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A History

Katherine Foxhall

Narrated by Robin J. Sitten

Available from Audible

Book published by Johns Hopkins University Press

For centuries, people have talked of a powerful bodily disorder called migraine, which currently affects about a billion people around the world. Yet until now, the rich history of this condition has barely been told.

In Migraine, award-winning historian Katherine Foxhall reveals the ideas and methods that ordinary people and medical professionals have used to describe, explain, and treat migraine since the Middle Ages. Touching on classical theories of humoral disturbance and medieval bloodletting, Foxhall also describes early modern herbal remedies, the emergence of neurology, and evolving practices of therapeutic experimentation. Throughout the book, Foxhall persuasively argues that our current knowledge of migraine's neurobiology is founded on a centuries-long social, cultural, and medical history. This history, she demonstrates, continues to profoundly shape our knowledge of this complicated disease, our attitudes toward people who have migraine, and the sometimes drastic measures that we take to address pain.

Migraine is an intimate look at how cultural attitudes and therapeutic practices have changed radically in response to medical and pharmaceutical developments. Foxhall draws on a wealth of previously unexamined sources, including medieval manuscripts, early-modern recipe books, professional medical journals, hospital case notes, newspaper advertisements, private diaries, consultation letters, artworks, poetry, and YouTube videos. Deeply researched and beautifully written, this fascinating and accessible study of one of our most common, disabling—and yet often dismissed—disorders will appeal to physicians, historians, scholars in medical humanities, and people living with migraine alike.

Katherine Foxhall is the author of Health, Medicine, and the Sea: Australian Voyages c. 1815–1860.


“In Migraine, Katherine Foxhall delivers a thorough and illuminating history of migraine that traces our endeavors to understand, treat and eliminate this painful condition we still know little about... Foxhall's history of migraine, unlike the self-help books, accommodates human complexity without scanting medicine's contributions to a condition that affects roughly 1 in 7 people on our planet. A lively, scholarly book about migraine, Foxhall's history is also a treatise on the human condition.”

The Washington Post

“Foxhall has written the most comprehensive, well-researched, and in-depth history of migraine in existence. Drawing on completely original research, this book is a truly wonderful compendium of Western medicine's approach to and treatment of migraine over the centuries.”

—Joanna Kempner, Rutgers University, author of Not Tonight: Migraine and the Politics of Gender and Health

“A fascinating and very well-written book. With verve and passion, Katherine Foxhall issues a call to arms that uses history to make its case.”

—Matthew Smith, University of Strathclyde, author of Another Person's Poison: A History of Food Allergy

“Katherine Foxhall is one of the most illuminating young historians of science and medicine writing today. Her history of the migraine from the second century to the present is an enthralling story. It is a must-read for migraine sufferers as well as their physicians and friends. I couldn't put it down.”

—Joanna Bourke, Birkbeck, University of London, author of The Story of Pain: From Prayers to Painkillers

“In this comprehensive account, Foxhall assesses over one thousand years of Western experience with migraine. Paying close attention to ways in which gender, class, and race in particular shape responses to migraine, the book amplifies the voices of people who for too long have been silenced and doubted.”

—Daniel S. Goldberg, University of Colorado, author of Public Health Ethics and the Social Determinants of Health

“Despite being recognised since time immemorial, migraine continues to elude a 'cure.' In her eloquent book, Katherine Foxhall looks at migraine's past with the eyes of the present, providing a fascinating insight into how societal changes have affected the perception of this condition and the impact that has had on management.”

—Anne MacGregor, Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, author of Understanding Migraine and Other Headaches

“In her meticulously researched book, Katherine Foxhall offers a sensitive and humane account of a common condition: migraine. Wide-ranging in terms of its sources and covering a generous timespan, it significantly enhances our understanding of medical theories and treatments in both past and present, gives weight to patient experiences, and demonstrates the valuable contributions historians can make to contemporary debates about suffering and pain.”

—Ludmilla Jordanova, Durham University, author of The Look of the Past: Visual And Material Evidence In Historical Practice

“Katherine Foxhall's book, Migraine: A History, is a remarkable volume on migraine and its history from the second to the 21st century... Written by a historian with an open mind to all aspects of migraine and medical history, the book stands alone as a current best historical work on the subject... For anyone with any interest in migraine, this is a must-read, and one that will be rewarded with compelling erudition, and the knowledge that the history of migraine matters a lot. I recommend it highly.”

Brain: A Journal of Neurology

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