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Week 4: Medicine and the Enlightenment

Lecturer: Kathryn Woods

In the ‘Age of Enlightenment’, the development of new methods and approaches for examining the body led to the emergence of new ideas about how the body worked. New ‘scientific’ forms of medicine emerged, leading to the development of new medical theories of disease. Medicine was also increasingly professionalised and popularised. Medical practitioners and ordinary people shared an optimistic outlook on the roles and benefits of medicine. This lecture examines how the Enlightenment changed medicine, and medical and popular understandings of the body. It aims to establish how new forms of knowledge about the body, professionalization and popularisation impacted medical practice, patient experiences and people’s health.

Discussion/Essay Questions:

• Was there a medical Enlightenment?

• To what extent did ‘scientific’ forms of medicine and changing understandings of the body alter therapeutic practice?

• Were professionalization and popularisation connected phenomena?

Required Readings:

Penelope Corfield, The Power and the Professions in Britain 1700-1850 (London & New York, 1995), chapter 6. 

Roy Porter, The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity (New York, 1998), chapter 10.

Patrick Singy, ‘The Popularization of Medicine in the Eighteenth Century: Writing, Reading, and Rewriting Samuel Auguste Tissot’s Avis people sur sa sante’, The Journal of Modern History, 82:4 (2010), pp. 769-800. e-journal

Further Readings:

Primary Sources:

Anon, Aristotle’s Compleat Masterpiece (London, 1684)

Samuel-Auguste David Tissot, Advice to the People in General, with Regard to their Health (London: T. Becket & P. A. de Hondt, 1765). Preface.

William Buchan, Domestic Medicine (Edinburgh: J. Balfour, J. Auld and W. Smellie, 1769). Preface.


Jonathan Andrews, ‘History of Medicine: Health, Medicine and Disease in the Eighteenth-Century’, British Journal of Eighteenth Century Studies, 34:4 (2001), pp. 503-515.

Harold Cook, ‘Good Advice and a Little Medicine’, Journal of British Studies, 31, 1 (1994), pp. 1-31.

Andrew Cunningham & Roger French (eds), The Medical Enlightenment of the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

Barbara Duden, The Woman Beneath the Skin, translated by T. Dunlap (London, 1991).

Mary Fissell, Vernacular Bodies: The Politics of Reproduction in Early Modern England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

Mary Fissell, ‘When the Birds and the Bees Were Not Enough: Aristotle’s Masterpiece". The Public Domain Review, 5:15 (2015).

Anthony Fletcher, Gender, Sex and Subordination in England 1500-1800 (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1995). Part 1. e-book

Christopher Lawrence, ‘William Buchan: Medicine Laid Open’, Medical History, 19:1 (1975), pp. 20-35.

Christopher Lawrence & Steven Shapin (eds), Science Incarnate: Historical Embodiments of Natural Knowledge (Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 1998), especially chapter 5.

Mary Lindemann, Medicine and Society in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

Margaret Pelling, The Common Lot: Sickness, Medical Occupations and the Urban Poor in Early Modern England (London & New York, 1998)

Roy Porter, ‘Was there a Medical Enlightenment in Eighteenth-Century England?’, Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, 5:1 (1982), pp. 49-62.

Roy Porter (ed.), Patients and Practitioners: Lay Perceptions of Medicine in Pre-Industrial Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985). e-book

Roy Porter (ed.), The Popularization of Medicine 1650-1850 (London: Routledge, 1992).

Roy Porter (ed.), Medicine in the Enlightenment (Atlanta GA, 1995).

Roy Porter, The Enlightenment (Basingstoke, 2001).

Matthew Ramsey, Professional and Popular Medicine in France 1770-1830: The Social World of Medical Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

Charles Rosenberg, ‘Medical Text and Social Context: Explaining William Buchan’s Domestic Medicine’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 57 (1983), pp. 22-42.

Charles Rosenberg (ed.), Right Living: An Anglo-American Tradition of Self-Help Medicine and Hygiene (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2003).

Andrea Rusnock, Vital Accounts: Quantifying Health and Population in Eighteenth-Century England and France (Cambridge, 2002).

Steven Shapin, The Scientific Revolution (Chicago & London, 1996).

Michael Stolberg, Experiencing Illness and the Sick Body in Early Modern Europe, translated by L. Unglaub & L. Kennedy (Basingstoke, 2011).

Andrew Wear (ed.), Medicine in Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

Andrew Wear, Knowledge and Practice in English Medicine, 1550-1680 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

Olivia Weisser, Ill Composed: Sickness, Gender, and Belief in Early Modern England (New Haven & London, 2015).