Northern Illinois University Press


We Lived for the Body

Natural Medicine and Public Health in Imperial Germany

Avi Sharma

“Avi Sharma’s book is a well-written presentation of the modern and positive aspects of German Naturheilkunde and Lebensreform, in which he combines description with substantiated critique on common historiography.” —Isis: A Journal of the History of Science Society

“Sharma's book represents a valuable contribution to German medical history, political history, and cultural history. It is impressively wide-ranging. In tracing the history of German natural medicine in the 19th and early 20th centuries, he takes the reader through the details of unconventional cures and bungled vaccinations, and also offers a fascinating look at the unstable authority of academic medicine in German public life. As he shows, natural medicine was much more than an idiosyncratic sideshow; it was a prominent and important cultural movement that addressed issues of individuality, bodily autonomy, and the proper role of state power.”-Denise Phillips, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Nature was central to the Wilhelmine German experience. Medical cosmologies and reform-initiatives were a key to consumer practices and lifestyle choices. Nature's appeal transcended class, confession, and political party. Millions of Germans recognized that nature had healing effects and was intimately tied to quality of life. In the 1880s and 1890s, this preoccupation with nature became an increasingly important part of German popular culture.

In this pioneering study, Avi Sharma shows that nature, health, and the body became essential ways of talking about real and imagined social and political problems. The practice of popular medicine in the Wilhelmine era brought nature back into urban everyday experience, transforming the everyday lives of ordinary citizens. Sharma explores the history of natural healing in Germany and shows how social and medical practices that now seem foreign to contemporary eyes were, just decades ago, familiar to everyone from small children to their aged grandparents, from tradesmen and women to research scientists. Natural healing was not simply a way to cure illness. It was also seen as a way to build a more healthful society. Using interpretive methods drawn from the history of science and science studies, Sharma provides a readable and groundbreaking inquiry into how popular health and hygiene movements shaped German ideas about progress, modernity, nature, health, and the body at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.

June 2014, 5.5x8.5, 235 pp.
ISBN 978-0-87580-704-1
$35.00x Paper

Avi Sharma received his PhD at University of Chicago, where he taught for several years. He is a research associate at a Berlin-based think tank and is currently developing a project on the social and political consequences of climate change.

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ISBN: 978-0-87580-704-1
Paper $35.00