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Introduction: What Is Special About the History of Surgery?


This introductory chapter discusses what is special about the history of surgery, as compared to the history of medicine in general. It includes a definition of surgery from a historical point of view and a discussion of the extent to which surgical approaches are specific to the West and to the modern period. It looks at how historians have been dealing with the historical specificity of surgery, its origins and development, and how it is represented in the chapters of the handbook, drawing the threads of the different chapters together and situating their topics in the historiography of surgery more generally.


  • Thomas Schlich
  • Mortal Lessons
  • Modern Surgery
  • Michael McVaugh
  • Western Medical Tradition

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Further Reading

  • Lawrence, Christopher (ed.). Medical Theory: Surgical Practice. London: Routledge, 1992.

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  • Lawrence, Ghislaine. ‘Surgery (Traditional)’. In William F. Bynum and Roy Porter (eds), Companion Encyclopedia of the History of Medicine, vol. 2. London: Routledge, 1993, 961–983.

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  • McVaugh, Michael. ‘Therapeutic Strategies: Surgery’. In Mirko D. Grmek (ed.), Western Thought from Antiquity to the Middle Ages. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998, 273–290.

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  • Schlich, Thomas, and Christopher Crenner (eds). Technological Change in Modern Surgery: Historical Perspectives on Innovation. Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 2017.

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  • Siraisi, Nancy G. Medieval and Early Modern Renaissance Medicine: An Introduction of Knowledge and Practice. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

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  • Tröhler, Ulrich. ‘Surgery (Modern)’. In William F. Bynum and Roy Porter (eds) Companion Encyclopedia of the History of Medicine, vol. 2. London: Routledge, 1993, 984–1028.

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  • Wangensteen, Owen H., and Sarah D. Wangensteen. The Rise of Surgery: From Empiric Craft to Scientific Discipline. Folkstone: Kent Dawson, 1978.

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Correspondence to Thomas Schlich .

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Schlich, T. (2018). Introduction: What Is Special About the History of Surgery?. In: Schlich, T. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of the History of Surgery. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

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  • Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, London

  • Print ISBN: 978-1-349-95259-5

  • Online ISBN: 978-1-349-95260-1

  • eBook Packages: HistoryHistory (R0)