PhD Defense Wouter Klein (Utrecht University)

New Drugs for the Dutch Republic: The Commodification of Fever Remedies in the Netherlands (c. 1650-1800)

12 December 2018
12.45 – 13.45
University Hall, Domplein 29, Utrecht

Between 1650 and 1800, advertising for remedies became a standard strategy for all kinds of actors on the medical marketplace of the Netherlands. In digitized newspapers from this period, thousands of medical advertisements can be found. This period can be regarded as the first golden age of medical advertising, predating the era of mass media in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Eighteenth-century newspaper readers had their own ‘pharmaceutical literacy’ to understand and assess the contents of medical advertisements. This literacy was related to their world, in which most medical practice was still plant-based medicine. Many medicinal products became commodities before they were clearly understood in terms of ingredients, provenance or efficacy. Those who had a predominantly commercial interest in medicine (like producers, advertisers, brokers, merchants, and so on), were concerned about enlarging and consolidating their market, more than about quality assurance, proper usage of medical terminology, or the safety of the patient.

Although the success of advertising is difficult to measure, it can be observed that the practice of advertising transformed from an occasional experiment into a structural, appealing strategy to promote remedies. Every local producer of remedies could advertise, to increase the visibility of his practice to a regional, national, even international level. Circumstances beyond the personae of advertisers could influence the availability of new remedies as well, like local epidemics, or international economic and political turmoil. Comparing the trajectories of various remedies over time reveals the dynamic, varying degree of success of new remedies. This is demonstrated in the dissertation of Huizinga member Wouter Klein by the interconnected histories of fever and fever remedies, especially Peruvian bark (the exotic plant product that yields the antimalarial substance quinine). A diachronic analysis of fever and fever remedies demonstrates the usefulness the shifting commercial and cultural importance of new medicinal products, and the bottom-up expansion of a globalizing medical market, in the early modern period.

PhD supervisors: Prof. A.H.L.M. Pieters, Prof. H.G.M. Jorink

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