Scurvy: The Disease of Discovery

An intellectual history of scurvy in the eighteenth century


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Dec 4, 2018
6.12 x 9.25 in.
8 color + 28 b/w illus.
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Scurvy—a disease usually associated with long stretches of maritime travel—generated extraordinary sensations. Eyes dazzled, skin was morbidly sensitive, emotions veered between disgust and delight. In this book, Jonathan Lamb presents an intellectual history of scurvy unlike any other, probing its cultural impact during the eighteenth-century age of geographic and scientific discovery. Drawing on historical accounts from scientists and voyagers as well as major literary works, Lamb explains the medical knowledge surrounding scurvy and the debates about its cause, prevention, and attempted cures. He argues that a “culture” of scurvy arose in the colony of Australia, which was prey to the disease in its early years, and identifies a literature of scurvy in the works of such figures as Herman Melville, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Francis Bacon, and Jonathan Swift. Masterful and illuminating, Scurvy shows how eighteenth-century journeys of discovery not only ventured outward to the ends of the earth, but were also an inward voyage into the realms of sensation and passion.

Awards and Recognition

  • Honorable Mention for the 2018 Louis Gottschalk Prize, American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies