On Tuesday 3rd March, Margaret Carlyle (Cambridge) will be coming up to talk to us about ‘Corpses in Carriages, Corpses in Boudoirs: Lady Anatomists in 18th Century France‘. In anticipation, we asked her a few questions.
Where are you from? I was born and raised in Canada and my mum is British, so I have the good fortune of having two nationalities (and passports)!
What brought you to Cambridge? I came to Cambridge on a two-year Postdoctoral Fellowship to pursue a project in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science on eighteenth-century birthing technologies.
Where were you before? Before coming to Cambridge, I completed my PhD on Cultures of anatomy in Enlightenment France (ca. 1700-1795) at McGill University in Montréal, Canada. Besides being a lively and engaging place to study, Montréal lives up to the ‘bon vivant’ reputation of its inhabitants. I can admit to being distracted at times by the city’s wonderful restaurants, wine bars, beer patios, and dance clubs, as well as ‘the morning after the night before’ brunch spots that get your weekend back on track for school work! It was also a great place to practice my French.
What is your research on? My research focuses on the history of science, medicine, and technology in Enlightenment Europe, especially in France, with special emphasis on women’s contributions to the creation of scientific knowledge. I am currently working on a couple of related projects. One is transforming my PhD on the history of eighteenth-century anatomy into a book and the other is embarking on a new project on the subject of birthing technologies. This new project focuses on the male surgeons and female midwives who developed technologies to respond to the demands of birthing crises, and their role in creating a new medical culture before the rise of the modern hospital. I am also preparing an English translation of a seventeenth-century female amateur astronomer’s French-language account of the Copernican universe (i.e. the sun-centred universe) for the “Other Voice” series, which specialises in recovering primary sources penned by early modern women.
How did you become interested in this topic? When I embarked on my undergraduate degree, I was studying to be a physician, so I enrolled in the usual battery of science and maths courses. I really enjoyed the theoretical sides of these subjects, but quickly tired of my afternoon laboratory work, soon turning my attention to the activities of my students’ union. I as a result ended up switching into the Arts (foolishly thinking I would have more free time for activism), but quickly realised that studying History and French literature was also hard work! By the time I began my Master’s degree in History, I realised that I missed the science side of things, so I turned my attention to the history of science, coming full circle, so to speak.
What is your favourite book, academic or non-academic? Although Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables are high on my list, my favourite book is without a doubt Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair, which I typically read dockside every summer at my parents’ cottage in the wild and–especially by British standards–very isolated lake district of the Canadian Shield. The novel is set in World War II era Britain and as a result may seem a bit dated, but it has all the elements of a timeless classic that we can all relate to in some way. Plus, it has a pretty memorable opening line for those with history on the mind:
“A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.”
If you were not in academia, what do you think you would be doing? I think I would be backpacking around the world! I’m an adventurous spirit at heart and would much rather invest in ‘experiences’ than in ‘things.’ This is probably what also makes me hopeless at finances–I am always planning the next trip without knowing how I’ll afford to pay for it!
Margaret’s paper will be given in the World Heritage Visitors Site at 6:15. Join us from 5:45 for tea and coffee.