Medical History – the sources and what they tell us

Medical history – a topic not often seen on the syllabus of a history degree, but interesting nonetheless. The history of medicine can be easily focused on the publishing world of the 16th/17th/18th centuries, through books, newspapers and pamphlets. Medicine in these centuries was fairly different to what we are now accustomed too, for one, it linked the troubles of the human body to the stars, through astrology.

The publishing of books, called almanacs, was a profitable job during these centuries as they were household items. They were used by many different types of people as they gave the reader important information about the year ahead, like a psychic calendar! Louise Curth has done extensive research on these almanacs, showing us how people in this era organised their days, according to the trusted word of people such as William Lilly. William Lilly was a popular student of astrology in the 17th century, publishing almanacs every December to be used by numerous people, eventually reaching sales of upwards to 30,000. Lilly was also quite controversial in his predictions, often predicting the events concerning the royals or the military.

The sales of these books came at a time of create toil, the English Civil War. Lilly and others like him took a chance to educate the people of the language of the stars through books such as Christian Astrology, the first of its kind written in English rather than Latin. Almanacs were closely linked to medical history as it told the reader when they were most likely to fall sick, and what of. These predictions were based off of complex mathematics by suggesting that the signs of the Zodiac have influence on a person’s body and their temperament.

Further study of these books and their relation to medical history can be done by studying the work of historians such as Louise Curth, and through the Centre of Medical History. I would highly suggest anyone interested in this period consider medical history as it holds interesting insights into society during this period.

I plan to follow-up this post with some further study next month.


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