The Project

Pharmacy as a Laboratory of Modernity

From the Early Enlightenment the pharmacy (as a place) served as a testing ground in which scientific and medical processes and concepts were developed. It was a space where economic transactions and consumer decisions took place. It was a space where innovative chemical experiments were conducted and from which they were publicised in journals and treatises. It was a space where luxury and consumer articles such as coffee, chocolate, make up and a whole range of other wares could be bought. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the pharmacy and the apothecary were very often one of the first and more reliable options for medical care amongst patients who couldn’t afford to consult academically educated physicians. The 18th and 19th centuries saw an unparalleled growth in the provision of competing medications and the modern era was defined by an increasing focus on pharmaceutically-based therapies. By identifying pharmacy as a regulated domain for analysis, experimentation and development of modern models of medicinal therapy and production (I), science and industry (II), commerce and social communication (III) this project will argue how pharmacy can be seen as a ‘laboratory’ in which these three master narratives of modernity are united.

Recent research in medical humanities has challenged traditional perspectives on modern medical history. This viewed the emergence of modern medicine simply: as the triumph of Enlightenment over the body’s ills after the benighted pre-scientific period. Today, medical modernization is understood as a complex process full of contradictory and irrational cultural negotiations between physicians, natural scientists and the public sphere. I am interested in pharmacy because being the most common form of medical care among the working and middle-classes in the modern era, pharmacy offers us a narrative of medical modernization as it was actually experienced and managed by patients, physicians, apothecaries, and chemists.

Prescriptions and Side-Effects: Literature and Pharmacy 1700-1900

The project will address the material mediation of the master narratives of medical and aesthetic modernization in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It holds that pharmacy (the discipline), pharmaceuticals (the materials), and the pharmacist (their author) were key domains in which modern scientific, medical and economic idioms were developed and tested and that this process is inseparable from literary discourse, which, in Jürgen Link’s definition, is historically the prime medium for interdiscursive reflection and deliberation in the public sphere. In merging analysis of material culture with medical theory and by uniting cultural history with analysis of scientific modernization, the project aims to advance our understanding of modernity’s archaeology of knowledge and the social history of literature while providing models for understanding current medical issues and debates.

Science Museum London Knowledge Exchange Fellowship 2015-2016

Working with the curators and experts of the Wellcome Medical Collections at the Science Museum in London, this project will focus on the material dimensions of medical therapy to tell the history of medicines and the technological, economic, and cultural conditions of their discovery and delivery. Focusing especially on the treatment of lung disease in the nineteenth century through the lens of the smallest of objects and simplest of technologies (pills, steam, inhalation devices) can enable powerful and provocative accounts of both the private and socio-historical dimensions of medicine. As Science Museum Research Fellow he will spend the first half of 2016 in the Science Museum’s new Research Centre where he will be working in partnership with the museum’s curators while they redesign their Medical History display (due for completion in 2019). Alongside this major long-term project, activities will include workshops with lung-disease stakeholders and education specialists, outreach sessions, and public events during 2016. Finally they will aim to develop a web presence with a view to finding new forms of disseminating research on pharmaceutical history.

More information will follow soon.