Horrocks Publishes Popular Print and Popular Medicine: Almanacs and Health Advice in Early America
August 4, 2008 – In this innovative study of the relationship between popular print and popular attitudes toward the body, health, and disease in antebellum America, Thomas Horrocks, Associate Librarian for Collections at Houghton Library, focuses our attention on a publication long neglected by scholars—the almanac. Approaching his subject as both a historian of the book and a historian of medicine, Horrocks contends that the almanac, the most popular secular publication in America from the late eighteenth century to the first quarter of the nineteenth, both shaped and was shaped by early Americans' beliefs and practices pertaining to health and medicine.
Analyzing the astrological, therapeutic, and regimen advice offered in American almanacs over two centuries, and comparing it with similar advice offered in other genres of popular print of the period, Horrocks effectively demonstrates that the almanac was a leading source of health information in America prior to the Civil War. He contends that the almanac was an integral component of a complicated, fragmented, semi-vernacular health literature of the period, and that the genre played a leading role in disseminating astrological health advice as well as shaping contemporary and future perceptions of astrology.
In terms of therapeutic and regimen advice, Horrocks asserts that the almanac performed a complementary role, confirming and reinforcing traditional beliefs and practices. By analyzing the almanac as a cultural artifact that represents a time, a place, and a certain set of assumptions and beliefs, he demonstrates that the genre can provide a lens through which scholars may examine early American attitudes and practices concerning their health in particular and American popular culture in general.
"Given the wide readership of almanacs in early America and their importance to the business of printing and publishing, the neglect of scholarship on almanacs verges on the scandalous. . . . Horrocks's intense focus, his broad range of primary sources, his grasp of the positions of other scholars, his crisp argumentation, and his clear, accessible prose combine to make this a valuable study." — E. Jennifer Monaghan, author of Learning to Read and Write in Colonial America
Reprinted courtesy of University of Massachusetts Press