As we began to reflect on what we have learned from our research, we returned to our initial aims. Our main aim was to make conclusions about the themes of dosage, experimentation and ingredients in eighteenth-century medicine. Over the course of the summer, we have explored the contextual knowledge behind receipt books as well as the research-based issues involved.
When starting the blog, we assumed that printed books were written by the women stated as the author. However, we now realise that receipts were compiled from a number of outside sources. An example of this is Sarah Jackson’s inclusion of receipts from newspapers in her 1754 and 1755 book. The issue of ownership is complex and one which we would like to explore further in the future. Our last trio of posts on encouraging experimentation show the direction we could follow if we were to conduct further research on a compiler’s motives. The question of authorship altered the way we approached our research in more than one way. As well as focusing more on the extent to which circulation took place (i.e. looking more broadly at both male and female examples of compiled medical literature), it might be beneficial to ask certain questions about what being a ‘compiler’ means. We started to apply this tactic in our later posts, asking whether being a ‘compiler’ meant that experimentation was merely part of the receipt. We also questioned who was participating in the experimentation: the author, compiler, or the reader. By doing so, it is easy to see how a theme such as experimentation can expand its dimensions beyond simply the ‘author’s’ intentions.
From our findings on dosage in eighteenth-century receipts, we concluded that receipts gave clear instructions on how to administer as well as the quantity of treatment required. Receipts consistently engaged with Galenic principles by including instructions for cyclical dosages. An example of this can be found in our post on Treating the Bite of a Mad Dog, linked with astrological cycles for dosage. Engaging with medical theories in domestic receipts is a challenging concept which has somewhat dominated our motives when conducting research. The writer / compiler’s desire to conform to contemporary medical principles also relates to the problems of researching literature, including speculation surrounding ‘authorship’. Authors, and particularly compilers, of receipts books were often writers / collectors of both ‘medical’ and ‘domestic’ receipts. This means that, when discussing the attraction offered by medical principles (well-grounded and trusted by readers), we have to remember that the literature was often marketed at readers interested in both domesticity and medicine.
One of our main aims was to understand whether a receipt actively encouraged experimentation and the refinement of female expertise. We have established from various sources that efficacy statements were a common aspect of receipt books from the seventeenth-century onwards (we discussed this in our post on Experimentation and Preventative Medicine). This indicates another issue we faced when researching. In future instances, it would be beneficial to focus on primary and secondary reading from the century beforehand too. We found that, from the seventeenth to eighteenth-century, there was a sense of continuation rather than progression. Despite changing our initial focus from innovation to expertise, we still theorised on the possibility of preventative medicine. We adjusted our motives for research and found that instead of looking for the cause of a disease, domestic receipts were often interested in relieving or preventing further symptoms. This relates to what is noticeably our most significant challenge when researching this topic. We struggled (on more than one occasion) to justify our claims based on the evidence we had. Evidence which supported claims such as ‘these women participated in experimentation’ was much harder to come by than first anticipated. This is what led us to look at more obvious forms of evidence, such as the inclusion of corresponding receipts (Encouraging Experimentation: Sarah Jackson) and the obvious changes between one edition and the next. We have learned that, in future, we should focus more on the evidence rather than the contextual knowledge surrounding our argument. By taking more time to justify our claims, the evidence becomes complimentary to our argument rather than questionable.
An area of domestic receipt books that we found particularly interesting was editions and standardisation (in our post Evaluation of Methodology: Editions and Standardisation). Throughout various posts on our blog we have attempted to draw conclusions about why receipts may have been omitted or included in later editions. In our view, this is clear evidence of experimentation. Increases in standardisation could point to an increasing engagement with experimentation. However, as our research concluded, standardisation could not be traced between editions to find a clear trend.
Choosing to study this subject has benefited us in numerous ways. Besides learning about female medical literature in the mid-eighteenth-century, the knowledge we have gained on how to approach a research project is transferable to all our future studies. Through receiving feedback and revisiting our older pieces, we have learned to approach research from a more analytical perspective. At the same time, publicly displaying what we have learned has aided our ability to discuss research in a more accessible way. Therefore, we have diversified our skills in various elements of research. Most importantly, we believe that the research we have undertaken has encouraged us to pursue similar paths in the future (e.g. postgraduate research).