Framing medical knowledge on mineral waters - France, 1770s-1830s

The close association of the medical properties of mineral waters to specific places entailed the mobility of their users and local developments in terms of healthcare provision and infrastructure. The localised nature of the remedy was also a challenge to physicians and governments who endeavoured to establish a comprehensive approach to such valuable water resources. The regulation of mineral waters was a key aspect of the duties of the Société Royale de Médecine (1778-1793; Académie from 1820). I would like to address the problematic stages in their expertise in their intellectual, material and institutional dimensions.

The central status of chemistry in the evaluating process was highly contested. And yet, chemical analysis was a major tool in unrooting mineral waters from their localized context and making waters commensurable. Physicians thus tended to stress the importance of a wider set of environmental factors in the cure, even more so as artificial waters developed.

The wide network of correspondents was a key element in the ability of the academies to collect information, but their implication was often considered as inadequate. The development of relevant “paper technologies” to build useful data, was a main concern of the commissioners.

Similarly, the publications of the results of the collective surveys, either in books, periodicals or dictionaries show a similar concern for a reliable editorial comparative system, which was, more often than not, organised geographically.