The healing powers of water (Ragnhild Johnsrud Zorgati)

This sub-project studies medical cultures connected to bathing in thermal waters in France and North Africa in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

During this period balneotherapy or “taking the waters” became the preferred leisure activity for the European bourgeoisie who spent their holidays curing at Vichy, Aix-les-Bains or Plombières, thereby combining “l’utile à l’agréable”. At these luxurious establishments they were joined by the elites of the provinces of the Ottoman Empire; provinces which came under direct European control in the late 19th century.  Hence, European spas may be studied as a meeting ground between colonizers and elites from the colonies, as a micro cosmos of imperial relationships. It is no coincidence that an oriental dome covers the main spa at Vichy.  Moreover, Europeans established thermal baths in their colonies, in order to cure the colonizers from tropical diseases or ensure their acclimatization to southern shores.

The project studies thermal bathing as a contact zone: between knowledge traditions, on the one hand, and between people from different cultural and religious traditions on the other:

  • The first involves a juxtaposition of traditional knowledge about the healing powers of water to theories developed by modern school medicine about hydrotherapy in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
  • The second focuses on the cross-cultural connections that were established at spas, particularly studying Vichy in France and Korbous in Tunisia. Hence, the project explores the interconnectedness of hydrotherapy, colonial politics and cross-cultural connections between elite segments from the northern and southern shores of the Mediterranean. Seeing scientific medical discourse as a symptom of modernity, this investigation also involves a reflection on the rise of modernity in Europe and North-Africa, its relatedness to European imperialism as well as its impact on the relationship between north and south that is still felt today.
Published June 5, 2014 9:40 AM - Last modified Apr. 6, 2017 10:05 AM