History of Midwives 1800-1950: Social, Cultural and Economic Aspects of Childbirth

History of Midwives 1800-1950: Social, Cultural and Economic Aspects of the Professionalization of Childbirth

Place: Kutná Hora, Czech Republic
Venue: Dačický House, Kutná Hora, Komensky Square No. 41
Organizer: Department of History, University of Pardubice
Date: 1.11.-2.11.2018
Deadline for conference proposals: 30.8.2018

The phenomenon of midwifery has been studied in the past decades often as a part of the process of modernization of society. Within this paradigm, the history of obstetrics was characterized as a permanent development of scientific knowledge, professionalization of the performance of childbirth assistance and masculinization of the obstetric profession.
In hosting this conference, the organizers primary objective is to stimulate a discussion about changing position of the midwifery and female midwives in the modern era not only as a profession but as a social and cultural phenomenon.

Following fields of research are suggested:
1) Economic aspects of the midwifery
Was a profession of midwifery for practicing midwives really an independent occupation in terms of the economic and social independence or should we see childbirth assistance only as a part-time job opportunity for lower classes? To what extent were midwives dependent on other sources of income or financial support of relatives and local community? To determine regional differences in midwives´ position and the proportion of their representation to their potential clients, a comparative study will be very beneficial to specify the differences between various typological locations – large cities, small towns, villages and remote and isolated communities.

2) Career development
What were the key elements for a successful career and acquisition of clientele? Have female midwives profited more from personal relationships within a local community, or have they tried to build their reputation on the basis of scientific knowledge acquired in the process of education? Why did women choose a career of a midwife – have they decided to follow family traditions or was it an autonomous choice? Factors affecting the performance and success of the profession will be monitored in regard to an overlap of midwifery with maternity wards and hospitals in urban centers, or with exclusive position of the solitary representatives of the professionalized medicine in distant regions.

3) Types of medical treatment provided by midwives
There have been many cases of midwives being charged with practicing medicine without a license, criminal negligence, and even homicide in the event od child´s death. How frequent were these cases and were they have been tolerated by the local authorities? How variable was the spectrum of medical treatment provided by the midwives within the local medical market? In the case of broad medical activities, how was composed their income spectrum?

4) Social and cultural representations and self-awareness
A comparative insight into regional differences and accessibility of midwives can give us an opportunity to find the spatial differences in the “field” of midwifery or, on the other side confirm the coherence of the social network, created on the structural basis of shared strategies of social representation and practice. What were the social connotations of the performance of midwifery? How did the social status of midwives change within the rural and urban population? Can we interpret the performance of the obstetric profession as a way of increasing of social, economic or symbolic capital? What was the internal hierarchy of different type professions relating to midwifery?

5) Professional networking
Institutionalization and professionalization of midwifery together with its masculinization caused the gradual weakening of traditional medical profession. Midwifery became a target of persecution by public authorities because midwives possessed specialized knowledge and skills. Can we interpret the foundations of midwives professional organizations as a defensive or educational act? Were midwives engaged in dialog and solidarity across the regions? Did they compete with each other despite of their common interests?

The conference committee invites scholars from diverse fields, such as historiography, anthropology, philosophy, sociology, history of arts, cultural studies, to send in by mail a 250 word proposal (which includes title, research question and used sources) for a 20 minute presentation, no later than 30.8.2018 to following mail address: vladan.hanulik@upce.cz
The written form of the submitted papers will be included in the peer-reviewed journal Theatrum historiae, indexed in the ERIH database. The deadline for submitting the contribution will be 7 January 2019.
No conference fee will be required. Unfortunately, the costs of accommodation and travel cannot be reimbursed.