University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science > Reading Rivière in early modern England: tracing early modern epistemic itineraries

Reading Rivière in early modern England: tracing early modern epistemic itineraries

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In the late 1630s, Lazare Rivière, professor at the University of Montpellier, delivered a series of lectures on practical medicine. Later, in response of requests from physicians writing from all over Europe, Rivière expanded these to include the theory of diseases and the resulting Praxis medica cum theoria was printed in 1645. The work was hugely popular and translated into French and English. Peter Cole, the English printer of the work, claims that by 1663 over 1700 copies of the folio-sized tome had been sold. Moreover, the book did not only leap off the shelves of booksellers but was actually read. Surviving copies are often annotated and extracts from the work appear in contemporary medical notebooks. In bringing Rivière’s work to English audiences, Cole and his team made two crucial changes to the text. Firstly, in his preface, Cole specifically targeted ‘Ladies and Gentlewomen’ as potential purchasers and readers. Thus, bringing knowledge originating in the University setting into the domestic sphere. Secondly, later editions were often sold and bound with the English translation of Rivière’s Observationes medicae (1646) so mixing the older practica with the new medical genre of observationes. This paper traces the Praxis medica’s journey from university settings into early modern homes. I examine three crucial stages in this journey. Firstly, the codification of the original practica lectures into print. Secondly, the transformation from the Praxis medica to The Practice of Physick and, finally, how readers engaged with and appropriated the knowledge offered by the book. Each one of these steps, I show, left its own epistemic footprint on Rivière’s practica and when taken together form what might be termed an ‘epistemic itinerary’. By that I mean itineraries in which bodies of knowledge (as small as a one-line recipe and as large as multi-volume work) become entangled as they journey through the winding, convoluted processes of early modern book production and reading and writing practices. Historians of science and medicine have recently argued that reading, writing and note-taking practices are now also themselves recognised as knowledge codification processes. The story of Rivière’s Praxis medica, I suggest, demonstrates that there is much to be gained by paying close attention to the route (and pit stops) which knowledge takes in this process.

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

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