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{Excerpt}The centenary of the death of Florence Nightingale occurs on 13 August 2010. Like Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, and John Stuart Mill, Nightingale is one of those monumental Victorians who were genuine household names in their day and for the generations that followed. Like her peers, she was a highly educated individual on a lifelong path of discovery, dedicated to knowledge and science in the service of a better society. But Nightingale was a singular individual among the great Victorians in that she was a woman—a woman who achieved a level of fame arguably surpassed only by the queen herself. Nightingale was also exceptional in that the work for which she is best known was not her science, literature, or philosophy, but the professionalizing of a domain of low status and semidomestic women's work: nursing.

In compiling this book, we have sought to take key elements of the Nightingale story and legacy and bring fresh analyses from leading scholars and thinkers in the field. The aim has been to provide both an update on the scholarship in several areas—the story of Nightingale in the Crimean War, her influence on the colonies of the British Empire, her contribution to statistical sciences, and her impact on the American nursing story—and a review of the current state of play with respect to the endless historiographical myths around her. The contributors represent a wide range of specialized knowledge on the heterogeneous topic of Florence Nightingale. Scholars, of course, have strongly held views and do not necessarily agree with one another. We do not attempt to adjudicate between competing perspectives in the discussion surrounding Nightingale, believing them to be symptomatic of a lively academic field in which scholars continue to debate the interpretation of sources and the significance of events. If Nightingale did not inspire controversy (and its sister, passion), would we still be interested in her a century after her death? Throughout the book there are shades of interpretation and emphasis that vary among contributors. Was Nightingale an opponent of germ theory? Did she create the new model of nursing from which all modern nursing sprang? Read on and make up your own mind! Our hope is that readers develop an awareness of the nuances of historical scholarship and the complexity of the past, as opposed to seeing it as a set of "facts." Facts, as any good historian knows, are not set in stone but matters of interpretation. Nightingale lived a long time. She was also a prolific correspondent and writer, and thus the historical record from her own hand is plentiful. This surfeit of riches creates its own methodological challenges. Individuals change their views over time, they sometimes contradict themselves, they write their different messages to different audiences, and their words may mean something different to a contemporary reader. Nightingale's persona evolved from a young passionate woman to a politically astute social actor to a much revered icon, and her writings reflect this evolution.


The abstract, table of contents, and first twenty-five pages are published with permission from the Cornell University Press. For ordering information, please visit the Cornell University Press