University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Wellcome Lecture in the History of Medicine > The clinic of the birth: obstetric ultrasound, medical innovation and the clinico-anatomical project

The clinic of the birth: obstetric ultrasound, medical innovation and the clinico-anatomical project

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Ultrasonic images of the fetus are now ubiquitous. Like many innovations in medical imaging, the origins of obstetric ultrasound are often located in medical physics and engineering rather than to clinical medicine. I will argue, by contrast, for the crucial role of clinical pathology in the invention of diagnostic ultrasound. Several authors, notably Foucault in The Birth of the Clinic, have described the impact on nineteenth-century medicine of systematic correlation between lesions revealed upon dissection and signs and symptoms observed while the patient was still alive. Laboratory medicine is widely presented as having eclipsed the clinico-anatomical project in the twentieth century. This lecture will show that clinical pathology continued to inspire innovation in medical imaging after 1950. It will also argue that ultrasonic scanning is more like traditional forms of physical examination than is usually assumed.

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

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