The Medical Press and its Public

Sally Frampton
University of Oxford

How was a medical periodical defined in the nineteenth century? What
kind of audiences did they have? And by what means was the
‘medical’ distinguished from the ‘lay’ within print culture?
In this paper I draw on my research which focuses upon the medical
press in the nineteenth century. Scholarly literature on medical
periodicals is sparse and generally focused on those titles that
remain well-known today such as The Lancet and British Medical
Journal. While digitization of periodicals by the Wellcome Trust, the
Bodleian Library and the Medical Heritage Library has greatly
increased the numbers that are available online, many remain
accessible only as print copies. By employing a methodological
approach that examines a wide range of periodicals, many of which may
challenge our understanding of how a medical periodical is defined, I
show that as well as promoting professional cohesiveness, medical
periodicals of the nineteenth century were also significant in
facilitating laypeople’s engagement with and contributions to
medical knowledge and politics. As readers of professional weeklies
such as The Lancet and Medical Times, as publishers and editors of
periodicals campaigning against ‘orthodox’ medicine such as The
Anti-Vaccinator, and as advice-seekers writing to popular medical
journals such as Health, the non-professional was a presence
throughout medical periodical culture. However their presence did not
go uncontested by the profession. During the second half of the
century there was increasing concern that laypeople were being made
party to more medical knowledge than was appropriate, and that some
doctors were complicit in this trend by supplying information through
the press. In part this reflected disquiet about popular medical
periodicals, some of which were marketed as an economical alternative
to consulting with a practitioner, and the they role might play in
encouraging self-doctoring. But it also spoke to deeper questions
about the extent to which citizens could be active, educated and
informed in the sphere of health and medicine, without overstepping
the boundaries between the professional and the public.

The paper addresses the second strand on the call for papers by
providing a thematic overview of medical periodicals and examining the
public sphere in relation to the medical press.

Newspapers and Periodicals in Britain and Ireland from 1800 to 1900