‘Nature’s Office & Work’: Recovery from Illness in Early Modern England, 1580-1720

17 October 2012, 12:00 - 14:00

CRASSH, Alison Richard Building, SG2

Dr Hannah Newton (History and Philosophy of Science) presents at the CRASSH Postdoctoral Research Seminar.

This event is free to attend but registration is required.  Please click on the link at the right hand side of the page to register online. A sandwich lunch will be available.

Abstract

The historiography of early modern medicine often makes depressing reading. It implies that people fell sick, took ineffective remedies, and died. My paper seeks to rebalance our picture of health at this time, by investigating recovery from illness. Drawing on sources such as diaries, doctors’ casebooks, and medical texts, it asks how physicians and laypeople defined and explained recovery, and examines the care of the recovering patient. What did people think was happening to the body during recovery? How was disease overcome? I show that recovery was thought to be a process that was driven principally by Nature, under the direction of God, and with the support of medicine. In Galenic and Hippocratic tradition, Nature was depicted as a ‘homely woman’ who removed illness by cooking the bad humours that had caused disease, and washing them from the body. But she was also a ‘princely soldier’, who fought, captured, and expelled the disease. I suggest that this ‘double-gendering’ of Nature was useful for patients and practitioners, because it enabled anyone to identify with Nature during recovery. Through drawing attention to the hitherto overlooked role of Nature, the paper seeks to provide a more complete picture of early modern understandings of health. The subject also sheds light on a number of wider historical issues, such as definitions of disease, health, and cure, and the relationship between medicine and religion.

 

About Hannah Newton

Hannah Newton is a social historian of early modern England, specialising in the experiences of illness, childhood, and the emotions. She joined the Department of History and Philosophy of Science in 2011, as a Wellcome Trust Fellow. Hannah's postdoctoral project is about recovery and convalescence from illness in early modern England, c.1580-1720. This project developed out of her doctoral studies, 'The Sick Child in Early Modern England', which has recently been published as a book by Oxford University Press.

Image: Saint Elizabeth offers a bowl of food and a tankard of drink to a male patient in the hospital in Marburg, Germany; 1598; by Adam Elsheimer from Wellcome Library, London creative commons collection