Professor Cody Honored By Two Professional Societies

Lisa Cody, associate professor of history and department chair, has been honored with the 2005 national Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society’s Best First Book Award for Birthing the Nation: Sex, Science, and the Conception of Britons, published earlier this year by Oxford University Press.

Cody also received the Walter D. Love Prize in History for her article Living and Dying in Georgian London’s Lying-in Hospitals. The Love Prize is awarded annually by the North American Conference on British Studies for the best refereed journal article in any field of British history. The winning article has already received the prestigious 2005 Judith Lee Ridge Prize of the Western Association of Women Historians, an award Cody has won twice in the past three years.

John Smail, Love Prize committee chair and professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, says that Cody’s article on early maternity hospitals challenges the generally accepted argument that these “charitable institutions were a key moment in men’s usurpation of the midwife’s traditional role, arguing that London’s lying-in hospitals, at least in the first few decades of their existence, allowed women to retain primary control over the birthing process.

“Lying-in hospitals, Professor Cody concludes, do not deserve the reputation as death traps that has dogged them through the centuries,” Smail says.

Cody says her book, Birthing the Nationwhose research ultimately inspired Living and Dyingis about “almost every imaginable aspect of pregnancy, birth and reproduction, and 17th- 18th- and 19th century intellectual and professional uses of reproductive categories.” Chapter Eight, for instance, investigates the relationship between obstetrical research and the development of scientific racism, which used anatomical evidence to establish racial hierarchies.

“The book analyzes major transformations in history such as the creation of the British national identity in the 18th century, and argues that these new concepts were constructed by using the bodyand in particular, the reproductive bodyto make bold and often quite abstract cultural and political arguments,” says Cody, who spent better than a dozen years casting a wide net on anything having some convergence with the topic of reproduction. Adamant that its research be grounded and solid, months were devoted, she says, to thousands of pages of newspapers and journals from the period, including hospital and physician records, and parish charity reports for impoverished mothers.

For her article Living and Dying, Cody revisited many of those dusty hospital records to track, over several years, epidemiological conditions in London’s maternity hospitals of the 18th century.

With students helping to enter patient data from various sources into a categorized spreadsheet, “all of a sudden, several patterns popped out at me that never would have popped out if I had only looked at isolated archival records,” Cody says.

Historically, says Cody, “People have made a lot of assumptions about these early maternity hospitals. But what was striking to me, years ago, while doing dissertation research, is that no one had investigated the archival sources to see what they actually said.”

“Cody’s argument throughout is focused and concise and is particularly commendable for the substantive archival research on which it is based,” Smail says. “The article is also impressive for its interdisciplinary scope. Its contributions to women’s and gender history, for example, lay in its evocative insights into the experiences of the women giving birth in these institutions, and the evidence adduced to show the continuing vitality of the profession of midwifery that they both reflected and fostered.”

Cody says it is the refereed article of which she is most proud.

“I’m not a demographer and I’m not an epidemiologist,” she says. “But I feel like I really learned to be a historian in a way that I didn’t learn to be in grad school.”