Vilnius University, Faculty of History (Lithuania)
Healing Sparks: Mickiewicz, Stubielewicz, and Medical Electricity in Late Eighteenth- and Early Nineteenth-Century Vilnius
In eighteenth-century Europe, spectacular electrical performances were especially popular as a form of entertainment among the upper classes. However, soon a more useful utilitarian purpose for electricity was found in its therapeutic uses. The first electrical machines appeared in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the mid-eighteenth century, when Professor Tomasz Żebrowski established the Mathematical Museum in Vilnius University and initiated the construction of such apparatuses. At first, the electrical machine (Latin: machina electrica) was used only for the entertainment of local nobles and for experiments. However, later, professors of physics Józef Mickiewicz (1744–1817) and Stefan Stubielewicz (1762–1814) taught about the uses of electricity (Latin: galvanismus, electricitas) in medicine and even experimented with patients. In 1819, Stubielewicz’s theoretical insights concerning electrical healing were posthumously published in a separate treatise The Influence of Electricity on the Animal Economy (Polish: Wpływ elektryczności na ekonomią zwierzęcą).
The topic of medical electricity has already been studied in great depth by European and American historians of science and medicine, primarily Paola Bertucci, Roy Porter and others. However, this topic remains on the margins of Lithuanian historiography of science and medicine. Thus, the proposed paper aims to present the ideas and influences of local advocates of medical electricity, with a particular focus on Stubielewicz’s treatise. It also aims to evaluate the significance of electrical healing in Enlightenment Lithuania as well as its relationship with other theories of medicine, such as vitalism.