Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa


  • Harold J. Cook (a1)

The history of the body is of course contested territory. Postmodern interpretations in particular have moved it from a history of scientific knowledge of its structure and function toward histories of the various meanings, identities and experiences constructed about it. Underlying such interpretations have been large and important claims about the unfortunate consequences of the rise of a political economy associated with capitalism and medicalisation. In contradistinction, this paper offers a view of that historical process in a manner in keeping with materialism rather than in opposition to it. To do so, it examines a general change in body perceptions common to most of the literature: a shift from the body as a highly individualistic and variable subject to a more universal object, so that alterations in one person's body could be understood to represent how alterations in other human bodies occurred. It then suggests that one of the chief causes of that change was the growing vigour of the market for remedies that could be given to anyone, without discrimination according to temperament, gender, ethnicity, social status or other variables in the belief that they would cure quietly and effectively. One of the most visible remedies of this kind was a ‘specific’, the Peruvian, or Jesuits’ bark. While views about specific drugs were contested, the development of a market for medicinals that worked universally helped to promote the view that human bodies are physiologically alike.

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Mark S. R. Jenner and Patrick Wallis , ‘The Medical Marketplace’, in Medicine and the Market in England and its Colonies, c. 1450 – c. 1850, ed. Mark S. R. Jenner and Patrick Wallis (Basingstoke, 2007)

Karl Figlio , ‘Chlorosis and Chronic Disease in Nineteenth-Century Britain: The Social Construction of Somatic Illness in a Capitalistic Society’, Social History, 3 (1978), 167–97

Sandra Harding , ‘Is Science Multicultural? Challenges, Resources, Opportunities, Uncertainties’, Configurations, 2 (1994), 301–30

Shigehisa Kuriyama , ‘On Knowledge and the Diversity of Cultures: Comment on Harding’, Configurations, 2 (1994), 337–42

Jay A. Labinger and H. M. Collins , eds., The One Culture?: A Conversation About Science (Chicago, 2001)

Bruno Latour , “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern’, Critical Inquiry, 30 (2004), 225–48

N. D. Jewson , ‘The Disappearance of the Sick-Man from Medical Cosmology 1770–1870’, Sociology, 10 (1976), 225–44

Walter Pagel , ‘Prognosis and Diagnosis: A Comparison of Ancient and Modern Medicine’, Journal of the Warburg Institute, 2 (1938), 382–98

Fernando I. Ortiz Crespo , ‘Fragoso, Monardes, and Pre-Chinchonian Knowledge of Cinchona’, Archives of Natural History, 22 (1995), 169–81

Harold J. Cook , ‘Sir John Colbatch and Augustan Medicine: Experimentalism, Character and Entrepreneurialism’, Annals of Science, 47 (1990), 475505

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Transactions of the Royal Historical Society
  • ISSN: 0080-4401
  • EISSN: 1474-0648
  • URL: /core/journals/transactions-of-the-royal-historical-society
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 7
Total number of PDF views: 63 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 238 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 23rd September 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.