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Early Modern Drug Testing (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.

Questions and Task

  • Read the "Introduction" by Rankin and Leong, plus two of the other required readings. Consider these questions:
  • How did early modern people persuade themselves about the efficacy of this or that drug? Think about the social and institutional dimensions of persuasion as well as the intellectual ones.
  • What kind of sources can we use to find out about early modern drug testing?
  • What was 'early modern' about early modern drug testing, i.e. how does it differ from modern drug testing?

Required Readings

Alisha Rankin and Elaine Leong, "Introduction: Experiment and Medicine in Early Modern and Medieval Medicine", Bulletin of the History of Medicine 91:2 (2017): 157-182 [ejournal].

Francesco Paolo De Ceglia, "Playing God: Testing, Modeling, and Imitating Blood Miracles in Eighteenth-Century Europe", Bulletin of the History of Medicine 91:2 (2017): 391-419 [ejournal].

Elaine Leong, Recipes and Everyday Knowledge: Medicine, Science, and the Household in Early Modern England (Chicago, 2018), "Chapter 4: Recipe Trials in the Early Modern Household" [ebook].

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.

Further Readings:

The remaining articles in the special issue of the Bulletin for the History of Medicine for which the Rankin and Leong paper (cited above) is the introduction.