086: Lisa Forman Cody, 43


Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman

86: Lisa Forman Cody, 2-26-08

Basic Facts

Teaching Position: Associate Professor, Department of History, and Associate Dean of the Faculty (as of July 1), Claremont McKenna College
Area of Research: Britain, 1500-1945; France, 1700-1945; Visual Culture; Women, Gender, and Sex Roles; Medicine and Science
Education: Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley, History, 1993.
Major Publications: Cody is the author of Birthing the Nation: Sex, Science, and the Conception of Eighteenth-Century Britons, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005; paperback, summer 2008). Winner of the Berkshire Conference Best First Book Prize, 2006; the Frances Richardson Keller-Sierra Prize, 2006; the Phi Alpha Theta Best First Book Prize, 2005, shortlist for the Whitfield Prize, the Royal Historical Society, 2006. She is also currently working onLisa Forman Cody JPG  The Castrato’s Son and other Tales of Intimacy and Intrigue, and Imaginary Values: Health, Wealth, and Human Labor in the British Imperial Imagination
Cody is the editor of Writings on Medicine, 1660-1700, in the series The Early Modern Englishwoman, A Facsimile Library of Essential Works, 1500-1750 (London: Ashgate Press, 2001).
Cody is also the author of numerous scholarly journal articles, book chapters and reviews including among others: “The Secret History of Imagination,” as part of a forum with Rachel Weil, John Smail, Richard Conners, and Michael McKeon on Michael McKeon’s Secret History of Domesticity: Public, Private, and the Division of Knowledge (2008), “Public and Private England, 1600-1800,” Histoire sociale/Social History 40.80 (Nov. 2007); “Living and Dying in Georgian London’s Lying-in Hospitals,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 78.2 (Summer 2004): pp. 309-48. Winner of the Walter D. Love Prize, North American Conference on British Studies, 2005 and the Judith Lee Ridge Article Prize, Western Association of Women Historians, 2005; “‘Every Lane Teems with Instruction, Every Alley is Big with Erudition’: Graffiti in Eighteenth-Century London,” in The Streets of London, 1660-1870, ed. Tim Hitchcock and Heather Shore (London: Rivers Oram Press, 2003), pp. 92-111; “Sex, Civility, and the Self: Eighteenth-Century Conceptions of Gendered, National, and Psychological Identity,” in a Forum on Nina Gelbart’s The King’s Midwife and Gary Kates’s Monsieur d’Eon is a Woman, French Historical Studies, 24:3 (Summer 2001), pp. 379-409; “The Politics of Illegitimacy in an Age of Reform: Gender, Reproduction and Political Economy in England’s New Poor Law of 1834,” Journal of Women’s History 11.4 (Winter 2000), pp. 131-156. Winner of the Judith Lee Ridge Article Prize, Western Association of Women Historians, 2002.
Awards: Cody is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
Millicent C. McIntosh Fellowship, Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation (2003-05);
Arnold L. and Lois S. Graves Fellowship, top teacher in a west-coast liberal arts college (2000);
Bernadote E. Schmitt Grant, American Historical Association (1999-2000);
Ahmanson-Getty Fellowship, Clark Library and Center for 17th and 18th Century Studies, UCLA (2000), declined;
Clark Library and Center for 17th and 18th Century Studies, UCLA, Short Fellowship (2000);
Benjamin Gould Humanities Center, Claremont McKenna College, Summer Fellowship (2000, 2001, 2003);
Helen L. Bing Fellowship; Mayers Fellowship, Henry E. Huntington Library (1999);
Claremont McKenna College, Dean’s Summer Research Grant (1997-2003);
Whitney Humanities Center Junior Faculty Fellowship, Yale University (1995-96), declined;
Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Humanities, Stanford University (1993-95);
Andrew W. Mellon Research Fellowship, Henry E. Huntington Library (1994);
UC Regents Traveling Fellowship (1990-91);
UC Humanities Graduate Research Grant (1989, 1991);
Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor, UC Berkeley (1990);
George H. Guttridge Prize in British History, UC Berkeley History Department (1989-90);
Beatrice M. Bain Prize for Outstanding Graduate Essay in Gender Studies, UC Berkeley (1989);
UC Berkeley History Department Fellowship (1987-88);
Isobelle Briggs Alumna Fellowship for Graduate Studies, Radcliffe College (1987-88);
John Harvard (1986-87); Harvard College (1984-87); Agassiz Awards (1984-87); Oliver Dabney Fellowship in History (1986-87); Josephine Murray, Radcliffe College Summer Fellowship (1986); Center for European Studies, Harvard, Summer Fellowships (1986).
Additional Info:
Cody formerly was Assistant Professor, Department of History, Denison University, (1995-96), Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities, and Visiting Assistant Professor in History, Stanford University, (1993-95). and Instructor in History, Women’s and Interdisciplinary Studies, U.C. Berkeley, (1989-93).

Personal Anecdote

When asked as a girl what I would someday be, I never said a historian. Instead, I first said Frank Lloyd Wright, then around third grade, a suffragette, and then as a teenager, either Mary Cassatt or Elizabeth Blackwell. Given my particular talents, I knew I should want to be a doctor or an illustrator, but I did not yet realize that I could only envision myself in those occupations in the context of another age-the world of Beatrice Potter or Florence Nightingale.

I grew up in Fort Collins, Colorado in the 1970s, but refused to admit that basic fact. My absence was reaffirmed each Sunday at 9 p.m., Mountain Standard Time. My parents were huge Masterpiece Theatre buffs, and so I, the dutiful oldest daughter, watched alongside them imagining myself into the past. In second grade, my friend Margaret and I had feuding crushes on Tom Brown and his nemesis Flashman. After school, we pretended that even though we were girls, we went to Rugby too and rescued poor Tom Brown and Cuthbertson from their miserable School Days.

It should have been obvious where things here were inevitably headed, as I lived through Upstairs, Downstairs, Shoulder to Shoulder, and countless other BBC dramas. But when I went off to Harvard, I made a list of what I would absolutely not major in: physics, engineering, and of course history. I thus decided to kill my core requirement in history immediately with “London and Paris in the Nineteenth Century.” That I sat in the front row eagerly (a.k.a. nerdily) laughing and clapping at the divine Patrice Higgonet and (the late) divine John Clive should have tipped me off right from the first seven minutes. Instead it took two weeks. When Professor Clive read Thomas Gray’s Elegy in a Country Churchyard, I responded as many eighteenth- and nineteenth-century readers had: I wept. (Melodramatic? Yes. Surprising? No. Consider this: in first grade, my best friend Margaret and I had an ongoing debate about what would make either one of us the luckiest girl in the world. Having recently watched The Six Wives of Henry VIII, the answer was obvious: to have Henry VIII’s casketed, dead body in my living room. Sure, this was macabre, but at the time, it seemed hard to imagine that a trip to Disneyland or a pony could top this as the best birthday present ever. I never got the pony either-stuffed or otherwise.)

Gray’s Elegy transported me to mid-eighteenth-century England, which ultimately is where I have lived imaginarily for two decades as I dig through archives at the nearby Huntington Library and when in Britain, and as I now think about the next research project while shuttling my children to school and the dinosaur museum and the grocery store. Yet Gray’s poem also made me appreciate how being a historian can verge on the uncanny act of channeling the dead-which perhaps is what I had been trying to do all along. Clearly, with my childhood desire to keep Tudor corpses in the living room and my adolescent penchant (I confess) for obsessive Ouija board sessions, I had been trying to do so mostly in the dubious spirit of Madame Blavatsky. Thankfully, though, I soon tripped upon the archives instead, which has allowed me to raise the dead in ways that are considered slightly more acceptable, if not as remunerative as reading palms or transfiguring the departed.

I trained at Berkeley with Tom Laqueur and other marvelous scholars at an exciting time in the late 1980s and 1990s when theory was big and invariably had an impact on the nature of my scholarship. Yet despite that training, a perhaps slightly old-fashioned search for spirits haunts much of my research. And no spirit more so than an eighteenth-century midwife, Elizabeth Nihell, who has enjoyed an iconic status among feminists for her exuberant attack on male obstetricians in the 1760s.

Capturing ghosts is notoriously elusive. A summer research trip to Paris, for instance, revealed nothing of Nihell’s life at all, even after plowing through thousands of pages at the Archives de l’Assistance Publique-Hôpitaux de Paris in hope of finding her at the Hôtel Dieu where she had had trained as a midwife. I could not find her that summer, but she led me through a rich summer of French research that illuminated unexpected connections between nationalism, religion, and reproduction-insights that fundamentally transformed my book manuscript, Birthing the Nation. A huge analytical payoff, certainly, but I still felt crushed that Nihell herself had no surviving records-and, worst of all, there had been records until the cataclysms of the nineteenth century. I discovered that in 1869, Monsieur Brièle, head of the Hôtel Dieu archives, fastidiously recorded each scrap in his collection, including liasse 1395, a massive file containing every midwife-pupil’s testimonials and birth and marriage certificates for the previous two centuries. Earlier nineteenth-century sources indicated that Nihell was included in this file. In 1870, however, Brièle was forced to choose the saved versus sacrificed as the city fell. He rescued many documents about topics which have since made other historians’ careers-say, on the subject of sewage-but he let liasse 1395 and scores of midwives burn.

In spite of the nineteenth-century flames which licked up her maiden name and much more, I did find a small piece of Mrs. Nihell in the London archives. Another summer, on a hunch, I refused to believe the eighteenth-century parish indices and decided to read through hundreds of files myself, just to double check, just in case. Every weeknight, after the British Library and other archives closed, I crossed Trafalgar Square and walked down Whitehall towards the Westminster City Archives, which stayed open late. It took a summer, pregnant with my first son (i.e. one of my last “real” research trip now that I have three of them), to find my midwife-ghost who had been, it turns out, misfiled for over two centuries. I found her in, of all places, the (poorly alphabetized) affidavits for the St. Martin’s workhouse as a ward of the parish. Her detailed pauper affidavit revealed that she was a Catholic married in Paris in 1740 to an Irish Catholic surgeon around age eighteen who abandoned her in 1775. She never left the workhouse. In May of 1776, she died there and was buried for 2 shillings, 6 pence.

Elizabeth Nihell, a learned, published, proud author, and inspiration to Mary Daly and other modern feminists, was buried in a parish pauper pit. This grave would have been roughly under what is now a Trafalgar Square traffic island with a statue dedicated to a feminist nurse and national martyr of World War One: Edith Cavell. A fittingly ironic monument, to be sure, but a tragic plot for another feminist health practitioner whose 1760 treatise sold for twice the price of her burial. I felt disconcerted as the documents fell together and realized that my historical muse had once been placed six feet under an intersection that I have crossed hundreds of times since the age of eleven when my Masterpiece Theatre obsessed family took a sabbatical to London. I was already fully immersed in the past as I pretended to be a Pankhurst toppling the staid Edwardian world in sixth grade, but I of course had no idea that such an ordinary spot on Charing Cross Road would someday become my imaginary touchstone.

As jubilant as I was to find Nihell, I was also saddened by this enterprise, where so much of what we find hinges on little more than “the short and simple annals of the Poor.” As a historian attracted to theory, analysis, and arguments, Nihell’s ghost reminds me that I nevertheless became a historian thanks to Thomas Gray’s sentimental words and a recognition that I had long felt compelled to channel the dead so as to convey “Their homely joys, and destiny obscure.” Corny, melodramatic, perhaps unsophisticated, but listening to the dead is a precious aspect of our profession, and one that exists in few others.


By Lisa Forman Cody

  • “Birthing the Nation explores what relationships existed between corporate and individual identities in the British Isles from the 1660s to the 1830s by examining the emergence of men, rather than midwives, as pre-eminent authorities over sex and birth…Male experts transformed what hadBirthing the Nation: Sex, Science, and the Conception of the Eighteenth-Century Britons JPG once been the private, feminine domain of birth and midwifery into topics of public importance and universal interest…. This is the first book to place the eighteenth-century shift… in a larger cultural and political context. It illuminates how eighteenth-century Britons understood and symbolized political, national, and religious affiliation through the experiences of the body, sex, and birth…. Political arguments of the age were not always made on disembodied, rational terms, but instead referenced deep cultural beliefs about gender, reproduction, and the family….Through reproductive signs and stories, Britons could describe themselves and others, as individuals, as types, as members of different corporate bodies, including nations, and these comparisons helped to establish the seemingly natural facts of community and otherness.” — Lisa Forman Cody in “Birthing the Nation: Sex, Science, and the Conception of the Eighteenth-Century Britons”

About Lisa Forman Cody

  • “BIRTHING THE NATION brings a fresh perspective to an old feminist problem: the triumph of male doctors over the traditional, female midwife. Unlike previous studies, BIRTHING THE NATION takes a broad view and argues that the ownership of conception and birth, not just midwifery, was the real issue. Georgian England, Cody argues, was obsessed with birth….” “Notable for its extensive use of images and its ability to marry social history with the history of science, BIRTHING THE NATION is a wide-ranging study which gives us insight into the strengthening of patriarchy, the dissemination of natural philosophy, the creation of national identity and the birth of racism. Cody’s most important achievement is to show that birth is a tool for historical analysis, a tool which brings to light struggles over issues as key as gender relations, national identity, racism and the growth of the modern state.” — Committee for the 2005 First Book Prize of the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians for “Birthing the Nation: Sex, Science, and the Conception of the Eighteenth-Century Britons” (Oxford University Press, 2005)
  • This often engaging, lucidly written study is supported by over fifty black-and-white reproductions of contemporary scientific illustrations, caricatures, and satirical prints, many of which are subjected to close analysis in the narrative. Birthing the Nation offers a convincing account of how an emergent male culture of obstetric practise and reproductive theory informed populist political language and iconography and as such will be of interest not only to medical historians but also a broad range of scholars and students concerned with the language of science as it relates to issues of gender, race, and national identity in post-Restoration and Georgian Britain. — David E. Shuttleton, University of Wales reviewing “Birthing the Nation: Sex, Science, and the Conception of the Eighteenth-Century Britons” in Metascience
  • This is an ambitious and exciting work which brings together a plethora of fascinating material, weaves unexpected and provocative connections, and provides us with new insights into issues of gender, race, and nationality as they developed along new pathways during the course of the “long eighteenth century.” It is full of good and astonishing things.” — Lesley A. Hall, Wellcome Library, London reviewing “Birthing the Nation: Sex, Science, and the Conception of the Eighteenth-Century Britons” in H-Albion
  • Birthing the Nation breaks ground in its interdisciplinary reach. Jettisoning sweeping notions of gender and power in favor of fresh insight, Cody’s study is the first to account fully for the political and social circumstances that produced male-midwifery as well as for its manifold historical ramifications; the “birth” it gave to defining aspects of British science, nationalism, and a unique sense of the social. The book also excels in its employment of images. Cody highlights the corporality of reproductive knowledge embedded in prints and caricatures and the capacity of visual representations to generate distinct sets of meanings. In a segment that is particularly timely, she shows how men-midwives contributed to the creation of the modern subject position of the fetus by, among other means, commissioning highly sentimental detailed illustrations of the fetus-as-child resting in utero. — Oz Frankel, New School for Social Research reviewing “Birthing the Nation: Sex, Science, and the Conception of the Eighteenth-Century Britons” in ILWCH
  • “Birthing the Nation is impressive in its coverage. It succeeds in placing reproduction at the heart of many of the key debates about change, modernity, and the eighteenth century.” — Karen Harvey, University of Sheffield reviewing “Birthing the Nation: Sex, Science, and the Conception of the Eighteenth-Century Britons”
  • “In this thoroughly researched, exquisitely illustrated book, historian Cody convincingly demonstrates that matters of sexuality and reproduction were central to the understanding of social, cultural, political, and economic life in 18th-century Britain….Her insightful analyses coalesce to form a remarkably nuanced and highly readable account of the role played by science and reproduction in forging a national identity at this critical juncture in British History. Highly recommended.” — S. L. Hoglund, SUNY at Stony Brook reviewing “Birthing the Nation: Sex, Science, and the Conception of the Eighteenth-Century Britons” in CHOICE
  • “I have known Lisa for three years now as a professor, academic advisor, and as an extraordinary historian. It was Professor Cody who first inspired me to become a history major. She fostered my desire to develop, understand and explore my passions about the history of the Catholic Church in England. As an academic advisor, she was always very accessible and approachable and always encouraging, understanding and helpful. As a professor, she pushed me to exceed my expectations and helped me to become a thoughtful, inquisitive and enthusiastic historian. As my thesis reader, she not only bent over backward to help me realize my passions, but she also pushed me forward to realize them in study and writing. She gives each of her students an individual attention that cannot be expected of most professors.Lisa Cody is much more than I could hope for in a professor – she is a friend who shares her interests until her overwhelming enthusiasm makes them your interests. She has contributed so much to my college years; the lessons I have learned from her will stay with me always. She sets high standards for her students and a coach there every step of the way encouraging and aiding their success.I am pleased to see that she has been given this award and confident that no one deserves it more. She should be recognized everyday for her accomplishments both as an academic and as a mother. — Annastacia Jimenez, Claremont McKenna College
  • “I have never had the honor of being taught by a professor as knowledgeable and inspiring as professor Cody. She has taught me more than the incredible material she covers in her classes. She changed the way I approached writing, reading and learning. She not only cares about her students but fosters a higher level of education and participation in her students. I only wish I could have her as a professor and advisor for the rest of my academic career. I would be happy to answer any questions or elaborate on the ways professor Cody has changed me as a student. What I have said does not do her justice. I cannot say enough about her knowledge, wisdom and inspiration. She has changed me as a student and advisee for the better and I am grateful for all her academic inspiration and for the privilege of learning from a professor as wise and caring. She continues to bring out the best in me and I have rarely felt a connection as strong as I do with professor Cody. Please feel free to contact me with any further questions or for any other comments about how she has affected me. — Ilana Lustbader
  • “My name is Bouree Kim and I had the pleasure of working closely with Lisa for three years as an undergraduate at Claremont McKenna College (CMC). The fact that I can comfortably refer to her by her first name already shows the type of rapport she creates with her students!Although I was a literature major, Lisa came highly recommended to me by several students and thus I enrolled in her “Women, Family and Social Change” class. The texts were difficult, the discussions challenging. I was grateful for Lisa’s constant enthusiasm for the topic at hand and most importantly, her commitment to engage her students in the learning process. I was always excited to attend her class because I was eager to hear her thoughts about the text we had read. She had the ability to turn a book, perhaps one that I did not particularly enjoy, into one that seemed brilliant because of her insightful comments and perspective. Lisa was available for questions both in and out of the classroom. Responses to emails arrived very quickly and it was easy to set up a time outside of office hours to meet. Her accessibility as a professor showed me that my education was just as important to her as other research and administrative duties for which she was responsible.After being more than satisfied with her class, the following semester I enrolled in her “19th Century London and Paris” class. This class ultimately became one of my favorite classes at CMC. Lisa always chose the best texts to read for her classes and discussions about the relationship between sewers, prostitution, and the rise of industrial London in the 19th Century remains a vivid memory even though two years has passed since the class. Lisa always encouraged student feedback about the texts she assigned and promoted student-led discussions. The opportunity to pose analytical questions and learn from my peers proved to be invaluable to my development as a successful student. I learned through Lisa’s history classes how literature (among many subjects) and history intersect constantly. It was clear that though she was a history professor, her knowledge about other subjects (literature, science, art, areas of history outside her primary interest) only enhanced her knowledge about history.

    I had the pleasure of working with Lisa on my senior thesis that focused on Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. It was clear that Lisa’s passion for history was contagious; I had wanted to study a novel that would allow me to learn more about literature while having the opportunity to research one of my favorite historical time periods: 19th Century France. (I also wanted an excuse to work with Lisa so I figured I should choose a book with which she could be of help).

    What excited me the most about Lisa’s classes and working with her on my thesis is that she helped me realize that in order to understand our lives today, it is important to learn history. Lisa taught me that contemporary understandings of topics such as gender, war, and changes in technology are based on historical events that had the power to change nations and social ideas. She taught me the usefulness of knowing, questioning, and learning history, which all led me to think differently about the world we create and live in today.

    I could rave on about Lisa for pages! I envy all the students and faculty that will be able to continue working with her in the future. Her generosity to her students and commitment to teaching are unparalleled. I continue to recommend her classes to students, convincing them that they, too, will think about life differently after every class. I am thrilled that she will be acknowledged as a Top Young Historian. The honor is well deserved. — Bouree Kim

  • “I’m writing to share my enthusiasm for Lisa Cody as a HNN Top Young Historian. Lisa is one of the most engaging professors that I have ever met. She combines a staggering command of the subject matter with humor, accessibility, and a relentless passion for her work and her students. Taking a class from a professor of her caliber was a high point of my academic career.” — Cameron Blevins
  • “I graduated in May from Claremont McKenna College, where Lisa was my professor for two courses last year (a survey of modern British history and a history of London and Paris in the 19th century)and my thesis adviser. I also worked closely with her when applying for a Marshall Scholarship and while serving on faculty search panels for a new ancient history professor and professor of Korean history. As a result of these interactions, I came to know Professor Cody extremely well and she easily became my favorite professor.Professor Cody was able to keep class interesting by varying her method of instruction considerably. Class was always a refreshing blend of lecture, discussion, small group work, and individual presentations. Additionally, the assigned readings were a nice mix of primary sources, secondary scholarship, and salient works of fiction. As a result of this variety, class was never dull and I really felt engaged with the subject matter.While Professor Cody’s classes were always enjoyable, I think what really set her apart from other professors was her accessibility outside of classes. She was always so sincerely interested in helping you, that I felt comfortable asking for her advice on a wide range of issues. For example, she provided great support not only for matters relating to class and as my thesis reader, but she also provided great consul as I went through the law school application process. I considered Lisa not only my professor, but also a mentor and a friend.

    I’m so happy that she is being recognized for being the great historian that she is.” — Ryan Fant, Stanford Law School, Class of 2010

  • “Lisa Cody is a wonderful professor and advisor. She is an incredibly inspirational and creative thinker, always pushing her students to take their arguments to the next level. I owe my decision to become a history major to her, which is why I also had to have her as my thesis advisor. She’s wonderful at presenting alternative understandings of gender and social history, and always encourages her students to speak their opinions and discuss their ideas. I’m so glad that she’s being recognized for her outstanding work; she is truly one of the most intelligent and interesting people I have ever met.” — Annelise Reynolds
  • “Lisa changed and bettered my entire college experience. I took her intro to british history class in the beginning of my sophomore year and I immediately switched my literature major to a history major because of her class. Her enthusiasm, passion, and intelligence surrounding issues of gender greatly intrigued me and in turn I then added a Gender Studies minor. I took three classes with Lisa and she was also my thesis reader. not only did she influence my areas of concentration throughout my college career, but she impacted the way I look at and perceive the world. She is an amazing thinker, writer, and teacher. I have been incredibly fortunate to have been able to learn some of what she has to teach. — Allison Pratt

Posted on Monday, February 25, 2008 at 10:47 PM

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