Speaker: Dr Rosalind Stanwell-Smith

Modern medicine would be unrecognisable without the many uses of electricity, but its history is a murky mix of superstition and quackery.

The term ‘electricity’ was coined by Tudor physician William Gilbert, one of the first to distinguish its effects from those of magnetism. Medical uses were known to ancient cultures, such as curing headaches or gout with electric fish. The discovery of how to harness static electricity in the 17th and 18th centuries was utilised mainly for amusement and the sensational effects were ideal for performances by quacks or physicians who sold dubious electric ‘cures’, although a few explored more useful applications, such as resuscitation.

Despite the advances of electrical science in the 19th century, its therapeutic potential was scarcely investigated and it was not considered part of respectable medicine until well into the last hundred years.

This talk aims to illuminate, shock and entertain you about how scandalous misuse of electricity has been transformed into an essential part of treatment and maintaining health.

Dr Rosalind Stanwell-Smith

Dr. Rosalind Stanwell-Smith is an honorary Fellow of the RSPH, an honorary Associate Professor at the Centre for History in Public Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and an honorary member of the American Public Health Association. She has worked in several areas of public health as well as in medicine and surgery – and has a long working association with RSPH, including serving on its Council, editing Perspectives in Public Health and lecturing on their courses and conferences.

Usually the lecture themes are directly related to current practice, but she hopes that this one on electricity will shed light on how we develop skills or equipment for public health and our society – and the surprisingly long time it takes to apply new knowledge.