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Lauren Kassell

Professor of History of Science and Medicine

Fellow of Pembroke College

Lauren Kassell holds a BA in Sociology and Social Anthropology from Haverford College; an MSc in Economic and Social History, University of Oxford; and a DPhil in History from the University of Oxford. She came to Cambridge as a research fellow at Pembroke College in 1998, then took up a lectureship in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science in 2000. She was a Member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, 2003-4. She is Director of The Casebooks Project (2008-19) and one of the co-applicants of the Wellcome Trust Strategic Award on Generation to Reproduction (2004-14). She was a founding director of the MPhil in Health, Medicine and Society that launched in 2017. She is the historical consultant for Astrologaster, a story-driven comedy game inspired by Simon Forman's casebooks due for release on iOS, PC and Mac in May 2019. She will be a visiting scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, in May 2019 and a distinguished visiting professor in the Department of History of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University from January to June 2020.

Selected publications

Books

Medicine and Magic in Elizabethan London: Simon Forman, Astrologer, Alchemist, and Physician (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005; paperback 2007)

  • Shortlisted for the Royal Historical Society Whitfield Prize. Honorable mention (2nd place) for the Revista Azogue Book of the Year.
  • Reviews: William Bynum, The Lancet 366 (23 July 2005): 284; John North, Times Literary Supplement, 2 September 2005: 2–3; Mordechai Feingold, Huntington Library Quarterly 68 (2005): 545–559; Nicholas Clulee, Renaissance Quarterly 59 (2006): 606–608; Bruce Moran, Times Higher Education Supplement, 4 August 2006: 25; Michael Hunter, History 91 (2006): 457; Paul Seaver, Journal of Interdisciplinary History 37 (2006): 275–277; Jole Shackelford, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 62 (2007): 96–98; Lisa Wynn Smith, H-Albion, 15 October 2006; John Henry, English Historical Review 121 (2006): 1457–1459; Barbara Traister, British Journal for the History of Science 40 (2007): 132–133; Harold Cook, American Historical Review 112 (2007); Darin Hayton, Isis 98 (2007): 826–827; Peter Forshaw, Essay Review: 'Two Occult Philosophers in the Elizabethan Age', History Workshop Journal 64 (2007): 401–410; Celeste Chamberland, Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft, 2 (2007), 213-15; Patrick Curry, Aries, 7 (2007), 116-17; Margaret Garber, Essay Review: ‘Untwisting the Greene Lyon’s Tale’, Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences, 39 (2009), 491-500.

Casebooks Project

The Casebooks Project is a digital humanities project centred on 80,000 astrological consultations recorded by a pair of astrologer physicians from 1596 to 1634. The original manuscripts are held in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Casebooks was funded by the Wellcome Trust from 2008 to 2019. The project's main outputs are:

1) a digital edition

2) a dataset

3) a critical introduction

4) a viewer for high-resolution images of all 64 volumes of the casebooks manuscripts, accessible through (1) and Cambridge Digital Library

5) a critical edition of Forman's guide to astrological medicine

6) full-text transcriptions of 500 cases.

The project was built around an 'engagement framework' to improve the project's research. These activities are detailed on the Casebooks news and events page.

Edited books and special issues

Reproduction: Antiquity to the Present Day, co-edited with Nick Hopwood and Rebecca Flemming (Cambridge, 2018, in press). Forty-four 5,000-word chapters, 40 colour 'exhibits'. Own chapters: 'Reproduction in History' and 'Concluding Reflections' (both with Hopwood and Flemming), 'Fruitful Bodies and Astrological Medicine'; introduction to Part II: 'Generation Reborn and Reformed'; own exhibits: 'Medieval Birth Malpresentations' and 'Jane Dee's Courses in John Dee's Diary'.

Communicating Reproduction, co-edited and introduced (on pp. 379–405) with Nick Hopwood, Peter Murray Jones, and Jim Secord, a special issue of the Bulletin of the History of Medicine 89 (2015): 379–556. 

Stars, Spirits, Signs: Towards a History of Astrology 1100–1800, co-edited with Robert Ralley, a special issue of Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 41.2 (2010)

Articles and essays

'Paper Technologies, Digital Technologies: Working with Early Modern Medical Records', The Edinburgh Companion to the Critical Medical Humanities, edited by Anne Whitehead, Angela Woods, Sarah Atkinson, Jane Macnaughton and Jennifer Richards (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016): 120–135

'Casebooks in Early Modern England: Medicine, Astrology and Written Records', Bulletin of the History of Medicine 88 (2014): 595–625

'Medical Understandings of the Body, c.1500–1750', The Routledge History of Sex and the Body, 1500 to the Present, edited by Kate Fisher and Sarah Toulalan (London: Routledge, 2013): 57–74

'Secrets Revealed: Alchemical Books in Early-Modern England', History of Science 49 (2011): 61–87 and A1–38 [PDF file]

'Simon Forman: The Astrologer's Tables', History Today, September 2011: 18–24

'Almanacs and Prognostications', The Oxford History of Popular Print Culture, Volume One: Cheap Print in Britain and Ireland to 1660, edited by Joad Raymond (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011): 431–442

'Stars, Spirits, Signs: Towards a History of Astrology 1100–1800', introduction to Stars, Spirits, Signs: Astrology 1100–1800, edited by Robert Ralley and Lauren Kassell, a special issue of Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 41 (2010): 67–69

'Ask Pickleherring', essay review of The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution by Deborah E. Harkness (New Haven: Yale, 2007), Times Literary Supplement, 6 March 2009: 3–5

'Death Becomes Her', essay review of Human Remains: Dissection and Its Histories by Helen MacDonald (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2006) and Secrets of Women: Gender, Generation, and the Origins of Human Dissection by Katharine Park (New York: Zone Books, 2006), History Workshop Journal 67 (2009): 270–276

'Magic, Alchemy and the Medical Economy in Early Modern England: The Case of Robert Fludd's Magnetical Medicine', Medicine and the Market in England and its Colonies, c. 1450–c. 1850, edited by Mark S.R. Jenner and Patrick Wallis (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007): 88–107

'"All Was This Land Full Fill'd of Faerie", or Magic and the Past in Early Modern England', Journal of the History of Ideas 67 (2006): 107–122

'The Economy of Magic in Early Modern England', The Practice of Reform in Health, Medicine, and Science, 1500–2000: Essays for Charles Webster, edited by Margaret Pelling and Scott Mandelbrote (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005): 43–57

'An Alchemist and His Notebooks', essay review of Alchemy Tried in the Fire: Starkey, Boyle, and the Fate of Helmontian Chymistry by William Newman and Lawrence Principe (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2003), Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 35 (2004): 845–849

'"The Food of Angels": Simon Forman's Alchemical Medicine', Secrets of Nature: Astrology and Alchemy in Early Modern Europe, edited by William R. Newman and Anthony Grafton (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001; paperback 2006): 345–384

'Reading for the Philosophers' Stone', Books and the Sciences in History, edited by Marina Frasca-Spada and Nick Jardine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000): 132–150

'How to Read Simon Forman's Casebooks: Medicine, Astrology and Gender in Elizabethan London', Social History of Medicine 12 (1999): 3–18

  • Winner of the 1997 Society for the Social History of Medicine Essay Prize

Public engagement

For the many Casebooks activities, see the Casebooks news and events page.

‘Magic and Medicine. 500 Years of the College of Physicians: The First 100 Years’, 21 February 2018, Royal College of Physicians of London

‘What was it like to go to the doctor in 1610?’ Ellie Broughton interviewed Lauren Kassell for Tonic, Vice’s website and digital video channel about health, on 26 September 2017

‘Life, Death and Astrology in Shakespeare’s England’, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, 29 June 2016

‘“And the doctor noted her words”: Medical Casebooks in Shakespeare’s England’, Gideon De Laune Lecture, Society of Apothecaries of London, 28 January 2014

Introduction and Q&A for Rosemary’s Baby, Reproduction on Film, Cambridge Arts Picture House, 14 May 2012

‘Simon Forman: Astrology, Medicine and Quackery in Elizabethan England’, a public lecture at the History of Science Museum, University of Oxford, 27 September 2011

‘The Astrologer’s Tables’, History Today, 61 (September 2011), pp. 18-24

'The Unicorn', In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg, BBC Radio 4, 28 October 2010

'The Casebooks Project: Simon Forman and Richard Napier's Medical Records, 1596–1634', Wellcome History 42 (Winter 2009): 9

'Renaissance Astrology', In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg, BBC Radio 4, 14 June 2007

A talk on 'Simon Forman's Final Words; Final Words on Simon Forman', Treadwell's Bookshop, London, 17 May 2005

'Alchemy', In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg, BBC Radio 4, 24 February 2005