Week 3: Alternative Medicine in the 19th Cent. US

This week, we’re covering some of the alternative medicine practices that emerged in the 19th century (and will eventually decline, evolve and reemerge as contemporary CAM methods). 

While you’re reading, I want you to reflect on the alternative healing systems as a whole — how do they each define health and healing? How do they understand the cause of illness and disease? What does healing involve? How do they define “natural” and “drugs”?

I also want you to keep in mind the methods and values that define the alternative healing systems of the 1800’s and how they translate within the context of the Holistic Health Movement described in Baer’s Introduction chapter (Week 1). 

What trends and approaches covered in these chapters do you still see within the “wellness marketplace” and current pop-culture? (ex: focus on “natural”, patient focused, health responsibility on the individual, focus on prevention rather than curing, etc)

And finally, while we’ll explore this concept later in the Integrative Medicine text, alternative medicine systems that emerged during this time started to shift the responsibility of health and healing from the doctor to the individual patient. What, can you imagine, are some of the unintended consequences of shifting the responsibility of health and the blame of illness to the individual patient? 


Reading Guide

Nature Cures: Every Man His Own Physician: Thomsonianism (pg 25-48)

    • Whorton mentions the influence of Romantic philosophers in the early nineteeth century. What are these values and how are they reflected in the emergence of botanical medicine? 
    • What was the social context in which Thomsonian medicine arose? As a practice, who did it appeal to, and what was it resisting? 
    • How was Thomsonian medicine understand health, healing, and disease? How did regular medicine / allopathic doctors respond? 
    • What were the values of the Jacksonian-Era and how did Thomsonian medicine adapt / respond to these values? 

Nature Cures: Dilutions of Grandeur: Homeopathy (pg 49-75)

    • Describe Hahnemann’s process of “provings” and regular medicine’s reaction to it. 
    • Describe the homeopathic principle of “like cures likes” and its relation to healing.
    • Describe the homeopathic principle of “infinitesimals” and its relation to healing.
    • Why might homeopathy be considered “spiritual”? 
    • What does it mean when Hahnemann is described as a “vitalist”? What is the relationship between homeopathy and the concept of “vital force”?
    • How did Hahnemann speculate that his healing system “worked”?
    • Why was homeopathy so popular among its patients?  
    • How were the patients of homeopathy different (in population, demographics, etc), than Thomsonian patients? Why?

Nature Cures: Therapeutic Universalism: Naturopathy (pg 191-217)

Note: I had you skip over “Chapter 4, Physical Puritanism: Hygeiotherapy”, which lays out a lot of the foundations of Naturopathy — it’s a fascinating read, but this chapter covers vaccinations and vivisection, both of which are vital to understanding contemporary questions of alternative medicine and naturopathy. Just remember we’re missing a chapter and take a sixty-year leap in terms of socio-historical context. 

    • How does Naturopathy understand illness and disease?
    • What is the role of the individual in regards to personal health and illness? What, can you imagine, are some of the unintended consequences of shifting responsibility of health and the blame of illness to the individual patient? 
    • What is the naturopathic approach to “drugs”? 
    • What does “Ideal Living” include, from the naturopathic perspective? What is its relationship to Protestant, Christian ideals?  
    • What is the role of the healer / doctor in the naturopathic approach? 
    • What is involved / included in the naturopathic healing regimen? 
    • Describe the relationship between naturopathy and the anti-vaccination movement? And the anti-vivisection / animal experimentation movement? 



  • Romanticism
  • Jacksonian-Era
  • Domestic medicine
  • Folk medicine
  • Vitalism
  • Vital Force
  • Dynamis
  • Hydropathy
  • Hygeiotherapy
  • Grahamism
  • Vivisection

Week 2: Medical Pluralism

This week, our readings focus on the concept of medical pluralism and the dynamic between alternative healing systems and “regular medicine” (what will eventually become “biomedicine”). While you read about some of the “founders” and approaches / values of these systems, take careful note of which communities and populations are draw to the systems, and what ways that they are “resisting” the establishment, medical or otherwise. 

I also urge you to think about what’s missing from these conversations, right off the bat. While Baer does a succinct job in bringing attention to the issues of race, ethnicity, and gender in alternative healing systems in subsequent chapters, I find that both chapters this week are inattentive to the voices, contributions and participation of people of color in these early heterodox systems. Baer notes that many of the founders of natural healing modalities took knowledge gained from “herb doctors” (14), Native American systems (16), and local healers — I’m curious about who these folks were and how this plays into conversations of intellectual property, appropriation, etc. Whorton doesn’t seem to engage in these questions at all.   


Group Discussions: 

The groups should be close to solidifying. If you haven’t already, start to reach out to your group members and schedule your first discussion to cover the readings for Week 1 and Week 2. 

If your group has less than three (3) people, I’ve un-enrolled you and asked that you join another group. The groups do not have a maximum number of people required, but I do find that at least three in a group is helpful in terms of diversity of ideas and division of work. 

Remember, these groups can meet virtually through a video conferencing platform (via Google Hangouts, Skype, Zoom, etc) — just make sure you note the platform you use (or physical location if you meet in-person) in your Discussion Notes. 

Discussion Group Notes #1 is due on Sunday, Jan 26th via iCollege group assignments. For details about the assignment, make sure you’ve read over all of the documents linked here


Reflection Journals: 

This week you’ll start your Reflection Journal via EduBlog. For details on getting started, check out the Learning Journal Assignment tab, and feel free to comment with any questions you might have. 

By the end of this week (January 26th), I expect you to have:

  • created your EduBlog site,
  • connected it to “My Class”,
  • written your first reflection journal entry,
  • and commented on two peer reflections.

For those of you interested in a basic introduction to EduBlogs / WordPress, take a look at this video, Getting started with EduBlogs

EduBlogs also has a number of helpful User Guides 


Reading Prompts

“Nineteenth-Century American Medicine as a Pluralistic System”, Hans A. Baer, (7-30)

    • Baer uses religious language throughout the chapter to describe the dynamic between regular /bio-medicine and CAM (heterodox, heresy, convert) – why does he do this? 
    • What is the relationship between these healing methods and 19th cent. white American Protestantism? What do you know about this religious background and its values / worldview?
    • According to Baer, why are the heterodox healing systems so popular in the 19th century? What are the social contexts and cultural values that makes medical pluralism so appealing? What are these communities resisting? 
    • What does the medical pluralism of the 19th century tell you about CAM today, if anything? 


“The Hippocratic Heresy: Alternative Medicine’s Worldview,” James C. Whorton (3-24)

    • How does the cartoon described in the opening paragraphs of Whorton’s chapter illustrate the core philosophies and values of alternative healing practices, in opposition to “regular” / biomedicine? 
    • What approaches and prescriptions were utilized by heroic medical practitioners? Why was it called “heroic” medicine? 
    • What are some of the ways in which “natural healing” differentiates itself from and critqiues “regular medicine”? 
    • On page 11, Whorton describes CAM’s early relationship with “Alternative Science” — how do you think this approach might manifest in later iterations of holistic health? 
    • As a historian, how does Whorton approach the question of “efficacy” and whether the healing “works”? How do you think this relates to our approach as Religious Studies scholars? 



  • Medical pluralism 
  • Heroic medicine
  • Calomel
  • Vitalism
  • Allopathy
  • Mesmerism
  • Spiritualism
  • Mind Cure
  • Bourgeois, petit-bourgeois 
  • Empiricism 
  • Scientific pathology
  • Holistic