Skip to main content

Matthew Ramsey

Professor of History, Emeritus
Professor, and Founding Director, of Medicine, Health and Society, Emeritus

Matthew Ramsey is a historian of modern France and medicine and public health, with related interests in social, cultural, and intellectual history. He is the author of Professional and Popular Medicine in France 1770-1830: The Social World of Medical Practice (Cambridge, 1988, 2002), a social history of the full range of practitioners, from trained physicians and surgeons to empirics, folk healers, and witches, who worked in a still largely preindustrial society. It shows how the reorganization of the official medical occupations between the end of the Old Regime and Napoleon’s Empire transformed the medical field as a whole. He is now completing "The Right to Heal: Professional Monopoly in the Development of French Medicine," which focuses on the two centuries from the royal edict of Marly (1707), the principal legislation governing medical practice in the Old Regime, to the great congress on the repression of quackery held in Paris in 1906. His most recent research deals mainly with the history of therapeutics, including the treatment of rabies and the medicinal uses of now taboo substances, such as excrement and human body parts. Other topics on which he has published include European witchcraft, poor relief and the development of the welfare state, and the Revolution and Shakespeare in France. His work has been funded by grants and fellowships from the National Institutes of Health, the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and the American Philosophical Society, among other sources.

Professor Ramsey was the founding director (2003-2006) of the Vanderbilt Center for Medicine, Health, and Society. In 2003-2004, he co-directed a fellows program on medicine, health, and society at the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities. Professor Ramsey won the Thomas Jefferson Award in 2007. This award is given annually "for distinguished service to Vanderbilt through extraordinary contributions as a member of the faculty in the councils and government of the University."

Professor Ramsey has taught a wide variety of courses on modern European history; France and French civilization; comparative European and U.S. history; the history of medicine and public health; medicine, health and society; European intellectual history; and the connections between history and literature. He came to Vanderbilt from Harvard University, where he taught for five years, with a year off as a fellow and visiting professor at Princeton University. While at Vanderbilt, he has served as a directeur d'études invité (visiting professor) at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris.