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Significant changes in medicine in the period 1450 – 1700 Assignment

Whilst women weren’t trained in medicine during this time period, their traditional roles as healers and midwives were still important ones but women only ever performed them. These roles were just extensions of their status as housewives which can be seen by the way they performed such tasks. Women would use their knowledge of herbs to concoct remedies for the sick and they would record them in recipe books to be handed down to their children. They would also hand down certain recipes by word of mouth.

Source A supports this in that it shows a lay Sister preparing a remedy in just such a way. With the arrival of a more medicine-aware society, the role of healer shifted into the hands of merchants and businessman. New drugs coming in from foreign lands, such as the New World, were handled by these very people and were not available to women. Source B shows that when it says: New and expensive cures were developed using the drugs imported as a result of trade between Europe and India, China and the New World.

These drugs were handled by merchants and businessmen, surgeons and chemists. They were not easily available for women to use. They were obtained by men, handled by men, and sold to men. The traditional medicine-woman was left with her herbs, which were far less successful than the new drugs now available on the market. It was not long before women were forced out of their other traditional role, professional midwifery.

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In 1620 Peter Chamberlain invented the forceps and put the role of the midwife firmly in the hands of trained physicians due to the necessity of some knowledge of anatomy. Naturally, poorer women had no choice to make use of the services of women midwives but richer women went to the professionals. Of course, women were banned from studying anatomy due to the fact that no universities would accept a female student. The second significant change was the change in medical theory that happened during this time period.

Since Roman times Galen had always been the foremost authority on anatomical theory. Nobody had questioned his theories; the Church had forbidden any challenges to Galens work because his theories fitted in with the Churches belief in a system dictated by nature. Furthermore, they did not allow dissections of human beings (the very reason why Galens theories were incorrect) so it was virtually impossible to provide proof that Galens theories were wrong. However, times were changing, as was the Church. They no longer ordered that no dissections were allowed of human beings.

This opened the door for physicians such as Versailles, as can be seen in source B: New ideas about medicine were developed by scholars in the universities during the Renaissance and Scientific Revolution. These new ideas were based on the close observation and dissection of the human body. Versailles did not set out to prove Galen wrong; in fact he had great respect for the man. It took him 12 years to openly admit that Galen was incorrect in his second edition of his book, The Fabric of the Human Body.

However, the fact remained that he did prove him to be wrong and this changed dramatically the way people thought about anatomy. This paved the way to cures that were carefully based on the inner workings of the human body and these ultimately turned out to be much more successful than the guess work based on flawed theories that had been the practice for so many years. In conclusion, whilst the first change, the changes in the roles assumed by women, is still an important part of medical history in this time period, it didn’t change the use of medicine to better society in a significant way.

The increased interest in the study of anatomy, and the rewriting of major medical theories, made a drastic change to the remedies used to treat patients. The study of anatomy was the first step towards the modern medicine in use today and it kick-started the field of medicine, a field that had been held previously by amateurs. It was now in the hands of professionals who ensured that it was developed sufficiently to help other people.

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