16.04.10, Dumas, Santé et société à Montpellier à la fin du Moyen Âge

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Emily Graham

The Medieval Review 16.04.10

Dumas, Geneviève. Santé et société à Montpellier à la fin du Moyen Âge. The Medieval Mediterranean, 102. Leiden: Brill, 2015. pp. 591. ISBN: 978-9-004-28239-1 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Emily Graham
Oklahoma State University

The city of Montpellier was a cultural and intellectual meeting-point in the late Middle Ages, a complex urban organism where international trade, medicine and philosophy intersected. The university there has long been recognized as an important center for medicine in the thirteenth and especially fourteenth centuries, but scholarship has treated a selective number of topics and focuses largely on a few decades in the early 1300s. Santé et société is a systematic exploration of the city's relationship with its medical professionals and their practices over three centuries, and a valuable addition to several fields of inquiry. Genevieve Dumas' nuanced work aims to create a portrait of health in Montpellier through a combination of intellectual, social, cultural, and urban history and the history of science. In doing so, she deploys an impressive command of the rich archival sources of the city, many previously untapped, to examine what the practice of medicine meant for institutions, citizens and suppliers in this bustling city in the southwest of France.

Previous work on Montpellier and medicine has focused in large part on its contributions to intellectual history and the teaching of medicine. As philosophers, theologians and doctors moved between the courts of Paris, Barcelona and Avignon, Montpellier was both training ground and waystation for intellectual exchanges. Dumas sets out to survey a broader range of topics and dates, as she moves through the city's rich notarial records beginning in 1293 and concluding shortly before the Protestant Reformation effected significant changes, in 1516. The book's significant length is more than justified by the variety of approaches Dumas employs, as she moves from institutional to social and economic history. Combining the notarial registers with statutes, letters, tax and other municipal records allows her to unravel the tangle of mercantile, institutional, personal and professional ties that defined the city's medical occupations.

The book is organized into four parts, each with its own subject, sources and methodological approach. Part I focuses on the constituent parts of medical practice, using statutes, letters, and an array of historical medical texts to illustrate the various actors within the city and university's medical milieu. It is comprised of three chapters. Chapter 1 explores the statutes of the school of medicine in the thirteenth and first half of the fourteenth century. Chapter 2 introduces the surgeons and barber-surgeons of the city, their statutes and roles within the University. The teaching texts associated with this field are well-studied, but the vagaries of quotidian practice have been little discussed, one of several gaps that Dumas' study addresses. Chapter 3 examines the intersection of medical practice and international commerce occupied by the spicers and apothecaries of Montpellier. These merchants and creators of medications and tonics benefitted significantly from the flow of international trade and exotic ingredients into the ports of Marseilles and Catalonia.

Part II investigates the career paths of these medical practitioners through the less-covered fifteenth century using a more quantitative approach, and includes two chapters. Chapter 4 is a substantial exploration of the trajectory of doctoral training and an array of intersecting topics. The importance of mentorship, apprenticeship, career trajectory and medical practice at regional courts such as Barcelona and Avignon are enlivened with substantial reference to archival material once more. The chapter also addresses the writing of medical treatises and their genres, the practice of translation in the city's multi-lingual community of Jews and Christians. Chapter 5 briefly adds to this a discussion of the training and practice of the supporting cast of barbers, surgeons and apothecaries.

With Part III, the book attempts a holistic picture of the effects of the schools of medicine on the city's health and institutions. Chapter 6 considers the role of public health in the context of the city's government and hospitals. Chapter 7 gives special consideration to plague and leprosy, each of which has recently been reframed in discourses on the history of medicine, social and cultural history, and disability studies. Dumas specifically asks how theory-based texts and practice compared in the effort to understand and treat plague outbreaks.

Part IV is perhaps the most impressive contribution, revealing that medical practitioners had various entanglements with mercantile and other ventures. Here Dumas refocuses on the role of medical practitioners in the economic and social history of the city, in three chapters. Chapter 8 considers the economic status of healthcare providers in the city, as Dumas mines the tax records and notarial registers of the city for information on its doctors and apothecaries' estates, incomes and sideline business ventures. Chapter 9 delves into the social construction of medical practices in the city: familial, institutional/professional associations, and local identity. Chapter 10 collects various types of 'marginal' medical practice: those who practiced "marginal" sciences associated with the care of the body, such as necromancy and alchemy. These include some of the university's most famous intellectuals, Arnald of Villanova among them. Finally, in accord with the rich archival sources prominently discussed throughout, the book ends with four appendices of textual transcriptions, namelists of university lecturers and notarial registries.

This weighty tome is produced with Brill's usual high quality. It is an excellent example of the way in which local histories can function as multi-faceted windows into complex medieval realities. Santé et société will prove useful to a variety of audiences: scholars of the history of medicine, public health, the various intellectuals influenced by Montpellier's milieu, and the social and economic history of the western Mediterranean will find it a rewarding read.

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