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Communities of Learned Experience

, 176 pages

4 halftones

December 2012



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Communities of Learned Experience

Epistolary Medicine in the Renaissance

During the Renaissance, collections of letters both satisfied humanist enthusiasm for ancient literary forms and provided the flexibility of a format appropriate to many types of inquiry. The printed collections of medical letters by Giovanni Manardo of Ferrara and other physicians in early sixteenth-century Europe may thus be regarded as products of medical humanism. The letters of mid- and late sixteenth-century Italian and German physicians examined in Communities of Learned Experience by Nancy G. Siraisi also illustrate practices associated with the concepts of the Republic of Letters: open and relatively informal communication among a learned community and a liberal exchange of information and ideas. Additionally, such published medical correspondence may often have served to provide mutual reinforcement of professional reputation.

Siraisi uses some of these collections to compare approaches to sharing medical knowledge across broad regions of Europe and within a city, with the goal of illuminating geographic differences as well as diversity within social, urban, courtly, and academic environments. The collections she has selected include essays on general medical topics addressed to colleagues or disciples, some advice for individual patients (usually written at the request of the patient’s doctor), and a strong dose of controversy.

Nancy G. Siraisi is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of the City University of New York. She is author of History, Medicine, and the Traditions of Renaissance Learning.

"With sound scholarship and engaging prose, Communities of Learned Experience introduces the reader to Latin letter collections, their formal character, their geographical reach, and the variety of topics they contain."

"Siraisi deftly guides the reader with engaging and descriptive prose toward her modest theses... It is a welcome introduction to the world of medical epistles in the Renaissance."

"This book goes a step further in the current critical reassessment of the minor genres of early modern medical literature, traditionally viewed as secondary sources. Mastering Renaissance history and historiography, Siraisi shows how they can be used to access the world of sixteenth-century medical practitioners avoiding artificial distinctions between the social and intellectual motives underpinning their multifold activities."

"These studies will be useful to anyone exploring the development of espistolae midicinales. Siraisi also offers valuable evidence of the establishment of an eraly medical Republic of Letters."

" Communities of Learned Experience puts the theme of networks center stage, making useful connections to current research on communities of knowledge and republics of letters both humanistic and scientific even as it contributes more particularly to the history of medicine... In 87 pages, [Siraisi] offers a distillation of the encyclopedic learning, rigorously forensic analysis, elegant argumentation, and wry humor that are the hallmarks of her career... This book is an expert introduction to the world of early modern medical inquiry... For its wealth of information and important call for more attention to medical epistles, Communities of Learned Experience takes a more than worthy place in Siraisi's oeuvre and should occupy an important space in the history of science section of early modernist's collections."

" [Communities of Learned Experience] reflects Siraisi's routinely thorough research and engaging prose, and it would be difficult to argue that the book does not accomplish what it sets out to do."

"What trajectory can be charted through physicians' letters? Siraisi's elegant and economical book has give her readers a useful and pleasurable roadmap that helps to explain how learned physicians indeed created a world of their own making in print during the age of Vesalius."

"Siraisi's work on epistolary medicine will be of interest not only to those studying Renaissance medicine, but will also provide a useful backdrop to those studying the topic in the early modern period. It will appeal to historians of the Republic of Letters and the humanist movement who may not have given consideration to the correspondence of physicians of the period."

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