Nursing, An International Profession
On 12 May, 1820, in the Villa La Colombaia just outside the city of Florence, a child was born to a wealthy British couple on a ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe. Named after the city of her birth, Florence Nightingale was to become the most famous nurse of modern times. Almost seventeen years later, believing she had been inspired by a ‘call from God’ to perform good works, she began to take an interest in the nursing care of the sick. Her subsequent career has become the stuff of legend, and biographers from Sarah Tooley (1904) and Edward Tyas Cook (1913) to Mark Bostridge (2008) have emphasised her many contributions to healthcare reform and the professionalisation of nursing.
From the late twentieth century onwards, historians of nursing have frequently commented that our understanding of the development of nursing in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has been distorted by an excessive focus on Nightingale, and, in more recent years, revisionist scholars have attempted to relocate her as simply one, particularly famous, figure in a rich historical landscape of influential reformers. Some present-minded writers, apparently troubled by Nightingale’s upper-middle-class background, have gone further – becoming highly critical of the ‘traditional’ historical focus on her as the nursing reformer par excellence. Yet, others have observed that some recent revisionism has distorted historical reality by denying Nightingale’s genuinely ground-breaking contributions to healthcare reform.
The Florence 2020 Conference, while being located in the city of Nightingale’s birth and clearly associating itself with her image and achievements, is intended to be broad-ranging and inclusive. Florence Nightingale is taken as an important reference-point to the history of modern nursing, but the purpose of the conference is to highlight current research across a wide field of endeavour. Abstracts relating empirical research in the history of nursing are particularly welcomed; but the Scientific Committee will also consider work relating to the history of medicine, and the history of healthcare more broadly conceived.