“An adept in medicine”

M. D. Eddy, “‘An adept in medicine’: the Reverend Dr William Laing, nervous complaints and the commodification of spa water,” Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 39 (2008): 1-13.

Dr. Laing (1742-1812) wrote two works on a town with mineral waters — Peterhead, Scotland — and used his knowledge of medical chemistry (along with testimonials) to explain the therapeutic powers of the waters. Eddy employs this as a case study through which to acquire a better understanding of the development and deployment of medico-scientific knowledge in explaining the therapeutic powers of spa water and its relationship to therapeutic commodification.

This study is outside of the timeline and geographic constraints of my work, but it provides a good historical perspective, and Eddy’s approach and the language he uses to describe some of the things I’m seeing in Eureka Springs are very helpful.

Eddy tries to connect what is in the pamphlets written by Laing to lay knowledge of chemistry. One way he does this is by citing examples of chemistry popping up in vernacular publications like Scots Magazine and William Buchan’s Domestic medicine. I wonder if I could find similar examples (in newspapers? Popular household books on medicine?) of a chemical and/or climatological perspective to health/healing…

Really good sentences/phrases:

“To bolster the Lodge’s attempt to make the water a therapeutic commodity, Laing strategically appropriated practices and theories that were the domain of medical chemistry. As the eighteenth century saw a proliferation of chemically oriented mineral well pamphlets, his work was part of a larger genre that sought to use chemistry to commodify the substances contained in local spa water.” (2)

“It is… the purpose of this essay to use Laing as a case study to investigate both the making of a local medical authority and, by extension, the skills that allowed him to transform the substances contained in Peterhead’s mineral water into viable medical commodities.” (2)

“…he [Laing] was keen to connect the chemical composition of Peterhead Well to contemporary therapeutics so that its contents could be commodified alongside the other tourist attractions of the town.” (3)

“…the commodification of naturally occurring pharmaceuticals.” (4)

“Although mineral waters were historically held to have medicinal properties, pharmacology in Enlightenment Scotland used a chemical rationale to explain how the material composition of the water could be used therapeutically to restore health. This type of chemical pharmacology was in full swing by the 1750s…” (5)

“…Laing believed that his knowledge of chemistry strengthened his role as a medical authority.” (11)

“…though Laing’s views on chemistry were shaped by university-based medical professors, his Peterhead pamphlets show that he and his target audience were well attuned to the basic contours of chemical practice and theory.” (11)

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