Western Medicine: An Illustrated History

Western Medicine: An Illustrated History

Western Medicine: An Illustrated History

Western Medicine: An Illustrated History


Covering all periods from Ancient Greece to the present day, this richly illustrated history of medicine offers information and insight on a wide variety of topics. The great milestones of medical history - among them the discovery of the circulation of the blood, vaccination against smallpox, the invention of the X-ray, the development of penicillin - are charted. They are set against the social context of medicine, with accounts of more neglected areas such as patterns of epidemics, the emergence of the medical profession, the history of nursing, unorthodox medical practice, the spread of western medicine beyond Europe and the US, and the patient's viewpoint. Authoritatively and accessibly written by a team of twenty distinguished medical historians and including a helpful glossary, a chronology, and a full index, this is a fascinating introduction to medicine in the west from its beginnings to the present day.


What is medical history, and who are medical historians? The reader may well ask, because many people, if they have heard of medical history at all, believe it is something to do with medical schools and doctors--a sideline in medicine. Even those who are familiar with such subdivisions of history as social, political, economic, and military may be unaware that medical history has expanded so rapidly that it has now become a new and firmly established branch of history, attracting researchers from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Before 1960 there were a few distinguished historians of medicine, such as Charles Singer, Fielding Garrison, Henry Sigerist, Erwin Acknernecht, and George Rosen--most, it should be noted, US scholars--but it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that the sum total of such medical historians could be counted on the fingers of both hands. All this has changed over the last thirty years. There has been a rapid expansion of medical history in North America and Europe. In the UK, where it is increasingly true that a new academic discipline can thrive only if it attracts funds, there can be no doubt that the expansion of medical history owes a great deal to Sir Henry Wellcome, the founder of the pharmaceutical firm first known as Burroughs-Wellcome, then as the Wellcome Foundation, and recently (as the result of a merger) as Glaxo-Wellcome.

In his will, Wellcome left instructions that the profits from his company should, through the creation of the Wellcome Trust, be used to support medical research. He also stipulated that a proportion of those funds should be used to support the history of medicine. The Trust has thrived and the annual expenditure of the Trust on the history of medicine has grown (in round figures) from £49,000 in 1976/7 to £233,000 in 1980/1, £1.8 million in 1989/90, and £3.7 million in 1993/4. A large part of these funds has been used to support and expand the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine in London, which began as a museum and a library with only a few staff and is now by far the largest institution of its kind in the world. The Trust has also created history of medicine departments (known as 'Wellcome Units') in a growing number of universities, and provided funds to establish lectureships, fellowships, and scholarships.

The character of medical history has changed as it has expanded. Before the 1960s it was largely concerned with the history of the 'great men' of medicine, medical discoveries, and famous medical institutions. Now the emphasis has shifted towards the social history of medicine, with emphasis on the sick as well as their doctors, and on the health of populations. Strong links have been established between medical history, on the one hand, and social and economic history, historical demography and geography, and epidemiology, on the other. Before the 1960s very little had been published, for example, on the politics and economics of medical care, on the influence of changes in social, economic, and medical factors on the health of the populations, or on the his-

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