Book cover

Medical historian shortlisted for prestigious history award

A book by a medical historian from the University of Exeter has been shortlisted for the Longman/History Today Book Prize 2013.

The award focuses on the ability of the author to make its subject accessible and rewarding to the general reader of history.

Dr Alun Withey’s ‘Physick and the Family: Health, Medicine and Care in Wales, 1600 – 1750’ offers new insights into the early modern experience of illness, medicine and care, through a study of the medical history of 17th century Wales. The book explores who was responsible for caring for the sick, both in the home and the community, and how well-equipped the early modern household was to prepare their own medicines. It also delves into how people obtained and spread medical knowledge over 150 years, the impact of literacy and how this was further affected by a language barrier between English and Welsh. 

Using a wealth of sources from probate inventories to parish records, and from diaries to domestic remedy collections, the book recovers the previously neglected medical worldview of the 'ordinary' person. One of the most engaging elements of the book are the questions it raises about how far rural Wales was actually part of a much bigger medical network than has previously been explored.

What sorts of remedies, for example, were used by Welsh gentry ladies, and where did they get them? Why were Brecon or Wrexham hotbeds of medical practice? What was significant about the apothecary Henry Williams, in the tiny Caernarvonshire village of Clynnog? And what important information about new types of remedies does the notebook of a Monmouthshire yeoman reveal? In answering these questions, the book adds an entirely new dimension to our understanding of 17th century medical knowledge and practice.

Dr Withey said:“Physick and the Family is the first monograph dedicated to exploring Welsh early modern medical history. The motivation behind the book is to raise new questions and address broader themes in medical history, as well as adding a new dimension to Welsh medical and social history. I'm absolutely delighted to have been shortlisted, and it means a very great deal that my first book is to be considered for this very prestigious prize."

Professor Jonathan Barry, Director of the Centre for Medical History at the University of Exeter commented: “We are delighted at Alun’s nomination, as he has pioneered a new social history of medicine in pre-modern Wales, which he is now able to develop as a research fellow on our project on the Medical World of Early Modern England, Wales and Ireland. However, we are torn about two excellent finalists, as one of the other shortlisted books, by Hannah Newton on The Sick Child in Early Modern England, is based on the PhD thesis Hannah completed in the Centre. As two other shortlisted books are also in medical history, this demonstrates the depth of research in this field, thanks to the generous sponsorship of the Wellcome Trust.”

The award is given for an author’s first or second work of history published between October 2011 and September 2012. The winner will be announced 9 January, 2013 at the Royal Society, London.

Date: 21 December 2012