Collections > Electronic Theses and Dissertations > Embodied Knowledge: Midwives and the Medicalization of Childbirth in Early Modern Italy

In addition to being highly visible figures in the ritual life of Italian society, midwives were bearers of a unique expertise of the body and sexuality which granted them entrance into the legal and political worlds of early modern Italy. This dissertation examines the development of midwifery in three northern Italian states (Savoy, Lombardy, the Venetian Republic) from roughly 1600-1800, a period which spans both the earliest efforts by Church and State to regulate practice and the eventual institutionalization of midwifery education. This study aims to understand how both cultural meanings and the management of sexuality, gender, and reproduction were changing over the course of the early modern period. Because male birth attendants remained rare in Italy during this period, the development of Italian midwifery presents a unique perspective on the medicalization of childbirth in Europe. Although historians of medicine have tended to consider early maternity institutions as starting points in studies of the medicalization of childbirth, this project emphasizes the continuities between eighteenth-century institutions and earlier asylums for women which emerged, especially in Italy, in the era of the Counter Reformation. Throughout the eighteenth century, maternity hospitals and schools for midwives were therefore informed by impulses which were simultaneously scientific, religious, charitable, and disciplinary, defying any singular categorization. Furthermore, despite the fact that medical thought in the well-connected northern Italian cities of Turin, Milan, and Venice was significantly influenced by continental medical culture, I argue that these cities developed distinct, "Italian", modes of thought with respect to the science and management of childbirth.