Furnishing the Shop: The Material Culture of Apothecaries in Britain and the Atlantic World (c.1617-1815)

Booth, Christopher M (2022) Furnishing the Shop: The Material Culture of Apothecaries in Britain and the Atlantic World (c.1617-1815). PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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This thesis examines the material culture evidence for the apothecary shops of Britain, Ireland, and British North America between 1617 when the Society of Apothecaries of London was founded and 1815 when the Apothecaries Act made the apothecary a general practitioner of medicine. Given their ubiquity, and the centrality of material culture to both their medical practice and retail spaces, a thorough material assessment of apothecaries is a notable gap in the historiography of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries which this important interdisciplinary thesis fills.

First, the thesis explores the visual and material experience of apothecaries’ shops utilising ten archaeological assemblages from the City of London, Stratford, Brentford, Colchester, Norwich, Dublin, and Williamsburg VA, along with probate inventories and contemporary manuscript and printed sources. It examines the remarkable similarity of these spaces in this period and across the North Atlantic and explains potential differences. Second, the thesis draws on the same array of sources, as well as trade cards and prints, to explore how and why apothecaries used their material culture within the shop to engender trust in their patients as medicine became removed from home-produced, traditional herbal remedies. Finally, this thesis explores the role of apothecaries in integrating newly ‘discovered’ and imported materia medica into acceptable consumption for British patients whilst simultaneously emphasising their mastery of nature through participation in global networks of knowledge exchange and enquiry, and by displaying naturalia in their shops.

The thesis concludes that apothecaries, although largely overlooked within medical, scientific, and social history, were important agents of historical change in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Making conscious use of material culture to create remarkably similar visual and material experiences, their shops were both a space of broad and unusual encounter with the products of the global trade in medicinal plants and knowledge, and a space of anxiety, where harm and healing were closely associated. The unfamiliarity of the materials that apothecaries sold, and their changing position within the medical marketplace, forced them to work hard to introduce and contextualise these products within systems of medicine and acceptable consumption so that they might engender trust which would allow them to provide care for their patients and profit.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: King, Chris
Smith, Kate
Keywords: apothecaries, material culture, retail history, archaeology, seventeenth century, eighteenth century, materia medica
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
H Social sciences > HF Commerce
R Medicine > RS Pharmacy and materia medica
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Arts > School of Humanities
Item ID: 68601
Depositing User: Booth, Christopher
Date Deposited: 03 Aug 2022 04:40
Last Modified: 01 Apr 2024 04:30
URI: https://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/68601

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