Ruben uroscopy
Photo: Corné Sparidaens, 2016.


As curator and historian, my research combines history of science and medicine with the study of material and visual culture. Whereas scholars are used to analyse objects still extant today, I also study those materials – such as blood and earwax – that have not been stored and saved. Although this poses challenges to the historian, I develop innovative methods to reconstruct and present past collections and think about the materiality of materials in the early modern period.

Blood, Sweat and Tears

Ruben's PhD project ‘Blood, Sweat and Tears’ (2013–2018) investigated how the chemistry of bodily fluids helped establish a new medical system in eighteenth-century Europe. Successfully defended in 2018, the dissertation "Fluid Bodies" argued that at the turn of the eighteenth century, the introduction of new chemical research methods and instruments crucially changed the perception of bodily fluids, which contributed to a new understanding of the human body and a new system of medicine.

Research results include:

  • Bodily Fluids, Chemistry and Medicine in the Eighteenth-Century Boerhaave School. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming.

  • "Increasing and Reducing: Breastmilk Flows and Female Health." In Lifestyle and Medicine in the Enlightenment, edited by James Kennaway and Rina Knoeff, 223–39. London: Routledge, 2020.

  • "The Nature of Blood: Debating Haematology and Blood Chemistry in the Eighteenth-Century Dutch Republic." Early Science and Medicine 22 (2017): 271–300.

  • Gelukkig gezond! Histories of Healthy Ageing, exhibition at University Museum Groningen, 2017–2018.

Deafness in Transition

The aim of the 'Deafness in Transition' project (2019–2022) is to uncover cultural experiences and medical perceptions of deafness in early modern Europe. I focus on both social and medical perceptions of deafness, which includes both the profoundly deaf and those with hearing difficulty as the result of disease, accident, old age, or changing social and cultural requirements. This provides a new and more inclusive vintage-point to look at deaf history.