|Florence Hellot-Bellier (CNRS, Paris) sharing insights about the photographic collections of French doctors Tholozan and Feuvrier from Qajar Iran at the Theatersaal of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (Photo: Shahrzad Irannejad).|
The Qajar era in Iran is very important for the study of humoral medicine as a medical paradigm. This era marks the transfer of knowledge from West to East and borrowing of new concepts, like that of contagion and chemotherapy, which resulted in the almost total abandonment of humoral paradigm as an epistemological tool. This conference was an opportunity for me to present part of my parallel research interest, namely the give and take between medical concepts and their sociocultural context (here, the culinary arts as an example) and receive feedback from the likes of Prof. Houchang E. Chehabi and Prof. Bert Fragner, two leading experts on the cultural history of Iran.
In the first panel Encounters between Traditional and Modern Medicine in Qajar Iran, Reihaneh Nazem and Touba Fazelipour (Independent Scholars, Tehran) shared the results of their research on three major newspapers in Qajar era: Vaqaye‘-e Ettefaqiyeh (RVE), Shekufeh, Alam-e Nesvan. Their paper entitled "The Encounter between Modern and Traditional Medicine in the Newspapers of the Qajar Era" provided us with an interesting methodological approach to reconstructing social history of medicine. The focus of their research was reconstructing the views on women’s health in Qajar era. Afterwards, Dariush Rahmanian’s article (Tehran University) was read entitled "Translated Medical Texts of Dar al-Fonun as the Connecting Link between Traditional and Modern Medical Knowledge: An Examination of the Hefz al-Sehheh-ye Naseri." He stressed that many of the medical manuscripts from this time remain unedited and unanalyzed, while these texts can provide us with invaluable material attesting to the struggles between the two medical paradigms: humoral and modern. Rahmanian’s research focused on as transitional text from one medical paradigm to the other. To wrap up the panel, Khosro Khonsari (Research Institute of Cultural Heritage and Tourism, Iran) presented his paper "An Overview of the State of Pharmacy in the Qajar Era: From ‘Attaris to Pharmacies".
The second panel dealt with Western Accounts of the State of Medicine and Public Health in Qajar Iran. Mehdi Alijani’s paper, "Medical Examinations and Methods of the Practice of Medicine in the Qajar Period According to the Accounts of European Visitors", was read by the chair, Nahid Mozaffari. In the article, Dr. Alijani (Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran) recounted the observations of several European visitors from the three different periods in Qajar era with regard to the manner of calling on patients, diagnostics and therapeutics: the various methods of phlebotomy and cupping, leech therapy, surgery, use of medicinal plants, enema, hot wax and caustic treatments and exercise therapy (in power houses). Afterwards, Elena Andreeva (Virginia Military Institute, USA) presented her paper "Doctors and the Medicinal Arts in Qajar Iran According to Russian Travelers", in which she analyzed the attitude of several Russian travelers towards the general hygienic practices of the people and the services provided by various healthcare professions.
Prof. Bert Fragner (Institute of Iranian Studies, Austrian Academy of Sciences) opened the third panel Food and Medicine in Qajar Iran. In his paper "Nader Mirza Molk-Ara (1827-1888) and his Pharmacological Perception of Iranian Food and Dishes", Prof. Fragner presented a cookbook written by a not so prominent Qajar prince. Prof. Fragner discussed the role of canons of recipes as chapters of collective memory and their role in constructing the notion of "national cuisine". In the end, however, he demonstrated that his studied culinary text, surprisingly, did not show any awareness of medical considerations. This was very convenient for my presentation, as I aimed to show how in Qajar cookbooks no genuine awareness of humoral theory is evident. In this panel, I presented part of my ongoing side project in a paper entitled "Cuisine as a Mirror for the State of Medicine in Qajar Iran", on behalf of my colleague Kiarash Alimi as well, who is an enthusiast of the history of culinary arts with a focus on French and Persian cuisine. We showed how in Qajar era, the disintegration of foundation of tradition reflects itself in the way two manifestations of culture, namely the medical and the culinary arts, interacted with one another. Former culinary common sense was shaped by the medical properties attributed to each ingredient. As new ingredients were being introduced, Qajar Iran proves incapable of adjusting Persian recipes according to humoral medical paradigm. To demonstrate, we presented a comparison of the medical and culinary attitudes towards two "Newcomers" to the Persian spread: Rice in Safavid era and potato in Qajar. I was thrilled to receive much positive feedback and very interesting insights for the next stages of my side project.
The second day of the conference also included an excursion to the Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv des Österreichischen Staatsarchivs in Vienna, in which we were shown documents related to the diplomatic relations between Safavid and Qajar states in Iran and the Hapsburg monarchy.
In the fourth panel Western Physicians in Qajar Iran, Miklós Sárközy (Institute of Ismaili Studies, London) presented his paper "Bosphorus to Herat: István Maróthy, an ‘Unknown’ Hungarian Doctor and Chief Court Physician of Mohammad Shah Qajar." His presentation provided us with a detailed reconstruction of the life of a Persophile Hungarian doctor who was in the service of Qajar noblemen and princes. In her article entitled "About Prostitution and Syphilis in 19th century Iran: Inquiring into J. E. Polak’s Report of 1861", Heidi Walcher (Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich) attempted to contextualize the 1861 article by the Jewish Austrian personal physician to the king of Iran. She began by a brief introduction to the pioneer of western medicine in Iran and went on to analyze the structure and content of his essay on syphilis. Afterwards, Jennifer Scarce (University of Dundee, UK) presented her article "The Doctors of the Persian Telegraph Department." She demonstrated how telegraph was a major need of the British to maintain contact with India, and therefore, to ensure the functioning of the British individuals hired by the telegraph, British doctors had to be recruited.