The Clinical Narratives of James Parkinson’s Essay on the Shaking Palsy (1817)

Authored by: Brian Hurwitz

The Routledge History of Disease

Print publication date:  August  2016
Online publication date:  August  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415720014
eBook ISBN: 9781315543420
Adobe ISBN: 9781134857876

10.4324/9781315543420.ch27

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Abstract

James Parkinson’s contribution to understanding disorders of human movement in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries is recognized in a well-known eponym. 1 This chapter considers the extent to which his Essay on the Shaking Palsy of 1817 successfully defined a new disease and incorporated a distinctively narrative view of the condition into the concept of it. 2 I will focus on Parkinson’s approach to gathering and presenting his findings in the context of the observational culture of his time and on how the Essay exemplifies the literary and social aesthetic Tom Laqueur has called ‘a new humanitarian narrative’. In depicting the clinical phenomenology of the condition, I will examine the dialectic between observation and abstraction, between individual case description and the general account of the condition which the Essay sets up, 3 as well as its author’s debt to eighteenth-century sentimental writing and the literature of urban spectatorship. 4

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