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Progressive reactionary: the life and works of John Caius, MD

Cagliuso, Dannielle Marie (2015) Progressive reactionary: the life and works of John Caius, MD. Undergraduate Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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The picture of Dr. John Caius (1510-1573) is fraught with contradictions. Though he had an excellent reputation among his contemporaries, subsequent scholars tend to view him more critically. Caius is frequently condemned as a reactionary and compared unfavorably to his more “progressive” contemporaries, like Conrad Gesner and Andreas Vesalius. This approach to Caius is an example of what I term “progressivist history,” a prevalent but problematic trend in historical scholarship. Progressivist history applies a progressive-reactionary dichotomy to the past, splitting people and events into two discrete camps.
By exploring the life and works of John Caius and comparing him to some of his “progressive” contemporaries, I reveal why this dichotomy is problematic. It treats both the progressive “heroes” and reactionary “villains” unfairly in that it fails to appreciate the agency of each individual and the nuanced differences between them. The progressives were not merely following the inexorable beckoning of Progress, and the reactionaries were not reflexively and irrationally placing obstacles in the progressives’ path. Furthermore, the supposed progressives and reactionaries of sixteenth-century European medicine and natural history were not following completely different methodologies, as the dichotomy implies.
Instead of splitting people into discrete groups via the progressive-reactionary dichotomy, I suggest that we instead place them on spectrums, e.g. a spectrum from absolute adherence to classical authors to absolute adherence to observational evidence. This contextualized historiographical approach specifically demonstrates that John Caius is a much more positive and nuanced figure than critical accounts suggest, but it also has broader implications. It reveals that sixteenth-century European medicine and natural history; the transition from Renaissance humanism to the Scientific Revolution; and the scholars of this period, “progressives” and “reactionaries” alike, were more complex than the overly simplistic progressive-reactionary dichotomy would allow. Though history of science scholarship seems particularly prone to progressivist history, the progressive-reactionary dichotomy does appear in other historical fields. My revisionist alternative thus has broad applicability.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Cagliuso, Dannielle
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairLennox, James G.jglennox@pitt.eduJGLENNOX
Committee MemberGreenberg, Janellejanelleg@pitt.eduJANELLEG
Committee MemberWinerock, Emilywinerock@pitt.eduWINEROCK
Committee MemberDistelzweig, Peter
Date: 13 August 2015
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 20 July 2015
Approval Date: 13 August 2015
Submission Date: 6 August 2015
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 112
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: David C. Frederick Honors College
Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > History and Philosophy of Science
Degree: BPhil - Bachelor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Undergraduate Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: John Caius, Caius, Gonville and Caius, Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge, Gonville Hall, History of English Medicine, English Medicine, England, History of British Medicine, British Medicine, Sixteenth-Century Medicine, Renaissance Medicine, Renaissance, Early Modern, Early Modern Medicine, Medical Humanism, English Medical Humanism, Humanism, Vernacular, Galen, English Sweating Sickness, Sweating Sickness, the Sweat, History of Anatomy, Human Dissection, Whig History, Historiography, Progressivist History, Progressive, Reactionary, History and Philosophy of Medicine, History and Philosophy of Science, Galenism, Galenic Medicine, Naturalism, Early Modern Naturalism, Conrad Gesner, Andreas Vesalius, William Turner, Montanus, Thomas Linacre, Realdo Colombo, Matteo Corti, Vivian Nutton, A boke or counseill against the sweate, De Ephemera Britannica, College of Physicians of London, Barber Surgeons, Criminal Corpses, Progressive Reactionary, University of Padua, School of Padua, Emerging Epidemic Disease
Date Deposited: 13 Aug 2015 18:00
Last Modified: 12 Jan 2024 20:45


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