My research questions

This is part of a paper given at the Roehampton University Postgraduate Conference, 17 June 2010

With the background to 18th-century medicine and medical recipes given in the last two posts, below are my research questions and some preliminary thinking. I’d welcome comments on anything I’ve missed or areas you think are interesting to pursue.

  • What effects did the professionalisation of medicine have on the nature and usage of medical recipe collections?

The scope of domestic remedies might be expected to contract in the face of more readily available medical assistance; the collections might contain more remedies obtained from or authorised by doctors; and the function of such collections might tend more towards recording of recipes for posterity than their day-to-day use.

  • Did proprietary medicines and the growth of a consumer society have an impact on the content of domestic remedies and vice versa?

The greater availability of simple and compound ingredients might lead to different elements being used to make up the recipes and simpler methods of manufacture; manuscript collections would be expected to include more recipes obtained from proprietary sources, which in their turn derive from frequently used recipes.

  • Were men involved in domestic medicine and if so who, to what degree and why?

The simplistic answer is yes, since several collections were compiled by men; many diaries reveal men of the time to be hypochondriacs, and perhaps their health was too important to them to be left to a ‘mere’ woman.

  • Did the rise of the ‘lady of leisure’ mean less effort put into manufacturing medicines within the household, or did the developing culture of domesticity ensure its continuance?

A true lady of leisure might well have left the actual manufacture to her servants, but conduct manuals recommend her continuing involvement in the choice and provision of medicines as well as food for the household. It will be interesting to attempt to establish whether this was seen by the women themselves as one way of retaining some authority in this area when the rest of medicine was becoming almost exclusively male dominated.

  • Did the role of women in domestic and community healthcare change as their ability to work in any aspect of medicine was further constrained?

This is an interesting one. Women were not allowed to train as physicians, although there were a few female surgeons, but in the wider view of healthcare there was still a role for a kind of Lady Bountiful, particularly in helping the poor. It may be that the more subservient relationship of women to physicians that developed was more a question of class than gender, which is difficult to judge since much of the evidence we have is inevitably skewed towards the more affluent. Interestingly, however, it could also be said that if one takes account of the work of folklorists, who were prevalent from at least the 19th century but were recording country sayings and practices from before that, the everyday remedies of the semi-literate who passed down their wisdom in the form of sayings and proverbs, and therefore the healing activities of what might be terms the ‘wise women’, may well be better preserved than those of the more literate.

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