Unless we are very lucky, over the course of our lives we’ll be plagued by a variety of minor illnesses and injuries. Colds, sore throats, stiff joints, bruises – all of these are part of the human experience. Fortunately, we have access to a variety of therapeutics that can help alleviate our misery. A pharmacy might supply over-the-counter medicines that can provide relief for colds, fevers, and upset stomachs. Minor scrapes can be treated with a bit of antibiotic ointment and a band-aid. Heat packs can help with aching limbs. And sometimes, maybe all you need is a cup of chamomile tea to help soothe a scratchy throat.
Just as illness and injury are universal, they are also historical constants. Europeans living during the early modern period, which lasted roughly from 1500 to 1800, suffered from the same ailments that plague us. Although many of our modern remedies – aspirin, pseudoephedrine, antibiotics – would have been inconceivable to them, some aspects of our respective medical landscapes have remained relatively unchanged. Like us, early modern Europeans relied on a number of easily obtainable remedies that they could either purchase from an apothecary or prepare at home. Drawing from the rare book collections at the Becker Medical Library, this exhibit sheds light on the remedies that could have been found in early modern medicine cabinets.