Alisha RankinPanaceia’s Daughters: Noblewomen as Healers in Early Modern Germany

University of Chicago Press, 2013

by Carla Nappi on July 18, 2013

Alisha Rankin

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Dorothea was a widow who treated Martin Luther, the Duke of Saxony, and throngs of poor peasants with her medicinal waters. Anna was the powerful wife of the Elector of Saxony who favored testing medical remedies on others before using them on her friends and family. Elisabeth was an invalid patient whose preferred treatments included topical remedies and ministrations from the “almighty physician,” but never “the smear.” We meet these three lively women in the pages of Alisha Rankin’s wonderful new book on the medical practices of noblewomen from the last decades of the sixteenth century. Panaceia’s Daughters: Noblewomen as Healers in Early Modern Germany (University of Chicago Press, 2013) considers the intellectual and social contexts of healing practices in early modern Germany, focusing on elite women who spent much of their adult lives devising and administering medicinal remedies. The book argues that noblewomen were celebrated as healers not despite their gender, but because of it, offering a useful corrective to the historiography of gender and the sciences in early modernity. Rankin situates three in-depth case studies within a careful exploration of some of the main factors that enabled the kind of success that noblewomen-healers like Dorothea of Mansfield and Anna of Saxony enjoyed in sixteenth-century Germany: more opportunities for information exchange through local communities and wider epistolary networks; an increasing focus on empirical knowledge in its many forms; and the foundation role of written medicinal recipes as a form of kunst. It is a thoughtfully written and very clearly argued work that informs many aspects of the history of gender, of science and medicine, and of practical epistemologies. Enjoy!

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