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Themes and Methods in Medical History (HI907)

Module Leader
Dr Elise Smith
Context of Module
Module Aims
Outline Syllabus
Illustrative Bibliography
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.

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 and includes sessions on Britain, Europe 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 seminal 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.

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) when 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 (Elise Smith)

Week 2: Early Modern Bodies (Claudia Stein)

Week 3: International and Global Health (Chris Sirrs)

Week 4: Cultures and Practices of Childbirth and Reproduction (Hilary Marland)

Week 5: Professionalisation and Regulation (Andrew Burchell)

Week 6: Reading Week (no seminar)

Week 7: Mental Health (Mathew Thomson)

Week 8: Public Health in the Soviet Union (Claire Shaw)

Week 9: Early Modern Drugs Testing (Michael Bycroft)

Week 10: Epidemics Past/Present/Future (Elise Smith)



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.

Illustrative Bibliography

Mark Adams (ed.), The Wellborn Science: Eugenics in Germany, France, Brazil and Russia (1990).

David Armstrong, The Political Anatomy of the Body: Medical Knowledge in Britain in the Twentieth Century (1993).

David Arnold, Colonizing the Body: State Medicine and Epidemic Disease in Nineteenth-Century India (1993).

Alison Bashford and Philippa Levine (eds), The Oxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics (2012).

Roberta Bivins, Alternative Medicine? A History (2007).

Roger Cooter and John Pickstone (eds), Medicine in the Twentieth Century (2000).

Raymond DeVries et al., Birth by Design: Pregnancy, Maternity Care and Midwifery in Europe and North America (2001).

Barbara Duden, The Woman Beneath the Skin: A Doctor's Patients in Eighteenth-Century Germany (1991).

Mary Fissell, Patients and the Poor in Eighteenth-Century Bristol (1991).

Michel Foucault, The Birth of the Clinic (1973).

D.M. Fox and C. Lawrence, Photographing Medicine (1988).

Marijke Gijswijt-Hofstra and Roy Porter (eds), Cultures of Psychiatry and Mental Health Care in Post-war Britain and the Netherlands (1998).

Chris Hamlin, Public Health and Social Justice in the Age of Chadwick: Britain, 1800-1854 (1998).

Frank Huisman and John Harley Warner (eds), Locating Medical History: The Stories and Their Meanings (2004).

Mark Jackson (ed.), Oxford Handbook of the History of Medicine (2011).

Joan Lane, The Making of the English Patient (2000).

Elaine Leong, Recipes and Everyday Knowledge: Medicine, Science, and the Household in Early Modern England (2018).

Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Context (1995).

Hilary Marland, The Art of Midwifery: Early Modern Midwives in Europe (1993).

Margaret Pelling, The Common Lot: Sickness, Medical Occupations and the Urban Poor in Early Modern England (1998).

Dorothy Porter, Health, Civilization and State (London, 1999).

Roy Porter (ed.), Patients and Practitioners (1985).

Roy Porter, Bodies Politic: Disease, Death and the Doctors in Britain, 1650-1900 (2001).

Bob H. Reinhardt, The End of a Global Pox: America and the Eradication of Smallpox in the Cold War Era (2015).

D.J. Rothman et al. (eds), Medicine and Western Civilisation (1995).

Nancy Siraisi, Medieval & Early Renaissance Medicine: An Introduction to Knowledge and Practice (1990).

Tricia Starks, The Body Soviet: Propaganda, Hygiene and the Revolutionary State (2009).

Thomson, Mathew, Lost Freedom: The Landscape of the Child and the British Post-War Settlement (2013).

Andrew Wear (ed.), Medicine in Society: Historical Essays (1992).

Adrian Wilson, The Making of Man-Midwifery: Childbirth in England, 1660-1770 (1995).


Students are assessed on the basis of one 6000-word essay, due at the end of the autumn term (week 10). This essay is normally based on one of the module’s weekly themes but can also build toward the dissertation topic. Students interested in writing on different topics 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 2020-21

Elise Smith (module convenor); Claudia Stein; Hilary Marland; Michael Bycroft; Chris Sirrs; Claire Shaw; Andrew Burchell; Mathew Thomson

Term Autumn
Tutorial Time Tuesdays, 1-3pm