Disease and Medicine in World History

Disease and Medicine in World History

Disease and Medicine in World History

Disease and Medicine in World History


Disease and Medicine in World History is a concise introduction to diverse ideas about diseases and their treatment throughout the world. Drawing on case studies from ancient Egypt to present-day America, Asia and Europe, this survey discusses concepts of sickness and forms of treatment in many cultures.Sheldon Watts shows that many medical practices in the past were shaped as much by philosophers and metaphysicians as by university-trained doctors and other practitioners.Subjects covered include:* Pharaonic Egypt and the pre-conquest New World* the evolution of medical systems in the Middle East* health and healing on the Indian subcontinent* medicine and disease in China* the globalization of disease in the modern world* the birth and evolution of modern scientific medicine.This volume is a landmark contribution to the field of world history. It covers the principal medical systems known in the world, based on extensive original research. Watts raises questions about globalization in medicine and the potential impact of infectious diseases in the present day.


In the last 15 years or so, the discipline of World History has finally come of age. Before that time, courses listed in college catalogs as "world history" tended to be little more than the history of western Europe and America. Though short sections did of course deal with Non-western history, their main apparent purpose was to explain the mess the rest of the world had been in before it was "rescued" by the progressive West.

Nowadays, this Eurocentric perspective has been tossed over the side. It has been replaced by a Global History which at least aims to be more truly universal. Among its other attributes, this new global history recognizes that the real world in times past consisted of a very large number of culture groups, each of which was distinct and separate from the others.

Within this short book, limitations of space permit me only to touch on certain medical aspects of five or six Non-western societies or sets of societies: ancient Egypt and native pre-Columbian America, the Islamic Middle East, India, China. Ancient Greece - when seen from some (not all) disciplinary perspectives - was also a Non-western society. As will be demonstrated, each of these societies (or groupings of societies) developed a cluster of formal medical systems which co-existed with various forms of empirical medicine.

Given that World History is essentially a new discipline, so too is Medical History as the field is now coming to be understood. In the old days most medical history was written in the West by retired medical doctors or by nationalist historians whose primary aim was to glorify the great medical men of the past. The names of these heroes were engraved on the cornices of monumental buildings like the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene - where they can still be seen today.

However, my own conceptualization of the subject has little to do with "great men." As a medico-cultural historian, I regard all past approaches to sickness and healing as aspects of the great diversity which always has been a core aspect of Homo sapiens sapiens (humankind).

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.