You may know that I have been working on a transcription of a handwritten collection of medical recipes from the 1600s that will be the source document for my thesis. I finally finished the 2nd pass through of transcription this week after working on it for at least 18 months. Accomplishing this milestone made me think back to why I was interested in this in the first place.
Several years ago I took a class in world history. After searching around for a topic for the term paper, I finally decided to write about medical advice and recipes for treatment of gynecological and childbirth issues in medieval England. I was surprised to find that suggested treatments for the gynecological issues were often right-on according to modern technology, at least if you think like a women in medieval England. It was believed that menstrual blood could be toxic if it built up in the body. Therefore, having a regular period was of high priority. Poor diet, however, often caused irregular periods and pregnancy could not be known until movement of the fetus was first felt several months after conception. Many of the herbs they used are known abortifacients (causing abortion) and others are known to restart a stalled period. While no doubt some women purposely caused abortions, others took these herbs without knowing they were pregnant. In any case, whether a woman was pregnant or not, by taking these herbs she achieved the desired result of restarting the period. (The treatments for childbirth issues on the other hand seemed very strange and superstitious to me).
Before this, I thought that medieval medicine was based on ignorant and unhelpful theories. Thankfully I have come a long way in adjusting my attitude to culture and beliefs in earlier time periods. In any case, this jump started my interest in social history, of which medicine is still an important part.
What caught your fancy and got you started in researching social history?