Skip to content

Following your nose through history

23 September 2019

Historian’s new book explores history of nasal surgery

The new book by historian Dr Emily Cock traces knowledge of rhinoplasty within the early modern British medical community, through to its impact on the nineteenth-century revival of skin-flap facial surgeries.

Rhinoplasty and the nose in early modern British medicine and culture explores why the nasal surgical procedure was controversial, and the cultural importance of the nose, offering critical readings of literary noses from Shakespeare to Laurence Sterne.

Medical knowledge of the graft operation was accompanied by a spurious story that the nose would be constructed from flesh purchased from a social inferior and would drop off when that person died. The volume therefore explores this narrative in detail for its role in the procedure's stigmatisation, its engagement with the doctrine of medical sympathy, and its unique attempt to commoditise living human flesh.

Research Fellow Dr Cock adds: “As well as tracing copies of relevant surgical books to show that knowledge of the rhinoplasty technique didn’t just disappear, the interesting thing was digging into the reasons that the operation was controversial, and why the myths about it became more prominent. It’s a great case study for showing how medicine is affected by the society in which it operates, and has to deal with its prejudices, misconceptions, and power imbalances, as well as the coincidences of events and individuals."

Co-editor of Approaches to facial difference: past and present. Dr Emily Cock is a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at Cardiff University for the three-year project Fragile Faces: Disfigurement in Britain and its Colonies (1600–1850). Fragile Faces explores the threat, experience and representation of facial disfigurement in Britain and its colonies in Virginia, Massachusetts and Australia from 1600 to 1850.

One of ten of this year’s New Generation Thinkers Dr Emily Cock will be participating in the 2019 Being Human Festival in November.

Rhinoplasty and the nose in early modern British medicine and culture is published by Manchester University Press.

Share this story