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Palgrave Macmillan

Contagionism Catches On

Medical Ideology in Britain, 1730-1800

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  • © 2017


  • Provides the social outcome of the acceptance of contagionism, proposed and explored in DeLacy’s first book, The Germ of an Idea (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016)

  • Appeals to cultural and social historians, as well as historians of medicine and eighteenth century Britain

  • Describes the consequences of the evolution of contagionism in eighteenth century Britain

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About this book

This book shows how contagionism evolved in eighteenth century Britain and describes the consequences of this evolution. By the late eighteenth century, the British medical profession was divided between traditionalists, who attributed acute diseases to the interaction of internal imbalances with external factors such as weather, and reformers, who blamed contagious pathogens. The reformers, who were often “outsiders,” English Nonconformists or men born outside England, emerged from three coincidental transformations: transformation in medical ideas, in the nature and content of medical education, and in the sort of men who became physicians. Adopting contagionism led them to see acute diseases as separate entities, spurring a process that reoriented medical research, changed communities, established new medical institutions, and continues to the present day. 

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Table of contents (8 chapters)


“The book consists of nine densely packed and detailed chapters, including the introduction and conclusion. … Each chapter covers new areas in the jagged road leading to contagionism and its competitors. … DeLacys sources are international, with material in English, Latin, Italian and French. A very careful historian, she notes bibliographical mistakes that scholars have made … . The source notes contain much of interest and should not be skipped. Margaret DeLacy passed the stimulus test with flying colors.” (Shelby Shapiro, The Independent Scholar, Vol. 8, December, 2021)

“This book is a study of a revolution in pathology that occurred in Britain in the second half of the eighteenth century. … Margaret DeLacy’s study is a valuable contribution to the existing literature.” (Laurence Brockliss, Isis, Vol. 109 (4), December, 2018)

Authors and Affiliations

  • Portland, USA

    Margaret DeLacy

About the author

Margaret DeLacy is the author of The Germ of an Idea: Contagionism, Religion and Society in Britain, 1660-1730 (Palgrave MacMillan, 2016), Prison Reform in Lancashire, 1700-1850: A Study in County Administration (Stanford University Press, 1986), and articles on medical history. She is an independent scholar in Portland Oregon.


Bibliographic Information

  • Book Title: Contagionism Catches On

  • Book Subtitle: Medical Ideology in Britain, 1730-1800

  • Authors: Margaret DeLacy

  • DOI:

  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan Cham

  • eBook Packages: History, History (R0)

  • Copyright Information: The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2017

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-3-319-50958-7Published: 03 August 2017

  • Softcover ISBN: 978-3-319-84531-9Published: 03 August 2018

  • eBook ISBN: 978-3-319-50959-4Published: 25 July 2017

  • Edition Number: 1

  • Number of Pages: IX, 347

  • Topics: History of Britain and Ireland, Social History, History of Science

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