Modern Airs, Waters, Places

Notes, Summaries & Reviews, Thesis Research

The Bulletin of the History of Medicine put out a special issue in the winter of 2012 that focused on the resilience and evolution of the “airs, waters, places tradition.” (It was edited by Alison Bashford and Sarah Tracey — the latter is on my MA committee!!!)

Though the contributors are for the most part concerned with the 20th century, the introduction to the issue contains some historiographical information about studies on climate that are incredibly helpful for getting my feet wet.

First off, it looks like historians studying climatology have been arguing for some time that the traditional signposts of modern medicine — germ theory and bacteriology — did not alter the way that laypeople, physicians, or scientists understood wellness and disease. Rather, “…microorganisms continued to be understood in relation to an environmentally shaped human physiology…[and]…[m]edical men continued to gather and assess meteorological data in minute detail long after microorganisms were known to be necessary and sufficient to cause disease.” (504)

Inventing Caribbean Climates

Notes, Summaries & Reviews, Thesis Research

Mark Carey, “Inventing Caribbean Climates: How Science, Medicine and Tourism Changed Tropical Weather from Deadly to Healthy,” Osiris 26, no. 1 (2011): 129-141.

In this piece, Carey traces changing European and North American perceptions of Caribbean climates from 1750-1950. He argues that these understandings were not shaped only by the climactic science; rather, they were constructed around multiple considerations, including “…environmental conditions, knowledge systems, social relations, politics, and economics.” (129) Carey understands these ideas, then, to be culturally constructed and argues, in line with most recent studies on climate, for the cultural construction of climate.

Purity and Danger



Douglas claims that the book is “a late blow struck in the battle which anthropology in the 1940s and 1950s was fighting against racism.” What characterized this “battle,” and was it within or without the field itself? Why this time period?

Are all anthropologists social constructionists, or have we just been reading a lot of those that are?

Juxtaposition between psychological understandings of cultural practice and sociological/cultural ones; can we flesh this out? Is this understanding a ritual from an individual’s perspective, analyzing it as their own personal beliefs and linking these beliefs to their overall cosmologies versus placing the ritual in a cultural context, in which it is instead a method of mass cultural control?

How can we apply Douglas’s insights to medical ritual? How can I apply them to conceptions of pollution around Eureka Springs?
Could use this to analyze the separate spring for ES’s African American citizens.
The water, in the 1890s, began to be marketed as “pure” — could I take this framework and flip it to look at the opposite of pollution? Disease was understood (by some) as a blockage, an anomaly, in the healthy system, and the pure springwater was supposed to cleanse it by breaking down the dirt and flushing it out.
Pathological modernity as a transgression against the body’s natural proclivity to balance and maintain itself. Nature as punisher for transgressions of urbanization/industrialization (clogging up body) and ultimate savior (its waters as cleansing tonics).

Water Cures and Science

Notes, Summaries & Reviews, Thesis Research

George Weisz, “Water Cures and Science: The french Academy of Medicine and Mineral Waters in the Nineteenth Century,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 64, no. 3 (1990): 393-416.

In this piece, Weisz discusses institutional and individual attempts in nineteenth century France to place mineral waters and the therapies that involved them on a biomedical, statistical, and chemical foundation of therapeutic efficacy. He argues that the different way in which spa therapies are understood, utilized, and supported in Europe versus in North America is due to the medical and scientific fields’ support of hydrotherapy in the former, where it is largely absent in the latter.

Chemistry, Medicine, and the Legitimization of English Spas, 1740-1840

Notes, Summaries & Reviews, Thesis Research

Christopher Hamlin, “Chemistry, Medicine, and the Legitimization of English Spas, 1740-1840,” Medical History, Supplement No. 10 (1990): 67-81.

Hamlin, much like he does in A Science of Impurity, discusses the role of chemistry in the legitimization of health spas. He argues that their domination of the conversation was not due to any sort of revolution in techniques — there were actually a lot of widely recognized problems with analyzing mineral waters — but due to a myriad of factors that included the rise of the profession as a whole and individual chemists’ abilities to assert their ability to explain scientifically and objectively the concrete reasons for different spas’ medical effects.

Medical advertising and trust in late Georgian England

Notes, Summaries & Reviews, Thesis Research

Hannah Barker, “Medical advertising and trust in late Georgian England,” Urban History 36, no. 3 (2009): 379-398.

Baker brings sociological theories of trust to bear on the proliferation of medical advertisements in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in four English towns. Using a statistical approach, she evaluates what sorts of rhetorical strategies were used to advertise patent medicines and asks what this can tell us about the people that were purchasing the tinctures and their construction of trust.

“The Most Difficult Part of Chemistry”

Notes, Summaries & Reviews, Thesis Research

Noel G. Coley, “Physicians, Chemists and the Analysis of Mineral Waters: ‘The Most Difficult Part of Chemistry,'” Medical History, Supplement no. 10 (1990): 56-66.

Coley approaches the historical practice of analyzing mineral waters as someone interested in the development and refinement of analytical chemistry techniques. This isn’t particularly useful for my research, but her work does provide a good historical account of what sorts of problems chemists have had in analyzing natural waters and what sorts of techniques they have used and developed.

“An adept in medicine”

Notes, Summaries & Reviews, Thesis Research

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.

From medical chemistry to biochemistry

Notes, Thesis Research

Robert E. Kohler, From medical chemistry to biochemistry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982).

“European ideals and American realities, 1870-1900”

Many early American chemists trained in Germany, and as a result, “American biochemical institutions between 1875 and 1900 strongly resembled German institutions.” (95)

Imperial Leather

Notes, Summaries & Reviews

Overall impression:

If you’re looking for an example of intersectionality — the idea that gender, race, and class are categories that create and reinforce on another — this book is an excellent example of a history where those issues are addressed without losing any of their complexity. I really get what people are saying about them all being hopelessly intertwined and complicated.

It’s also an excellent example of how different history looks when you take a gendered approach to something. It’s not a feminist history — McClintock spends as much time discussing masculinity as she does femininity — but because it focuses on the domestic sphere, it is able to get at women’s experiences in a way that most histories don’t.