‘The machine in the garden: The compressed-air bath and therapeutic landscapes in the 19th century’

Histories of climatic medicine have emphasised the allure of the natural landscape as a therapeutic space in the nineteenth century: health resorts set in rolling hills, spa towns selling healing waters, and seaside towns keen to capitalise on their ‘ozone-laden’ air. This paper addresses an artificially-constructed therapeutic environment that both capitalised upon, and distanced itself from, this naturalness: the compressed-air bath. In taking the ‘pure’ air of the country resort and compressing it, the bath’s advocates drew on established discourses of climatic medicine while simultaneously altering that environment to treat patients with a hybrid form of air. As physical objects, compressed-air baths were also difficult to reconcile with the landscape around them, and it is this incongruence between technology and natural environment that forms the central theme of this paper.