2022 Kemp Symposium

papyrus displayed on paper

History of Early Modern European Medicine

Thursday, April 7 & Friday, April 8, 2022

“Between two leaves: tracing the sale and consumption of drugs in the Sun King's reign”

Keynote address with Dr. Emma Spary , Professor in the History of Modern European Knowledge at the Faculty of History at Cambridge University

This lecture begins and ends with leaves: the first is a fragment of papyrus connected with a medical entrepreneur working in Paris between the 1670s and the 1710s, and the last is a leaf belonging to a mystery plant preserved since the 1720s in the Sherardian Herbarium at Oxford. Between them, these two leaves permit the construction of a rich account of the changing place of drugs as commodities and objects of knowledge in the France of Louis XIV. It is the narrative of a medical marketplace and scholarly world in transition from antiquarian explorations of the Near East to ‘enlightened’ botanical bioprospecting in the New World.'

Thursday, April 7, 2022
5:00 pm


Panel Discussions

Friday, April 8, 2022


Lianne McTavish,  “Looking at Early Modern Tapeworms”

Tapeworms were both renowned and mysterious during the early modern period. My talk considers both the challenges of researching intestinal worms during the early modern period and the practices used to examine them. After a general introduction, I focus on the work of naturalist Charles Bonnet, who wrote three publications on the tapeworm, in 1750, 1777, and 1780, now largely forgotten. Bonnet’s publication of 1777 is particularly informative, for it provides a rare and detailed account of an artist conducting research alongside the naturalist. Bonnet explains how the Danish artist Henrik Plötz manipulated, described, magnified, and drew tapeworm fragments to help the naturalist see them more clearly with the naked eye. This account challenges the presumed dominance of attentive observation during the eighteenth century, while enriching our understanding of early modern visuality, or the modes of looking used to produce knowledge.

Zachary Dorner, "How Empire Turned People into Patients"

The forced and voluntary migrants of the early modern world encountered unfamiliar disease environments, brutal labor regimes, and colonial warfare—all of which presented serious challenges to maintaining health. As others have written about, these mass movements had profound social, political, ecological, cultural, and economic consequences. They also reshaped how, where, and why medicines were produced, distributed, and consumed, opening new overseas markets for medicine exports predicated on the idea that European-made medicines would hold efficacy in far-flung locations.

Bringing together the histories of medicine and commerce in a long-distance framework helps us see that during the long eighteenth century, imperial administrators, plantation owners, medical practitioners, merchants, and consumers yoked a population view of health care to the goals of empire, uniting them to turn people into patients on a broader scale than ever before. This shift involved epistemic changes in the ways people conceived of their health and very material changes in the production, delivery, and markets for European medicines. In other words, we cannot tell a story of a globalizing medicine trade or of “modern” medicine itself without examining empire’s role in incentivizing the transformation of people into recipients of mass-produced medicines; and, in many ways, we live with the consequences of that development.

Cathy McClive, "Reflections on Remedies and Accidents of the Archive. A Female Healer and the Medical World of Eighteenth-Century Lyon"

I stumbled on Marie Magdeline Grand’s collection of papers when leafing through inventories in an idle moment waiting for my next box of criminal court records to arrive. Catalogued as a female apothecary, Grand’s papers are located in a series which contains affairs seized by the tribunal de la conservation of the commercial city of Lyon, usually for bankruptcy cases, as well as family papers. I am not yet clear whether Grand was pursued by creditors or whether her papers were collected as part of an on-going dispute with the city’ surgical corporation. Without the archival label of apothecary, it is doubtful I would have called up the box to investigate further. What transpired from these archival accidents is an eclectic collection encapsulating decades of medical, surgical, and herbal healing work Grand carried out within and beyond the city, administering to a wide range of clients. Her practice cuts through traditional notions of what the medical world in early modern France looked like, rendering visible a female-centered domestic medical network which ran parallel to, and into conflict with, corporate medicine. In this paper I explore how this serendipitous archival accident changes our understandings of the nature of early modern domestic medical work; assumptions themselves built on previous archival accidents which rendered visible the neatly bound recipe collections of gentle women and women religious, whilst simultaneously eclipsing the other everyday spaces and geographies in which domestic medical work occurred. Grand was a single silk-worker with a reputation as a successful and trustworthy healer, whose papers reveal the financial precarity of her day-to-day existence, and the variety of healing and caring activities she engaged in in her personal economy of makeshifts. Ultimately, the house of cards her subsistence was built on tumbled down, into the commercial court’s archive, and into this historian’s purview.

Justin Rivest, "Missionary Networks and the Globalization of European Chymical Medicine circa 1700"

Catholic missionaries and especially Jesuits loom large in the booming literature on colonial bioprospecting in the early modern world. And for good reason: they were at the front lines of the European appropriation of indigenous materia medica. The most famous example is that of cinchona bark, the source of the anti-malarial alkaloid quinine, so tied to the Jesuits in the seventeenth century that it was often called “Jesuits’ Bark.” My paper looks to a specific case in China involving French Jesuits at the court of the Kangxi Emperor to ask about the flipside of the Jesuit role in this globalization process, namely, their role in the dissemination of novel European medicines—particularly standardized medications based on potent chemical substances—to non-European populations. In so doing it also opens a vantage point for de-centering Eurocentric categories of the exotic. 

Amanda Herbert, "Spa Medicine and the “Curative Commons” in the British Atlantic World"

This paper explores the concept of a “curative commons,” in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Britain and the spaces it claimed as colonies, arguing that both lower-status and higher-status people used this concept as they wrote and thought about mineral water springs. These springs, or “spaws” as they were often called in the period, were imagined as critical sites for the treatment of disease and injury. British women and men constructed spas in nearly all of the spaces that made up their early empire: in England and in Nevis, in Jamaica and in Scotland, in Ireland and in Virginia; and especially in colonial sites, spas adapted the health regimens of the metropole to treat both enslaved and free colonial subjects. Wherever these spas were located, they provided free medical care to all people – regardless of gender, race, age, nationality, or socioeconomic status – who travelled to the springs seeking medical care.

Meghan Roberts " 'The Talk of All Paris'": Making Race and Reputation"

This paper examines the surgeon Claude-Nicolas Le Cat (1700-1768) and particularly his strategy of publishing about race as a way to capture the public's attention. Le Cat, a prominent but combative figure, often submitted letters to the Normandy Affiches (a weekly provincial newspaper) and welcomed questions from his fellow citizens. One letter inquired about a duchess whose skin had turned black during pregnancy and asked Le Cat to explain the phenomenon. He responded, but a different, anonymous reader criticized Le Cat's letter as ignorant and uninformed. Le Cat replied in outrage, and the two dueled in the pages of the Affiches for some time about theories of race. Le Cat eventually published a book-length version of his responses: the Traité de la couleur de la peau humaine (1765), which went on to become a highly influential text on racial difference.