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Encountering Aristotle's Masterpiece, or how to find a racy book about reproduction

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Aristotle’s Masterpiece was the most popular English book about reproduction from its first publication in 1684 all the way into the 1930s. It is not by Aristotle, nor a masterpiece, but affords the historian an unusual glimpse into plebeian sexuality and reading habits. While much of the content is typical of a late 17th century midwifery guide, its extremely long life makes it unique.

The lecture explores the many physical spaces in which readers encountered and bought the Masterpiece in an attempt to understand its long-lived success. The book was hidden under teenage boys’ mattresses; thumbed through in book stalls; read aloud in girls’ boarding schools, and sold by chapmen bringing metropolitan wares to distant rural communities. These many venues provide a key to the book’s success: it was many things to many readers.

There will be tea before the lecture, at 4pm in Seminar Room 1, and a drinks reception afterwards, at 6pm in Seminar Room 1.

This talk is part of the Wellcome Lecture in the History of Medicine series.

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