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Making a man, a great man: Ephraim McDowell, ovariotomy and history

Bowra, Jean M. (2005) Making a man, a great man: Ephraim McDowell, ovariotomy and history. In Social Change in the 21st Century, 28 October 2005, QUT Carseldine, Brisbane.

Abstract

Doctor Ephraim McDowell is described in literature as "The Father of Ovariotomy" and even, on occasion, as 'The Father of Abdominal Surgery' (see Ridenbaugh, 1890; Schachner, 1921). Such titles indicate that McDowell could be considered as a 'great man', a surgeon whose unique contribution to medicine can be described as a definitive moment in the history of surgery. Without any intention of denying that McDowell was, indeed, a brilliantly innovative surgeon, this paper will explore some of the conditions of possibility that allowed one surgeon to emerge as a leader in his field. McDowell was not the first to enter the abdomen of a patient, nor even the first to have that patient survive. Yet his operation is recorded almost as the moment when modern abdominal surgery began. Using the archaeological approach of Foucault, it can be shown that certain conditions of possibility allowed McDowell to assume his titles (Foucault, 1972). One cannot present definitive answers to such riddles, but this paper will raise questions for consideration. Questions that may cause us to reflect on the presentation of history and to investigate in more detail how certain achievements are recorded. This work will question whether Ephraim McDowell was born to be a 'great man' or was he instead fortunate in the way history has described him. Two operations will be illustrated here, that of Doctor Ephraim McDowell, carried out in 1809 and that of Doctor Robert Houstoun performed in 1701. After describing the operations, details of the debate surrounding both procedures will be recounted. This will be followed by a presentation of some of the conditions of possibility that may have allowed McDowell to become so renowned. No definitive answers will be given here. Rather, this work will encourage us to reflect on how some individuals attain historical importance while others virtually disappear from our memory.

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ID Code: 3454
Item Type: Conference Paper
Keywords: Ephraim McDowell, Abdominal Surgery, Ovariotomy
ISBN: 1741071089
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > PHILOSOPHY AND RELIGIOUS STUDIES (220000) > HISTORY AND PHILOSOPHY OF SPECIFIC FIELDS (220200) > History and Philosophy of Medicine (220205)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY (160000) > SOCIOLOGY (160800) > Social Change (160805)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > MEDICAL AND HEALTH SCIENCES (110000) > CLINICAL SCIENCES (110300) > Surgery (110323)
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Centre for Social Change Research
Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > QUT Carseldine - Humanities & Human Services
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2005 Jean M. Bowra
Deposited On: 06 Feb 2006
Last Modified: 09 Jun 2010 22:30

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