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Durham University

Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS)

Events and Outreach

Durham Early Modern Group: Ruben Verwaal (Durham), ‘Blood, Sweat and Tears: Chemistry and Medicine of Fluids in the Eighteenth Century’, a joint event with the Institute for Medical Humanities

13th January 2021, 17:00 to 18:00

Register in advance for this webinar here

This talk considers how the human body has been differently perceived and treated. Since Hippocrates and Galen, physicians based their knowledge on humoral theory, which proposed that there were four cardinal fluids – blood, phlegm, black and yellow bile – which needed to be in balance to sustain health. In the seventeenth century, influential figures such as René Descartes, Giovanni Alfonso Borelli, Marcello Malpighi, and Archibald Pitcairne reduced bodily processes to motion and mechanical actions, anatomical structures, and mathematical calculation. In this talk, however, I argue that the eighteenth century saw a re-appreciation for the nature of the fluids.

The application of new instruments and chemical methods crucially changed the perception of bodily fluids, contributing to a new system of medicine. Herman Boerhaave and his students investigated the nature of such diverse fluids as saliva, blood, urine, milk, semen and sweat, and by doing so established a new physiology and pathology.

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