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Reading for Cures: Texts, Readers and Lay Medical Practice in Early Modern England.

Dr Elaine Leong

From plague tracts to recipe collections to compendia of physicians’ case histories, English men and women were offered a vast array of medical titles by early modern printers/publishers. Until now, research upon this literature has mainly focused on book production. As the first study of readers’ interactions with vernacular medical literature in early modern England, Reading for Cures provides a much needed account of how the mass of medical information disseminated by the booming English print trade was appropriated by men and women in seventeenth-century England. The project begins by assessing the different genres of medical books offered by printers/publishers, followed by investigations of reading practices through analysis of marks and annotations in vernacular medical books and case studies of manuscript reading notes. I suggest that explorations of early modern reading habits and practices can offer historians insight into household medical activities and processes of knowledge production. Readers asserted their interests through a range of ownership notes, marginal crosses, symbols, signs, headings and underlinings. Examination of individual annotations reveals contemporary attitudes towards medical and scientific knowledge and uncovers the multi-step process used by home-based practitioners to assess and assimilate new ideas into their activities. With this project, I hope to provide a new approach to the study of circulation and transmission of vernacular medical knowledge in early modern England.


Conferences / Seminar Papers

  • Reading for Health: Early Modern Interactions with Vernacular Medical Books’ given 28-30 May, 2009 at the Sixteenth Century Society & Conference Annual Meeting, Geneva.
  • ‘Reading the Margins: Readers and Vernacular Medical texts in Early Modern England’ presented 15 May 2009 at the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, University of Oxford.