Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Sharing of Medical Ideas and Information among Early Modern Practitioners by Benjamin Hazard

In this month's blog, Dr Benjamin Hazard (School of History, UCD), writes about a recent scholarly meeting which he co-convened at the Edward Worth Library (1733) in association with UCD Centre for the History of Medicine (CHOMI). The meeting was entitled: 'The Sharing of Medical Ideas and Information among Early Modern Practitioners'.

Early Modern Medicine


To raise awareness of early modern medicine and to develop networks for future research, the UCD Centre for the History of Medicine in Ireland (CHOMI) and the Edward Worth Library presented a conference on Tuesday 2 August entitled 'The Sharing of Medical Ideas and Information among Early Modern Practitioners'. Open to the public with free admission, the event was held at Dr Steevens’ Hospital, founded in 1733. As one of the organisers of the event, I had the pleasure of introducing the meeting and welcoming the large audience in attendance. I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank once again to the Trustees of the Worth Library, to Dr Elizabethanne Boran, the Librarian, and to Dr Catherine Cox, the Director of UCD CHOMI, for their support. Nicole Fleming of Brown University, Visiting Intern at the Edward Worth Library, assisted with proceedings on the day.

With the sharing of medical knowledge as the principal theme, the topics for discussion concentrated on the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Professor James Kelly MRIA of Dublin City University chaired the first sessions.

Viringus and Military Medicine

Dr Hazard explained that early modern physicians held themselves in high regard but Johannes Walterius Viringus, a professor of medicine in Leuven in the late sixteenth century, did not limit the propagation of medical knowledge to his fellow physicians. Dr Hazard described how Viringus wrote a manuscript of medical recipes for military chaplains in Spanish Flanders. This offered them the means for self-medication and illustrates the varied definition of the term practitioner. 

Dr Benjamin Hazard (speaker) with Professor James Kelly (chair)
at the meeting, 'The Sharing of Medical Ideas and Information
among Early Modern Practitioners'
(Dr Steevens' Hospital, 2 August 2016).

Medical Doctors and Classical Learning

Drawing attention to the composition of medical writings, Dr Jason Harris of the Centre for Neo-Latin Studies, University College Cork, explained that communicating in Latin was integral to the sense of identity among physicians. In his paper, Dr Harris examined the use of Latin in a book published by Johannes Walterius Viringus in 1597. Medical doctors were expected to demonstrate their grasp of Classical learning. Familiarity with Latin and Greek helped students recognise medical terms and also distinguished physicians from surgeons.

Book Merchants, Auctions, and the Medical Mind


Dr Elizabethanne Boran presented detailed findings from her investigation of book merchants' catalogues according to criteria such as medical specialities and languages. This shows how the purchase of books containing scientific information helped to shape the medical mind. Auctions reflected book sellers' efforts to anticipate changing tastes while catering for as broad a readership as possible.

Professor Ole Grell


Chaired by Dr Catherine Cox, the keynote lecture was given by the renowned historian of early-modern medicine, Professor Ole Peter Grell of the Open University and the Royal Historical Society. Professor Grell considered the part that Olaus Wormius (1588-1654) played in the Republic of Letters by corresponding with key thinkers in distant places. Wormius, a Danish physician, antiquarian and natural philosopher, is recognised as one of the last great polymaths. Widely-travelled, he completed his medical studies in Basel, Padua, Montpellier and Paris before being called to Copenhagen. An avid collector, he kept his own museum and applied the information gathered in his correspondence to improve medical methods.


Dr Benjamin Hazard,
School of History,
University College Dublin
Dr Benjamin Hazard


Dr Benjamin Hazard (School of History, UCD) was born in London in 1971. He specialises in early-modern history. Among other matters, his research and publications deal with medical humanities with a particular focus on military medicine, its interaction with civilian life, and methods of education. In 2009, Benjamin published his monograph Faith and Patronage: The Political Career of Flaithrí Ó Maolchonaire c.1560–1629.