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What is Medical History?

ISBN: 978-0-7456-3225-4
160 pages
April 2005, Polity
What is Medical History? (0745632254) cover image

Description

The field of the history of medicine and health has expanded spectacularly in recent times. In What is Medical History? John C. Burnham explores the reasons for this expansion, introducing medical history for those who know little of the subject. He sheds light on a field once written entirely by physicians, but which now attracts not only general historians but also policy makers and health care workers of all kinds.

Burnham explains that people are drawn into reading and writing about five often controversial dramas inherent in the stories of:

  • healers in all times and places, from conjurers to technical specialists;
  • patients from all ages and cultures;
  • diseases, from possession by demons, to infections that expand at the rate of an inch every half hour, to subtle environmental poisons;
  • discovery and the communication of ideas, great and trivial, flawed and brilliant;
  • continuing controversies around ways that health care delivery affected societies - and was shaped by societies and social institutions - through the ages.

Uniting all of these dramas, Burnham shows, was the tension between the forces of medicalization and the forces of demedicalization.

Burnham, a distinguished and versatile historian of medicine and health, offers a colorful introduction to both traditional subjects, such as the evolution of medical instruments, and the latest controversies. In this dynamic field, he contends, the unanswered questions remain as attractive as the scholarship that gives rise to them.

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Table of Contents

Preface vi

Introduction: Where Medical History Came From 1

The First Drama: The Healer 10

The Second Drama: The Sick Person 32

The Third Drama: Diseases 55

The Fourth Drama: Discovering and Communicating Knowledge 80

The Fifth Drama: Medicine and Health Interacting with Society 108

Conclusion: Where Medical History is Going 135

Suggestions for Further Reading 143

Notes 149

Index 154

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Author Information

John Burnham is Research Professor of History and Scholar in Residence in the Medical Heritage Center, The Ohio State University
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The Wiley Advantage


  • What is Medical History? will be an invaluable textbook for all students of the history of medicine and science.

  • The second title in Polity's new series, 'What is History?', designed to be a key introductory textbook for students of the history of medicine and science.

  • Explores the reasons behind the expansion of the field of the history of medicine and health in recent times, for those with no prior knowledge of the subject.

  • Sheds light on a field once written entirely by physicians, but which now attracts not only historians but also policy makers and health care workers of all kinds.

  • Structured around 5 key themes: healers in all times and all places; patients from all ages and cultures; diseases; the discovery and communication of ideas; health care and societies.

  • John Burnham is a distinguished and versatile historian of medicine and health, and here he offers a colourful introduction to both traditional subjects and the latest controversies.
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Reviews

'With examples drawn from a wide time frame, this book shows why successive generations have found the subject of medical history so fascinating. Organized into themes, and written in a lively, accessible style, it gives a balanced account of even the most controversial areas.'

Mark Harrison, Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, University of Oxford

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