“The Most Extreme and Single Remedy”: Amputation Debates in Early Modern Germany

Thursday Lecture Series

  • Audience open exclusively to Columbia faculty, students, and invited guests
  • All others interested in attending, please email SOF/Heyman at [email protected].

This lecture explores the heated debates within surgeons’ technical instructions for performing amputation procedures in sixteenth and seventeenth-century Germany. In contrast to the Middle Ages, early modern surgeons systematically recorded experimental amputation techniques and trained others to perform them. The new techniques practiced alongside traditional methods point to influences from inside and outside of Germany, including France, Italy, and the newly formed Dutch Republic. By the seventeenth century, surgeons learned multiple ways to perform amputations. The growing multiplicity of methods generated passionate disputes among authors. These debates show the rising challenge to Galenic medicine and surgeons’ changing attitudes towards technology. At the root of this fight were competing visions of the body: was it a material entity to be preserved at all costs, or a machine to be reshaped at the surgeon’s discretion?