The Politics of Medical Topography

Notes, Summaries & Reviews, Thesis Research

Harriet Deacon, “The Politics of Medical Topography: Seeking healthiness at the Cape during the nineteenth century,” 279-297, in Pathologies of Travel eds. R. Wrigley and G. Revill (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2000).

Deacon focuses primarily upon the imperial, moral, and economic reasons that Cape Town faded as an important health resort spot in the 19th century. It was longer on an important trade route and was unable to compete with Mediterranean or, more significantly, European health resorts in society and status.

I didn’t find a whole lot useful here, mostly because the focus was not on the role that science played in the Cape’s downfall (and attempts to remain relevant). Deacon spends a lot of time fleshing out the moral implications that the developing city with few aristocratic or other high-ranking imperial officials seemed to have for some of those who commented on it. While its climate was originally held to be quite healthful, the discourse on climate and its deterministic role in the making of the individual increasingly cast doubt onto the location’s healthfulness. Deacon argues that this change was one explained better by imperialistic and economic motives than medical or scientific ones.

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)