Department of History of Science and Ideas

Chinese Medicines in European Pharmacies

Interpretations, Uses and Appropriation, c. 1570-1720

Project Description

There was a rapid growth of European imports of goods and substances from East Asia during the 16th and 17th centuries. These goods were often, but not always, accompanied by knowledge about how they were produced, how they should be refined, and how they should be used. This was especially true of medicinal substances. By and large, medicines are of little value unless they come with descriptions of how they should be used. This is a study of how European pharmacists integrated East Asian medical substances into their craft practice, how they interpreted them, and how they incorporated them into the models that they used to understand reality. My main questions are: 1) What were the world-views, epistemologies and practices of early modern European pharmacists, and how were they changed by the encounter with the new substances? 2) How much of the East Asian context (and in particular Chinese medical context) from which the substances originated, travelled with them to Europe, and how were the substances reinterpreted to fit into their new settings? 3) How was the knowledge of pharmacists transformed by the expanding world economy of the 16th and 17th centuries?