Medical History blogs

I am working on some deadlines for my thesis, so this will be a short blog this week. I thought I would share some of the blogs I have come across that cover medical history. They are great resources to learn more about the medical practices that were common, or at least available, during you ancestor’s lives.

Please let me know if there are any that you follow. Enjoy!
These 3 I follow and highly recommend:

These look interesting, but I haven’t yet had a chance to look at them in detail


Adding Social History via Blogs

It used to be that we  couldn’t trust what we found on the internet. There are still certainly many cases where that is true, but there are now some very helpful blogs and websites out there that are well researched and documented. As my current interest is medicine in the early modern period (which was almost exactly the same as medicine in colonial New England), I have found some blogs that tie right in. They are written by experts in the field and are well documented.

Early Modern Medicine is written by Dr. Jennifer Evans, lecturer in history at the University of Hertfordshire. Her research interest is medicine, the body and gender in early modern Europe. Recent blog posts covered topics ranging from treatment and beliefs about the heart and heart maladies, rheumatism and humors, and using unicorn horns to treat poison. Other experts in the field often post as well. On her blogroll page, she has a nice listing of related sites. She is on Twitter at @UniofHerts

The Recipes Project: Food, Magic, Science and Medicine is written by an international group of scholars interested in recipes. Recent posts include medicine as an exact science (using specific measurements so ingredients work in harmony rather than cancelling each other out), examining social networks using maps and documents to examine how recipes are collected for a 17th century manuscript, and a 17th century cure-all recipe. The Recipes Project can also be found on Twitter and Facebook (see the About page) and they had such interesting entries that I was distracted from blog writing for a while.  They also have a further reading page.

Hx: Medical Historia is written by Paul Middleton, a medical historian. Recent posts include early treatments for insomnia, the magic of the mythical unicorn horn that is included in many recipes, and sarsaparilla. He can also be found on twitter: @Paul_Middleton1

What are some of your favorite well-researched blogs to add social history context to your genealogical research?

Foodways in the Northeast II: A Second Helping

I just returned from a weekend in Historic Deerfield where I attended the Dublin Seminar New England Folklife for the first time. They have been holding this event for more than 30 years, covering such diverse topics as medicine and healing, foodways (food history), textiles, family life, women’s work, diaries, probate inventories, Connecticut doors, life on the commons and in the streets and many more.

The talks from the conference are published a few years after the conference and are available for purchase here. It’s a wonderful collection and I own many of these books as part of my social history collection. This year the talks focused on food history and covered such diverse topics as Indian corn and social identity, the cod industry, dining interactions between the colonists and the Wampanoags, dining and education in boarding schools over the past 200 years, how food and recipes are often used politically and modern indigenous cuisine in New England. I was especially interested in those that dealt with colonial New England or with the “common folk.”

I am not a food historian and before the conference wasn’t all that interested in food history. But I know that in the colonial period, food and medicine very much overlapped and recipe (or receipt) books often contained both culinary and medicinal recipes. So I went hoping that I would make some new contacts through networking and to learn a little more about food history.
I came away with several new friends, and just as important, a new appreciation for food history and it’s role in social history. I will use some of the new resources I learned about as starting points to learn more about food and its role in our ancestors lives.

The Pharmacy Museum in New Orleans

I was in New Orleans for a business trip and took some time to visit the Pharmacy Museum. The museum is the first pharmacy whose owner passed the new licensing exams in the early 1800s. The best part about the museum was all of the information it had about illnesses, treatments and displays of medical instruments.

I love looking at all the old bottles. Many of them still had some of the original medicine left in them.


I found the information on injections and syringes especially fascinating. I had no idea that they have been around for about 2000 years. These pictures show the wide variety of instruments that were used.



This was another display that had to do with bloodletting, in order to balance the humors.


Understanding medicine in various locations and time periods is one of my passions and I will always visit any museums I can find that portray this. What are your passions and your favorite museums?

Thesis Research on Domestic Medicine

Learning about the daily life of women, children and families in colonial New England is one of my passions. I work in medical research as a statistician, and am especially interested in how mothers treated illness in their family before calling in a doctor in the 1600s and 1700s. By today’s standards, there were not a lot of good options available to them. But our knowledge and belief systems are not the correct way to gauge or judge our ancestors. Rather, we need to learn about and come to understand their knowledge and belief systems, and make any judgements within the context of their systems, not our systems.

The medical system in the 1600s was a complex mix of scientific theories dating back to 200 CE, superstition, folklore, and astrology. The predominating theory in the 1600s was based on Hippocrates ideas, and Galen’s expansion of those theories. Galenic medicine states that there were 4 humors in the body and disease was caused when the humors were out of balance. Treatments were designed to bring the humors back into balance. Treatments from the doctor often included cupping, venesection (bleeding) or food or herbal treatments.

Home remedies primarily included food and herbal treatments. However, treatments derived from the belief that astrological events strengthened the power of some treatments, or magical properties of plants or objects, are also found.  Medical scientific theory began to change in this time period and alchemy, or the use of metals such as mercury, began to be used.

My thesis research to complete my Master’s in History is a case study of a book of medicinal recipes passed down through several generations of women in colonial New England. I will examine which types of recipes (receipts in colonial-speak) are in this book, whether this mix of recipes changed over time, and if these recipes are similar to other recipe books of the same time frame.

As medicine is such an important part of any time period, I encourage you to learn more about the medical theories and treatments that were used in the time period you are researching. As I continue my research, I will occasionally post what I am learning. I hope that you will also share what you are learning in the comments field.