Ten key developments

Some knowledge of 19th century civilisation will help you understand 19th century medicine.

Developments in the 19th century included:

Cartoon of man defending himself from cholera with a mask, infusion on his head, foot protectors and aromatic herbs.
Cartoon of man defending himself from cholera with a mask, infusion on his head, foot protectors and aromatic herbs.

  1. A great explosion of industry (and industrial diseases such as dermatitis, lung disease and 'phossy jaw').
  2. Urbanisation (and public health problems that included 'filth diseases' such as cholera and typhus).
  3. The growth of empires (and contact with new diseases such as yellow fever).
  4. The growth of immense wealth, based on trade and industry (which created the money to spend on medical research and public health).
  5. Great advances in technology (which led to medical machines such as the electrocardiograph).
  6. Improved communications (allowed medical knowledge to spread - doctors gained information from all over the world).
  7. The growth of science and research (which led to medical breakthroughs).
  8. Democracy and socialism (people believed they had the right to good health). The right to health was one of the 'rights of man' claimed by working people during the French Revolution (which was why the medical revolution of the 19th century started in France).
  9. New ideas about evolution (Darwin) and genetics (Mendel) - broke the control of the Church over medicine and medical ethics.
  10. Wars were waged on a greater scale creating mass injuries that were hitherto unknown, and required new medical and surgical techniques.