The history of public health has been a flourishing field in the last three decades. Yet despite a spate of excellent monographs about various epidemic diseases and many good collections about health and disease in Africa, Asia, The Middle East, Latin America, as well as Europe and North America, the most recent textbook on the history of public health is four decades old.
At the heart of this majestic and complex book is a simple story, engagingly recounted by the author. On 11 February 1855, Bernadette Soubirous, a young Pyrenean shepherdess, together with her sister Toinette and a friend Jeanne Abadie, was instructed by her impoverished mother to go out and search for tinder for the stove (p.3).
Nearly one hundred years after the death of Queen Victoria, Victorian history is, on the face of it, in remarkably good shape. Alongside Hitler, the period remains the staple fare of the English and Welsh sixth-form syllabus. In the universities - old and new - British nineteenth-century historians outnumber their eighteenth-century counterparts by about two to one.
One of the first aspects of the history of gender to be extensively researched has been, unsurprisingly, sex. A frequent meeting ground of the sexes, historians have shown how attitudes towards and practices of sexual intercourse reveal fundamental cu ltural assumptions about gender difference. But it is not only heterosexual activity that is relevant.
Professor Spence is described on the dust-cover of this book as 'perhaps now the leading historian of China in the English-speaking world'. Without doubt he is the most imaginative and the most versatile scholar working in that field. The Gate of Heavenly Peace, first published in 1981, was a history of modern China as seen through the lives of Chinese writers and intellectuals.
The social history of madness is a vibrant area of intellectual enquiry which in the past 20 years has generated an impressive series of monographs and essay collections. This volume is a scholarly addition to the literature.
This book began life some years ago as a doctoral thesis, prepared under the direction of John Merriman. It is an investigation of conflicting nineteenth-century theories on contagion. Some experts thought that illness was brought in from outside society, particularly by immigrants, others that disease arose from within through a combination of physical and moral imperfections.
By any stretch of the imagination Hitler’s rise and fall was extraordinary. He was not an intellectual. He produced no great works of philosophy or art.
The appearance of a paperback version of an important book first published in 1995 is most welcome as it will make it more readily available. Equally, it is not easy to review such a work. The scholarly reviews that appeared noting its contents do not require emendation, because the book has not been rewritten.
It is to be expected that many edited collections of essays will be somewhat disparate in content and approach whatever the overall framework. This volume, however, is even more disparate than most.