The Great Nation in Decline: Sex, Modernity and Health Crises in Revolutionary France c.1750–1850, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

The Great Nation in Decline

Sex, Modernity and Health Crises in Revolutionary France c.1750–1850, 1st Edition

By Sean M. Quinlan


270 pages

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Paperback: 9781138265486
pub: 2016-11-15
Hardback: 9780754660989
pub: 2007-11-28
eBook (VitalSource) : 9781315557526
pub: 2016-03-16
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This book studies how doctors responded to - and helped shape - deep-seated fears about nervous degeneracy and population decline in France between 1750 and 1850. It uncovers a rich and far-ranging medical debate in which four generations of hygiene activists used biomedical science to transform the self, sexuality and community in order to regenerate a sick and decaying nation; a programme doctors labelled 'physical and moral hygiene'. Moreover, it is shown how doctors imparted biomedical ideas and language that allowed lay people to make sense of often bewildering socio-political changes, thereby giving them a sense of agency and control over these events. Combining a chronological and thematic approach, the six chapters in this book trace how doctors began their medical crusade during the middle of the Enlightenment, how this activism flowered during the French Revolution, and how they then revised their views during the period of post-revolutionary reaction. The study concludes by arguing that medicine acquired an unprecedented political, social and cultural position in French society, with doctors becoming the primary spokesmen for bourgeois values, and thus helped to define the new world that emerged from the post-revolutionary period.


’Quinlan impressively incorporates a wide range of printed sources for the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to tell a sweeping story of medicine and politics. … Overall, this is an excellent book that successfully accomplishes Quinlan’s objective of considering ’how doctors contributed to a much broader public discussion about physical degeneracy and depopulation in France between roughly 1750 and 1850’… The Great Nation in Decline is a lively and engaging contribution to the historiographies of gender, reproduction, public health and modern France.’ Social History of Medicine ’… whether readers accept or reject the larger claims of The Great Nation in Decline, they can be grateful to Quinlan not just for the lucid and perceptive readings of the individual texts but also for injecting new life into discussions of France’s contributions to the development of modern public health.’ ISIS ’This well written and thoroughly researched book - it contains a wealth of archival documentation - should appeal to anyone interested in the history of modern medicine.’ H-France

Table of Contents

Contents: Introduction: degeneration, regeneration, and health panics in modern France; A medical diagnosis of social crisis, c.1750-1770; Depopulation and institutional response, c 1776-1789; Colonial bodies and hygiene in the Antilles, c. 1750-1794; Doctors, regeneration and the revolutionary crucible, 1789-1804; Uncertain territory and fragmented agendas, 1804-1830; From cholera to degeneration, c. 1832-1852; Conclusion: degeneration and regeneration after 1850; Bibliography of printed sources; Index.

About the Author

Sean M. Quinlan is Associate Professor of History at the University of Idaho, USA.

About the Series

The History of Medicine in Context

An interest in medicine is one of the constants that re-occurs throughout history. From the earliest times, man has sought ways to combat the myriad of diseases and ailments that afflict the human body, resulting in a number of evolving and often competing philosophies and practices whose repercussions spread far beyond the strictly medical sphere.

For more than a decade The History of Medicine in Context series has provided a unique platform for the publication of research pertaining to the study of medicine from broad social, cultural, political, religious and intellectual perspectives. Offering cutting-edge scholarship on a range of medical subjects that cross chronological, geographical and disciplinary boundaries, the series consistently challenges received views about medical history and shows how medicine has had a much more pronounced effect on western society than is often acknowledged. As medical knowledge progresses, throwing up new challenges and moral dilemmas, The History of Medicine in Context series offers the opportunity to evaluate the shifting role and practice of medicine from the long perspective, not only providing a better understanding of the past, but often an intriguing perspective on the present.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / General