Spring 2024 Humanities Speaker Series with Dr. Courtney Hoffman

On Wednesday, February 29, 2024, Dr. Courtney Hoffman of Georgia Tech delivered the Spring 2024 Humanities Speaker Series Lecture in Powers Auditorium.

Dr. Hoffman’s talk, “‘A compassion for those that labour’: 18th-Century Midwifery Manuals as Humanistic Artifacts,” argues that, while advances in medical treatment have led to safer outcomes in childbirth since the 18th century, the rhetoric surrounding midwifery, particularly regarding interactions with pregnant people, remains steeped in an ethics of care that has its roots in the pre-industrial era. 21st-century midwifery ethics of care advocates for patient education, autonomy, and treatment plans, founded on developing relationships between midwife and the birthing person. Such relationships are built on empathy and derive from the rhetoric of sensibility and fellow-feeling that pervaded 18th-century culture and that is embedded in the midwifery manuals of the era. Dr. Hoffman suggested that modern midwifery discourse displays the lingering effects of an 18th-century care ethics with the understanding that, while the technologies have changed, concerns surrounding successful birth practices have not. Her talk explored ethics of care in 18th-century midwifery manuals, demonstrating the value of studying historical technical documents as artifacts of humanistic and policy relevance, particularly as recent legal decisions in the United States emphasize history and tradition as the basis of cultural practices.