Text categories in EMEMT

The categorization of the EMEMT corpus texts was an organic process. Initially, the tripartite model of the MEMT corpus was used, but it soon became apparent that it did not accurately reflect the changed textual environment of the Early Modern period. New developments in the theory and practice of medicine and the shift from manuscript to print had expanded and diversified the field of medical writing, requiring a more complex categorization.

For this reason, the tripartite categorization of MEMT was refined into six core categories defined primarily by subject matter and further supplemented by an appendix of peripheral texts on “Medicine in society”. The categorization emerges primarily from the project team's familiarity with the text material and the traditions of medical writing, and it has been further refined through consultation with experts in medical history.

Appendix: Medicine in society
Scientific journals
Specialized texts General treatises or textbooks
Texts on specific diseases
Texts on specific methods
Texts on specific substances
Texts on midwifery and children's diseases
Texts on plague
Surgical texts Surgical and anatomical treatises
Remedies and materia medica Recipe collections and materia medica
Regimens and health guides
Appendix: Trilingual herbals

In formulating the categories, there was a conscious effort to avoid circularity by not basing the categories on previous analysis of textual features. Instead, we hope to provide a categorization which allows the user to find and study texts of a particular historical type. Although such classifications necessarily reflect underlying social and educational stratification, the categories are not intended to reflect the degree of education behind the texts. Most of the categories cover a wide range of texts written both for the layman as well as for a more educated audience.

The distribution of texts with regard to the different categories and time periods reflects the combined effects of perceived significance and availability of texts. In addition to serving the user, the categorisation also enables the compilers of the corpus to maximize the degree of coverage not only over time but also across different fields of medicine. Ideally, coverage would be even along both axes, but in practice, gaps will appear where no significant texts of a given category are available. For example, while surgical texts and health guides are readily available for most of the 200 year period, comprehensive medical treatises appear to be more scarce, especially from the 16th century.

Distribution of texts

The representativeness of the corpus is also influenced by changes in the number of texts produced. Based on the ESTC, the corpus currently covers more than half of all English medical titles printed in the 16th century, making it clearly representative for that time period. During the 17th century the total volume of printed titles increased, necessitating the use of a lower sampling ratio to keep the corpus to a manageable size.

Categories in detail

1. General treatises or textbooks

Includes texts that claim to include "all physicke" or are intended to give a systematic account of the whole field of medicine. The inclusion of a text in this category does not depend on the level of sophistication of its account, only on its scope. General treatises range from learned and authoritative textbooks of medicine to all-in-one books intended for ordinary families.

2. Treatises on specific topics

Includes texts covering a wide range of topics in a variety of styles, the common denominator being a focus on an individual disease, method or therapeutic substance. The category has been divided into five subcategories, based on the nature of the focus:

a) texts on specific diseases
b) texts on specific methods of diagnosis or treatment
c) texts on specific therapeutic substances
d) texts on midwifery and children’s diseases
e) texts on plague

This category bears a close relation to category 1, the difference being in the scope of the work as a whole. While the extracts in category 1 are always parts of a larger general treatise on medicine, category 2 texts are independent treatises on a single specific topic.

3. Recipe collections and materia medica

Includes texts dealing with the preparation of remedies or the therapeutic properties of substances. Includes material ranging from household recipes bordering on folklore to highly sophisticated Latinate pharmacopoeiæ. In addition to recipe collections, this category also includes herbals and lapidaries, which can also contain recipes. Texts that focus solely on the properties and preparation of individual substances or medicaments are included in category 2c.

4. Regimens and health guides

Includes texts that focus on preventative medicine and provide guidelines for the preservation of health. This is achieved mainly by the regulation of the diet (including food and drink) and various other "non-natural" influences such as exercise, sleep, sexuality, and habitat. This category has long roots going back to the earliest medieval Latin regimina of the 9th century.

5. Surgical and anatomical treatises

Includes all surgical and anatomical works regardless of their scope or level of complexity. In addition to descriptions of surgical procedures, also descriptions of human anatomy and physiological processes are included. Surgical treatises may also contain recipes for external remedies such as ointments and plasters. Much of military medicine, focused mostly on external trauma, also falls under this category.

6. Scientific journals

This category emerges only during the latter part of the 17th century. Unlike the other categories, it is defined by its medium of publication and consists of medical articles published in the first English scientific journal, the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. These articles cover diverse topics such as physiology and anatomy, the nature of various medical substances, accounts of medical experiments and discoveries, and reviews of medical books.

Appendix: Medicine in society

The appendix contains texts which treat medicine as a social phenomenon, taking a point of view other than that of analysing and treating diseases. It includes social commentaries on various medical treatments, on the prevalence of various ailments, and on medicine as a profession, as well as religious and moral texts pertaining to medicine and its practitioners.

Because of its varied composition, the appendix does not constitute a coherent collection of text for linguistic analysis. The compilers have opted to use the term 'appendix' to make that distinction clear. The texts in the appendix can of course be searched and analysed using the EMEMT Presenter software.