BRADSHAW AE. Nursing Inquiry 2013; 20: 82–92 Gadamer's two horizons: listening to the voices in nursing history
Brian Abel-Smith's A History of the Nursing Profession published in 1960 marked a new critical approach to interpreting British nursing history in the light of modern culture. This approach was taken forward by most nursing history writers. In addition, some British nursing history writers, notably Monica Baly, Celia Davies and Anne Marie Rafferty, as well as Abel-Smith himself, have influenced the direction of British nursing policy. This study argues that the current method of interpreting nursing history, through the revisionist lens of what Patricia D'Antonio calls ‘the mighty triumvirate of race, class and gender’, makes a crucial omission. According to Hans-Georg Gadamer, the hermeneutical philosopher, historical interpretation should be a mutual dialogue of the ‘then’ and the ‘now’. But in modern nursing history writing the present horizon dominates. In order to allow the past horizon to speak to the present, this study examines the textbooks of British nursing matrons and tutors 1873–1971. These primary sources show that nurses were taught to develop Christian virtues in order to become good nurses. This study suggests that understanding and engaging with these voices, and allowing them to speak to the present, is relevant for current British nursing as well as for nursing worldwide.