Shedding the image of a Sawbones

This is the point at which the medical-history blog tips from the eighteenth century into the nineteenth.  Up to now, my blog posts have been concerned with the world before major state intervention in the conduct of medicine, and before the exponents of orthodox or university medicine drove their own campaign for medical reform.  NowContinue reading “Shedding the image of a Sawbones”

A Staffordshire Debate on criminal lunacy

The ‘Staffordshire’s Asylums’ blog is offering regular features on the history of care for the mentally ill in the county.  Therefore this history of medicine blog will not trespass on the same territory, but will instead offer a discussion of a cause célèbre of the 1790s which raised the issue of criminal lunacy. There wasContinue reading “A Staffordshire Debate on criminal lunacy”

Staffordshire’s eighteenth-century medical men, great and small

Until the 1970s, the history of medicine was predominantly given over to the biographies of ‘great men’.  The lives of pioneers like Joseph Lister (promoted anti-sepsis in surgery to students at Glasgow) and Edward Jenner (devised vaccination against smallpox from his home in Gloucestershire) were joined by social heroes credited with devotion to duty (amongContinue reading “Staffordshire’s eighteenth-century medical men, great and small”

Anyone for Viper Drops? Over-the-counter medicines in the eighteenth century

Eighteenth-century newspapers carried a lot of advertisements for medicines, sometimes termed patent medicines.  These were typically mixtures that offered to treat a variety of minor ailments.  The column inches devoted to Dr Rock’s Viper Drops were unusual because, unlike most adverts at the time, they were illustrated. Image in my possession Other than the useContinue reading “Anyone for Viper Drops? Over-the-counter medicines in the eighteenth century”

Stafford Infirmary versus the North Staffordshire Infirmary

When the Stafford Infirmary opened in 1766 it was the local manifestation of a new type of institution: a hospital for the sick poor.  In 1700 there were no such hospitals in England outside of London, and any establishment with the title ‘hospital’ was instead an almshouse for the elderly.  Infirmaries were established in theContinue reading “Stafford Infirmary versus the North Staffordshire Infirmary”

Patients’ stories and the art of diagnosis

In my first blog for this ‘history of medicine’ series I talked about the humoural theory of medicine, and the unique balance of the four humours which (it was thought) governed a person’s health or illness.  In a world where everyone believed in the humours, medical practitioners had to spend a long time talking toContinue reading “Patients’ stories and the art of diagnosis”

Did someone say vaccine? Smallpox prevention

Smallpox was the first disease to acquire an effective vaccine.  The deployment of vaccination from the late 1790s and the adoption of the technique worldwide meant that the World Health Organisation was able to declare smallpox eradicated from 1980.  The headline story of the background to this achievement is that Edward Jenner, physician in theContinue reading “Did someone say vaccine? Smallpox prevention”

Man midwife, medical hybrid

Most pregnant women in seventeenth-century England were delivered by a female midwife.  When a woman went into labour she would invite her female friends and relations to attend her, and a midwife presided over the birth.  Where the baby was presenting normally, head down with its face towards its mother’s spine, the delivery was usuallyContinue reading “Man midwife, medical hybrid”

Dr who? Provincial medical practitioners

Men and women who worked as medical practitioners in the seventeenth century occupied places in two related groups: formal medicine with recognised training, and lay specialism based on experience and practice.  The first group was dominated if not completely filled by men, acting as physicians, surgeons or apothecaries.  The second group was more fluid includingContinue reading “Dr who? Provincial medical practitioners”

Intellectual challenges, and the slow decline of humoural traditions

Humoural theory was embedded in both intellectual and popular understandings of the body, so challenges were viewed with scepticism, at least at first, and old practices died hard.  One of the first people to present a contradictory theory was William Harvey, an English physician.  He spent decades researching the heart and human blood vessels, workContinue reading “Intellectual challenges, and the slow decline of humoural traditions”

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