• Joachim Bonde
4. semester, Historie, Kandidat (Kandidatuddannelse)
During the day on June 12, 1853, a young carpenter was brought to the hospital at Nyboder in Copenhagen, the Capital of Denmark after complaining about feeling nauseous and sick throughout the day. The young carpenter died in less than two weeks, and soon after, three other patients from the same ward, suffering from similar symptoms died as well. The doctors had gotten suspicious that it could have been cholera, but it was not until further autopsies of the three bodies that the cause of death could be declared. By then it was too late. On the 24th of June 1853, Copenhagen was declared infested of the vicious cholera. This marked the beginning of one of largest epidemics in the history of the city. Upwards of 7,200 people became infected of whom 4,700 had died by the end of the epidemic on October 13, 1853.
The medical societies of Europe in the 19th century was split into two conflicting schools of thought when discussing how diseases such as cholera came into being and was spread. The doctors of Europe either supported the theory of contagionism or the miasma theory until the Germ theory of disease was decisively established in the 1880’s. The doctors who supported the theory of contagionism believed that diseases was passed on by contact in an impure environment. Believers in contagionism therefore supported quarantine as a mean of fighting diseases. The miasma theory stated that diseases were caused by polluted air, termed miasma. Miasma was caused by rotting organic matter, which was why supporters of the miasma theory believed in sanitation and hygiene as means of fighting diseases. This dispute characterized the Danish medical society as well.
During the epidemic, the doctors of Copenhagen were in charge of the fight against the contagious cholera and treatment of the diseased citizens. The efforts of the doctors focused on disinfection and containment. The epidemic exposed how the city's terrible sanitary conditions were one of the main reasons behind the outbreak of cholera, and the disease emphasized the need for structural reforms and development of a sewerage system. During the 1850s, the leading doctors of Denmark believed in the miasma theory, which was why the doctors were a part of the main agitators in favour of establishing a sufficient sewerage system as part of the hygienic agenda following the epidemic.
The leading Danish doctors embarked in a struggle towards improving the sanitary conditions as well as their political influence on the laws of public health during the 1850s. During this struggle, it became apparent that several dichotomies existed such as health opposite economic considerations, the doctors opposite politicians, the theory of contagionism opposite the miasma theory, and absolute monarchy opposite democracy. These dichotomies defined the discussions as well as the negotiation and cooperation between the national liberal politicians and the leading doctors.
In The Birth of the Clinic, Michel Foucault theorizes the development of modern medicine and its relation to the State throughout the 18th and 19th century. The development of natural sciences has similarly been theorized in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn. Through application of Foucault’s and Kuhn’s theoretical works, this paper argues that the Danish medical society and doctors developed their medical understanding and played a decisive part in the sanitary improvements of the major Danish cities. During this process, the doctors were able to improve their political influence on health legislation by applying their knowledge of contagion.
This paper discusses how the development and influence of the Danish doctors compares to the development in other European countries, through the use of international research of the development in European medical theory and Danish research of the development and implementation of hygienic measures. From a medical theoretical standpoint, the understanding amongst Danish doctors of the spread of disease was similar to other European medical societies, but the Danish doctors were able to apply their medical understanding as part of political agitations and the indications of the need for sanitary improvements in the major cities.
The politicians of Denmark during the 1850s expressed an aversion towards the medical society's influence on politics. Despite the aversion, the politicians benefitted from the knowledge of the doctors. As such, this paper points out that the doctors became major contributors to the legislative changes and structural improvements of the sanitary conditions in the aftermath of the epidemic in 1853.
Udgivelsesdato2 jun. 2020
Antal sider88
ID: 333390066