Communities Of Healing: Domestic Medicine And Society In Early Modern Italy

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Communities Of Healing: Domestic Medicine And Society In Early Modern Italy

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Many scholars have employed a variety of means to investigate the interactions between the range of people who practiced medicine in the early modern period, from charlatans and midwives to physicians and surgeons. These non-academic practitioners have been marginalized by previous histories of medicine, which reflect both their absence in contemporary printed works as well as the origins of the history of medicine as a field that prioritized finding the roots of modern medical practice. Recovering lay histories requires looking beyond printed treatises to working texts such as formularies, recipe collections, and other ephemera. This project investigates the form, movements, and activities of lay healers and their practices in the medical marketplace of early modern northern and central Italy. In this project, I propose that the anonymous manuscript medical recipe books of laypeople can be dissected to provide further information about not only interactions between healers, but also the theories, supplies, context, and educational practices of non-professional healers. Influenced by works in microhistory, chapters one, two, and three present focused investigations of small groups of manuscripts in order to contextualize the practice of medicine in northern and central Italy. Chapter one examines three manuscript recipe books written by a Capuchin monk, showing how laypeople drew on the rhetoric of printed medical books and offered medical education to their brethren. Chapter three also draws on these manuscripts, but turns to questions of the patient population that the author anticipated his practice would treat. Although information about specific patients is generally lacking in manuscript recipe books, focusing on recipes for women provides a rich set of information from which to draw conclusions about the medical interactions between clerical men and women in surrounding communities. Chapter two is a comparison of recipe writings in manuscript recipe books and in the first pharmacopoeia in Florence, the Ricettario Fiorentino. This comparison lends itself to enlivening how historians understand the ways knowledge changed, circulated, was adopted, or was ignored by both professional and lay healers from the late fifteenth to mid-sixteenth centuries. In chapter four, I claim that manuscript recipe books provide a rich source of information about the material context in which laypeople created medicines and healed their patients. Rather than allowing incongruent themes like veterinary medicine, beauty aids, and mischief to fall to the side for thematic consistency, this chapter asserts that examining all these manuscript recipe book entries together leads to a more holistic picture of the landscape of lay healing in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Italy.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. April 2018. Major: History of Science, Technology, and Medicine. Advisor: Jole Shackelford. 1 computer file (PDF); vii, 302 pages.

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Beck, Emily. (2018). Communities Of Healing: Domestic Medicine And Society In Early Modern Italy. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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