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Extracting the exotic: global chymical medicine in the seventeenth century

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While Galenic medicine provided the main framework for diagnose and prescription that made use of exotic substances, the second half of the seventeenth century saw chymical medicine emerge as the prefered medical school of the elites of northern and central Europe. Simultaneously, the period saw a marked and largely elite-driven increase of consumption of exotic substances both as medicine and food. This is something of a conundrum. The present essay discusses how exotic substances could become a locus for the merger of Galenic and Chymical medical traditions. It does this by contextualizing and analyzing the medicine of Herman Nicolai Grim (1641–1711). Grim was a ship’s surgeon and physician who worked for the Dutch East India Company in (among other places) Ceylon and Java. After his return to Europe, Grim also worked as a physician in a number of towns around the Baltic Sea. His publications, as well as the medical practice that he pursued in Europe, is used as an inroads into wider issues concerning the relationship between on the one hand knowledge of medicine and medical substances garnered in the East Indies, and on the other European medical practice. To what extent could Grim use his East Indian experience back home in Europe? How did apothecaries, chymists and medical practitioners deal with the problem that chymical refinement processes might destroy the very sensible qualities for which exotic plant substances were appreciated as spice, and from which they ultimately derived their value as trading goods?

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science series.

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