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Medicinal Efficacy in Images and Words since the Advent of Mass Media in Western Europe


Focusing on how images and words have characterized what medicinal efficacy historically and epistemically denotes, this project asks the question:

How have cultural representations been mobilized to imply a relation between nature, healthiness and scientific knowledge?

Even if ideas about medicines and media formats have changed over time, references to nature and alternative sources of knowledge have been recurrent themes since the onset of medical advertisement in the 17th century. The historical development of modern media in Western Europe has closely been followed by the historical evolution of visual and linguistic strategies to promote consumables that make claims about medicinal efficacy. Ever since, newspapers, books, magazines, films, television and internet websites have been used to circulate visuals that convey ideas about medicinal efficacy at a cultural and epistemic level. Today, more than ever, it matters to chart how images and texts have historically emerged and operated as venues to present information, frame a diversity of scientific knowledge(s) or conceal alternative facts on the grounds that they are appealing and convincing.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 101026198.


Coordinated by KU Leuven

Faculty of Arts

Cultural History since 1750

Progressively, cultural representations have become points of dissemination of ideas, attitudes and assumptions about the natural world. Samples of visual artefacts where cultural references have been and are deployed to imply a connection between nature, medicines and health-enhancing consumables have included herbal remedies, psychoactive drugs, nutraceuticals (i.e. health-improving nutritional components), supplements and cosmeceuticals (i.e. cosmetic products portrayed to have medicinal benefits). Considering that it is unavoidable to be exposed to visual and textual stimuli, the overarching aim is to develop a framework that analyses how images and words have been used to establish a connection between naturality, medicinal efficacy and health-related knowledge(s) since the advent of mass media in Western Europe.

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