- Health and Healing in Eighteenth-Century Germany
In five chapters, Mary Lindemann examines the entire range of medical life of the ordinary citizen of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel during the eighteenth century. In the introduction to her study of health issues in this small duchy of North Germany, the author asks, “how typical was it?,” not really addressing the question but arguing that in sociopolitical structure, the duchy was like most “small to medium-sized secular states” (19). These, she explains, generally were governed by a “privy council” (Geheimrat) (19), which extended to larger states like Prussia, Austria, and Bavaria “in a more elaborate form” (19). The author does ask about the differences between this predominantly Protestant duchy in North Germany and others with a Catholic composition, but also suggests that it is “perhaps wise to reserve judgment until meticulous investigations are completed for the Catholic parts of Germany in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries” (20). For the moment, then, the reader might take the case of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel as exemplary of German health care in more than two thousand territorial states in the period before and after the French Revolution.
The author examines other assumptions and objectives of her project in more detail, emphatically rejecting “dichotomies such as those between ‘popular’ and ‘elite’ practitioners, or between ‘sedentary’ and ‘peripatetic’ healers” (18). She makes it her first objective to describe the early, broad landscape of medical practice “that we have lost” (18). This loss is not explained, but could be taken to mean the loss of personalized medicine provided by individuals with extensive paramedical experiences in a system with a wide range of licensure. Her second objective is to relate “the day-to-day activities of practitioners” to “larger issues in German European history” (19). In the former the author surely succeeds, but in the latter she seldom offers more than marginal references to wars and epidemics. Here one notices the absence of “elitist” materials, particularly the kind of literary statements with the metaphoric range needed to extend the tedium of day-to-day medical language in Wolfenbüttel to the “larger issues” of German and European culture.
With a consistent use of medical records left by the average doctor, patient, and bureaucrat, Lindemann explains the interplay of “state and society” in the first chapter, emphasizing “how medical policy was ‘made’ at all levels” (20). In the second chapter, she examines “on-the-ground administration” (20), by which she means the state-appointed physicians directly responsible for health practice in the local community. Here the school teachers, pastors, landowners, and “village notables” also left medical histories that she used to document health care in the eighteenth century. The third chapter is devoted to paramedical services, including the role of bathmasters and midwives, and the fourth treats the statistical evidence of illness and death, [End Page 405] leaving the fifth and last chapter for general discussion of the medical choices open to patients. In this final chapter, the author discusses health from the perspective of the sick: “in so doing, it ties together...the common history of people, medical practitioners, and bureaucrats in early modern Germany” (21).
The book is based on the records of ordinary providers and patients, few of them significant enough to leave even birth and death dates that normally frame a biography. In the conclusion, the author calls these people “soap-opera-like characters” (369), and it is scenes from these soap operas that the author strings together through five chapters of unbroken description, much of it repetitive, but interesting in the same sense as are the reminiscences of Doc Adams in the TV series “Gunsmoke.” This redundant description is enhanced by a detailed index, through which the reader has access to a rich variety of topics, from common diseases of the period, like smallpox, to practices of inoculation, to the use of bathhouses, and to broader cultural events like the Seven Years’ War. The index is especially important for access to the broader culture of the century, which is not referenced...