Diderot’s Anatomie: What Do We Know About Our Health?

The archive our project covers is Diderot’s Anatomie, one part of Diderot’s Encyclopédie written between 1751 and 1772 in France. Diderot’s Anatomie represents a turning point in health literacy among the common French. Rather than being written in Latin, the language of the well-educated and wealthy, Anatomie was written in French, the language of the common people. Before Anatomie, the common person did not have access to knowledge about their own health.


Image from Anatomie (http://artflux.uchicago.edu)

We will open up our archive by placing within the context of history, documenting the public’s awareness of health before, during, and after Anatomie was published. We have chosen to place Anatomie in the context of history because of the precedent set by Encyclopédie in common access to knowledge. For our research, we will primarily books and articles that describe the public’s awareness of health from various eras in history. When researching for information relating to modern public health literacy, we will likely turn to websites such as WebMD and the Mayo Clinic website. Such sources provide insight into how drastically health literacy has changed since the Enlightenment. Whereas knowledge was once scarce, the average American now has virtually unlimited amounts of information through which to sift. Our project will explore the implications of a universal access to health knowledge and its relationship with historical documents such as Encyclopédia.


Image from Anatomie (http://artflux.uchicago.edu)

To honor Diderot’s step toward commonplace public health literacy, my group’s project will revolve around the idea of accessible knowledge to all. In order to emulate Diderot’s impact, we have chosen to create a website that will document history and news relevant to the public’s access to health knowledge. We decided that a website would best represent the goal of accessibility because of the integration of the internet into our everyday lives. Whereas the common people of 18th century France shared the French language, many of today’s “common people” have access to the resources the internet provides. Furthermore, our targeted audience for our website will be high school and college students in an academic setting as a resource for research and general interest. The structure of our project as a website will be especially impactful for this audience because of technology’s integration into to everyday lives of today’s young adults. Our audience will benefit from being placed within the context of history, as an active part of the public’s evolving health literacy.



One thought on “Diderot’s Anatomie: What Do We Know About Our Health?

  1. It’s really interesting that Diderot’s Encyclopédie is written in French and provides the common people this important information that they would otherwise not have any access to. I really like how your project reflects this aspect of the Encyclopédie since your group will be creating a website that makes information about the accessibility of health knowledge, accessible. I’m intrigued by the form the website will turn out, will it be summaries of important milestones in health knowledge accessibility or something else? I’m excited to see the final product, because by providing this readily-available information, your group will increase the range of people that this part of public health reaches, which is essential in society.


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