“Early Modern Practitioners” at Exeter

There’s a new website up for the exciting prosopographical project underway at the University of Exeter, “The Medical World of England, Wales and Ireland, c. 1500-1715.” The website is called Early Modern Practitioners and provides an overview of the project, sample data, a “practitioner of the month,” and more. Ultimately, this project will take the form of a database containing biographies of all the active medical practitioners during the time period and in the locations of the project’s title as well as a study of the data compiled which will be published as a major monograph.

This project will build in part on the work I’ve previously mentioned completed by Margaret Pelling. As someone with keen interest in this subject and who has conducted a considerable amount of research in this area, it is my opinion that this is work that very much needs to be done. Although there has been excellent and extensive work on the key players in this time period—think William Harvey—the truth is, there aren’t that many William Harveys. A lot of the big names in medicine (and related fields) are coming out of other parts of Europe; Great Britain is noticeably behind the continent in medical advancement (as well as most other areas) during the Renaissance.

But this doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a vibrant medical scene in England, Wales, and Ireland during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In fact, as the website explains:

The sheer numbers of people who practised medicine in some form or other during the medieval and early modern periods are overwhelming. Medical practitioners were, quite literally, everywhere. From ‘formal’ trained and licensed physicians across to the village blacksmith who might perform a secondary role as tooth-drawer, the types of practitioner are also legion. All of the terms below can be found in early modern sources as descriptive terms for practitioners, including their various derivatives and alternative spellings) and this list is by no means exhaustive.

Physic (Phisic, Physick, Phisique, Fisick(e)), Physician, Doctor (of medicine), licentiate, Practicer, Practitioner, Apothecary (pothecary, poticary), Surgeon, Chirurgeon (Chirurgion), Barber, Barber-Surgeon, Mounteban(c)k, Druggist, Chemist, Midwife, Peruke-maker.

This legion of individuals is indeed a rich cross-section of early modern culture, and it will be vastly interesting to see what insights this project develops.

Although I certainly hope that Crooke will be a part of this database, in truth he falls somewhere between this vast majority of medical practitioners and those well-known names like Harvey. Although not widely considered a major contributor to his field, and certainly not a readily recognizable name for most people, Crooke has in fact received much more attention than many of his contemporary physicians, as William Birken has reminded me. But it may be precisely because of this in-between role that he maintains—his part as an “irregular,” as Pelling calls this group—that Crooke may be particularly situated to lend helpful insight to some of the questions raised by this project and related inquiries.