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Katrina Maydom

PhD student

PhD awarded in May 2019.

Email: or

Supervisors: Prof Lauren Kassell and Dr Emma Spary

College: St Edmund's

Thesis title:

New World Drugs in England's Early Empire

Thesis abstract: 

How were New World drugs received and understood in early modern England? In the seventeenth century, England’s first empire was being established and an increasing abundance of medicinal plants arrived in London from across the Atlantic. In this thesis, I argue that commercial and political imperatives drove the production, trade and consumption of New World medicines. I explore trends in the drug trade across the early modern period to identify how the scale and diversity of American medicines fluctuated in the English market. I recognise a critical juncture in the 1650s with a change in political institutions and the collapse of the colonial tobacco economy. In the case of Virginia, merchants and colonial statesmen advised the Parliamentarian government on new forms of plantation governance and economic development. Their recommendations included investment in perceived lucrative new commodities, such as sassafras, sarsaparilla and other medicinal plants. As the supply of American drugs expanded in the English market from the 1650s to the 1680s, medical writers became more engaged in the recommendation of New World medicaments for the treatment of diseases, including scurvy and venereal diseases. I consider the process of knowledge negotiation and commercial policymaking in issues surrounding the trade, propagation and transplantation of American medicinal plants into England during the late seventeenth century. The availability and consumption of New World drugs became commonplace by the early eighteenth century, and they could even be accessed by schoolboys and pensioners at charitable institutions. To formulate this narrative, I employ an integrated historical approach, drawing from economic, colonial, intellectual and medical history. I examine customs records, first-hand colonial accounts, printed books and pamphlets, manuscript commonplace books, letters, prescription lists and medical journals. This study contributes to research programmes on English colonial development, global commodities and the early modern medical marketplace.

Funded by: The Wellcome Trust Medical Humanities Doctoral Studentship and the University of Cambridge HPS Department



Peer-Reviewed Articles

"Understanding Early Modern English Apothecary Prescriptions," Pharmaceutical Historian (forthcoming).

“James Petiver’s Apothecary Practice and the Consumption of American Drugs in Early Modern London,” Notes and Records of the Royal Society 74, no. 2 (2020): 213-238.


Review of Martha Few, For All of Humanity: Mesoamerican and Colonial Medicine in Enlightenment Guatemala. British Journal for the History of Science 50(2) (2017): 356-358.

“Land and Water: Port Towns, Maritime Connections, and Oceanic Spaces of the Early Modern Atlantic World, BGEAH Annual Conference 2017,” US Studies Online (2017).

Review of Pratik Chakrabarti, Materials and Medicine: Trade, Conquest and Therapeutics in the Eighteenth Century. Archives of Natural History 43(1) (2016): 188-189.


Research Presentations

“James Petiver’s Apothecary Practice and the Consumption of American Drugs in Early Modern London”

  • Therapeutic Commodities Workshop, Global History and Culture Centre, University of Warwick, September 2019
  • British Society for the History of Pharmacy Annual Conference, Portsmouth, April 2019
  • Remembering James Petiver (1665-1718) Tercentenary Workshop, The Linnean Society, London, April 2018

“The Medical Reception of Sassafras in Early Modern English Print”

  • History of Science Society Annual Conference, Seattle, USA, November 2018

“The Early Modern English Trade in American Drugs”

  • Materia Medica on the Move II Conference, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, October 2017

“Healing the Commonwealth: Promoting Drug Commodities from Colonial Virginia after the English Civil Wars”

  • British Group of Early American Historians Annual Conference, University of Portsmouth, August 2017
  • Early Science and Medicine Group, University of Cambridge, April 2017

“The Negotiation of Natural Knowledge in Abraham Hill's Commonplace Books and the Commercialisation of Colonial American Materia Medica”

  • Cabinet of Natural History Seminar Series, University of Cambridge, January 2017



2019 Elmsley Prize for History, St Edmunds College, University of Cambridge

2019 Burnby Memorial Prize, British Society for the History of Pharmacy


Other Professional Activities

2017-2018  Researcher for the Qrious Project, an outreach collaboration between secondary schools, academics and museums in the history of science

2015-2016 Convenor, Cabinet of Natural History Seminar Series, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge

2015-2016 PhD Student Representative, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge