In the mid-1920s, the American obstetrician Joseph DeLee adopted the motion picture camera as his latest obstetric instrument. More than a pedagogical tool, DeLee’s films reflected the aesthetic and philosophy of “streamlining,” an industrial design trend that was turning ordinary objects into magnificent, gleaming, “speed whiskered” machines of modern life. How this was reflected in DeLee’s films of birth has much to say, not only about the significance of film as a medical tool, but also about the way in which the “modern” was critically associated with effective medical practice more generally in this period.
Two decades later, Pare Lorentz, a documentarian self-styled as “FDR’s moviemaker,” shot the full-length The Fight for Life, a film based on DeLee and his work at the Chicago Maternity Center, a charitable operation serving Chicago’s impoverished near west side. This take, however, offered an entirely different commentary on DeLee and birth, both undoing and re-doing the significance of film established by DeLee as a tool in obstetric practice. How and why this remarkable re-edit took place, and what it signifies about the nature of birth, the nature of film, and the shifting fortunes of modernity in the 1940s forms the centerpiece of this talk.
Caitjan Gainty is a lecturer in the department of history at KCL. Her work deals with the history of American medicine and science in the 20th century, though she is also generally interested in the ways in which aesthetic considerations have shaped the practices, methodologies and ideologies of science and medicine in a broad variety of contexts. Her current book project uncovers the significance of medicine’s visual culture through an empirical reconstruction of the early-twentieth-century medical efficiency movement. Caitjan has interests also in the history of bioethics and the medical humanities, and in the particular history of science and medical films.
This talk, part of the Institute of North American Studies Research Seminar Series, will be followed by a Q&A and wine.
THIS EVENT IS FREE TO ATTEND AND THERE IS NO NEED TO BOOK BUT PLEASE ARRIVE EARLY TO AVOID DISAPPOINTMENT