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  • 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.

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1 For a discussion of the analytical uses of the term, see Jenner, Mark S. R. and Wallis, Patrick, ‘The Medical Marketplace’, in Medicine and the Market in England and its Colonies, c. 1450 – c. 1850, ed. Jenner, Mark S. R. and Wallis, Patrick (Basingstoke, 2007).

2 Duden, Barbara, The Woman beneath the Skin: A Doctor's Patients in Eighteenth-Century Germany, trans. Dunlap, Thomas (Cambridge, MA, 1991), 44.

3 Lippe, Rudolf Zur, Naturbeherrschung Am Menschen (2 vols., Frankfurt am Main, 1981). For Anglo-American versions of the theme see, for example, Young, Robert M., Mind, Brain and Adaptation in the Nineteenth Century: Cerebral Localization and Its Biological Context from Gall to Ferrier (Oxford, 1990); Figlio, Karl, ‘Chlorosis and Chronic Disease in Nineteenth-Century Britain: The Social Construction of Somatic Illness in a Capitalistic Society’, Social History, 3 (1978), 167–97.

4 For example, Porter, Roy, Mind-Forg'd Manacles: A History of Madness in England from the Restoration to the Regency (Cambridge, MA, 1987).

5 Laqueur, Thomas, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud (Cambridge, MA, 1990).

6 Kuriyama, Shigehisa, The Expressiveness of the Body and the Divergence of Greek and Chinese Medicine (New York, 1999). Also see the exchange between Harding, Sandra, ‘Is Science Multicultural? Challenges, Resources, Opportunities, Uncertainties’, Configurations, 2 (1994), 301–30, and Kuriyama, Shigehisa, ‘On Knowledge and the Diversity of Cultures: Comment on Harding’, Configurations, 2 (1994), 337–42.

7 For instance, note that in the first (1979) edition of Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar, Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts (Princeton, 1986) the subtitle read ‘the social construction of scientific facts’.

8 For example, Gross, Paul R. and Levitt, Norman, Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and its Quarrels with Science (Baltimore, 1994), and the discussions about the ‘war’ in Labinger, Jay A. and Collins, H. M., eds., The One Culture?: A Conversation About Science (Chicago, 2001).

9 Jameson, Fredric, Postmodernism: Or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham, NC, 1991), ix.

10 Vaughan, Megan, Curing their Ills: Colonial Power and African Illness (Stanford, 1991), 7; her ‘introduction’ (1–28) remains a brilliant negotiation with the current literature.

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

12 Dirlik, Arif et al. , eds., History after the Three Worlds: Post-Eurocentric Historiographies (Lanham, MD, 2000), 5, 8, 10. For an example of a recent work that does not shirk the questions of power and domination, see Chakrabarti, Pratik, Materials and Medicine: Trade, Conquest and Therapeutics in the Eighteenth Century (Manchester, 2010).

13 To note only a few examples of this sense of historical process that can be found almost everywhere in the literature of the past few decades: Ackerknecht, Erwin H., Medicine at the Paris Hospital 1794–1848 (Baltimore, 1967); Coleman, William, ‘Health and Hygiene in the Encyclopedie: A Medical Doctrine for the Bourgeoisie’, Journal of the History of Medicine, 29 (1974), 399421; Jewson, N. D., ‘The Disappearance of the Sick-Man from Medical Cosmology 1770–1870’, Sociology, 10 (1976), 225–44; Hannaway, Caroline, ‘From Private Hygiene to Public Health: A Transformation in Western Medicine in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries’, in Public Health, ed. Ogawa, Teizo (Tokyo, 1980); and Weatherall, David, Science and the Quiet Art: Medical Research and Patient Care (Oxford, 1995). Foucault is among those who place this modernity in the rise of the ‘Paris school’ of the early nineteenth century: Foucault, Michel, The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception, trans. Smith, A. M. Sheridan (New York, 1973).

14 For thoughtful commentary on the almost timeless paring of these two modes of thought, see Temkin, Owsei, ‘The Scientific Approach to Disease: Specific Entity and Individual Sickness’, in Scientific Change, ed. Crombie, A. C. (New York, 1963); Niebyl, Peter H., ‘Sennert, Van Helmont, and Medical Ontology’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 45 (1971), 115–37.

15 Duden, Woman beneath the Skin; Gradmann, Christoph, Laboratory Disease: Robert Koch's Medical Bacteriology, trans. Forster, Elborg (Baltimore, 2009). Megan Vaughan often uses the term ‘unitised’ when referring to the biomedical view of the body: Curing their Ills.

16 For example, Pagel, Walter, ‘Prognosis and Diagnosis: A Comparison of Ancient and Modern Medicine’, Journal of the Warburg Institute, 2 (1938), 382–98; Pagel, Walter, Paracelsus: An Introduction to Philosophical Medicine in the Era of the Renaissance (New York, 1958); Wear, Andrew, Knowledge and Practice in Early Modern English Medicine, 1550–1680 (New York, 2000).

17 Sydenham makes the point in the Observationes medicae (1676) which has been translated several times. For an careful and appreciative commentary, King, Lester S., Medical Thinking: A Historical Preface (Princeton, 1982), 110–17.

18 King, Lester S., The Medical World of the Eighteenth Century (Chicago, 1958), 193226.

19 Meynell, G. G., Materials for a Biography of Dr. Thomas Sydenham (Folkestone, 1988), 52–3, quoting Sydenham, 1848, Thomas Sydenham, The Works of Thomas Sydenham, M.D., translated from the Latin edn of Dr Greenhill with a life of the author, trans R. G. Latham (2 vols., 1848), i, 210 and Robert Boyle, The Works . . . in 6 Volumes (1772), v, 77.

20 From a bound collection of 231 advertisements, British Library shelfmark 551.a.32, nos. 9 (probably by John Pechey) and 14.

21 Boyle, Robert, Usefulnesse of Experimental Naturall Philosophy (Oxford, 1663), Part ii, 220–1.

22 Quoted in Schiebinger, Londa, ‘Prospecting for Drugs: European Naturalists in the West Indies’, in Colonial Botany: Science, Commerce, and Politics in the Early Modern World, ed. Schiebinger, Londa and Swan, Claudia (Philadelphia, 2004), 119.

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

24 Dobson, Mary J., Contours of Death and Disease in Early Modern England (Cambridge, 1997).

25 Jarcho, Saul, Quinine's Predecessor: Francesco Torti and the Early History of Cinchona (Baltimore, 1993), 111.

26 Anagnostou, Sabine, ‘Jesuits in Spanish America: Contributions to the Exploration of the American Materia Medica’, Pharmacy in History, 47 (2005), 317; Anagnostou, Sabine, ‘The International Transfer of Medicinal Drugs by the Society of Jesus (Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries) and Connections with the Work of Carolus Clusius’, in Carolus Clusius: Towards a Cultural History of a Renaissance Naturalist, ed. Egmond, Florike et al. (Amsterdam, 2007).

27 Jarcho, Quinine's Predecessor, 12–43.

28 Meynell, Materials for a Biography of Sydenham, 52.

29 Letter of 3 Aug. quoted in Dewhurst, Kenneth, Dr. Thomas Sydenham (1624–1689:, His Life and Original Writings (Berkeley, 1966), 59; Kenneth Dewhurst, John Locke (1632–1704): Physician and Philosopher: A Medical Biography (1963), 59. He also gives further particulars in a letter to Locke of 30 Aug. 1679, Dewhurst, Sydenham, 172.

30 Jarcho, Quinine's Predecessor, 52.

31 First Epistle in Epistolae responsoriae duae (1680), English translation reprinted in Source Book of Medical History, ed. Logan Clendening (New York, 1960), 202–3.

32 Harold J. Cook, ‘Goodall, Charles’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,, accessed 1 Feb. 2011; two quarto satirical broadsides, undated, from a bound collection of medical advertisements, British Library shelfmark C.112.f.9, nos. 28 and 29.

33 Dobson, Contours of Death and Disease, 316, referring to Morton's Pyretologia.

34 The English Remedy: Or, Talbor's Wonderful Secret, for Cureing of Agues and Feavers, (1682), 7–10.

35 De Beer, E. S., ed. The Correspondence of John Locke (8 vols., Oxford, 1976), i, 488–9, letter no. 337, 4 June 1677.

36 Referring to the Observationes medicae (1676). In later letters, Sydenham expresses some slight irritation at Locke for not following his directions exactly, which was the reason that ‘your exhibiting the Cortex hath not met with the same success as here’: Correspondence of John Locke, ii, 80–1, letter no. 496, 30 Aug. 1679; also ii, 94–5, letter no. 500, 6 Sept. 1679.

37 Correspondence of John Locke, i, 601–2, letter no. 398, 3 Aug. 1678; and Dewhurst, Sydenham, 171.

38 Pyretologia: A Rational Account of the Cause and Cure of Agues; with their Signs Diagnostick and Prognostick: Also Some Specifick Medicines Prescribed for the Cure of all Sorts of Agues. Also a Short Account of the Cause and Cure of Fevers, and the Griping in the Guts (1672). I suspect that although the title page bears the date 1672, it was not published until late in that year, since it is listed in Robert Clavel, The General Catalogue of Books. To. 1674 (1675) (as a small octavo priced at 1s, but not in Robert Clavel, A Catalogue of All the Books. To. 1672 (1673). On 3 May 1678, the London College of Physicians discussed a letter from the lord chamberlain, Arlington, informing that Tabor had been made a royal physician because he cured the ague so well, and that they should not trouble him: Royal College of Physicians Annals, 128b.

39 The English Remedy, 7–8.

40 Mary Dobson, ‘Sir Robert Tabor’ in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,, accessed 1 Feb. 2011; Brockliss, Laurence and Jones, Colin, The Medical World of Early Modern France (Oxford, 1997), 292, 623.

41 The English Remedy; Le remède anglais pour la guérison des fièvres: publié par ordre du roy. Avec des observations de monsieur le premier médecin de sa majesté sur la composition, les vertus, et l'usage de ce remède (Paris, 1682).

42 On Blégny and d'Aquin – who apparently learned Tabor's secret as early as October 1679, shortly after the latter arrived at the French court – see Brockliss and Jones, Medical World, 301, 320, 625.

43 The English Remedy, 18–19.

44 Ibid., 51.

45 Ibid., 20–6.

46 Ibid., 55–6.

47 Ibid., 29–46.

48 Ibid., 51, 60–1, 65, 68, 69.

49 Ibid., 74–90.

50 Ibid., 65–6.

51 Cook, Harold J., The Decline of the Old Medical Regime in Stuart London (Ithaca, NY, 1986).

52 One example of a multitude: Everard Maynwaring, Tutela Sanitatis. Sive Vita Protracta. The Protection of Long Life, and Detection of its Brevity, from Diatetic Causes and Common Customs (1663).

53 Walter Harris, Pharmacologia Anti-Empirica: Or, a Rational Discourse (1683), 165; the chapter on the bark is xii, 165–92, with praises of Sydenham's account at 188.

54 Boyle, Usefulnesse, 118–19, and Part ii generally, esp. Essay 5 on therapeutics, 117–304.

55 Lettres edifiantes et curieuses, ecrites des missions etrangeres par quelques missions de la Compagnie de Jesus (34 vols., Paris, 1703), vii, 222–32. A fuller account and the translated passages are given in Harold J. Cook, ‘Testing the Effects of Jesuit's Bark in the Chinese Emperor's Court’, James Lind Library Bulletin (2010),'s-bark-in-the-chinese-emperor’ and, accessed 1 Feb. 2011.

56 Barrera, Antonio, ‘Local Herbs, Global Medicines: Commerce, Knowledge, and Commodities in Spanish America’, in Merchants and Marvels: Commerce, Science, and Art in Early Modern Europe, ed. Smith, Pamela H. and Findlen, Paula (New York and London, 2002); Barrera-Osorio, Antonio, Experiencing Nature: The Spanish American Empire and the Early Scientific Revolution (Austin, 2006).

57 Sigrid C. Jacobs, ‘Guaiacum: History of a Drug; a Critico-Analytical Treatise’ (Ph.D. thesis, University of Denver, 1974).

58 Nieuhof, Jan, An Embassy from the East India Company of the United Provinces to the Grand Tartar Cham Emperor of China, trans. Ogilby, John (1669; facsimile, Menston and Harrogate, 1972), 245.

59 O'Malley, Charles D., Andreas Vesalius of Brussels, 1514–1564 (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1964), 216–17.

60 Garcia da Orta, Colloquies on the Simples and Drugs of India, trans. Clements Markham (1913).

61 Bontius, Jacobus, Tropische geneeskunde / on Tropical Medicine, in Opuscula selecta Neerlandicorum de arte medica (19 vols., Amstelodami, 1907–48), x, 32–3.

62 Cowen, David L., ‘The British North American Colonies as a Source of Drugs’, in Veröffentlichungen der Internationalen Gesellschaft für Geschichte Der Pharmazie, ed. Dann, Georg Edmund (Stuttgart, 1966), 4950.

63 Wittop Koning reports that in 1617 the VOC requested 30,000 ‘ponds’ of fresh radix china: Koning, D. A. Wittop, De handel in geneesmiddelen te Amsterdam tot omstreeks 1637 (Purmerend, 1942), 30–1.

64 Nieuhof, Embassy, 245.

65 In Opuscula selecta Neerlandicorum de arte medica, xiv, 4–17.

66 C. J. S. Thompson, The Mystery and Art of the Apothecary (1929), 239–40; Brockliss and Jones, Medical World, 313; Helvetius's son became one of the most famous philosophes of the eighteenth century.

67 Cook, Harold J., ‘Practical Medicine and the British Armed Forces after the “Glorious Revolution”’, Medical History, 34 (1990), 126.

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

69 For a fine historical guide, see Marks, Harry M., The Progress of Experiment: Science and Therapeutic Reform in the United States, 1900–1990 (Cambridge, 1997).

70 A good vernacular example is Thomas Brugis, The Marrow of Phisicke. Or, a Learned Discourse of the Severall Parts of Mans Body (1640).

71 Bontius, Jacobus, De medicina Indorum (Lugduni Batav, 1642), 59106.

72 van Dorssen, J. M. H., ‘Dr. Willem Ten Rhijne and Leprosy in Batavia in the Seventeenth Century’, Janus, 2 (1897), 257–9.

73 Cook, Harold J., ‘The Rose Case Reconsidered: Physicians, Apothecaries, and the Law in Augustan England’, Journal of the History of Medicine, 45 (1990), 527–55.

* I would like to thank John Stewart and Colin Jones for inviting me to speak at the conference on ‘Science and the Human Subject in History’ at Glasgow Caledonian, and to the members of the audience for their thoughtful comments, and the same to the members of the Harvard Working Group on the History of Medicine, with whom I also discussed a version of the paper.

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