Cunning-folk in the Medical Market-Place during the Nineteenth Century

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Over the last twenty years a considerable amount of valuable research has uncovered the activities of a variety of unorthodox medical practitioners in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Quack doctors, spiritual healers, medical botanists, and bone-setters have all been subjected to detailed analysis. In contrast, the practitioners of folk-magical healing have been largely overlooked. This neglect of a significant sector of the nineteenth-century medical market-place is probably due to the nature of the relevant source material. Most of the information we have about cunning-folk derives from ethnographic sources and newspaper reports. The considerable body of folkloric material on cunning-folk has been particularly overlooked because of historians' general disregard
for the anecdotal, and unsystematic way in which much of this information was gathered.
However, when folkloric sources are examined in conjunction with the concrete data supplied in newspaper reports of the prosecution of cunning-folk, new light is cast on the popular experience of healing during the nineteenth century.3 The aim of the following discussion, therefore, is to introduce cunning-folk to the debate over medical provision in nineteenth-century society, and to examine their relationship with other groups of medical providers in terms of practice and public perception
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-73
JournalMedical History
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1999


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