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Paper technologies, digital technologies: working with early modern medical records

International Social Science Journal (Chinese Edition)

No.2, 2021

 

Paper technologies, digital technologies: working with early modern medical records (Abstract)

 

Lauren Kassell

 

As the digital revolution takes hold, historians have begun to reflect on the ways in which paper technologies have come into being and contributed to the production of knowledge. Objects that were once considered evidence for historical inquiry have become their subjects. The same reflexivity applies to notions of evidence, observation and objectivity, often labelled as facts and data, which have themselves been historically studied. This article is about what happens when historians use digital technologies to understand paper technologies. It draws on my work to digitise one of the largest surviving sets of medical records in history, a series of 80,000 seventeenth-century astrological cases bound in sixty-four thick volumes. I call this the Casebooks Project. This work is an experiment in the history of medicine and digital humanities.  It uses new digital technologies to understand which the paper technologies in the seventeenth century. Questions of evidence and its representation and analysis are central to this endeavour. The project is an experiment in using digital technologies to understand paper technologies, which engages with concerns amongst historians and sociologists of medicine about the history of the patient, the medical encounter and illness narratives.