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Essay Topics

At the bottom of this page, I've listed some possible essay topics. Some topics are very broad: by all means, do shape and constrain them if you wish BUT please consult with me about any such changes you make before you finalise your choice and begin writing. You may also prefer to construct your own questions. If so, you MUST have your topics approved before you begin your research, as some topics are not feasible and others are not supported by our library. Failure to seek approval has in the past had unfortunate results. A final option for you in terms of essay topics are the questions I ask in in the Handbook and on the timetable page about each individual week.

A few informal notes on assessment

In this module, I will follow the standard historical conventions and rubric for assessment. These are available in full from your History handbook. However, I thought it might be useful to offer a few informal notes on the things I will be looking for as I mark. Do please raise any questions you might have either in class or in office hours.

As I assess your written work, I will look at the following factors:

1. empirical coverage of the relevant literature: Have you drawn upon a wide range of readings, going beyond the lectures and required reading? Have you included primary sources (this will not always be possible, but can 'add value' to your work where such sources are available)?

2. understanding: Did you grasp the main concepts and arguments presented in readings, lectures and the wider literature? Are you aware of/responding to the historiographic issues raised?

3. structure of the argument: Is your argument clear, persuasive and insightful? Is it thoroughly supported, point by point, with evidence, rather than opinion or assumptions? Have you been as specific in your claims as possible? Is your argument comprehensive? Is it original?

4. critical capacity: Have you spotted the limitations of your sources, and the weaknesses of authors’ arguments, etc.?

5. prose: Is your writing clear, grammatical, properly punctuated and without spelling errors?

6. organisation of the material: Have you presented your material (argument and evidence) clearly, and does it make sense as a sequence? Have you made your argument explicit throughout the paper?

7. format: Does your essay abide by the appropriate guidelines for such work? In particular, have you cited your sources and connected your evidence to your arguments appropriately?


Essay Topics

  • Has the impact of the media on medicine changed since the US Civil War?
  • What are the historical roots of the 1965 Social Security Act?
  • 'Disease germs are the most democratic creatures in the world: they know no "distinction of race, color or previous condition",' L.C.Allen, 'The Negro Health Problem', American Journal of Public Health, n.s. 5 (1915): 194-197 [Extracted in Warner and Tighe, Major Problems, p.250-253] How have beliefs like those expressed in the quotation above shaped US medicine in relation to immigration OR medical imperialism OR US public health interventions in the 20th century.
  • Why and how did medicine come to have moral authority in the years leading up to the 1960s?
  • What impact has consumerism had on medical institutions OR beliefs since the 1880s?
  • Has US medicine been more deeply affected by science or by politics since 1850?

  • Were patients more or less powerful at the end of the twentieth century than they were at the beginning of the nineteenth?

  • Explore the impact of medicine on US culture using primary sources from fiction, film, television, or art. SOURCES AND APPROACH MUST BE APPROVED BY ME IN ADVANCE OF SUBMISSION; students who fail to seek approval may find that they have chosen sources which do not allow a suitably full and rigorous analysis. If you like this topic but are not sure what to use, come see me.

  • Have US responses to immigration been exceptional or conventional in the 20th century?

  • What is the relationship between 'race' and 'ethnicity' in US medicine

  • Why doesn't the US have a national health service?