Please join me in congratulating UWaterloo English’s Dr. Heather Love, one of two of our faculty to win prestigious SSHRC Insight Development Awards this year (watch the blog for the next announcement!). Dr. Love’s project is titled “The Rhetoric of Techno-Mediated Maternity in Early 20thCentury Literature, Media, and Medicine.” A description is below.
“The Rhetoric of Techno-Mediated Maternity in Early 20thCentury Literature, Media, and Medicine.”
In today’s world, public and scientific conversations about obstetrics are full of references to controversial technologies: rising rates of caesarian delivery; easily accessible assistive procedures like in vitro fertilization; the possibility of using CRISPR gene editing techniques to alter human embryos. If we look back in time one hundred years, we find a remarkably similar techno-obstetric context. The specific technological tools and procedural references may have shifted—in the early twentieth century, debates centered on techniques like using ether and “Twilight Sleep” drug cocktails to manage labour pain, and on the shift to hospitalized birthing as the norm; however, both now and then, medical practitioners and patients are/were faced with a slew of new possibilities for integrating bio-technology into the human reproduction process, a fact that produced both excitement and anxiety, raised ethical and moral questions, and generated prolific textual meditations across artistic, media-based, and scientific communication genres.
This project seeks to better understand the rhetorical strategies—i.e. the persuasive techniques—that authors, writing from different perspectives and in different forms of communication, used to shape obstetrics-focused discourse in the early twentieth century. To accomplish this task, I will be working with a Research Assistant to:
* Gather and organize an archive of references to early twentieth-century developments in obstetric care that appear in literary texts, media sources drawn from newspapers and magazines, and scientific papers in medical journals.
*Compare those texts by examining their rhetorical approaches to communicating information about emerging obstetric practices (and their significance) to different audiences, in different contexts, and for different purposes.
*Communicate our findings to humanities scholars, the medical community, and the public through a multi-pronged knowledge mobilization plan that includes conference presentations, academic articles, public talks, media venues (radio, newspaper, medical journal commentary sections), and a workshop.
As a whole, the project aims to answer the following two questions: How did early twentieth-century literature hep shape broader societal attitudes towards new medical technologies and procedures in the field of obstetrics? And, how can a better understanding of the multi-disciplinary discourse network surrounding early twentieth-century obstetrics inform medical communication practices in the present day? The focused case study of early twentieth-century references to emerging obstetrics techniques, procedures, and interventions will reveal several more specific types of connections: it will contextualize early twentieth-century literary references to medical technology within the medical and media discourses of their contemporary moment; and it will track how new ideas and developments within scientific fields like medicine are echoed, questioned, challenged, and connected to non-scientific contexts (ethical, interpersonal, emotional, etc.), either when public media sources present and market those ideas to readers or when literary authors embed references in their more experimental texts. An historical exploration of these types of connections promises to offer insight on our own twenty-first century context by illuminating the ways in which social and cultural understandings of healthcare circulate and evolve during periods of rapid technological development