Old as Methuselah? Supercentenarians, Narrative Wisdom and the Importance of History for Health
According to the Arnhemse Courant of 21 October 1828, eighteenth-century Northern Europe counted no less than 1,672 people between 100 and 185 years old. This news report defies the imagination. Who would believe that centuries ago so many people could live to such old ages? In her inaugural lecture, Rina Knoeff shows that we should take this report - and other stories about unusual diseases, miraculous cures, and remarkable scientific insights - seriously.
People in the past were no fools. Historical accounts of centenarians show how knowledge and health experiences were embedded in historically grown cultural patterns in which moral views and political motivations prevailed alongside medical theories. This is no different today. Like no other, the historian can show that our ideas about health and well-being are bound in place and time. By studying historical narratives that seem strange – even unbelievable – to us now, we can recognise what is particular about our own perceptions of health. This skill, which Knoeff characterises as "narrative wisdom", is also crucial for analysing and improving public health care. In her inaugural lecture, Knoeff shows that health is not exclusively biomedical, but above all a societal issue. This also means that in public health care, we should move away from a focus on clinical perspectives, and give more space to the humanities, which are much better at explaining the cultural factors that determine our health.
Design and layout: LINE UP boek en media bv | Riëtte van Zwol, Mirjam Kroondijk
Cover photo: Etching of Henri Jenkins by T. Worlidge, 1792, after R. Walker.
Author photo: Aernout Steegstra, https://fotowiersma.nl/
Published by University of Groningen Press
9712 CP Groningen
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.