Sites of mediation

Socialised bodies – Medical doctors in Basel around 1600

Dissertation project by Sarah-Maria Schober, M.A.

Sub-project in Research Module 1
Crossroads – Trading Zones – Intersections.
Society and knowledge in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Basel


We cannot understand the Basel physicians of the period around 1600 using modern notions of professionalised medicine. Their activities and relationships varied and ranged far beyond the medical spectrum. They were in more or less close contact with the region’s nobility, the municipal elite, family members and scholars. These relationship spheres were closely intertwined and existed in the conflict situation of diverse overlapping and simultaneous processes of socialisation.

Against this backdrop, the dissertation project centres on the attempts of individual doctors to position themselves, their strategies of making and maintaining contacts and their personal social and cultural entanglement.

The project tackles these processes through the analysis of various social sites. They are trained like burning lenses on the relationships under study, thereby allowing for a variety of perspectivations.

The region’s baths, doctors’ households and anatomical dissections will be studied in detail. The abundance of surviving correspondences and printed works by the protagonists with their handwritten marginal notes, dedications and intertextual references can also be described as social sites.

Corporeality played an eminently important role in maintaining and generating social relationships. The shared bodily experience of the bath or the strong sensory impressions of anatomical dissection are but two examples. Sociability often rested on shared participation in sometimes excessive bodily practices such as boozing, gorging and talking about sexuality. In the process, the excessive, but at the same time scientifically and culturally regulatable, body, which in its capacity as a construct also offered order-creating perceptual patterns, constituted an important crystallisation point for socialisation processes.

Medical doctors in particular used the body as an ordering pattern, a topos and a discourse, as well as in its real, physical materiality, in order to inscribe themselves into society and various communities. How this occurred in individual cases—as can be followed in the example of the Basel physicians of the second half of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth century—is the subject of the dissertation.