Bodily Fluids, Chemistry and Medicine in the Eighteenth-Century Boerhaave School

Nov 1, 2020 | Blog, Publications

Ruben E. Verwaal, Bodily Fluids, Chemistry and Medicine in the Eighteenth-Century Boerhaave School (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020). Now also available in paperback.

It’s finally here! After numerous revisions and editing, the book has arrived. It’s part of the series Palgrave Studies in Medieval and Early Modern Medicine, edited by Jonathan Barry and Fabrizio Bigotti. It’s a great honour to be the first author in this new series. It is an initiative by the Centre for the Study of the Body and Medicine in the Renaissance (CSBMR), which also awarded me the Santorio Fellowship for Medical Humanities and Science in 2017.

About this book

This book explores the importance of bodily fluids to the development of medical knowledge in the eighteenth century. While the historiography has focused on the role of anatomy, this study shows that the chemical analyses of bodily fluids in the Dutch Republic radically altered perceptions of the body, propelling forwards a new system of medicine. It examines the new research methods and scientific instruments available at the turn of the eighteenth century that allowed for these developments, taken forward by Herman Boerhaave and his students. Each chapter focuses on a different bodily fluid – saliva, blood, urine, milk, sweat, semen – to investigate how doctors gained new insights into physiological processes through chemical experimentation on these bodily fluids. The book reveals how physicians moved from a humoral theory of medicine to new chemical and mechanical models for understanding the body in the early modern period. In doing so, it uncovers the lives and works of an important group of scientists which grew to become a European-wide community of physicians and chemists.

List of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Savouring Alchemy
  3. The Nature of Blood
  4. Piss Prophets and Urine Matters
  5. Crying over Spilt Milk
  6. Sweat It Out
  7. Semen in Flux
  8. Conclusion

On the publisher’s website, you can find more info and see a preview of the book: Palgrave Macmillan

Book Presentations

On Wednesday 13 January 2021 I gave a talk for the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS) and Institute for Medical Humanities (IMH) to officially launch the book. After an introduction summarising the main arguments of the book, I gave a preview of various chapters, including blood, urine, mother’s milk, and sweat. At the end, new ZOOM technology allowed me officially hand-over the first copy to the organiser of the event, Tom Hamilton.

On 1 June 2021 I presented the book again at the Dutch-Belgian Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. Thanks to Lieke van Diensen, who hosted the webinar, and Wijnand Mijnhardt, Fokko Jan Dijksterhuis, and all attendees for the stimulating conversation.


Media Coverage

  • Bart Funnekotter, “Boerhaave was fan van borstvoeding”, NRC Handelsblad, 30 January 2021
  • Radio interview, “De belangrijke lessen van Boerhaave”, De Nieuws BV, Radio 1, 2 February 2021


  • Mathilde MartinaisHistoire, médecine et santé 19 (2021, mis en ligne le 12 janvier 2022). DOI
  • Sara Ray, Early Modern Low Countries 6 (2022), pp. 305-307. DOI
  • Barbara Orland, Nuncius 38 (2023), pp. 728–730. DOI
  • John Powers, Ambix 70 (2023), pp. 399–400. DOI