The history of medicine refers to a discipline that studies medicine’s scientific, social, and technological development from primitive times to the present. As society evolved, its approach to diseases and treatment transformed, building on the existing body of knowledge accumulated by ancient civilizations and their descendants. The main elements of medical science include prevention, prognosis, diagnosis, and treatment of various diseases. According to Kleinman, medicine is widespread and universal as people of different cultures from all over the globe have health-related practices and make therapeutic decisions (p. 21). There are two main approaches to the conventional narrative of medical history: spatial and temporal. The former focuses on the development of medicine in the Global North compared to the Global South or the East in contrast to the West. The latter explores the history of medicine in time, from the beginning of the first primitive practices to the contemporary approach to treatment and health care. This essay aims to discuss and critically assess premodern and modern medicine focusing on the temporal division of the conventional narrative of medical history.
Premodern Medical History
There are various aspects of the development of medical science that demonstrate a striking difference in premodern and modern approaches to medicine. For instance, disease treatment, care for people with mental health issues, women’s health care, women’s role in health professions, the impact of science and evidence on medical practice, and the importance of public health (Kleinman, p. 28). In the premodern era, the field of medicine was divided into two categories: the internal, or therapy, and the external, or surgery. In this regard, some doctors specialized in treating diseases of internal body parts, prescribing medicine, as well as promoting hygiene. Others treated external injuries, such as damage to bones, muscles, and other organs that required surgery. The history of medicine shows that this division was established in ancient times and further developed into separate subcategories.
A critical assessment of premodern medical history reveals that ancient doctors contributed to the foundation of numerous medical definitions, terms, and guidelines. In particular, ancient Greeks shifted the focus from expecting a divine intervention to seeking practical solutions. Other essential contributions were made by early medical traditions of the civilizations of Babylon, China, Egypt, and India (Kleinman, p. 21). Medieval medicine was partly based on the Greek tradition and took various forms, such as using herbs, bloodletting, performing surgery, and other methods. Demaitre explores such paradigms of disease as fever, pestilence, and poison, which are essential in the medical teaching of premodern medicine (p. 36). Manela contributes to the debate on the politics of smallpox eradication, highlighting the importance of vaccinations in overcoming epidemics (p. 258). Furthermore, the book by Horrox contributes to the discourse by offering a narrative of a deadly infectious disease and the role of medical advances in overcoming it (p. 27). Overall, the evolution of premodern medical science allowed people to accumulate knowledge, identify effective treatments and procedures, and continue to work toward developing efficient and humane approaches.
Modern Medical History
The modern era of medical history encompasses the period starting with the Industrial Revolution and continuing into today. A critical analysis of this epoch allows for identifying significant progress in findings and techniques utilized to preserve and promote people’s health (Kleinman, p. 23). The history of medicine has changed its nature and scope as it uses new approaches alongside traditional practices such as medical theory, medical science, the history of epidemics, surgery, and therapeutics. In the contemporary world, medicine is integrated with other sciences, such as social science, demography, and others. As a result, one can observe changes in approaching mental health and women’s health, which positively affects health outcomes for patients (Kleinman, p. 25). Furthermore, the role of the evidence-based approach has increased, allowing for the implementation of more efficient practices and collecting data for further improvements.
Protocols for treating diseases continue to change based on the latest findings. This phenomenon has several causes since new, more effective drugs with fewer side effects and more accurate diagnostic methods have emerged. Moreover, by building upon the existing knowledge, medical science collects data and uses it to develop efficient approaches to treatment that are based on evidence (Kleinman, p. 23). The history of medicine is interconnected with biohistory and anthropology, emphasizing this concept’s holistic nature. A holistic and person-centered approach to treatment has become pivotal during modern medical history.
To conclude, the narrative of medical history comprises premodern and modern periods, characterized by distinct features as the former constitutes a foundation for the latter. A critical look at this subject allows for identifying the difference in approaches to medical practice and health care. The history of healing art dates back to prehistoric times as people valued health and well-being at all ages. The temporal categorization of the medical history emphasizes the significant evolution of the original body of knowledge and improved health-related practices.
Demaitre, L. (2013). Paradigms of disease: Fever, pestilence and poison. In L. Demaitre (Ed.), Medieval medicine: The art of healing from head to toe (pp. 35-76). ABC-CLIO.
Horrox, M. (1994). The black death. Manchester University Press.
Kleinman, A. (1995). What is specific to biomedicine? In A. Kleinmann (Ed), Writing at the margin: Discourse between anthropology and medicine (pp. 21-40). University of California.
Manela, E. (2015). The politics of smallpox eradication. In J. R. McNeill & K. Pomeranz (Eds.), The Cambridge world history (pp. 258-282). Cambridge University Press.