The interpretation of eighteenth-century medicine has been much contested. Some have view it as a wilderness of rationalism and arid theories between the Scientific Revolution and the astonishing changes of the nineteenth-century. Other scholars have emphasized the close and fruitful links between medicine and the Enlightenment, suggesting that medical advance was the very embodiment of the
philosphes’ ideal of a practical science that would improve mankind’s lot and foster human happiness.
In a series of essays covering Great Britain, France, Germany and other parts of Europe, noted historians debate these issues through detailed examinations of major aspects of eighteenth-century medicine and medical controversy, including such topics as the introduction of smallpox inoculation, the transformation of medical education, and the treatment of the insane. The essays as a whole suggest a positive reading of the transformations in eighteenth-century medicine, while stressing local diversity and uneven development.