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Introduction Progress Reconsidered: Natural Healing and Germany’s Long Nineteenth Century Nature was central to the Wilhelmine experience. It organized medical cosmologies and reform initiatives; it informed consumer practices and lifestyle choices. Nature’s appeal transcended class, confession, and political party. Kaiser Wilhelm II was an advocate for the “natural lifestyle,” as was Karl Liebknecht, who announced the overthrow of Wilhelm’s regime from the Rote Rathaus in 1918. Thomas Mann and Gerhardt Hauptmann thought that the“back-tonature ” mantra was evidence of a more or less severe psychological disorder, but Max Weber, who struggled with his own mental-health issues, was more forgiving and spent some time in a back-to-nature commune in Ascona. Millions of Germans—workers and bourgeois, aristocrats and industrialists—recognized that nature had healing effects and was intimately tied to quality-of-life issues. In the 1880s and 1890s, this preoccupation with nature became an increasingly important part of German popular culture. In organizations like the German League for Natural Lifestyle and Therapy, as well as in bathing, gymnastics, vegetarian, and land-­reform groups, Germans from across the social and political spectrum claimed that nature was the key to imagining better futures. In this book I explore the history of natural healing and show how popular health and hygiene movements shaped German ideas about nature in the long nineteenth century, from roughly 1800 to 1918. As Germans visited natural healers and submitted themselves to“natural” 4 we lived for the body therapies, as they read manuals enjoining them to “get back to nature” and bought “reform” products that made it possible to live the “natural lifestyle,” they increasingly experienced nature acting upon their own bodies and their everyday lives. During this time Germans tried to eat and drink “natural” foods. They exercised, bathed, sunned themselves, and spent time in the countryside,in forests,and in parks.They avoided university doctors offering “poisonous” medicines and worried about pollution near factories, overcrowding in cities, and the physical and moral dangers of urban poverty. Beginning in the 1880s—and over a period of several ­decades—nature, health, and the body became central to the way Germans talked about real and imagined social and political problems. This change in perspective had a variety of consequences and shaped the way that many people thought about their health, but also how they believed urban space should be used, doctors should be trained, children should be educated, and workers should be treated by their employers. The practice of popular medicine brought nature into urban daily life. Historians have written little about the German natural healing movement, although a history of natural healing and popular medicine has important lessons for today. Recent decades have, for example, revealed growing anxieties about the quality of health care, about its social and economic costs, and about access to it. Concern about environmental degradation and long-term sustainability has also grown, particularly throughout Europe and North America. While environmentalism has developed in different ways in different parts of the world, sustainability has become a talking point for elected officials and activists across the globe. Like the members of popular health and hygiene movements in Wilhelmine Germany, citizens today—on the left and right of the political spectrum, and on both sides of the Atlantic—are questioning the authority of scientific, corporate, and governmental actors to define the boundaries of civil, scientific, and economic discourse in contemporary society. In debates about vaccination, the prescription of mind-altering drugs to hyperactive children, and the production of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)—as well as concerns about the pharmaceutical industry, animal cloning, and genetically modified foods—citizens Introduction 5 are asking with ever-increasing frequency who has the authority to tell them what to believe about important scientific questions. In effect, they are testing the relationship between civil socity, the scientific community, and centers of state power.1 Health and hygiene reformers also debated access to quality health care, opportunities for sustainable development, the limits of parliamentary political process, and the relationship between scientists and the state. Looking back to the practice of popular medicine in Germany offers clues as to why certain practices—from community-based health solutions and rational urban planning to extraparliamentary political participation and popular health and science education—have today been pushed to the margins. For decades historians have given scant attention to these issues,2 but scholars of the nineteenth century have once again turned their attention to Germany’s health and hygiene reform...


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