Viperous Breathings: The Miasma Theory in Early Modern England



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The miasma theory was a commonly held medical contagion theory from ancient times until the last half of the nineteenth century. The theory claimed that bad odors on the wind or from decaying organic matter could transmit disease or infection to a person. This thesis argues that the miasma theory was far more than a contagion theory, it was also a social construct in the early modern period which allowed sixteenth and seventeenth England society to adapt the idea far beyond actual smells. In fact, this thesis shows that the theory was adopted metaphorically in social, political, and religious circumstances. The ephemeral nature of scents and thus the miasma theory allowed it to become a social construct for actual, perceived, and metaphorical smells in early modern England.



Miasma theory, early modern England, olfactory history, olfaction, smellscape


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