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Title: Nursing Nuns: Visibility, Power, and Identity in the Historiography of Three Nineteenth-Century French Congregations
Authors: Short, Jemima Elizabeth
Issue Date: 2020
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: This thesis tracks the contributions of the Petites Soeurs des Pauvres (1839-), the Auxiliatrices des Ames du Purgatoire (1856-), and the Soeurs de l’Espérance (1836-) to provisions of healthcare in France until 1905, considering the national picture alongside localised study in Paris and Brittany. Having challenged the widely recognised problem of historical silence surrounding the work of such women, I seek to reposition nuns as historical agents and gatekeepers rather than simply victims of a silence imposed from without. This entails a careful unpacking of the ways these groups construct a collective identity rooted in histories of a shared past, one which may shift based on institutional priorities and which exists in tension with the experiences of individuals. Analysing this process with a focus on nuns as a labour force reveals how power and narrative work to construct gendered models of work and serve to create and reinforce gendered hierarchies of labour value within healthcare and welfare. The language favoured by nuns and the Catholic Church further reinforced the invisibility of these women’s labour but also shaped the labour itself, creating working practices rooted in ideals of maternity, suffering, and sacrifice. If we move past the simple historical narratives of piety favoured by congregations, it is possible to reveal the complex power dynamics between nursing nuns and those they cared for. These women constructed holistic care practices which – for better or worse – had a profound impact on the lives of their patients. I explore the important role of nuns in shaping the language of sickness and providing meaning in the face of suffering, illness, and death. The different layers of visibility, power and identity in this thesis incite important and timely considerations regarding the ethics and authorship of historical narratives, particularly when dealing with marginalised groups.
Description: Ph. D. Thesis.
Appears in Collections:School of Modern Languages

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