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Week 11: Diseases

Lecturer: Claudia Stein

This lecture introduces us to the problem of how to understand diseases in the past. Focussing on the early modern period, we will see how contemporaries explained, diagnosed and treated diseases such as the plague or the French pox within an understanding of nature that was entirely different to our own today. Moreover, we will also investigate how historians of medicine have deal with this problem of writing about early modern diseases, diseases in the past.


Discussion Questions/Essay Topics:

1. What do we 'lose' by identifying past diseases with modern disease entities?

2. Venereal disease was imported from the New World to Europe in the 15th century. Discuss.

3. How did early modern contemporaries explained the 'causation' of diseases such as the French pox?

4. 'Early modern medicine was not advanced enough to successfully treat disease'. Discuss.


Required Readings:

Cunningham, Andrew, ‘Transforming Plague: the Laboratory and the Identity of Infectious Diseases’, in Andrew Cunningham and Perry Williams, eds, The Laboratory Revolution in Medicine (Cambridge, 1992), pp. 209-247. Course Extract

Pelling, Margaret, ‘Contagion/Germ Theory/Specificity’, in W. F. Bynum and Roy Porter Companion Encyclopedia of the History of Medicine (London, 1993), pp. 309-349. Course Extract

Stein, Claudia, ‘The Meaning of Signs: Diagnosing the French Pox in Early Modern Augsburg’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 80,4 (2006): 617-648. E-journal


Further Readings:

Jon Arrizibalaga, John Henderson, and Roger K. French, The French Pox in Early Modern Europe (Yale, 1997). (Ordered)

Bylebyl, Jerome, ‘The Manifest and the Hidden in the Renaissance Clinic’, W. Bynum and Roy Porter, Medicine and the Five Senses (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 40-60.

Cunningham, Andrew, ‘Identifying diseases in the Past: Cutting through the Gordian Knot’, Asclepio 54 (2002): 13-43 e-journal (click the ‘Full Text’ journal link, then enter the article title in the correct search box to open the article)

Daston, Lorraine, ‘The Nature of Nature in Early Modern History’, Configurations 6 (1998): 149-172. e-journal

Demaitre, Luke, ‘The Description and Diagnosis of Lepropsy by Fourtheenth Century Physicians’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine 59 (1985): 327-344. e-journal

French, Roger et al, eds, Medicine from the Black Death to the French Disease (Aldershot, 1998).

Grafton, Anthony, Siraisi, Nancy, and Shelford, April, New World, Ancient Text: The Power of Tradition and the Shock of the New (Cambridge, 1992). (Ordered)

Siraisi, Nancy, ‘Disease and Symptom as Problematic Concepts in Renaissance Medicine’, in Eckhard Kessler and Ian Maclean, Res et Verba in the Renaissance (Wiesbaden, 2002), 217-240.

Mclean, Ian, Logic, Signs and Nature in the Renaissance: The Case of Learned Medicine (Cambridge, 2002).

Nance, Brian, Turquet de Mayerne: The Art of Medical Portraiture (Amsterdam, 2001)

Rey, Roselyn, The History of Pain (Cambridge, 1988).

Wilson, Adrian, ‘On the History of Disease Concepts: The Case of Pleurisy’, History of Science 38 (2000): 271-319. E-journal