1842) was a medical reformer in a great age of reform—an occasional and reluctant vivisectionist, a theistic popularizer of natural science, a Fellow of the Royal Society, a surgeon, an artist, and a teacher. He was among the last of a generation of medical men who strove to fashion a particularly British science of medicine; who formed their careers, their research, and their publications through the private classrooms of nineteenth-century London; and whose politics were shaped by the exigencies of developing a living through patronage in a time when careers in medical science simply did not exist. A decade after Bell’s death, that world was gone, replaced by professionalism, standardized education, and regular career paths.
In Charles Bell and the Anatomy of Reform, Carin Berkowitz takes readers into Bell’s world, helping us understand the life of medicine before the modern separation of classroom, laboratory, and clinic. Through Bell’s story, we witness the age when modern medical science, with its practical universities, set curricula, and medical professionals, was born.

240 pages | 4 color plates, 13 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2015

Biography and Letters

Biological Sciences: Anatomy

History of Science



“[S]uccessfully situates Bell in the world of London anatomy during the age of reform and affirms his contemporary reputation as an exceptional anatomist and teacher…. [A] well-written and well-researched account of the politics of British medical education and its reform in the early nineteenth century. It sheds new light on a figure who continues to be controversial.”

Bulletin of the History of Medicine

"The medical world of the early nineteenth century was entering a period of transformation. Bell’s London was one in which medical practitioners had to forge their own careers, attract students, and form relationships with patrons and institutions, yet this was a world that was changing rapidly. Through Bell’s thirty-two years in London, Berkowitz skillfully explores the complexity of reform politics. The parameters of Bell’s life render the transformations of nineteenth-century medical politics understandable as very human concerns."


"In this elegantly written book Berkowitz tracks the rise and fall of a forgotten conservative reform movement in early 19th century London medicine through the life of Charles Bell. In her fascinating account of Bell’s career in London, she sheds light on the evolving institutional setting of medicine in the 1820s and 1830s, including the emergence of weekly medical journals, the founding of London University and hospital schools, and the nature of display in museums. This is a work of first-class scholarship that should be read by anyone with an interest in nineteenth-century British science and medicine."

Bernard Lightman, York University, Toronto

"Charles Bell and the Anatomy of Reform is a remarkable study about London’s early nineteenth-century medical establishment. Berkowitz draws from an impressive range of sources to give a fresh account of Sir Charles Bell’s brilliance as a scientist, educator, and reformer. Bell lived in a highly politicised world and she offers a lucid account of how he deftly used print and visual culture to disseminate scientific knowledge alongside his message of conservative reform to students, the medical community, and the reading public. Generously illustrated and perceptively written, this delightfully fascinating book will appeal to anyone interested in the history of science and medicine in modern Britain."

Matthew Daniel Eddy, Durham University

"In Carin Berkowitz’s vivid telling, the conservative medical reformer Charles Bell becomes an ideal vehicle for understanding the social agility required to build a career as a London anatomy teacher from the 1810s to the 1830s. Her analysis of Bell’s philosophical-pedagogical system of physiological anatomy brilliantly presents his comprehensive vision for a medical education that at once trained the hand, eye, and mind; her portrayals of his institutional reform efforts and the twists and turns of his famous priority dispute over the functions of the spinal nerve roots together show how this vision eventually lost out. By turns deftly analytical and poignant, always sympathetic to her subject, Berkowitz breathes fresh life into the world of medical reform in early nineteenth-century England."

Lynn K. Nyhart, University of Wisconsin - Madison

"A fascinating and powerfully original study of British medicine at a pivotal moment, viewed through the lens of an anatomist, surgeon, and aspiring late-Enlightenment natural philosopher fashioning a career in an age of reform. Meticulously researched and thoroughly engaging, Berkowitz shows convincingly how the classroom was the central space for anatomical science and gives us an eloquent recreation of the early-nineteenth-century London medical world."

John Warner, Yale University

Table of Contents


Chapter One    Politics and Patronage: Building a Career in London’s Medical Classrooms
Chapter Two   Pedagogy Inside and Outside the Medical Classroom: Training the Hand and Eye to Know
Chapter Three From the Anatomy Theater to the Political Theater: Journals and the Making of “British Medicine” in Early Nineteenth-Century London
Chapter Four   London’s New Classrooms: London University and the Middlesex Hospital School
Chapter Five   Defining a Discovery: Changes in British Medical Culture and the Priority Dispute over the Discovery of the Roots of Motor and Sensory Nerves




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