Hans Rausing Lecture 2016

Gianna Pomata: "Epistemic Genres Across Cultures: Recipes and the Exchange of Medical Knowledge between Early Modern China and Europe."


In this lecture, I will discuss the notion of “epistemic genre” and its use for the comparative and cross-cultural history of knowledge. I propose to call "epistemic" that class of genres which develop in tandem with scientific or cognitive practices–for instance, the encyclopedia, the textbook, the treatise, the commentary, the essay, the medical recipe, the case history, etc.

I will consider in particular a genre fundamentally related to medical practice, the recipe. In a comparative and cross-cultural perspective, I will focus on the role of recipes in an important episode of early modern “connected history”–the exchange of pharmacological knowledge between China and Europe. As a textual form, the recipe developed independently in the Chinese and European pre-modern medical traditions, and the comparative history of its development in each culture presents many striking points of interest. But it is also very interesting to see how recipes traveled between early modern China and Europe. What happened in the process of transmission and translation? I will answer this question by examining the Chinese recipes translated into Latin for a European readership, and published in Specimen Medicinae Sinicae (1682), a text that played a fundamental role in the introduction of Chinese pulse medicine to Europe.

About the Lecturer

Gianna Pomata is Professor at Institute of the History of Medicine, The Johns Hopkins University.

Video of the Lecture