The phenomenon of disease played an important role in the development of premodern European culture, and in the reciprocal exchanges between Europe and the New World. Its understanding and regulation involved all sectors of society–religion, politics, science, law, commerce–and affected the welfare of individuals in every social class. Disease is, in fact, a singularly useful subject for examining the interdependence of these social sectors as well as their competing interests, and for interrogating the divide between hegemonic and popular cultures. The essays in this special issue analyze a number of issues of particular importance to the current study of premodern medicine. These include the uses and misrepresentations of long-standing paradigms for the interpretation of disease, such as the theory of humoralism, as well as the Hippocratic Airs, Waters, and Places tradition; the neglect of nonacademic sources such as the written records of patients or the recorded comments of ordinary citizens; the relationship of disease to the constitution of civic communities; the function of disease in the defining of national identities; the representation of disease in nonmedical literature such as travel treatises; and concepts of disease in pan-European myth-making. The volume concludes with a description of a major archive for the study of medical history, the Duke University History of Medicine Collections. In a sense, each essay encapsulates both the promise of the field–the interdisciplinary richness of the possible topics, the new voices to be uncovered in archival research–and the problems of interpretation that must be taken up in mining these prospects.
Research Article|September 01 2008
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