The Magic of Medicine. Introducing Professor Lauren Kassel

As of September 2021, Lauren Kassel takes up the Chair in the History of Science at the European University Institute. In the years to follow, her expertise and guidance will extend the activities of the Working Group towards the field of the History of Medicine. 

What was the link between magic and medicine in the early modern times? What role did alchemy and astrology play in the history of science, and in early modern medicine especially? What are the histories of sex and reproduction? And how can we exploit the potential of digital humanities for the preservation of historical sources? These are some of the key questions informing Lauren Kassell’s research.

Lauren Kassell has taught in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge University since 2000, where she is also a Fellow of Pembroke College. Kassell became Professor of History of Science and Medicine in 2018. She is on leave from September 2021, to hold the Chair of History of Science in the EUI’s Department of History and Civilisation.

Professor Kassell was a founding director of the MPhil in Health, Medicine and Society that launched in 2017, and co-director of research for Cambridge Digital Humanities from 2018 to 2021. She was a visiting scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, in May 2019, and a distinguished visiting professor in the Department of History of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University from January to June 2020.

Before joining the EUI, Kassell was one of the co-applicants of the Wellcome Trust Strategic Award on Generation to Reproduction (2004–14). She was also the Director of the Casebooks Project (2008–19), a digital humanities project focused on the records of two 17th century English astrologer physicians. These are one of the largest surviving sets of private medical records in history and they represent a fascinating account of everyday life in early modern times. The casebooks have also inspired a story-driven comedy videogame, Astrologaster, for which Kassell worked as historical consultant.

As co-editor of Reproduction: Antiquity to the Present Day (CUP 2018), she contributes to a long-term account of how modern “reproduction”—an abstract process of perpetuating living organisms—replaced the old “generation”—the active making of humans, beasts, plants, and minerals.

“As a historian of science and medicine, my work has been attentive to different sorts of voices and questioned the scopes and scales with which we think about the past,” says Kassell.

She is currently writing Astrology: A Very Short Introduction for Oxford University Press, and beginning to develop a pair of projects.

“I am completing a small book on the whole history of astrology and launching two new projects. How to Live Forever brings together disparate approaches to ageing and the end of life to explore ‘prolongevity thinking’. Second, as prospective General Editor of The Cambridge History of Medicine, 6 volumes, I have assembled a team of editors, and secured a first tranche of funding for workshops to develop a proposal for an ambitious and inclusive reassessment of what the history of medicine means.”

Welcome Professor Kassel!


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