Medicine in the Age of Miasma


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What does this silhouette say to a modern viewer? Does it remind you of Carnival of Venice masks, or the mysterious character from V for Vendetta? Maybe you are reminded of the goggle-donning steam punk, or perhaps it just resembles any vague nightmare—a bird-like monster clad in a broad-brimmed hat. Whatever the association, this particular costume does not conjure up feelings of comfort and relief. Given its uneasy connotations, would you be surprised if I said that this was the uniform of a medical practitioner? Yes, indeed. This is the outfit of the seventeenth-century plague doctor.

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Although this uniform may have been worn prior to the seventeenth-century (1347 marked the first major outbreak of the plague in Europe, followed by another major outbreak in 1665), researchers have only been able to find written and illustrated proof of its existence dating from the 1600s…

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