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Durham University

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Dr Kathleen Reynolds

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Sickness in Correspondence: gentry letter writing and the subject of health in eighteenth century Yorkshire and the North-East in the Department of History

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My thesis uses eighteenth-century gentry correspondence from Yorkshire, County Durham, and Northumberland to investigate how letter writers discussed sickness and managed medical treatments in the home. Letter writers went beyond expressions of concern and reassurances of good health in correspondence by providing details about the experience of falling ill, diagnosing conditions, choosing treatments, and caring for their sick relatives. This project redresses the lacuna in research on eighteenth-century household medical work by analyzing caregiving, medical knowledge, and medical expertise to reconsider the structure of household medicine and the extent to which the household functioned autonomously during illness. 

Within these subjects, emphasis is given to the significance of gender as well as patterns of continuity and change. In particular, arguments about domestic healing as a female activity are reevaluated given the clear interest and involvement of their male relatives, and the emphasis on coexistence and cooperation between genders. Mediating between the survival of medical practice, the change in medical theories, and the gradual decreasing interest in discussing caregiving practices through correspondence allows this thesis to position the eighteenth-century household between earlier histories of household medicine and the spread of hospital medicine in the nineteenth century.

Research Interests

  • Early Modern England
  • Familial Correspondence
  • Gender
  • Health & Illness in Early Modern Europe
  • History of medicine

Indicators of Esteem

  • Funding: Durham Doctoral Fellowship, January 2014 - December 2016.