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Themes and Methods in Medical History (HI907)

Module Convenor
Professor Roberta Bivins
Context of Module
Module Aims
Outline Syllabus
Other Information
Context of Module

This is the core module for the MA in the History of Medicine. The module, taught in the Autumn term, may also be taken by students on the MA in History, the MA in Modern History, and other taught Master's students within or outside the History Department. In 2022-2023, the module will take a methodological slant, helping students to build not only their familiarity with core topics in the history of medicine, but with both established and more innovative tools in use across this expansive and often interdisciplinary field.

Module Aims

This module is designed to introduce students to both major developments in medical thought and practice AND the main methodological approaches and debates used within the field of the history of medicine. It covers the early modern period to the twenty-first century, and invites the students to think comparatively about medicine across space and time. We will have sessions on British, European and global medicine and health. The module focuses on the evolution of ideas, language and technologies within medicine, the reception of these new approaches and lay responses to them, the structure of medical practice, and the scientific, social, and cultural context of medical intervention. Students are encouraged to situate medical practice in a broad historical and theoretical context, and to frame discussions in seminars through reading a series of germinal texts in the field. It also provides the opportunity to explore sources available to the historian of medicine (e.g. medical texts, practice and case records, diaries, public health reports and health propaganda, and visual sources: art, architecture, film and photography). The module is team-taught, drawing on the full range of expertise and approaches encompassed by the Centre for the History of Medicine and the wider Department of History.

Outline Syllabus

Weekly seminar attendance is compulsory. The webpages linked below offer a brief introduction to each topic, and questions to be addressed. You should consider these questions (and formulate your own) while you read the core reading in advance of the seminars and be prepared to offer your opinion. You are also required to attend the CHM research seminars which this year will take place virtually on Wednesdays (4-6pm) within the Department Seminar Series. For further details, see the CHM and History Department websites.

Week 1: Introductory Session (Roberta Bivins)

Week 2: Early Modern Bodies (Sophie Mann)

Week 3: Early Modern Drugs Testing (Michael Bycroft)

Week 4: Medicine and Mobilities (Roberta Bivins)

Week 5: Professionalisation and Activism (Andrew Burchell)

Week 6: Reading Week (no seminar)

Week 7: Cultures and Practices of Reproduction and Childbirth (Fabiola Creed)

Week 8: Epidemics Past/Present/Future (Elise Smith)

Week 9: International and Global Health (Chris Sirrs)

Week 10: Public Health in the Soviet Union (Anna Toropova)



Core reading and further reading will be set for each session. Students are required to read the core reading and recommended to dip into (read one or two items) the further reading before each seminar. The further reading will also provide material for essays. The Centre for the History of Medicine in the Ramphal Building houses a small collection of key books, which you can borrow, and most of the reading will be available on line or scanned.


Students are assessed on the basis of two pieces of work:

  • An essay plan and annotated bibliography of 1,500 words; and
  • An essay of 4,500 words.

--> Both will be due on dates specified by Tabula.

The first assessment will focus on developing and honing your skills in preparation for writing longer essays over the course of the MA programme. You will develop a question that would allow you to explore an approach or source type commonly used in the history of medicine, and sketch out your argument, as well as identifying the types of primary and secondary sources you might use. We will discuss this in week 2, and you can read more here.

Drawing on the feedback you receive for this essay plan, your final essay will either develop from one of the module’s weekly themes or build toward your dissertation topic. Note that students interested in writing their longer essay with their dissertations in mind should consult with the module convenor well before the essay deadline.

Other Information

Look out for emails about history of medicine activities in the Centre. You will also be able to keep in touch with what’s happening in the Centre through our website:



Information  for 2023-23

Roberta Bivins (module convenor); Andrew Burchell; Michael Bycroft; Fabiola Creed; Sophie Mann; Chris Sirrs; Elise Smith; Anna Toporova;

Term Autumn
Tutorial Time Tuesdays, 1-3pm