Webster, Charles 1936-
WEBSTER, Charles 1936-
Born October 23, 1936, in Lowdham, England.
Office—All Souls College, Oxford OX1 4AL, England.
English author, editor, and educator. Corpus Christi College, Oxford, fellow, 1972-1988; Wellcome Unit for Medicine, Oxford, director, 1972-1988; University of Oxford, reader in history of medicine, 1972-1988; All Souls College, Oxford, senior research fellow, then became emeritus fellow, 1988—.
Editor) The Intellectual Revolution of the Seventeenth Century, Routledge & Kegan Paul (Boston, MA), 1974.
The Great Instauration: Science, Medicine, and Reform, 1626-1660, Duckworth (London, England), 1975, Holmes & Meier Publishers (New York, NY), 1976.
(Editor, with Francis Maddison and Margaret Pelling) Essays on the Life and Work of Thomas Linacre, c. 1460-1524, Clarendon Press (Oxford, England), 1977.
Utopian Planning and the Puritan Revolution: Gabriel Plattes, Samuel Hartlib, and "Macaria," Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine (Oxford, England), 1979.
(Editor) Biology, Medicine, and Society, 1840-1940, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1981.
From Paracelsus to Newton: Magic and the Making of Modern Science, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1982.
Problems of Health Care: The National Health Service before 1957, HMSO (London, England), 1988.
(Series editor, with Charles Rosenberg) William H. Schneider, Quality and Quantity: The Quest for Biological Regeneration in Twentieth-Century France, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1990.
(Editor) Caring for Health: History and Diversity, Open University Press (Philadelphia, PA), 2nd edition, 1993, 3rd edition, 2001.
Government and Health Care: The British National Health Service, 1958-1979, Stationary Office (London, England), 1996.
(Editor, with Irvine Louden and John Horder) General Practice under the National Health Service, 1948-1997, Clarendon Press (New York, NY), 1998.
The National Health Service: A Political History, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1998, 2nd edition, 2002.
Charles Webster is a respected author and editor of numerous volumes on the history of medicine and education, focusing on the advancements in England during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Several of his books examine the work of reformers such as Samuel Hartlib and Gabriel Plattes, known for their efforts to democratize the educational system in England, while later works address health service policies in the modern era, in each case showing how early reform affected the development of public services, resulting in modern-day standards.
In Samuel Hartlib and the Advancement of Learning, Webster presents a collection of mid-seventeenth century tracts on educational reform that were the basis for the beliefs of Samuel Hartlib and John Dury. Hartlib and Dury strove for universal education, working under the principle that all children deserved to attend school, and not just those from wealthy homes. In addition, they were advocates of updated teaching methods and curricula. The timing of this proposal, at the heart of the English Civil War, ultimately proved its downfall, as the Restoration forced educational reform and focus on subjects such as science into the background. J. R. Ravetz, in a review for the English Historical Review, called Webster's introduction to the volume "penetrating and erudite," and a contributor to the Times Literary Supplement wrote, "This volume will enlighten students of education and give historians of the period a better understanding of an important aspect which has not had the attention it deserves."
The Intellectual Revolution of the Seventeenth Century collects a number of articles from the historical journal, Past and Present. Paul S. Seaver, reviewing for Church History, praised Webster's introduction, calling it "substantial." He continued, saying, "Webster is particularly illuminating in his discussion of that complex debate which concerns the transformation of natural philosophy which we have come to call the scientific revolution."
Webster delves more deeply into the relationship between the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century and the changes to English society in his book, The Great Instauration: Science, Medicine, and Reform, 1626-1660. He focuses on Samuel Hartlib, using his papers as reference, then widens his range to include such reformers as Gabriel Plattes, Comenius, and Benjamin Worsley. These men attempted to improve the state of education, scientific exploration, economics, and foreign policy. Times Literary Supplement contributor Quentin Skinner referred to Webster's book as "a work of monumental scholarship, full of new information, beautifully organized, opening up new areas for discussion, culminating in a challenging new theory about the whole development of English science." Frances Yates, reviewing for the New York Review of Books, commented, "One feels a certain narrowness in Webster's approach, a restriction to the 'special field' of English Puritan science. Nevertheless, within his limits he has performed a valuable work in his exhaustive account of Puritan science, medicine, and reform between 1626 and 1660 … the specific task which he set himself."
From Paracelsus to Newton: Magic and the Making of Modern Science addresses the ways in which magic and prophecy overlapped with more conventional science as the latter developed as a discipline. Webster explains that even those known for the cutting-edge advances of the seventeenth century, such as Isaac Newton, were prone to consulting religious scripture when trying to determine God's will. Steven Shapin, in a piece for the British Book News, wrote that "according to Webster, late-seventeenth-century 'physicotheology' was designed not so much to 'explain away' miracles as to justify the correctness of biblical chronology." Shapin went on to refer to Webster's work as "the best introduction to current understanding of the relation between science and prophetic religion in this period."
With Problems of Health Care: The National Health Service before 1957, Webster tackles the National Health Service (NHS), an institution that came into existence following World War II and provides free health care at point of consumption. He traces the system from its origins as part of the Poor Law, legislation for public health and national insurance, through wartime reconstruction, to its current incarnation. London Review of Books contributor Jose Harris pointed out that "though the story is told with almost exaggerated restraint and detachment, there are few signs here that this is an 'official,' government-inspired history in any pejorative sense." Robert Pinker, in a piece for the Times Literary Supplement,wrote that the book "strikes the right balance between detailed analysis and an interesting narrative," and went on to conclude, "Charles Webster has made a splendid, scholarly start to his history, strong in narrative and fair in its judgments." Kenneth O. Morgan, writing for the English Historical Review, referred to the book as "a marvelously exciting work, full of new information and new insights," and said of Webster that "his lucid, scholarly, and dispassionate account will provide the basis for all future research on public health policy in modern Britain."
Webster revisits the NHS in The National Health Service: A Political History, a volume that spans the history of the system from its origins to its modern incarnation and focuses on the changes made by successive governments, particularly on that of Margaret Thatcher who was known for her health-care policies. Writing for the London Review of Books, Richard Horton noted, "Webster is at his most interesting in writing about Thatcher. He shows how she … exchanged the status quo for a revolutionary reappraisal of how to govern the Health Service. She and her ministers … replaced the consensus with confrontation.…Efficiency replaced effectiveness as Thatcher's goal." Webster addresses questions of rising population and concerns about care for the elderly, comparing Britain's policies to those of neighboring countries. English Historical Review contributor Arthur Marwick called The National Health Service a "gem of a book."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Historical Review, April, 1984, Brian Easlea, review of From Paracelsus to Newton: Magic and the Making of Modern Science, p. 401.
British Book News, August, 1983, review of From Paracelsus to Newton, p. 496.
Choice, June, 1980, review of Health, Medicine, and Mortality in the Sixteenth Century, p. 559; September, 1983, review of From Paracelsus to Newton, p. 124.
Church History, June, 1975, Paul S. Seaver, review of The Intellectual Revolution of the Seventeenth Century, p. 263.
Economist, September 28, 1974, review of The Intellectual Revolution of the Seventeenth Century, p. 104.
English Historical Review, January, 1972, J. R. Ravetz, review of Samuel Hartlib and the Advancement of Learning, p. 188; April, 1981, C. S. L. Davies, review of Health, Medicine, and Mortality in the Sixteenth Century, pp. 393-394; April, 1982, Christopher Hill, review of Utopian Planning and the Puritan Revolution: Gabriel Plattes, Samuel Hartlib, and "Macaria," p. 426; April, 1983, K. Theodore Hoppen, review of Biology, Medicine, and Society, 1840-1940, pp. 388-390; July, 1991, Kenneth O. Morgan, review of Problems of Health Care: The National Health Service before 1957, pp. 681-682; September, 1999, Arthur Marwick, review of The National Health Service: A Political History, p. 1034; June, 2000, Helen Jones, review of General Practice under the National Health Service, 1948-1997, p. 760.
History Today, Michael Neve, "Nature v. Nurture," p. 54.
London Review of Books, June 23, 1988, Jose Harris, "One Nation," p. 9; July 2, 1998, Richard Horton, "A Revision of Expectations," p. 22.
New Statesman, November 14, 1975, Christopher Hill, "Scientists of the Republic," pp. 613-614.
New York Review of Books, May 27, 1976, Frances Yates, "Science, Salvation, and the Cabala," review of The Great Instauration: Science, Medicine, and Reform, 1626-1660, pp. 27-29; December 16, 1982, Lawrence Stone, "Madness," review of Health, Medicine, and Mortality in the Sixteenth Century, pp. 28-36.
Quarterly Review of Biology, September, 1992, Elof Axel Carlson, review of Quality and Quantity: The Quest for Biological Regeneration in Twentieth-Century France, pp. 337-341.
Reference and Research Book News, February, 1994, review of Caring for Health: History and Diversity, p. 56.
Science and Society, winter, 1976-1977, C. H. George, review of The Intellectual Revolution of the Seventeenth Century, pp. 479-486.
Times Literary Supplement, April 2, 1970, "Puritan Reformers," review of Samuel Hartlib and the Advancement of Learning, p. 365; July 2, 1976, Quentin Skinner, "Projectors and Practitioners," review of The Great Instauration, p. 810; March 19, 1982, Jane Lewis, "From Evolutionism to Élitism," review of Biology, Medicine, and Society, 1840-1940, p. 300; September 9-15, 1988, Robert Pinker, "Caring Collectively," review of Problems of Health Care, p.987.
All Souls College Web site,http://www.all-souls.ox.ac.uk/ (September 23, 2004), "Charles Webster."