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Historical Book of the Week: Evolution of Medicine (1927)

Jason Lilly • 1/18/19

Historical Book of the Week: Evolution of Medicine (1927)

In the mid-19th century, John Snow used/created this map and found that the source of cholera was un-sanitized water from the Broad Street pump.[i]

Evolution of Preventive Medicine

By Macy Boknecht

In 1927 Sir Arthur Newsholme published the first copy of his famous sketch Evolution of Preventive Medicine, the first English outline of the history of preventive medicine. Newsholme was a leading British public health expert during the Victorian era. Newsholme was also a former Principal Medical Officer of the Local Government Board of England and a lecturer on Public Health Administration at the School of Hygiene and Public Health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.[1]

Newsholme used his knowledge and experience from his public health career in order to write this book. He also used documents from the past in order to write about the history of preventive medicine. For example, in chapter 3, Newsholme discusses a 13th-century passage from Roger Bacon to understand how horoscope was used in medical practices in the medieval era. Because he used historical sources throughout, this book relates to multiple topics that had already been recognized as important in the history of medicine. However, Newsholme felt that it is as important to show the development of preventive medicine alongside this familiar narrative. In addition, Newsholme stated that he wrote this historical outline because he believed there needed to be an English version of history of preventive medicine comparable in scope to Fielding H. Garrison’s Introduction to the History of Medicine which was published in 1913.

In a short 223 pages and 23 chapters, Newsholme manages a complete study of the beginnings and earlier development of preventive medicine and the successes of public health. Certain chapters discuss preventions of different diseases such as “fever”, cholera, and non-specific infections, while in other chapters the focus is on improving hygiene practices, sanitation improvements, and food and drink relation to health.  The last chapter ends with a discussion of modern preventive medicine which focuses on progress of public health during the beginning of the 1920s. During this time, preventative medicine was oriented around investigating certain communicable diseases, such as tuberculosis and malaria, after Ronald Ross’s finding that malaria and mosquitoes were related.[2]

Throughout each chapter, Newsholme mentions important figures and scientists who have contributed to public health and preventive medicine such as John Snow, Edward Jenner, and Robert Koch. Newsholme describes the actions they took in order to achieve their accomplishments and how they discovered their findings. For example, Newsholme investigates and describes the outbreak of cholera in London in the mid-19th century and how John Snow used scientific investigations to find that the source of cholera was un-sanitized water from the Broad Street pump.

Newsholme’s book has become an important source for medical historians, including Roy and Dorothy Porter who wrote “What was social medicine? An historiographical essay.” This article discusses social medicine through the centuries and what effects social medicine has had on medicine and disease.[3] The authors discuss how social medicine in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s was related to social hygiene, sanitary engineering, public health, and preventive medicine. The Porters’ note the importance of preventive medicine and acknowledge that it takes both preventive medicine and traditional medicine in order to have a healthy environment, a conclusion that echoes the Evolution of Preventive Medicine. Erwin Ackerknecht also references Newsholme’s book in his writing Hygiene in France, 1815-1848. Ackerknecht’s work uses information from Evolution of Preventive Medicine in order to describe the history of hygiene in France during this period.[4]

Newsholme’s Evolution of Preventive Medicine shows a timeline and outline of important events that have contributed to public health and preventive medicine and it provides key information that can be used for students and researchers interesting in history of medicine. To access Evolution of Preventive Medicine, visit the Leo J. McCarthy, MD, History of Medicine Room and Collection at the Ruth Lilly Medical Library.


This post was written for the course HIST H364/H546 The History of Medicine and Public Health (Instructor: Elizabeth Nelson, IUPUI School of Liberal Arts).



[1] Sir Arthur Newsholme. Evolution of Preventive Medicine (Baltimore: The Williams & Wilkins Company, 1927).

[2] Sir Arthur Newsholme. Evolution of Preventive Medicine (Baltimore: The Williams & Wilkins Company, 1927).

[3] Dorothy Porter and Roy Porter. “What was social medicine? An historiographical essay.” Journal of Historical Sociology 1, no. 1 (1988): 90-109.

[4] Ackerknecht, Erwin H. “Hygiene in France, 1815-1848.” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 22, no. 2 (1948): 117-155.

[i] John Snow, Cholera map. Published by C.F. Cheffins, Lith, Southhampton Buildings, London, England, 1854 in Snow, John. On the Mode of Communication of Cholera, 2nd Ed, John Churchill, New Burlington Street, London, England, 1855. Wikipedia, Accessed December 20, 2018.

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.