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Logo of medhistThe Wellcome Trust Centre of the History of Medicine (UCL)Medical History
Med Hist. 2010 July; 54(3): 410–411.
PMCID: PMC2889468

Book Reviews

British military and naval medicine, 1600–1830
Reviewed by Catherine Kelly

Geoffrey L Hudson (ed.),  British military and naval medicine, 1600–1830, Wellcome Series in the History of Medicine, Clio Medica 81,  Amsterdam and New York,  Rodopi,  2007, pp.  290, [euro]60.00 (hardback  978-90-420-2272-0). 

As Geoffrey Hudson demonstrates in his introduction to this volume of nine essays, recent interest in the history of military medicine has not redressed a lack of research on British military and naval medicine of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Despite this, the handful of articles and books discussed by Hudson in his useful summary of the existing historiography is evidence that the work undertaken has produced a set of important hypotheses about the relationship of military medicine to the birth of the clinic and development of hospital medicine; the prevalence of experiment and innovation within the two services; and the operational imperatives which led to a focus on population and preventative approaches to the practice of medicine. The essays which follow this introduction build on those findings and highlight areas for future research.

The only chapter to provide an overview is Patricia Crimmin’s piece on the Navy’s Sick and Hurt Board from 1700–1800. This chapter is complemented by Margarette Lincoln’s thoughtful consideration of the ways in which medical publications affected public perceptions of the Navy. J D Alsop gives an interesting account of the development of ‘British imperial medicine 1600–1800’, concluding that the Royal Navy’s extensive engagement in the wars of this period created an imperial medicine which reflected the needs of the State, aimed at young, fit men, and which gave scant attention to broader themes of commerce, immigration, or population vitality. Within this analysis Alsop raises another theme also discussed in many of the essays in this volume—the effect of manpower crisis as a driver behind developments in military and naval medicine. Paul Kopperman considers the army medical department in North America and the West Indies, 1755–83 and reinforces the findings of historians of other theatres regarding the importance of sanitation and officer support for the maintenance of troop health. He concludes his essay with an attempt to assess the efficacy of the service. A similar evaluation is attempted by Eric Gruber von Arni in his detailed study of army nursing during the English Civil War. Mark Harrison discusses the emergence of tropical therapeutics in the British East India Company considering both the culture of innovation within military medicine and how military service produced a medicine similar to the “hospital medicine” of the later eighteenth century. Philip Mills also develops these themes in his examination of the treatment of inguinal hernias in military hospitals during the seventeenth century. His analysis of the interplay between medical experiment, military exigencies, and military and political patronage provides insight into how the emerging population medicine of the British Army functioned. Christine Stevenson gives a useful summary of her findings about medical theory and its effects on the architecture of the great military and naval hospitals both in Britain and in the empire during this period. In the final essay, Hudson makes excellent use of the previously unexamined minutes of the Greenwich Council which administered discipline at Greenwich Hospital. Hudson’s findings challenge accepted understandings of the purpose and operation of the hospital and also shed fascinating light onto the first-hand experiences of pensioners accommodated there.

It is neither the intention nor effect of the volume to give a comprehensive account of the development of military and naval medicine during the long eighteenth century. Its primary contribution lies in investigating the questions which have previously been raised about military and naval medicine. Hudson claims that the volume “highlights the value of challenging the inherited notion that military medicine was in all respects ‘a good thing’ for medicine and society” and demonstrates “that medicine and war were, indeed, components of a wider social, economic, cultural, and political framework” (p. 18). The latter of these two claims is well supported but the former is rarely dealt with directly by the contributors. However, there can be no doubt that readers will find much material here to inform their own conclusions on that question.

Articles from Medical History are provided here courtesy of Cambridge University Press