Re-conceptualising the Birth Process in Eighteenth-Century England

Project Details


Reconceptualising the Birth Process in Eighteenth-Century England’ employs a broad range of historical sources to construct a richly detailed account of childbirth. By examining women’s life-writings, manuscript recipe books, medical texts, court records, collections of folklore, Anglican prayerbooks and material culture this thesis moves away from an historiographical focus on the delivery of the infant to explore the embodied experience of ‘giving birth’ in the eighteenth-century from the perspective of the labouring woman, her family and the friends and neighbours that visited her. Birth, it is argued, was a process of four distinct phases that lasted between four and six weeks in total. These phases – confinement, labour, delivery and lying-in – were flexible, highly adaptable and indispensable components of ‘giving birth’. In exploring birth as a process, this thesis challenges the dominant historiography of the rapid professionalisation of childbirth during the eighteenth century by tracing high levels of continuity in community practices of childbirth management. By broadening the focus of research to include each phase of the birth process this thesis highlights the wide range of cultural, social and emotional behaviours that constituted the embodied experience of giving birth. In reconceptualising childbirth as a process, the thesis refocuses attention on the woman giving birth and the rich networks of friends, family and neighbours that were so crucial to the management of birth in eighteenth-century England.
Effective start/end date3/09/121/09/17


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