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Medicine & Disease

Cocoa plantation on Grenada, 18th century © Bridgeman Images.

In the 18th century, Europeans in the tropics found themselves beset by an array of unpleasant afflictions. They blamed black women, the climate and the strength of their own masculinity.

Frontispiece from Paul Barbette’s The Practice of the Most Successful Physitian (sic), engraving by Frederick Hendrik van Hove, 1675.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, patients were encouraged to snuff, snort and sneeze their way out of a whole range of ailments and illnesses. 

Alexander Morison by Richard Dadd, 1852.

Caring for the mentally ill in Victorian Britain was hard, unrewarding and dangerously unregulated. Alexander Morison tried to improve things for both the unwell and their carers.

Despite the modern obsession with a good night’s rest, more of us are sleeping less. Perhaps we should pay attention to the advice of early modern doctors.

Contrasting the 'deformed' waist with that of the uncorseted one, from Health Made Easy for Young People, 1845.

During the late 18th century the physical effects of tuberculosis became the ideals of beauty for the fashionable woman.

Théodore Tronchin, by Galliard after Liotard, 18th century.

In the fashionable female circles of 18th-century Paris, a physician who recommended fresh air, exercise and looser corsets became a celebrated figure.

The pain of war had at least one positive side-effect: medical advances in haematology.

The legacy of Marie Skłodowska Curie, the world's most famous female physicist, is assured, but in her lifetime she was a controversial figure.

The medical advice in Bald’s Leechbook outlasted the language in which it was written.

René Laënnec examining a patient using a monaural stethoscope. 3D diorama model, c.1950.  © Wellcome Images

The stethoscope revolutionised medicine, but it also provoked anxieties about the unfamiliar sounds it revealed.