Of men-midwives, murderers, and historians …

The work of Don Shelton, featured in his article ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 103 (2010) 46–50., where he claims that the eighteenth-century men-midwives William Smellie and William Hunter had women murdered to order, to provide the illustrations for their impressive atlases of obstetrics, has given rise to considerable controversy.

Helen King discusses his work in a recent article ‘History WIthout  Historians? Medical History and the Internet‘, Social History of Medicine, published online ahead of print 8th June 2011, which she has based on a paper delivered at the De Partu colloquium held in Manchester in June 2010.  She argues that Shelton’s claims raise fresh questions about how medical history is generated, presented and evaluated in the media and, in particular, on the internet. She traces the generation and subsequent reception of what, for some, has now become a ‘historical fact’, in order to illustrate how attempts by medical historians to engage with policy and with the public exist alongside a shift towards the deprofessionalisation of history.