Coronavirus (Covid-19): Latest updates and information
Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Week 2: Early-Modern Drug Testing

Lecturer: Michael Bycroft

Drug testing seems to be a quintessentially modern enterprise, something we associate with randomised controlled trials and multinational pharmaceutical companies. But the question of how to determine the efficacy of a drug -- and of any cure for that matter -- is an ancient one. This seminar uses drug testing as a window onto the variengated world of early modern medicine. Drugs were tested in a wide range of settings, from courts to kitchens to laboratories. These tests were tied up with wider changes in early modern medicine, from the rise of the 'chemical philosophy' to the influx of new medicines from the Americas and the Indian Ocean.


Discussion/Essay Questions:

1. Who tested drugs in early modern Europe?
2. What does drugs testing tell us about the nature of early modern medicine, as opposed to ancient medicine or modern medicine?

Required Readings:

Alisha Rankin, 'On Anecdotes and Antidotes: Poison Trials in Sixteenth-Century Europe,' Bulletin of the History of Medicine 91 (2017), 274-302

Elaine Leong, Medicine, Science and the Household in Early Modern England (Chicago, 2018), 'Chapter 4: Recipe Trials in the Early Modern Household'


Further Readings:

Antonio Barrera-Osorio, "Knowledge and Empiricism in the Sixteenth-Century Spanish Atlantic World", in Daniela Bleichmar, Paula De Vos, Kristin Huffine, and Kevin Sheehan (eds), Science in the Spanish and Portuguese Empires, 1500-1800 (Stanford University Press, 2008), 219-232 [ebook] - this chapter is about more than medicine, but it's worth reading the whole thing for the context - look out for the medical examples, which are balsam and mechoacan.

Special 2017 issue of Bulletin of the History of Medicine on drug testing (see all articles): https://muse.jhu.edu/issue/36694