A digital edition of Simon Forman’s & Richard Napier’s medical records 1596–1634
Friday, 11 May, 11am–3pm
Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge
The event is free of charge, lunch will be provided, and places are limited. To book, please send your name and a few words about your research to Pippa Carter.
The Casebooks Project is making the medical records of two seventeenth-century English astrologers publicly available. Between 1596 and 1634, Simon Forman, Richard Napier and their assistants recorded 80,000 consultations rich with material about everyday life and ordinary people, outlandish events and famous individuals. As we prepare to launch a new search interface, we invite participants for a one-day reading workshop. This will be an opportunity to learn about the casebooks, to find and read cases relevant to your research, and to meet scholars with shared interests. Everyone is welcome, especially early career scholars. No palaeographical expertise is required, but beginners may find this page useful. We welcome questions and comments about the project even if you cannot join us in May.
Lauren Kassell launched the lecture series celebrating 500 years since the founding of the Royal College of Physicians of London with a talk on ‘Magic and medicine. The first 100 years’ on 21 February 2018 at the Royal College of Physicians of London.
Professor Alisha Rankin delivered the 13th Wellcome Lecture in the history of medicine, ‘Poison trials, panaceas and proof’, on 1 March 2018 at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science in Cambridge. This event was supported by the Casebooks Project.
Artist Emma Smith’s ‘Variations on a weekend theme: a performance art apothecary’, initially created in 2015 for Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge and inspired by Forman’s and Napier’s casebooks, has been transformed into a digital online version as part of Kettle’s Yard’s new exhibition Actions.
Chloe Gamlin has won the Royal Society of Medicine’s Norah Schuster Essay Prize for an essay that makes extensive use of Forman’s and Napier’s casebooks. ‘“Oh, my sin is the cause of it”: age, gender and religion in early modern childhood illness’ began as Chloe’s History and Philosophy of Science Part II Dissertation (2017), supervised by Leah Astbury. The prize is awarded annually for the best essay or essays submitted on any subject related to the history of medicine, including medical science.
Joshua Kruchten’s essay review of the Casebooks Project has appeared in Ride, the online review journal for digital editions.
The material made available by the Casebooks Project is highlighted by the How to write history website.
Casebooks Therapy has begun for a second academic year. This is an informal group that meets fortnightly or so to read the casebooks. The aim of the reading group is to improve the palaeography skills of those who attend, as well as to provide guidance about how to make sense of Forman’s and Napier’s records. No familiarity with early modern handwriting is necessary, and the group is open to all. Participants are invited to suggest a particular page or case from the casebooks that they have trouble reading to work through collaboratively. Those attending should bring a laptop.
Meetings are held on occasional Wednesdays, 5.00–6.30pm in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Free School Lane, Cambridge CB2 3RH, beginning 25 October 2017. If you are interested in attending, please email Pippa Carter.
2017 marks the 400th anniversary of Elias Ashmole’s birth. The pupils of Ashmole Primary School, based in Lambeth, London, near where Ashmole lived, have been celebrating their school’s namesake by learning about Ashmole, seventeenth-century London, and the history of science and collecting in his day. Two PhD students from Cambridge, Laia Portet-i-Codina (Faculty of History) and Annie Thwaite (Department of History and Philosophy of Science) have been working for the past month as Research Assistants designing fact sheets and preparatory materials for the teachers at Ashmole, in order to facilitate the teachers’ planning of lessons on the history of science and medicine, and on Ashmole’s collection of natural and man-made objects, bequeathed in 1682 to Oxford University’s Ashmolean Museum. Laia’s and Annie’s research and a visit to the Outreach Department of the Ashmolean has been supported by the British Society for the History of Science and the Cambridge-based Casebooks Project. The pupils of the school were visited by an Outreach Officer of the Ashmolean in November 2017 and are looking forward to their upcoming activities and lessons on early modern topics such as ‘Magic’, ‘The Dodo Bird’, ‘Organising the Collection’ and ‘Astrology’.
On 26 October 2017, Lauren Kassell ran a session on Casebooks for the MSc in Medical Humanities at King’s College, London.
Release 12 announces that a total of 73,362 cases are now accessible through GitHub. The exhibition ‘CASEBOOKS: Six contemporary artists and an extraordinary medical archive’ has been documented in a 9 minute film by Huw Wahl (viewable through our CASEBOOKS page), together with a downloadable book about our work with artists and other material and press about the exhibition. A new ‘Meet the patients’ page has been added to the website, setting out case histories and contextual information about selected patients.
Lauren Kassell spoke on ‘The Casebooks Project: inscription, digitisation and the shape of knowledge’ at a workshop on ‘Digital approaches to the history of science’, University of Oxford, 28 September 2017.
‘What was it like to go to the doctor in 1610?’, Ellie Broughton’s interview with Lauren Kassell, was posted on Tonic, Vice’s website and digital video channel about health, on 26 September 2017.
Lauren Kassell spoke on ‘Astrological casebooks and medical encounters in early modern England’ at a workshop on ‘God and the stars: medieval and early modern religion, society and astrology’, at the Davis Center, Princeton University, 23 September 2017.
Nyamyam debuted ‘Astrologaster, a comedy written in the stars’ at EGX, the UK’s biggest video game trade fair, in Birmingham, 21–24 September, 2017. The game takes its inspiration from Simon Forman’s casebooks. It will be released for PC and iOS in 2018. Follow their development @doctorforman. The Casebooks Project team has acted as historical consultants for the game. For press, see articles in Eurogamer and Rock Paper Shotgun, and the blog reviewing the game on the EGX website.
Lauren Kassell, Robert Ralley and John Young drafted a paper on ‘Conflict and cooperation: medical practitioners in Simon Forman’s and Richard Napier’s casebooks, 1596–1634’, which Kassell delivered at the conference ‘Medical practice in early modern Britain in comparative perspective’, University of Exeter, 4–6 September 2017.
Napier’s casebooks are drawn on by John Gallagher in ‘Fear the fairies’, a review of Sasha Handley’s Sleep in early modern England, London Review of Books, 18 May 2017, pp. 33–34.
In 1619, the Bodleian librarian Thomas James was treated by Napier after having been suddenly and mysteriously ‘struck down’ in church. Naomi Hillman of VividPast has drawn on our transcripts of Napier’s records in ‘The librarian’s wife’, a dramatised retelling of the episode in which she played the part of James’s wife Ann.
Lauren Kassell spoke on ‘The Casebooks Project: medical records and medical encounters in early modern England’ at ‘Doctor, Doctor: global and historical perspectives on the doctor–patient relationship’, St Anne’s College, Oxford, 24 March 2017.
The Casebooks Project and Ambika P3 collaborated on a major exhibition entitled ‘CASEBOOKS: Six contemporary artists and an extraordinary medical archive’, 17 March to 23 April 2017. Ambika P3 is a 14,000 square foot experimental art space, located at the University of Westminster, 35 Marylebone Road (opposite Baker Street Tube), London NW1 5LS. Download the book accompanying the exhibition.
Watch Huw Wahl’s film about the exhibition (9:13 minutes)
A series of events took place during the exhibition:
On 7 February 2017, Lauren Kassell presented aspects of the project under the title ‘Inscription, digitisation and the shape of knowledge’ in the Digital Humanities Series at the NYU Centre for the Humanities. Lisa Gitelman, Matthew Hockenberry and Cliff Siskin responded with thoughtful reflections on Casebooks and the larger questions of inscription, digitisation and the shape of knowledge. A recording of the event is available on YouTube.
On 25 January 2017, Lauren Kassell shared lessons from the Casebooks Project with the graduate class on ‘Working with historical texts in a digital environment’, run by Professors Terry Catapano and Pamela Smith at Columbia University. The class is centred around preparing a digital edition of BNF MS Fr. 640, the sixteenth-century artisanal manuscript at the heart of the Making and knowing project.
The exhibition ‘Bedlam: the asylum and beyond’, hosted by the Wellcome Collection, ran from 15 September 2016–15 January 2017 and showcased (among much else) a number of Casebooks Project transcriptions of entries from Napier’s casebooks alongside the original documents.
As of December 2016, our facsimiles of Forman’s and Napier’s manuscripts are being hosted by Cambridge Digital Library (CDL). Work is in progress to align our metadata with CDL’s encoding norms. Once this is complete, the entire output of the project (website, transcriptions and metadata as well as facsimile images) will be transferred to CDL, though production, revision and maintenance of the data will remain entirely under the control of the Casebooks Project. This will provide us with a much more robust and durable infrastructure and free us from dependence on a project-specific server.
Nyamyam, a prize-winning independent game developer founded in 2010 by Phil Tossell and Jennifer Schneidereit, is making a video game based on Simon Forman’s casebooks. ‘Astrologaster’ will be an astrological comedy adventure in which players take the role of Forman, casting and interpreting astrological charts to answer questions about magic and medicine. The game is supported by grants from the Wellcome Trust and the European Union’s Creative Europe Media program. The Casebooks team are acting as historical consultants for the game. To follow developments, see Nyamyam’s Twitter feed.
Following the successful public debates on ‘Is menstruation healthy?’ (2014) and ‘Should we be having babies at 20?’ (2015) at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas, Casebooks and the project on Generation to Reproduction co-sponsored ‘Should women breastfeed each other’s babies?’ on 26 October 2016. Leah Astbury, who organised the debate with Lauren Kassell, wrote a blogpost about it for the Huffington Post, 19 October 2016.
Lauren Kassell gave a talk on ‘The Casebooks Project: lessons from a seventeenth-century archive’ at the UK Medical Heritage Library Symposium at the Wellcome Collection on 27 October 2016. The event marked the launch of the UK Medical Heritage Library.
In October 2016 we began running a regular reading group to support scholars in reading and understanding the casebooks.
Casebooks has been granted a one year extension to the Wellcome Trust award, worth £242,690, to carry the project through to June 2018.
Lauren Kassell spoke about the project in a panel on ‘Medical casebooks in early modern Europe’, organised by Sheila Barker and sponsored by the Medici Archive Project, at the Society for Sixteenth Century Studies conference, Bruges, 18–20 August 2016.
Lauren Kassell spoke about the project at a round table on ‘The place of the digital history of medicine’ at the Society for the Social History of Medicine conference at the University of Kent, 7–10 July 2016.
The Bodleian Libraries featured Forman’s casebooks in the exhibition Shakespeare’s dead and, as part of the series of events supporting the exhibition, Lauren Kassell gave a talk on ‘Life, death and astrology in Shakespeare’s England’ on 29 June 2016.
Lauren Kassell’s study ‘Paper technologies, digital technologies: working with early modern medical records’ has appeared in Anne Whitehead, Angela Woods, Sarah Atkinson, Jane Macnaughton and Jennifer Richards (eds.), The Edinburgh companion to the critical medical humanities (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016), pp. 120–35.
Natalie Kaoukji spoke about the Casebooks Project at the international workshop ‘Santé et maladies: enjeux de formation et de recherche’, 16–17 June 2016, at the Sorbonne, Paris.
Release 11 (June 2016) is our largest release to date. It includes transcriptions of volumes 18–31 of Napier’s casebooks (nearly 15,800 cases from March 1610 to April 1620). We have also added colour images of another 21 volumes of the original manuscripts and made further refinements to the search and visualisation functions. Release 10 (February 2016) contained Robert Ralley’s edition of Forman’s Astrologicalle Judgments of phisick, with an introduction and guide to witnesses and dating.
Lauren Kassell contributed to a panel organised by Sandra Eder on ‘The future of the patient record in history’ at the 2016 meeting of the American Association for the History of Medicine in Minneapolis, 28 April to 1 May. John Harley Warner, Sandra Eder and Aimee Medeiros also spoke, and Susan Lawrence offered a commentary.
Lauren Kassell spoke about the project at ‘Medicine & media: a gathering of francophone and anglophone projects in medicine and humanities’, organised by Sophie Vasset and Patrizia D’Andrea, Oxford, 7–8 April 2016.
Casebooks has been awarded matching funds, totalling £49,615, from the Isaac Newton Trust Research Grant and Cambridge/Wellcome Institutional Strategic Support Fund to move Casebooks to the Cambridge University Digital Library.
On 14 January 2016, Michael Stolberg of the University of Würzburg delivered the Eleventh Cambridge Wellcome Lecture in the History of Medicine, entitled ‘Curing diseases and exchanging knowledge: sixteenth-century physicians and their female patients’, at the Department for History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge. Before the talk, Michael led a discussion on ‘Uroscopic pregnancy diagnosis in early modern Europe’.
A three-day conference on Digital Editing Now, co-organised by the Casebooks Project, the Arthur Schnitzler Project and Cambridge’s Centre for Research into Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, was held at Cambridge University, 7–9 January 2016.
On Sunday, 25 October, 2–3pm at the Fitzwilliam Museum, artist Emma Smith, Kettle’s Yard Open House resident artist for 2015, discussed her residency and artistic practice with Lauren Kassell. Open House is a creative collaboration between communities of North Cambridge and Kettle’s Yard. Smith’s residency has been inspired by Forman’s and Napier’s casebooks, and also reflects on the founder of Kettle’s Yard, Jim Ede, and on places of respite.
Following the successful ‘Is menstruation healthy?’ debate at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas last year, Casebooks and the project on Generation to Reproduction co-sponsored a public debate on ‘Should we be having babies at 20?’ as part of the Cambridge Festival of Ideas on Wednesday 21 October. Leah Astbury, who organised the debate with Lauren Kassell, wrote a blogpost about it for the Huffington Post, 20 October 2015.
With Simon Szreter (lead organiser) and Rebecca Flemming, Lauren Kassell organised a conference on ‘Sex, disease and fertility in history’, CRASSH (Centre for Research in Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities), University of Cambridge, 28-30 September 2015. She spoke on ‘Questions about sex and generation: poxes, fluxes and pregnancies in early modern casebooks’. Boyd Brogan has written a blogpost about the conference.
On 9 September 2015, Michael Hawkins and Lauren Kassell spoke about ‘Digitising Elizabeth Hartwell’s clumpers of blood: CASE12702 and the challenges of digital humanities’ at ‘Making big data human: doing history in a digital age’, Digital Humanities Network, University of Cambridge.
Casebooks has been awarded an additional £138,500 Provision for Public Engagement award from the Wellcome Trust.
Boyd Brogan, who has been a Research Associate on the project since September 2014, has been awarded a Wellcome Trust research fellowship for a project on ‘Maladies of seed: chastity diseases in early modern England’. Diseases of women as recorded in Richard Napier’s casebooks are a central component of Boyd’s past and future research.
Joanne Edge and John Young spoke on ‘Networks of health and healing’ on 29 July 2015 at the conference ‘Social networks 1450–1850’, University of Sheffield.
Casebooks was selected as one of three research projects to participate in the Epic Games and Wellcome Trust Big Data Challenge. A report on the event was posted by Scott Hayden on the ‘Road to RVR’ website on 10 July 2015.
Transcriptions of volumes 12–17 of Napier’s casebooks have now been released, documenting nearly 7,200 cases from October 1606 to November 1610. A dynamically generated, graphical ‘social relationship network’ feature has been added to the ‘person pages’, and a number of other refinements have been made to the display of Casebooks data. In particular, the ‘Search results summary’ now provides considerably more detailed statistics than it previously did.
Anne Alexander, Michael Hawkins and Lauren Kassell convened the workshop ‘Graphical display: challenges for humanists’ on 18 May 2015 at Cambridge’s Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities. In the course of this, Hawkins spoke on ‘The challenges in visualising complex historical medical records’.
Lauren Kassell gave the plenary lecture on ‘Stars and scribes, astrology and archives’ at ‘Archival afterlives: life, death and knowledge–making in early modern British scientific and medical archives’ at the Royal Society on 2 June 2015.
Carla Nappi is using four women from the casebooks to produce an experiment in fictionalised ‘conjectural historiography’. Samples are available, with an introduction by series editor D. Graham Burnett, in The public domain review.
Michael Hawkins spoke on ‘The Casebooks Project’ at the session ‘From cabinet to internet: digitising natural history and medical manuscripts’, the Linnean Society of London, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, on 27 April 2015.
Michael Hawkins offered a presentation on ‘The Casebooks Project’ at the Big Data VR challenge, Wellcome Trust, London, on 9 April 2015.
Lauren Kassell gave a talk on 14 April 2015 at the Centre for Early Modern and Medieval Studies, University of Sussex, under the title ‘“She saies stoutly she is not with child”: sex, gender and generation in early modern medical records’.
‘A medical panorama: the Casebooks Project’, by Michael Hawkins, Robert Ralley and John Young, has appeared in the publishing journal Book 2.0, 4: 1+2 (2014), pp. 61–69.
A workshop to reflect on the challenges for this phase of the project was held at the Weston Library, Oxford on 12-13 March, 2015. A report on its conclusions can be found here.
The Casebooks Project now has its own Facebook page.
Boyd Brogan’s paper ‘The masque and the matrix: Alice Egerton, Richard Napier and suffocation of the mother’, has been published in Milton studies 55 (2014), 3–52.
Follow Casebooks on @hpscasebooks.
On 11 December 2014, Lauren Kassell gave a talk on ‘Casebooks in early modern England: working with medical records’, Medieval-Renaissance Studies Association, School of History, University of Haifa.
Lauren Kassell’s article situating Forman’s and Napier’s casebooks amongst those kept by other early modern practitioners has been published: ‘Casebooks in early modern England: astrology, medicine and written records’, Bulletin of the history of medicine, 88 (2014), 595–625.
On 20 November, Lauren Kassell gave a lunchtime talk about the project at the Wellcome Trust.
On 4 November, Lauren Kassell talked about Casebooks at the Cambridge digital history seminar.
With the appointment in 2014 of four new project members, assistant editors Joanne Edge and Janet Yvonne Martin-Portugues, and research associates Boyd Brogan and Natalie Kaoukji, the project team is now up to full strength. See our Staff page for full details.
Casebooks and the project on Generation to Reproduction co-sponsored a public debate on ‘Is menstruation healthy?’ as part of the Cambridge Festival of Ideas on Wednesday 22 October, 6–7:30, Old Library, Pembroke College, Cambridge. This prompted an article in the Daily Mail and another in the same paper’s ‘Femail’ section.
Transcriptions of volumes 10 and 11 of Napier’s casebooks added; editorial documentation made publicly accessible; search functionality enhanced. Our Transcription guidelines and Element set are publicly accessible for the first time. The search function and online display of search results have both been significantly enhanced, particularly with regard to the calculation of estimated ages and dates of birth.
Casebooks has been awarded a £1,000,000 Wellcome Trust strategic award to complete the project by 2017. The Isaac Newton Trust has also contributed funding for a research fellow to work on the project for a year.
Michael Hawkins, Robert Ralley and John Young hosted a poster about the project at the PublicHealth@Cambridge network showcase event at the Sainsbury Laboratory, Cambridge, on 27 May 2014.
Lauren Kassell and Michael Hawkins gave a presentation on ‘The Casebooks Project’ at the ‘Digital approaches to premodern medicine and health’ workshop, 23 May 2014, at the Wellcome Library, London.
Lauren Kassell delivered a paper entitled ‘Medical record keeping in early modern England’ at ‘Transforming information: record keeping in the early modern world’, British Academy, London, 9–10 April 2014.
Lauren Kassell spoke on ‘Paper technologies, digital technologies: working with early modern medical records’ at the Renaissance Society of America, in an Iter sponsored session on ‘New technologies in medieval and Renaissance studies: digital manuscript studies’, New York, NY, on 28 March 2014.
Lauren Kassell gave the Gideon de Laune Lecture at the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London on Tuesday, 28 January at 6 pm, under the title ‘“And the doctor noted her words”: medical casebooks in Shakespeare’s England’.
Our transcriptions of the first six volumes of Napier’s casebooks — MSS Ashmole 175 (1597), 182 (1597–8), 228 (1598–1600), 202 (1600), 404 (1601–2) and 221 (1602–3) — are now accompanied by images. An archive of a further six volumes of images — MSS Ashmole 174 (various dates), 181 (various dates), 204 (various dates), 239 (1610–11), 237 (1614–15), and 238 (1630) — has also been released, together with calendar entries listing salient details of all the cases recorded in them. A new Anatomy of a case page provides fuller guidance on how to interpret the source texts.
Visitors should be aware that the Napier material remains in a state of flux, as the editorial work is still in progress. The Forman material is now stable barring minor revisions, but we will continue to work on refining the search function and expanding its scope. A ‘search results summary’ function has already been introduced, providing a graphic overview of the data retrieved by any search.
Transcriptions of the first nine volumes of Napier’s casebooks, comprising nearly 12,000 cases, can now be browsed and searched. All the Forman cases are accompanied by images of the original manuscripts. Images and further transcriptions of Napier’s material will follow in due course.
Editing the new material has entailed a substantial revision and expansion of our search topic options, as Napier tended to be much more specific than Forman about the nature of his clients’ complaints. The user guides, particularly the Using our edition and the Topics of consultations pages, have been updated accordingly, and a new Guide to searching added.
The Wellcome Trust has granted the project a twelve-month extension, until 30 June 2014. We are developing an application for further funding.
The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography have kindly offered to allow users of the Casebooks Project website free access to their entries on the two astrologers. The links can be found at the head of our own introductions to Forman and Napier.
Notebooks in medicine and the sciences in early modern Europe
12–13 July 2013 — Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge
This is the inaugural event in establishing the Notebooks Network, a new research initiative to bring together scholars working on paper technologies, especially, but not exclusively, in the early modern period and with a focus on medicine and the sciences. See http://notebooks.hypotheses.org/ for more details about the Notebooks Network and the July 2013 workshop.
This site now includes ‘person pages’ which link Forman’s clients/patients across the casebooks. Person pages are accessed through the browse and search pages. Images of four of Forman’s volumes (MSS Ashmole 234, 195, 219, 226) are now available on the case details pages (also reached through the browse and search pages). More features for working with Forman’s records, and Richard Napier’s casebooks for 1597–1603, will follow soon.
Images of the the first volume of Simon Forman’s casebooks are now online, alongside an edition of all six volumes of these records which can be browsed and searched. The remaining images of Forman’s casebooks will follow soon.
The latest refinement to the search facility enables searching by name, whether of querent, subject or anyone else involved. It is also possible to search for parts of names (e.g. a search for ‘gard’ will find mentions of people called either Gardiner or Lagarde), or even to search for people whose name has not been identified.
With our latest release it is now possible to search the casebooks. Forman’s records of 10,079 consultations are now searchable, and work on our forthcoming edition of Napier’s records is well under way.
For details of earlier developments on the site, see Our releases.
The texts of just over 10,000 entries recorded by Forman between 1596 and 1603 are now available. Facilities for searching through his records will be added shortly. The edition of Napier’s records, containing approximately 70,000 entries from 1597 to 1634, will follow in due course.
To commemorate the 400th anniversary of his death, Simon Forman’s life and writings were featured in ‘The Astrologer’s Tables’, History Today, September 2011. Lauren Kassell also delivered a public lecture on ‘Simon Forman: astrology, medicine and quackery in Elizabethan England’ on Tuesday, 27 September 2011 at the Museum of the History of Science, University of Oxford. A podcast is available through the link above.
Forman and the project also featured in ‘Vier Jahrzehnte Kritzelei’ (‘Four decades of scribbling’), an article by Laura Höflinger in German magazine Der Spiegel, in December 2011.
The Casebooks Project website is now live online.
Document last modified: 20 March 2018
Cite this as: Casebooks Project (News & events), http://www.magicandmedicine.hps.cam.ac.uk/about-us/news, accessed 2018-06-21.