IN the past, writing the history of American medicine suffered from the fact that the authors who were doctors had little if any training in history, while the authors who were historians had little knowledge of medicine. To be sure, some useful works were published—biographical compendia of leading physicians, house histories of hospitals, medical schools, and the like, and accounts of important advances in the field of medicine. Yet not enough attention was paid to the actual details of medical practice, to the effects of such practice on local communities, or to a host of other byproducts derived from the work of the physician.

    In more recent times, new developments in the writing of medical history have been taking place. Some doctors who write in the field are acquiring a historical discipline and perspective. In addition, general historians are more and more concerning themselves with how medicine was practiced in the past and what the sociological background and effects of such practice were. A good example of this new approach is the article by our late fellow-member Ernest Caulfield entitled “Some Common Diseases of Colonial Children” in Volume 35 of our Publications (pages 4–65). This volume, Medicine in Colonial Massachusetts, 1620–1820, Number 57 in the Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, is a striking example of the new trend in the writing of medical history. It contains a three-chapter introduction and the twelve papers delivered at a conference on early Massachusetts medicine held in May 1978 and sponsored by the Colonial Society. A glance at the Table of Contents is convincing evidence of the broad approach now taken by scholars in the writing of medical history.

    The conference on early Massachusetts medicine was the first one that our late Editor of Publications, Walter Muir Whitehill, did not attend, for he had died about two months before the conference was held. But though he was not present in person, he was in spirit. It was Walter who had first conceived the idea of holding conferences on different aspects of colonial history and who had seen through to successful completion conferences on Boston prints, eighteenth-century furniture, colonial music, colonial architecture, and colonial seafaring. As with earlier conferences, Walter supported the one on early medicine with the same mixture of encouragement and “leave-those-in-charge-alone” that had characterized his editorial policy throughout his career.

    Many people have contributed to the publication of this volume. After the conference, three editors, J. Worth Estes of the Boston University School of Medicine, Philip Cash of Emmanuel College, and Eric H. Christianson of the University of Kentucky, met to edit the twelve papers. Once their task had been completed, Dr. Estes and Professor Cash undertook to follow the original edited manuscript through the stages of galley and page proof. Behind the editors, acting as a kind of executive officer to the whole project, was our Corresponding Secretary, Richard J. Wolfe, Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts at the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Mr. Wolfe was indefatigable in running down illustrations, in suggesting solutions to particular problems that developed, and generally in moving the project ahead rapidly. A final proof of his devotion to this enterprise is the fact that he prepared the index as a labor of love.

    The Colonial Society of Massachusetts presents this volume to the public in the belief that it will make a signal contribution to the history of early Massachusetts medicine, a contribution that will carry on the tradition of excellence established by Walter Muir Whitehill.

    Frederick S. Allis, Jr.

    Editor of Publications

    87 Mount Vernon Steert

    Boston, Massachusetts

    July 1980