CfP: ESSHC 2018 Panel: Midwives and midwifery at the nexus between state interest, women’s health, and the decline in infant mortality

Considering the instrumental role midwives played during birth, even after the gradual and piecemeal process of medicalization began to firmly assert itself in this realm, they have not received the consistent attention of social historians, demographers, or family historians. Snippets of the great narrative of birth in pre-twentieth century Europe have sometimes allowed glimpses into midwives’ activity, their training, and the expectations that society and couples lay out for them. Historians dealing with the development of medicine as a state-driven initiative during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries have sometimes noted their existence, generally contrasting them to the increasingly visible body of formally-trained physicians that spread out from universities and academies into towns and villages. Midwives increasingly fell victim to the same historiographic desuetude that surrounded their practice, relegated to the field of ethnographic observation.
Nevertheless, the salient point of midwives’ history is their incomparably widespread area of activity: whether urban or rural, upper-class or part of lower peasantry, expecting mothers would request their aid, in an overwhelming majority of cases. They exerted considerable potential in curbing endogenous infant mortality, and could also undergo formal training in their field in most European areas, beginning with the late eighteenth century. They could also potentially transmit information that would occasion voluntary changes in fertility patterns. During the eighteenth and nineteenth century, especially in Central and South-Eastern Europe, their relations to the state was not however always a straightforward one, as they were living contradictions of appropriate gender roles. These, if not outright dangerous, certainly suspect groups of women underwent the surveillance of specially-created departments, concerned that their practices straddled the line of social and moral acceptability. This issue was compounded by the cross-confessional and cross-ethnical activity of midwives in composite states.
The following panel therefore invites contributions to the history of midwifery and midwives, which examine their practice at the nexus between state and family interests, women’s health, and the decline in infant mortality. Keeping in mind the imposing social capital such women could amass in the village setting, we would encourage works that explicitly seek to disentangle (by means of network analysis, for instance) their influence in the local community. Moreover, quantitative studies examining the tie between individual midwives (or midwives’ places of education) and the decline in infant mortality for various European regions or micro-regions are especially welcome. Finally, papers dealing with midwifery comparatively in various composite states are also strongly encouraged. Paper proposals need not restrict themselves to intra-European studies, can span into the interwar period.
If you wish to participate in the panel, please submit a 300 Word abstract of your proposed research, a title, and a very brief CV with a selected publications list to the following emails, before the 25 of April 2017.
Oana Sorescu-Iudean, Centre for Population Studies, UBB Cluj (
And Luminița Dumănescu, Centre for Population Studies, UBB Cluj ( )
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Centre for Population Studies, Babes-Bolyai University of Cluj-Napoca, Romania
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