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Medicine, Modernity and Postmodernity (Katherine Angel)

This seminar reviews the changes in medicine, health care, and attitudes towards disease brought about by a series of changes associated with the onset and challenges of ‘modernity’. Most obviously, this entails consideration of a series of top-down processes: the impact of the rise of the nation, the state, and associated new bureaucracies, professions, and modes of governmental intervention and surveillance; the response to new problems and new awareness resulting from urbanisation and new modes of production associated with industrialisation; and the degree to which war acted as a stimulus for development. It also demands consideration of developments more internal to medicine: the discovery of microbes and genes; new technologies for seeing and testing the functions of the body; and new modes of organisation, entailing increased specialisation, and the increasing prominence of sites such as the laboratory and the clinic. However, it also calls for consideration of responses to modernity from below: the influence of ideas of citizenship; the increasing importance of demand arising from the advance of prosperity and a culture of consumption; the ambivalence and even opposition in some circles towards the materialism of modern biomedicine; and ideas of holism and anti-reductionism within medicine.

 It will also examine whether medicine and healthcare entered a new ‘post-modern’ stage by the late-twentieth century, considering the challenges this presents for the history of medicine, and the emergence of bioethics as a discipline. And it will assess the extent to which the emergence and consolidation of the fields of genetics/genomics have changed the way medicine operates today and the way we understand the possibilities for intervening medically into “life”.




David Armstrong, ‘The New Hygiene of the Dispensary’, in Political Anatomy of the Body: Medical Knowledge in Britain in the Twentieth Century (1983), pp. 7-18.

Brandt, Alan & Gardner, Martha, ‘The Golden Age of Medicine?’, in Roger Cooter & John Pickstone, (eds.) Medicine in the Twentieth Century (2000), pp. 21-37.

Cantor, David, ‘The Diseased Body’, in Cooter & Pickstone, Medicine in the Twentieth Century, pp. 347-66.

Pickstone, John, ‘Production, Community and Consumption: The Political Economy of Twentieth-Century Medicine’, in Cooter & Pickstone, Medicine in the Twentieth Century, pp. 1-19.

Tomes, Nancy, 'Introduction', Gospel of Germs (1998), pp. 1-23

Lawrence C, Weisz G, 'Medical Holism: The Context', in Lawrence & Weisz, Greater Than the Parts: Holism in Biomedicine, 1920-1950, pp. 1-24.


Armstrong, David, Political Anatomy of the Body: Medical Knowledge in Britain in the Twentieth Century (1983).

Cooter, Roger, ‘War and Modern Medicine’, in William Bynum and Roy Porter (eds.), Encyclopaedia of the History of Medicine Volume 2, pp. 1536-73.

Cooter, Roger & Pickstone, John (eds.), Medicine in the 20th Century (2000)

Cooter, Roger & Sturdy, Steve, ‘Science, Scientific Management and the Transformation of Medicine in Britain, c. 1870-1950’, History of Science, 36 (1998), 1-47.

Lawrence, Chris, ‘Incommunicable Knowledge: Science, Technology, and the Clinical Art in Britain, 1850-1914’, Journal of Contemporary History, 20 (1985): 503-20.

Lawrence, Chris, Medicine in the Making of Modern Britain, 1700-1920 (1994).

Thomson, Mathew, ‘Psychology and the Consciousness of Modernity’, in B. Rieger & M. Daunton (eds), Meaning of Modernity (2001), pp. 97-115.

Harrington, Anne, 'Introduction', Reenchanted Science: Holism in German Culture from Wilhelm II to Hitler (1999).  

Young, A, 'Walter Cannon and the Physiology of Fear', in Lawrence & Weisz, Greater Than the Parts, pp. 234-257.

Osborne, T. 'Medicine and Epistemology: Michel Foucault and the liberality of clinical reason', History of the Human Sciences 1992, 5, 63-93.



Rose, N, The Politics of Life Itself: Biomedicine, Power and Subjectivity in the Twenty-First Century (2007), pp. 9-40.

Jon Turney and Brian Balmer, “The Genetic Body” in Roger Cooter and John Pickstone (eds), Medicine in the Twentieth Century, pp. 399-415.

Roger Cooter, ‘After Death/After-‘Life’: The Social History of Medicine in Post-Postmodernity’, Social History of Medicine, 20 (2007), 441-64.


Adele Clarke et al, 'Biomedicalization: Technoscientific Transformations of health, illness and US Biomedicine' American Sociological Review 2003, 68, April, 161-194.

Rothman, D Strangers at the Bedside: A History of How Law and Bioethics Transformed Medical Decision-Making

Forman, P '(Re)cognizing Postmodernity: Helps for Historians – of Science Especially', Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte 33 (2010), 157-175 (available online, it's in English)

Wikipedia entries for “personalized medicine”, “stem cells”, “cord blood”