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Robert F. Haggard

Robert F. Haggard is an associate editor at the Papers of Thomas Jefferson: 
Retirement Series at Monticello. His work has appeared in the American Historical Review, The Historian, and Essays in History.


Old Wine in New (Medicine) Bottles?

Summer 2005 | Criticism

What the author finds is that Jefferson had an abiding interest in all things medical. He owned more than one hundred medical texts and treatises (about 3 percent of his pre-1815 holdings); counted among his friends a number of noted doctors—Robley Dunglison, Benjamin Rush, and Thomas Watkins among them; gave out medical advice; regulated his life according to the admonitions of such medical theorists as Samuel Auguste Tissot; and even based the design for his beloved University of Virginia on a Parisian hospital. Of even greater importance to Burstein is the fact that Jefferson utilized “a comprehensive language of medicine” (3), a fact that past Jefferson scholars have failed to recognize. For Burstein, Jefferson’s recurrence to “a medicalized vocabulary” (44) (e.g., political spasms and convulsions, salutary measures) offers valuable insights into “a lost emotional universe” (49). More provocative still is his assertion that Jefferson “acquired many of his guiding principles from medical discourse” (45).