Preprint Articles

Iatrochemistry and the Evaluation of Mineral Waters in France, 1600–1750

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Friday, May 5, 2017
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Existing literature on mineral springs in early modern France suggests that composition played a minor role in the evaluation of those springs. In fact it played a major role from at least the beginning of the seventeenth century. Composition was studied by a wide range of actors, from physicians in the provinces to chemists at the Paris Academy of Science, with a view to establishing the efficacy of particular springs against particular diseases. Iatrochemistry played a complex role in these evaluations. Followers of Paracelsus and van Helmont were among the first to perform chemical analyses on mineral waters. But there were physicians who studied composition without chemistry, or who used chemistry while opposing iatrochemistry. Conversely, there were iatrochemists who used chemistry to study mineral waters but not to evaluate them, and there were many chemists who gave at least as much weight to clinical experience as they did to composition.

KEYWORDS: chemistry, iatrochemistry, Paris Academy of Science, chemical composition, Passy spa, France, mineral waters, Paracelsus, Jan Baptist van Helmont, medicine

Playing God: Testing, Modeling, and Imitating Blood Miracles in Eighteenth-Century Europe

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Friday, May 5, 2017
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In the late Middle Ages, rumors began to spread throughout Europe regarding blood miracles associated with the relics of martyrs. Centuries-old blood, pulverized or solidified and black in color, was said to return to its original bright red color, or else to liquefy or bubble under certain circumstances or on certain dates in the liturgical calendar. With the Reformation, in Protestant countries most of these relics were either destroyed or forgotten. In Catholic countries, on the contrary, blood miracles multiplied, reaching a peak between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This article reconstructs the debate that sprang up in eighteenth-century Europe over the blood of Saint Januarius and the attempts made to disprove its miraculous properties, often not in written works, but by staging highly theatrical demonstrations. It examines the way in which, with phenomena as complex as miracles, the activities of testing alleged facts, creating elucidative models, and staging imitations intertwined over the centuries, often overlapping and becoming confused.

KEYWORDS: blood, miracles, Naples, test, imitation, model

Pharmacy, Testing, and the Language of Truth in Renaissance Italy

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Friday, May 5, 2017
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This article examines the role of testing and innovation in sixteenth-century Italian pharmacy. I argue that apothecaries were less concerned with testing drugs for efficacy or creating novel products than with reactivating an older Mediterranean pharmacological tradition and studying the materials on which it relied. Their practice was not driven by radical experimentation but by a “culture of tweaking”–of minute operational changes to existing recipes and accommodation of their textual variants–which was rooted in the guild economy fostering incremental over radical innovation and in a humanist reevaluation of past autorities. Workshop practice was also increasingly driven by a new ideal of staying true to nature fostered by the period’s botanical renaissance. This led to an emphasis on ingredients over processes in the shop, and found clearest expression in the elaboration of a taxonomic “language of truth” that helped apothecaries discern between authentic and inauthentic materia medica and harness their sincerity in lieu of testing effectiveness.

KEYWORDS: drug testing, drug adulteration, natural history, Italian pharmacy, materia medica, botanical terminology, taxonomy, authenticity, apothecaries, artisans

Experimental Clinical Medicine and Drug Action in Mid-Seventeenth-Century Leiden

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Friday, May 5, 2017
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Leiden University boasted one of the most popular and influential medical schools of the mid-seventeenth century, drawing hundreds of students from across Europe. These students participated in the revival of frequent clinical instruction, anatomical and chymical experiments, and even tests of supposed disease-causing substances and remedies on living animals and humans. Comparing records of cases from the hospital clinic with the professors’ treatises and student-authored disputations shows that old and new theories of disease and drug action were hotly contested and often tested, including the claims of the leading professors at the school. Though notable exemplars of their work received sharp criticism and rejection from contemporaries and subsequent generations, Leiden students and professors united chymistry, postmortem autopsy, anatomical experiments, and clinical tests, often aiming at discovery. They enacted one, perhaps ephemeral, instance of experimental, clinical medicine well before its putative modern birth.

KEYWORDS: experiment, Leiden, clinic, students, professors, Franciscus Dele Boë Sylvius, Reinier de Graaf

On Anecdote and Antidotes: Poison Trials in Sixteenth-Century Europe

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Friday, May 5, 2017
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This article describes the use of poison trials, in which an animal or a condemned criminal was poisoned, to test antidotes in sixteenth-century Europe. In contrast to most drug testing in medieval and early modern Europe, which was gathered in the normal course of therapeutic experience, the poison trial was a contrived, deliberate event. I argue that poison trials had an important function in both medical testing and medical writing in the period between 1524–1580. While poison trials dated back to antiquity, they tended to be described in medieval texts as theoretical possibilities rather than empirical tests that had already occurred. In contrast, early modern physicians conducted poison trials and described them as anecdotes in medical texts. Although physicians did not explicitly separate poison trials from evidence gathered in the course of regular therapeutic experience, they did imbue the outcome of poison trials with considerable epistemological weight.

KEYWORDS: experiment, poison, early modern, trials, experience

Testing Drugs and Attesting Cures: Pharmaceutical Monopolies and Military Contracts in Eighteenth-Century France

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Friday, May 5, 2017
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This article explores the role of testing in the allocation of royal monopoly privileges for drugs in eighteenth-century France by following the multi-generational fortunes of a single “secret remedy” from 1713 to 1776: the poudre fébrifuge of the Chevalier de Guiller. On at least five occasions, this drug was tested on patients in order to decide whether it should be protected by a privilege and whether or not its vendors should be awarded lucrative contracts to supply it in bulk to the French military. Although efforts were made early in the century to test the drug through large-scale hospital trials and to relegate privilege granting to a bureaucratic commission, the case of the poudre fébrifuge instead suggests that military expediency and relatively small-scale trials administered personally by royal practitioners remained decisive in determining whether or not a drug received a monopoly privilege or a military contract.

KEYWORDS: pharmacy, military medicine, early modern France, testing, privilege

The Live Chicken Treatment for Buboes: Trying a Plague Cure in Medieval and Early Modern Europe

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Friday, May 5, 2017
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This article traces a seven-hundred-year history of one puzzling treatment for plague buboes that used the rumps of chickens to draw out the bubo’s poisons. It traces the origin of the recipe to Avicenna’s Canon and explores how medieval and early modern physicians altered the treatment and explained its workings up to the early eighteenth century. Much of the analysis focuses on the variants of the recipe that German physicians created as they adapted or elaborated on older recipes. This article argues that most variations of the treatment likely resulted from physicians trying ideas on paper, rather than in practice, as they attempted to unlock the mysteries of the plague’s underlying poisons. Starting in the sixteenth century, however, evidence suggests that practice began to play an important role in the adaptation and interpretation of the “live chicken” recipes.

KEYWORDS: poison, bubo, chicken, German physicians, Avicenna, recipe, empirical practices, plague medicine

Testing Drugs and Trying Cures: Experiment and Medicine in Medieval and Early Modern Europe

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Friday, May 5, 2017
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This article examines traditions of testing drugs (as substances) and trying cures (on patients) in medieval and early modern Europe. It argues that the history of drug testing needs to be a more central story to overall histories of scientific experiment. The practice of conducting thoughtful—and sometimes contrived—tests on drugs has a rich and varied tradition dating back to antiquity, which expanded in the Middle Ages and early modern period. Learned physicians paired text-based knowledge (reason) with hands-on testing (experience or experiment) in order to make claims about drugs’ properties or effects on humans. Lay practitioners similarly used hands-on testing to gain knowledge of pharmaceutical effects. Although drug testing practices expanded in scale, actors, and sites, there was significant continuity from the Middle Ages to the eighteenth century.

KEYWORDS: tests, trials, experiment, experience, reason

Determining a Drug’s Properties: Medieval Experimental Protocols

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Friday, May 5, 2017
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Among Galenic texts attracting attention circa 1300 was De complexionibus, which described a crude protocol for determining the qualitative character and intensity of any given medicine. This caught the attention of physicians at Montpellier, where three generations of writers made it into a carefully structured test procedure for identifying by a via experimenti the nature of a drug’s effect on healthful function: they introduced a null point as the referent for their measurements, identified a range of contingent factors that had to be controlled for, and devised ways to standardize the sample being tested. Their protocol was certainly designed to be used, but in practice they seemed to have preferred an alternative via rationis that inferred the effect of a medicine from sensory attributes like taste and color, acknowledging that taste tests were coarser and less certain than a structured experimental procedure, but were easier and quicker to perform than the elaborate alternative.

KEYWORDS: Montpellier, Galen, experimentum, protocols, degree