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Popular Print and Popular Medicine

Popular Print and Popular Medicine: Almanacs and Health Advice in Early America

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Popular Print and Popular Medicine
    Book Description:

    In this innovative study of the relationship between popular print and popular attitudes toward the body, health, and disease in antebellum America, Thomas A. Horrocks focuses our attention on a publication long neglected by scholars—the almanac. Approaching his subject as both a historian of the book and a historian of medicine, Horrocks contends that the almanac, the most popular secular publication in America from the late eighteenth century to the first quarter of the nineteenth, both shaped and was shaped by early Americans' beliefs and practices pertaining to health and medicine. Analyzing the astrological, therapeutic, and regimen advice offered in American almanacs over two centuries, and comparing it with similar advice offered in other genres of popular print of the period, Horrocks effectively demonstrates that the almanac was a leading source of health information in America prior to the Civil War. He contends that the almanac was an integral component of a complicated, fragmented, semivernacular health literature of the period, and that the genre played a leading role in disseminating astrological health advice as well as shaping contemporary and future perceptions of astrology. In terms of therapeutic and regimen advice, Horrocks asserts that the almanac performed a complementary role, confirming and reinforcing traditional beliefs and practices. By analyzing the almanac as a cultural artifact that represents a time, a place, and a certain set of assumptions and beliefs, he demonstrates that the genre can provide a lens through which scholars may examine early American attitudes and practices concerning their health in particular and American popular culture in general.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-111-3
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. 1-16)

    A historian of early American almanacs once lamented that modern versions of the genre are the “degenerate offspring of respected ancestors whose contents were not primarily advertisements for hair-growing and itch-relieving potions.” Marion Barber Stowell’s critical remarks, expressed in a 1983 article, echo those made almost a century earlier by another historian of almanacs, Samuel Briggs. The almanac’s columns abound with “the virtues of pills, potions and plasters,” Briggs complained, “interspersed with views of our internal economy calculated to make the well man ill, and the invalid to relax his grasp on the thread of life.”¹ Stowell’s assessment of almanacs...

    (pp. 17-41)

    The introduction to theMethodist Almanacfor 1846, in a brief history of almanacs up to that time, lauds almanacs for disseminating much “useful matter.” But the essay also condemns them for conveying “superstitions and injurious trash in the shape of astrological rules.”¹ The writer’s scornful opinion of astrology was shared by many in the almanac trade, as it had been by many almanac makers of previous generations. Yet astrology, despite the negative views of it held by many almanac makers, had been a staple of American almanacs since the last decade of the seventeenth century. It would continue to...

    (pp. 42-66)

    In addition to astrological advice, early American almanacs offered remedies for various ailments and regimen prescriptions for health and long life. This chapter examines remedies or “cures” offered by American almanacs for dropsy, dysentery, and rheumatism, three afflictions that were common among Americans between 1750 and 1860, and presents several examples that demonstrate the similarity between these remedies and those offered by other genres of print and domestic manuscript recipe and remedy books.

    The almanac was just one of several sources to which early Americans would have turned for therapeutic advice. What, then, was its role in popular therapeutics? What...

    (pp. 67-89)

    The purpose of therapeutic or remedy advice was to restore a healthy equilibrium to a body that had fallen out of balance. The purpose of regimen advice, however, was to maintain a healthy balance by espousing a way of life that would protect the body from a variety of potential dangers. Of the general almanacs consulted for this study, 16 percent include regimen advice of one kind or another.¹ During the second half of the eighteenth century, however, regimen advice appeared in 25 percent of the almanacs consulted. Although fewer almanacs included regimen guidance than astrological and therapeutic advice, this...

    (pp. 90-106)

    “This is decidedly the age of almanacs,” Arthur Prynne asserted in 1841. The Albany-based almanac maker marveled at the rapid growth of specialization in the trade: “We have religious almanacs, political almanacs, phrenological almanacs, comic almanacs, farmers’ almanacs, ladies’ almanacs, pocket almanacs, and temperance almanacs, which last are distributed at our doors without pay, or so much as the requirement of a nod by way of acknowledgment.” Prynne’s reference to complimentary copies of temperance almanacs revealed his anxiety over the potential impact these and other specialty almanacs would have on his business. “Who then remains to be supplied withPrynne’s...

    (pp. 107-112)

    This study examines the dynamic relationship between popular print and popular medicine in pre–Civil War America. This relationship, of course, did not begin with the founding of the American colonies nor was it derailed by the carnage and economic disruption brought about by the Civil War. The tradition that dates to the invention of the printing press is as vibrant today as it was during the period covered here. Scores of health publications for the laity—many in multiple editions—continued to be published in the United States in great numbers during the second half of the nineteenth century,...

    (pp. 113-160)
  12. NOTES
    (pp. 161-186)
    (pp. 187-212)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 213-222)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 223-224)