The Renaissance was a time of good medical progress but very few practical advantages

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Samantha Canvin                Mr. Mungles

10DA                History

Assessment Essay: The Renaissance.


“The Renaissance was a time of good medical progress but very few practical advantages.”


The Renaissance means rebirth, part of this was the rebirth of medicine. It was a time when the Greek ideas on medicine and methods of scientific investigation were rediscovered. People began to question the rules of the Middle Ages. They began to investigate and experiment for the best treatments and real causes of disease. It began with the Arabs coming to Italy, showing the Europeans the old Greek ideas.

What caused people to be healthy or unhealthy in the Renaissance?

The same things that caused people to be unhealthy in the Middle Ages were there in the Renaissance. People relied very much upon the land, if there was a bad harvest, it would lead to famine, malnutrition and ill health causing people to die. If there was a good harvest then people would live well as they would live in healthier conditions. Public health had improved a little from the Middle Ages, most improvements were due to the plague in the 17th century but the connection between lack of hygiene and disease had still not been made. Most public health measures were to take the smell (which they thought caused disease) of waste – and the waste itself – away and into the river, were it would pollute the water.

  The Great Plague started in 1665, brought into the country by trading ships who carried the infection on lice infested rats.  The Plague spread across the country gradually, killing 65,000 people in London alone.  A law was passed to keep the streets clean, employing rakers who daily swept the streets.  Examiners would find infected houses which would be marked and closed up.  Surgeons checked the dead to record incidences of the disease, and the dead were buried in deep graves.  All small animals were culled, and decaying food was cleared.  Beggars and other travellers were banned from cities on penalty of death.  Gatherings and all social events were stopped, and a watch was kept on ale houses to make sure they were orderly.  Sources at the time (journals and diaries) showed that people at the time thought that the infection was spread by contact with others.  Some thought it was caused by God, and some thought it was spread by air on tiny creatures, this theory (although frowned upon at the time) became known as the Germ theory.  Most of the public health measures that were introduced slowed the spread of the Plague, but a few made no difference or made things worse, such a public prayers, or the culling of cats and dogs who would have killed more rats.

  There were also many wars during the Renaissance.  The English Civil war, the French Revolution and the Anglo-Dutch Revolution all took place in the 17th century.  Thousands of people died, and valuable experience was gained by the surgeons who treated the injured.  Ambroise Paré (1510 – 1590) became an army surgeon after training in Paris, and was a major figure in the development of surgery in the Renaissance.

What ideas did people have about the causes and treatments of illnesses in the Renaissance?

Many thoughts about the causes and treatments of disease didn’t change in the Renaissance from the Middle Ages for a long time. They believed in diseases sent by god, diseases due to the alignment of the planets or bad air or due to the imbalance of the humours. Though they did have microscopes, ones powerful enough to see bacteria were not discovered until 1830 and the discovery of oxygen in the air was not discovered until 1777. This meant many treatments were the same as in the middle ages; praying, purging, bleeding and herbal remedies. War aided the development of treatments for the injured. By forcing innovation during the heat of battle. Doctors there would treat many wounds, gaining valuable experience. Some doctors like Ambroise Pare would be forced to innovate a treatment if they did not have enough materials to continue the textbook treatment. In his case, he ran out of boiling oil to cauterise wounds. He mixed a simple poultice and applied it to the soldiers’ wounds, the next day he was surprised to find that the men he had treated in this manner were much healthier than those treated with boiling oil. Later he found that instead of stopping bleeding by burning the vessels with a hot iron, he could tie them up with silk ligatures. This was very much in the spirit of the Renaissance, to challenge old ideas, and to test new ones. Unfortunately his methods were not popular among other surgeons. Especially when they discovered  that the tread used for the ligatures could actually carry infections into the wound.

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Who provided medical care in the Renaissance?

There were 8 main types of healers in the Renaissance. The first was the family member (almost always the woman), looking after the daily care of her family. Then there would be the Wise woman, or the Travelling quack.

 The Wise woman would have no formal training, but would have spent most of her life learning and practising her ways. Her treatments were often local remedies, mixing those that were proven to work, with superstitious methods. In the Middle Ages Wise women were called White witches or sorceresses, and were ...

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