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June 21, 1965

Medicine and the Cultural BackgroundAn 18th-Century View

JAMA. 1965;192(12):1049-1054. doi:10.1001/jama.1965.03080250027006

Although in the first half of the 18th century Herman Boerhaave was unquestionably Europe's greatest physician, we might well ask why he has this reputation. With his name we associate no epoch-making discovery, no revolutionary doctrines. He was, to be sure, an outstanding clinician and teacher and a prominent chemist; yet these facts, while important, do not alone explain his great influence.

Boerhaave represented, above all, a stabilizing force in a world of turmoil. To understand his influence we must appreciate the environment in which he grew up, gain some insight into the forces at work during his formative years. For this we must understand some of the problems and issues of that period, the atmosphere that shaped his thought and provided the tensions that he tried to resolve.

The main facts of Herman Boerhaave's life are well known.1 He was born in 1668, his father was a minister.

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