Identify at least three methods that preindustrial people used in treating illness and disease and explain what these medical practices indicate about preindustrial attitudes toward human ability to effect change.


Historical Background

Preindustrial people faced epidemic and endemic diseases. Epidemic diseases, such as the plague, struck quickly and unexpectedly, often dramatically reducing town and village populations. Endemic diseases, such as common colds and measles, were constantly present. In preindustrial England, health care was provided by numerous practitioners, including university-trained physicians, surgeon-barbers, druggists, midwives, clergy, ladies of manor houses, and peddlers selling their wares.


 If you would get rid of the ague*, go by night alone to a crossroads, and just as the clock is striking midnight turn round three times and drive a large nail into the ground up to the head. Walk backwards from the nail before the clock has finished the twelth stroke. The auge will leave you, but will go to the person next to step on the nail.
 English folk belief of the 1600's
 *A fever marked by chills and sweating that recur at regular intervals


 As soon as any person shall be found by Examiner, Surgeon, or Searcher to be sick of the plague, he shall be isolated in the same house. The goods and stuff of the infected, their bedding and apparel, and hangings of chambers, must be well aired with fire and such perfumes as are necessay within the infected house, before they be used again.

To every infected house there be appointed two watchmen; one for every day, and the other for the might. These watchmen have a special care that no person go in or out of such infected houses upon pain of severe punishment.

 Orders published by the Lord Mayor and Aldermon of the Clty of London, concerning the Infection of the plague, 1665


 "Rules for Blood Letting"

The vein above the thumb is good against all fevers.... The vein between the thumb and the forefinger, let blood for the hot headache, for frenzy and madness of wit.

''Rules concerning Blood-letting to be observed''

Also be ye always well advised, and wary, that ye let no blood, nor open no vein, except the Moon be either in Aries, Cancer, the flrst half of Libra, the last half of Scorpio, or in Sagittarius, Aquarius, or Pisces....

 Peter Levens, master of arts In Oxford, and student in physick and chirurgery The Pathway to Health 1664


 . there was still another madness which may serve to give an idea, of the distracted humor of the poor people at that time. It lay chiefly in the people deceived, and this was in wearing charms, exorcism, amulets, and I know not what preparations, to fortify the body with them against the plague, as if the plague was not the hand of God, but a kind of a possession of an evil spirit; and that it was to be kept off with crossings, signs of the zodac, papers tied up with so many knots, and certain words or figures in a triangle or pyramid, thus,-












 Daniel Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year, 1665


 Scarlet Fever may appear at any season. Nevertheless, it often breaks out toward the end of summer,when it attacks whole families at once, and more especially the infants. The patients feel rigors and shiverings, just as they do in other fevers. Afterwards, however, the whole skin becomes covered with small red sores which last for two or three days and then disappear.

I am hesitant both of blood letting and of enemas, and cautious in the use of cordials (a strong liqueur). They may act as fuel to fever.

The patient should abstain wholly from animal food and from fermented liquors; to keep always indoors, and not to keep always in bed. When the symptoms are departing, I consider it proper to purge the patient with some mild laxative, accommodated to his age and strength. By treatment thus simple and natural, this allment is dispelled without either trouble or danger. Otherwise, we overtreat the patient and the sick man dies of his doctor.

 From Dr. Thomas Sydenham, Medical Observations on the History and Cure of Acute Illnesses, 1676



 Charles II "Touching," to Cure Kings Evil. Illustration from John Browne's Adenochoiradelogia, 1654.