Sharing Our Research

Following on from our research over the summer, we decided to search for opportunities to share what we have learnt, both about the topic itself and about undergraduate research. During the course of the summer, we received feedback from a number of academics within the field, and found this to be very beneficial in improving our research. We want to be able to repeat this in a professional setting with other undergraduates who have also undertaken research. Gathering outside perspectives and opinions on our research and how we can improve in the future is of significant importance to us.

With this in mind, we decided to apply for the British Conference of Undergraduate Research (BCUR), which will be held at Bournemouth University in April 2017. Our abstract was accepted, meaning that we now have the opportunity to present our research to a larger audience. It also means that we can view the work of other undergraduate researchers, learning from each other and inspiring each other to try new methods of research. Collectively, we both decided that we would like to present our research in the form of a poster. The combination of visual and verbal communication of ideas is gaining prominence. Given that our blog uses photographic evidence of our research, we wanted to be able to display this away from a presentation setting, in which pictures are often fleeting and cannot be focused on. It also means that we will be able to engage with other audiences in a setting where debate is encouraged, but criticism is also constructive.   

In addition to this, our abstract from our BCUR application was forwarded to be nominated for Posters in Parliament. By successfully being nominated to attend this event too, we have been given two opportunities to visually and verbally present our research to two diverse audiences. We are looking forward to receiving constructive criticism on our research, which has not yet been shared beyond the confines of the internet. It will be interesting to receive feedback from academics outside of the field of research, as well as observe the methodologies that other undergraduate students have employed. Importantly, we are also looking forward to returning to our research and continuing to develop our ideas.

BCUR 2017:



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).

Encouraging Experimentation: Manuscripts

Both Anne Battam and Sarah Jackson have demonstrated the encouragement of experimentation by including receipts with little or no efficacy statements. As part of printed books, these receipts were likely to be marketed at a public audience. It would be interesting to use manuscripts such as A book of culinary and medicinal recipes in various hands (1767-69) to trace a trend, particularly with manuscripts being predominantly used for personal benefit. Despite this difference between printed and manuscript books, both types of literature face the same problem of challenges to authorship and ownership. The books are compiled from receipts circulated between gentlewomen and homosocial groups, challenging historian Monica Green’s argument that receipt books were the first genre of women’s medical knowledge (1). We could support these claims though, by focusing on experimentation as part of the receipt.

‘Mary Leigh’, the supposed owner / compiler of the manuscript, might have shown her female medical expertise by encouraging the reader to participate in experimentation. If we were to find corresponding receipts with no statement of success, then experimentation is encouraged as part of the receipt because the reader needs to discover the outcome. Efficacy (or success) statements were a continuation from the seventeenth-century, so to find them absent in the manuscript from 1767 would suggest that the reader is in charge of obtaining results.

The manuscript contains two corresponding receipts called A receipt for the bite of a mad dog and Dr Mead’s receipt for the bite of a Mad Dog. Both receipts require a somewhat similar level of knowledge on the anatomical differences of men and women by referring to different dosage administrations. However, the first receipt requires the purchasing of Venice treacle, a significantly costly and complex ingredient (Ingredients and Self-Treatment). At this stage, this appears to be the only obstruction which might cause a reader to consider only experimenting with one receipt. In our previous post (Encouraging Experimentation: Anne Battam), we discussed the hindrances caused to experimentation by expensive ingredients. However, when discussing motives surrounding expenses and ingredients, the nature of a manuscript is more personal compared to that of a printed book.  Therefore, ‘Mary Leigh’ might have chosen receipts knowing that she can afford the ingredients involved.

Interestingly though, neither of the two receipts provides a statement of efficacy. This is resonated in our two previous posts, where we suggested that the reader might experiment to discover which receipt provides the best results. Unusual in this instance is the absence of any personal annotations, which were popular in manuscripts where owners had trialled receipts. Therefore, it becomes more difficult to argue that the manuscript, when compared to the printed books, encourages reader participation in experimentation.

Having already acknowledged the likelihood of the transmission of receipts, it is normal to notice the inclusion of a receipt by a doctor. Historian Leigh Whaley gives examples of eminent physicians who published material in the eighteenth-century, for example, Dr William Buchan’s Domestic medicine, or the family physician (1769) (2). Though the example provided is post-1767, it highlights the likelihood of women compiling receipt books by dipping in to material published by physicians (something we discussed in our previous post Evaluation of Methodology: Editions and Standardisation).

Straying slightly from the theme of experimentation, we come to historians Pennell and Leong’s focus on the notions of trustworthiness attached to domestic medicine versus physicians. If compilers wanted to encourage experimentation, then perhaps they did so by giving readers the opportunity to compare domestic medicine with that produced by the physicians. Dr Mead’s receipt for the bite of a Mad Dog might be trialled first by the reader. This is because of its methods (including bloodletting, a Hippocratic technique encouraged by Galen) and descriptions of how to prepare ingredients provide the reader with a detailed and informed medical treatment.

It might also be a chance for readers (and compilers) to experiment with receipts and make comparisons based on which receipt might be perceived as ‘superior’ in knowledge and whether this is reflected in the results. Historian Seth LeJacq argues that receipts by orthodox physicians were included to provide ‘evidence of fruitful interactions with the medical men and interest in their knowledge’ (3). This is reflected in Hannah Glasse’s 1780 edition of her receipt book Art Cookery Made Plain Easy which also includes Dr Mead’s receipt.

However, compilers and authors of receipts were ‘domestic’ as well as ‘medical’ writers. By including receipts by physicians alongside domestic receipts, they might intend for domestic medicine to become superior post-experimentation. We expect this type of rivalry was not uncommon, with LeJacq stating how ‘in early modern recipe books, these stories often serve to show laypeople beating physicians at their own game’ (4). This means that both physicians’ and authors’ receipts (absent of efficacy statements) faced experimentation by readers not only for desired results, but also possibly through rivalry.

It cannot go unmissed that domestic medicine authors and compilers faced elite class rivalry with physicians. Historian N. D. Jewson explains how ‘in spite of their genteel status and pre-eminence among medical practitioners, physicians did not occupy a place of precedence within the ranks of the upper class. In general, physicians came near the bottom of this hierarchy’ (5). Therefore, if we look back at corresponding receipts, it is possible to suggest that female compilers such as ‘Mary Leigh’ encouraged experimentation as a form of competition.

Overall, there are several components to these corresponding receipts that suggest the encouragement of experimentation took place. Though this manuscript tells us nothing of ‘Mary Leigh’s’ motives, we can expand on the receipts by applying a range of contextual possibilities. A trend can be traced between all three sources (by Sarah Jackson, Anne Battam, and ‘Mary Leigh’) in which no success statements are displayed. Therefore, the reader is encouraged to experiment and identify the most successful medicine. Furthermore, it could be argued (if more evidence was to be gathered) that compilers of domestic receipt books encouraged experimentation as a form of competition and rivalry.

(1) Monica Green in Elaine Leong, Collecting Knowledge for the Family: Recipes, Gender and Practical Knowledge in the Early Modern English Household, Centaurus (2013)

(2) Leigh Whaley, Women and the Practice of Medical Care in Early Modern Europe, 1400-1800, Chapter 8: Motherly Medicine: Domestic Healers and Apothecaries (pp. 150-173), Palgrave Macmillan (2011)

(3) Seth LeJacq, The Bounds of Domestic Healing: Medical Recipes, Storytelling and Surgery in Early Modern England, Social History of Medicine (2013)

(4) LeJacq (2013)

(5) N. D. Jewson, Medical Knowledge and the Patronage System in 18th Century England, Sociology (1974)

Ingredients and Self-Treatment

Self-treatment in the eighteenth-century was encouraged by receipt books offering advice on both domestic matters and medicine. Historians such as Mary Fissell, Roy Porter and Elaine Leong have focused on how receipt books allowed freedom from often expensive healthcare providers such as physicians. In our last post (Evaluation of methodology (continued):), we explored how different editions of the same book often had changing numbers of receipts, increasing standardisation, and more reliance on contributions. These conscious decisions by female compilers to alter their compiled literature is indicative of experimentation, something which continued from the seventeenth-century onwards. Therefore, we decided to widen our focus by looking at how ingredients were used and prepared. Self-treatment and the importance of ingredients both come under the purview of domestic matters (such as readers preparing their own food) and medical instances, both of which are intermingled within the same receipt books. We know that the circulation of receipts included written pieces by both men and women. However, a female compiler’s choice to use receipts with interlinking natural and pre-processed ingredients shows the consolidation of female knowledge and stimulated experimentation.

Historian Fissell suggests that receipts were ‘composed of ingredients that early-modern readers would have been able to assemble from a kitchen garden, a trip to a market and/ or an apothecary’s shop’ (2). Receipts often contained a mixture of natural ingredients. These were often easily accessible to those who had means of entry to botanical gardens. Additionally, historian Elaine Leong explains how domestic and medical practices were ‘tied to the land’ (1), suggesting that natural ingredients were also readily available in gardens owned by the gentry. Receipts also contained complex ingredients which could be purchased from apothecaries. This highlights the extent of the disparities between types of ingredients and how they were sourced for use in receipts. Eighteenth-century female compilers such as Sarah Jackson included numerous receipts which utilised both natural and pre-processed ingredients to treat their own illnesses. Jackson’s 1754 The director: or, Young woman’s best companion contained a receipt for The Red Powder famous for Curing of Fevers of all sorts, and Agues. Uncomplicated ingredients such as betony were used alongside chemically processed ingredients like Venice treacle. Writers in the century previous to Jackson such as Nicholas Culpeper attempted to heighten the importance of the herb betony, recommending it as ‘a precious herb, well worth keeping in your house’ (3). The complexity of ingredients in receipts is demonstrated in this example. This is because the use of ingredients such as betony provides the reader with a false perception that the receipt is made up of easily-sourced and well-known ingredients.

Alternatively, Venice Treacle is made up of around sixty-four ingredients, and is a concoction of medicines. Combinations of various chemicals relates to the Paracelsian theory of Hermeticism, in which all matter within the universe was interrelated. This suggests that substances including herbs and chemicals could be combined to create ingredients containing medicinal qualities. Venice Treacle was developed before Paracelsian theories came about, but this rise in the popularity of such principles could have contributed somewhat to its persistent usage as an ingredient in receipts. As the receipt doesn’t include instructions on how to prepare this, we can assume that individuals would have bought it from a local apothecary. Venice treacle was also one of the most expensive items to buy from an apothecary. Work by a plethora of historians on both seventeenth and eighteenth-century receipt books has shown the continuous building of the important tradition of charitable medicine by aristocratic women. It might perhaps be the case that, if these women (alongside other male authors) were not part of the aristocracy, then particularly expensive ingredients would not be as commonplace. We have so far struggled to find any background information on Sarah Jackson as a female compiler. The choice to include expensive receipts might therefore suggest to us that she was a woman of aristocratic status.

When focusing on this particular receipt, differences in instructions between the natural and complex ingredients can be found. For example, straightforward techniques are employed, instructing the reader to ‘steep them in three pints of white wine’ for ingredients which would have been easy to collect (4). In contrast, pre-processed ingredients like Venice Treacle were used in conjunction with more complex methods and standardised measurements. Readers had to add ‘half an ounce’ of Venice Treacle, strain the mixture and leave it to dry in the sun (5). Receipts like this allowed women (and occasionally men) to confidently treat their families because they often contained detailed instructions on how to deal with more complex ingredients.

curing fevers of all sorts.jpg
The Red Powder famous for Curing of Fevers of all Sorts and Agues – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery S/JAC)

Elsewhere, a receipt For a pain in the head in Anne Battam’s 1759 The lady’s assistant in the oeconomy of the table, outlines where to buy one of the ingredients rather than how to prepare it. The receipt uses a mixture of oyster shell powder, water and milk to aid the symptoms of a pain in the head. Rather than advising individuals on how to prepare oyster shell powder, the receipt suggests ‘one pound of this powder 6d. at Mr Carter’s in the Hay-market’ (6). Advice on where to buy ingredients makes the receipt less demanding by removing complex processes.

From these two examples we can see that the preparation of ingredients was a complex part of self-treatment in the mid-eighteenth-century. The two receipt books studied act almost as advice manuals telling readers how to prepare ingredients, explaining complex processes, and giving information about where to buy ingredients from.

for a pain in the head 1
For a pain in the head – Reproduced with the permission of Special Collections, Leeds University Library (Cookery A/BAT)

(1) Elaine Leong, Herbals she peruseth: reading medicine in early modern England, Renaissance Studies (2014)

(2) Mary Fissell, Women in Healing Spaces, The Cambridge Companion to Early Modern Women’s Writing (ed. Laura Knoppers) (2009)

(3) Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654)

 (4) Sarah Jackson, The director: or, Young woman’s best companion (1754/55)

(5) Jackson, (1754/55)

(6)  Anne Battam, The lady’s assistant in the oeconomy of the table: a collection of scarce and valuable receipts (1750/59)