Doctors and Patients in the Renaissance

Doctors and Patients
in the Renaissance

Learned Physicians and Everyday Practice in Sixteenth-Century Germany

Michael Stolberg

13 September 2022 – 5 PM (CEST)

In his recent book Learned Physicians and Everyday Medicine in the Renaissance, Michael Stolberg has offered a wide-ranging account of the training, self-fashioning, and medical practice of “ordinary” learned physicians in the sixteenth century, especially in the German-speaking territories.

In this lecture, he will focus on a major aspect of this topic, namely the interactions between physicians and their patients. Drawing on physicians’ personal notebooks, practice journals, and similar sources that reflect the lived reality of everyday medical practice, he will look, in particular, at the different types and degrees of intensity of this interaction, at the issue of fees and fair payment, and at the complex balance of power, which forced the physicians, among others, to offer detailed and comprehensible explanations of their diagnosis and treatment, making the bedside a major site for the dissemination of learned medical knowledge.

Based on the practice journals, personal notes, and letters of learned physicians from the German-speaking regions, this talk seeks to reconstruct the lived reality of the doctor-patient relationship in the sixteenth century. Even many affluent and educated patients were quick to consult another practitioner when they were not satisfied, and the physicians resorted to various strategies to win and maintain the patient’s trust.

These included preferring or outright inventing a diagnosis the patient could not prove wrong and deliberately exaggerating the severity of the disease so the physicians would gain all the more praise (and money) when the patient got better. On the positive side, the physicians respected their patients’ desire for certain medicines and their dislike of others, and went to great lengths to provide them with an explanation of what was happening inside their bodies that made sense to them and matched their personal bodily experience.

About the Speakers ...

Michael Stolberg is chair of History of Medicine at the Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg.
Originally trained as a physician, he received a PhD in history and philosophy at the University of Munich in 1994. From 1995, he held fellowships in Venice, Cambridge, and Munich. Since 2004 he has been chair of the history of medicine at the University of Würzburg, Germany. He has published widely on learned medical theory and practice, the patient experience, and body history in early modern Europe. Amongst his recent book are worth mentioning Experiencing Illness and the Sick Body in Early Modern Europe (2011), Uroscopy in Early Modern Europe (2016), Gelehrte Medizin und ärztlicher Alltag in der Renaissance (2020) recently translated into English as Learned Physicians and Everyday Medical Practice in the Renaissance (2021). Forthcoming this year is also the much-awaited Gabrielle Falloppia, 1522/23-1562: The Life and Work of a Renaissance Anatomist (Routledge, 2022)
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