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Matters of Life and Death: Topics in the Medical Humanities (HI991)

Mathew Thomson
Context of Module
Module Aims
Intended Learning Outcomes
Illustrative Bibliography
Context of Module

'Matters of Life and Death' is the Term Two core module for the MA in the History of Medicine. The module, taught in the Spring Term, may also be taken by students following any other MA programme in the History Department. 'Matters of Life and Death' will address a range of topics in the history of medicine via selected books authored by teaching and research staff in the Centre for the History of Medicine, enabling close study and reflection on the various historiographical and theoretic approaches adopted in these studies, sources and methodologies. This will enable students to consider how the field is evolving and new challenges in the medical humanities. The students are encouraged to relate these surveys to their own dissertation research and approaches.

Module Aims

The principal aim of this module is to support the work our students do (in terms of reading, learning, research and writing) for the History of Medicine MA programme, and to support them specifically in developing wide and deep expertise in fields and methodologies related to their individual MA dissertations. All students planning to join the module in Term Two should contact the module convenor (Mathew Thomson) by Week 7 of Term One.

Intended Learning Outcomes
By the end of the module students should be able to:
  • Review the advanced literature in a variety of areas in the history of medicine and the medical humanities.
  • Assess the theoretical underpinnings of this work.
  • Draw on key concepts from one or more of the social, human and literary sciences.
  • Have familliarised themselves with the use of relevant primary source material.

2020 Syllabus: Matters of Life and Death

Module Convenor: Professor Mathew Thomson

Term: Spring (Weeks 1-10, but no meeting in Reading Week)

Time: Tuesdays 1-3

Venue: Room R2.15, Ramphal Building


The Matters of Life and Death module provides the opportunity for students to analyse a series of issues in the history of medicine in depth, responding to a broad range of student interest in histories of the body and mind, gender and medicine, public health, disease, disability, race and science. Each seminar introduces students to an important recent contribution to the field of the history of medicine, and provides the opportunity to discuss this work with the authors. This will enable students to develop an understanding of how the field is now evolving in tackling issues of life and death. It will also develop critical thinking about the challenges in undertaking such historical work. An introductory seminar will focus on strategy for interviewing historians about their work and its situation within the field. It will allocate roles, discuss areas for questions and a structure for the seminars, and identify further readings and reviews to assist analysis of the core texts. The emphasis will be on equipping students to take a lead in the organisation and intellectual direction of the seminars. The seminars in Weeks 2-9 will put these plans into operation. These seminars will centre on reading a book written or being written by a member of staff in History of Medicine at Warwick. A trip to the Wellcome Collection or Science Museum in London and consideration of the Cultural History of the NHS project will provide students an opportunity to consider the material history of medicine and methods of public engagement in the field. The final seminar in Week 10 will give students the opportunity to present their own research ideas, building on the intersecting themes, conclusions and methods that have been presented throughout the term. Students will be encouraged to draw from the seminars and the readings in their essays for the module. The subjects and titles of these essays will need to be agreed with the module convenor.


Week 1: Introduction (Mathew Thomson)

Week 2: Psychological Subjects (Mathew Thomson).Reading: Mathew Thomson, Psychological Subjects: Identity, Culture and Health in Twentieth Century Britain(Oxford University Press, 2006).

Week 3: Vaccinating Britain (Gareth Millward). Reading: Gareth Millward, Vaccinating Britain: Mass Vaccination and the Public Since the Second World War(Manchester University Press, 2019).

Week 4: Deaf in the USSR (Claire Shaw). Reading: Claire Shaw, Deaf in the USSR: Marginality, Community and Soviet Identity, 1917-1991(Cornell University Press, 2017).

Week 5: The Material History of Medicine (Mathew Thomson). Preparation: visit to either Wellcome Collection or Science Museum; Review of People's History of the NHS 

Week 6: Reading Week

Week 7: Contagious Communities OR Alternative Medicine (Roberta Bivins). Students will decide on which option in Week 1. Reading: EITHER Roberta Bivins, Contagious Communities: Medicine, Migration and the NHS in Post-War Britain (Oxford University Press, 2015) OR Roberta Bivins, Alternative Medicine? A History (Oxford University Press, 2007).

Week 8: The Colonial Body: (Rebecca Earle). Reading: The Body of the Conquistador: Food, Race and the Colonial Experience in Spanish America, 1492-1700 (Cambridge University Press, 2012).

Week 9: Phrenology, Race and the Global History of Science, 1815-1920 (James Poskett). Reading: James Poskett, Materials of the Mind: Phrenology, Race, and The Global History of Science 1815-1920 (University of Chicago Press, 2019).

Week 10: Review (Mathew Thomson)


One 6000 word assessed essay.



Mathew Thomson (convenor), Roberta Bivins, Rebecca Earle, Gareth Millward, James Poskett, Claire Shaw.

Term Spring
Tutorial Day Tuesday




Room R2.15, Ramphal Building


Kahn Der Mensch als Industriepalast 1920DNA projected on pregnant womanFludd Microcosmia 1619

Bermondsey 1930s

AIDS Ribbon Ethiopia