Open Access (free)
Medicine and culture in the nineteenth century

This collaborative volume explores changing perceptions of health and disease in the context of the burgeoning global modernities of the long nineteenth century. During this period, popular and medical understandings of the mind and body were challenged, modified, and reframed by the politics and structures of ‘modern life’, understood in industrial, social, commercial, and technological terms. Bringing together work by leading international scholars, this volume demonstrates how a multiplicity of medical practices were organised around new and evolving definitions of the modern self. The study offers varying and culturally specific definitions of what constituted medical modernity for practitioners around the world in this period. Chapters examine the ways in which cancer, suicide, and social degeneration were seen as products of the stresses and strains of ‘new’ ways of living in the nineteenth century, and explore the legal, institutional, and intellectual changes that contributed to both positive and negative understandings of modern medical practice. The volume traces the ways in which physiological and psychological problems were being constituted in relation to each other, and to their social contexts, and offers new ways of contextualising the problems of modernity facing us in the twenty-first century.

Hysterical tetanus in the Victorian South Pacific

In this chapter, Daniel Simpson delineates a complex model of imperial and cultural entanglement in the context of the death of the naval captain James Graham Goodenough under a hail of poisonous arrows on the Santa Cruz Islands in 1875. This was a moment in which previously vague British fears of the poisons of Santa Cruz were seemingly confirmed. However, the ship’s surgeon, Adam Brunton Messer, pointed to certain medical, cultural, and environmental factors that countered this popular hysteria. Superstitious dread of the reputed poisons of the region, Messer argued, had predisposed British sailors to a nervous irritability which either mimicked or encouraged the onset of tetanus. Furthermore, he insisted, endemic neurosis amongst sailors was responsible for the increasing prevalence of tetanus in the wounds of those struck by ostensibly poisonous arrows. Drawing upon new psychopathological understandings of the relations between mind and body, Messer effectively collapsed any distinctions between ‘civilised’ and ‘uncivilised’ peoples clashing in the South Pacific by imagining that modern medical education might work in both cases to supplant antiquated superstitions and anecdotal evidence. His medical hypotheses, deployed at a juncture of intense intercultural contact, served both to characterise and to realise a form of medical modernity.

in Progress and pathology
Daktar Binodbihari Ray Kabiraj and the metaphorics of the nineteenth-century Ayurvedic body

. 7 In fact, Chatterjee's entry point into the question had been precisely through the actor's category of ‘ adhunikata ’ or ‘modernity’ amongst nineteenth-century Bengali intellectuals. Along similar lines and more recently, Dipesh Chakrabarty has called for the ‘provincializing’ of European modernity. 8 The argument I want to pursue here, however, is not merely that there are many medical modernities. Of course there are and the introduction to this

in Progress and pathology
Open Access (free)

. 32 This particular disease of modern life carried different meanings in different social, cultural, and political contexts. Part of the function of this collection, then, is to register both the disciplinary convergences that give rise to such diagnoses, and the varying and culturally specific conditions of what constituted medical modernity around the world. Nineteenth-century anxieties about health and modernity have attracted a good deal of attention in recent scholarship, much of this focusing upon discrete disease

in Progress and pathology