State Interest and Public Health: The Case of the Poisoning of the Peasant Maiden Marfa, Daughter of Petrov

Keywords: history of medicine; medical police; social disciplining; provincial officialdom; reforms of Catherine II; 18th-century Urals

Abstract

This article uses the case of the “poisoning of the peasant maiden Marfa, the daughter of Petrov”, heard in the courts of Yekaterinburg in 1791, to demonstrate how practices of social disciplining based on Western European ideas of “medical Enlightenment” and “medical policy” might have worked in a Russian province. The prerequisite for the perception of such ideas was a fairly high educational level among the local officials involved into this case. But this is not the sole reason: a no-less-important role was played by a solid and (in many respects) unique communication field built on formal and informal networks that emerged due to the special status Yekaterinburg enjoyed as capital of the Ural mining industry, a regional educational centre and communications junction. Thus, at the end of the 18th century visiting professional elites and local mining and state officials were not only connected through work, but also through shared leisure activities. It is very likely that with these “agents of Enlightenment” the views and knowledge that existed in Europe and the country’s capitals (including those about the “right” medicine) permeated into the provinces. As a result of this, the judges and the district doctor showed some legal ingenuity: in their struggle against unofficial medical treatment, they decided to achieve maximum disciplinary effect by mitigating the sentence. Therefore, they applied legislation not immediately related to the case. This was done in order to stigmatise illegal healing, since the few representatives of official medicine were incapable of withstanding competition from omnipresent quacks and sorcerers, who offered services to the common people by relying on their experience and intuition.

Author Biography

Alice Plate

PhD (History), Junior Researcher, Laboratory for the Study of Primary Sources, Ural Federal University.

19, Mira Str., 620002, Yekaterinburg, Russia.

ORCID 0000-0003-0055-2385

aliceplate@mail.ru

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Published
2019-12-21
How to Cite
Plate, A. (2019). State Interest and Public Health: The Case of the Poisoning of the Peasant Maiden Marfa, Daughter of Petrov. Quaestio Rossica, 7(4), 1185–1198. https://doi.org/10.15826/qr.2019.4.432
Section
Problema voluminis