"So Far as I Can Define without a Microscopical Examination”: Venereal Disease Diagnosis in English Courts, 1850-1914’

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Abstract

The absence of a ‘bacteriological revolution’ in venereal disease (VD) diagnosis in late nineteenth-century Britain has most commonly been demonstrated through medical texts and hospital practice. The following article contributes a broader perspective to the subject of knowledge transmission about VD diagnosis, by using evidence from English criminal cases and general practice. It demonstrates that general practitioners were limited by slow knowledge transfer processes ‘from above’, by a lack of resources and by the reinforcement of traditional methods ‘from below’. The article also pays attention to how and why the medical diagnosis of venereal diseases altered according to the age of female complainants. It shows that, as doctors had to visually interpret vaginal discharges rather than use ‘objective’ bacteriological diagnosis, claims to diagnostic uncertainty could be shaped by wider frameworks of legal, moral, social and professional thought.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)38-55
JournalSocial History of Medicine
Volume26
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Keywords

  • venereal diseases
  • diagnosis
  • contagion
  • sexual offences
  • medical jurisprudence

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