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Week 19: The History of the History of Medicine

Lecturer: Claudia Stein

This lecture/seminar deals with the intellectual development of the History of Medicine as a robust field of intellectual inquiry since the 1970s. Interest in the history of medicine goes back much further, but in this period, it began to link up with social protest and the counter-culture movement, and with feminist politics in particular. Medicine was seen as a part of ‘the Establishment’, perceived to be anti-democratic and paternalistic. The blossoming of the social history of medicine was launched on this agenda, focusing on the historically disenfranchised: the mad, women, the disabled, ‘unorthodox’ healers, social medicine, and so on. The field expanded in the 1980s and 90s with a shift from ‘the social’ to ‘the cultural history of medicine’, connecting it to an abiding interest in ‘the body’ and new theoretical frameworks such as poststructural theory. The centrality of medicine and the body to the work of Michel Foucault was a part of that move. The lecture/seminar argues that ‘thinking’ about the history of medicine is always couched within a specific socio-cultural context. History is always a ‘history of the present’.


Discussion Questions/Essay Topics

  • 'The History of Medicine is about great doctors and their dicoveries? Discuss.
  • What is the different between a 'social history' of medicine and a 'cultural history' of medicine?
  • How did postmodern thinking about the body change the way history of medicine was/is written?
  • The history of medicine is a key discipline to write a 'history of the present'. Discuss.
  • 'The body is a socio-cultural construction'. Discuss.
  • 'The writing of any history is always related to the values, ideas and practices of a society at a particuarly moment in time. It is therefore never objective.' Discuss.

Required Readings:

  • Roger Cooter and Claudia Stein, The History of Medicine, vol. 1 (London: Routledge, 2016), Introduction
  • Jordanova, Ludmilla, ‘The Social Construction of Medicine’, in John Harley Warner and Frank Huismann (eds), Locating Medical History: Stories and their Meanings (Baltimore, 2004), pp. 328-263.
  • Fissell, Mary, ‘Making Meaning from the Margins: The New Cultural History of Medicine’, in John Harley Warner and Frank Huismann (eds), Locating Medical History: Stories and their Meanings (Baltimore, 2004). [Jordanova and Fissel Readings Here]

Further Readings:

  • Ackerknecht, Erwin H., A Short History of Medicine (New York, 1955).
  • Brieger, Gerd, 'History of Medicine', in W.F. Bynum and Roy Porter (eds), Companion Encyclopedia of the History of Medicine, 2 vols. (London, 1993),vol 1, pp. 24-44. (contains many good overview articles!)
  • Cooter, Roger, with Stein, Claudia, Writing History in the Age of Biomedicine (Yale, 2014).
  • Fee, Elizabeth and Brown, Theodore M., Making Medical History: The Life and Times of Henry E. Sigerist (Baltimore, 1997).
  • Reverby, Susan, Rosner, David (eds), 'Beyond the Great Doctors', in ibid., Health Care in America: Essays in Social Medicine Temple University (Philadelphia, 1979), pp. 3-16.
  • Thomas Rütten, 'Karl Sudhoff and 'the Fall' of German Medical History', (2004). Warner/Huismann (eds.), Locating Medical History: The Stories and their Meanings (Philadelphia, 2004), pp. 95–114.
  • Sigerist, Henry, 'The History of the History of Medicine', in ibid., Milestones in Medicine (New York, 1938), pp. 165-184.
  • Stein, Claudia, 'Divining and Knowing: Karl Sudhoff's Historical Method', Bulletin of the History of Medicine 87,2 (2013): 198-224.
  • Sudhoff, Karl, Essays on the History of Medicine: Presented to Karl Sudhoff on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday, November 26th, 1923 by Karl Singer and Henry Sigerist (1968 reprint).
  • Warner, John Harley, 'The History of Science and the Science of Medicine', Osiri, 10 ( 1995): 164-1933.
  • Webster, Charles, 'The Historiography of Medicine', in Paolo Corsi and Peter Weindling (eds.), Informationsources for the History of Science and Medicine (London, 1983): 29-43.