Searching for Charlatans

One of the lessons I try to get across to students in my History of Medicine class at Ryerson is how to “read” images and assess their value as source–i.e what kind of implicit or explicit meanings are embodied in the images and what kinds of messages are being transmitted, as well as how clearly these messages are being received, and so forth.

When we come across the topic of medical charlatanism in early modern Europe, I assign the students a small seminar assignment: go to Wellcome Images, and search through various images using the keywords “charlatan” or “quack.” There’s an incredible abundance of images that appear…and it’s always so fascinating listening to the depth of interpretations my students provide: the entertainment spectacle, showmanship, flamboyancy, brush of the exotic and foreign, obnoxiousness, and perhaps even annoying nature of these figures.

Here’s a few:

Charlatan with assistants, standing on table and addressing a crowd. Miniature 15th century
Charlatan with assistants, standing on table and addressing a crowd.
Miniature 15th century
Lithographed song sheet cover: 'The Quack's Song' composed by F. C. Burnand and W. Meyer Lutz. Lithograph circa 1900
Lithographed song sheet cover: ‘The Quack’s Song’ composed by F. C. Burnand and W. Meyer Lutz.
Lithograph circa 1900
"Doctor Bokanky, street herbalist": a quack selling a cure for tooth-ache in London, anon. after a daguerrotype by Beard. Engraving circa 1851
“Doctor Bokanky, street herbalist”: a quack selling a cure for tooth-ache in London, anon. after a daguerrotype by Beard.
Engraving circa 1851
A charlatan wearing spectacles and holding a snake, Bologna. By: Curti after: G.M. Mitelli (c.1660)
Lithographed song sheet cover: ‘The Quack’s Song’ composed by F. C. Burnand and W. Meyer Lutz.
Lithograph circa 1900

If you’re interested in reading about the variety of healers who offered services for health care, here’s a short list of excellent sources to check out:

D. Gentilcore, Healers and Healing in Early Modern Italy (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998).

D. Gentilcore, From Bishop to Witch: The System of the Sacred in Early Modern Terra d’Otarnto (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1992).

D. Gentilcore, Medical Charlatanism in Early Modern Italy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).

L. Roper, Oedipus and the Devil: Witchcraft, Sexuality and Religion in Early Modern Europe (London: Routledge, 1994).

K. Park, Doctors and Medicine in Early Renaissance Florence (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985).

M. Pelling and C. Webster, “Medical Practitioners,” in C. Webster (ed.), Health, Medicine, and Mortality in the Sixteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1985), 165-236.

G. Pomata, Contracting a Cure: Patients and Healers, and the Law in Early Modern Bologna (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1998).

P.E. Pormann, “The Physician and the Other: Images of the Charlatan in Medieval Islam,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 79 (2005): 189-227.

Robert Ralley, “Medical Economies in Fifteenth Century England,” in Mark Jenner and Patrick Wallis (eds.), Medicine and the Market in England and its Colonies, c.1450-1850 (New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2007), pp.24-46.

V. Nutton, “Healers in a Medical Market Place: Towards a Social History of Greco-Roman Medicine,” in A. Wear (ed.), Medicine in Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 15-58.

Advertisements

One thought on “Searching for Charlatans

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s