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

Module Convenor 2024-25: Elise Smith

Term: Spring (Weeks 11-20, but no meeting in Reading Week)

Time: TBA

Context of Module
Module Aims
Intended Learning Outcomes
Module Approach: Student Led Learning
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 and articles authored by teaching and research staff in the Centre for the History of Medicine and Department of History. In each seminar, they will be joined by the author of the week's text(s). Student-led discussions with the authors will enable close study and reflection on each text's sources, methodologies and historiographical and theoretic approaches. This will enable students to consider the emergence of new histories of health, embodiment and medical history, as well as the new challenges of work in the medical humanities. All students are encouraged to relate the module's discussions to their own dissertation research and approaches.

Module Aims

The principal aim of this module is to enrich 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. Students planning to join the module in Term Two are welcome to contact Roberta Bivins (module convener) in advance if they have any questions about the module approach, structure, readings, or assessments.

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.
  • Work confidently with a wide variety of relevant primary source material.
Module Approach: Student Led Learning

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 or articles written (or being written) by a member of staff in History of Medicine at Warwick. All texts are accessible electronically via the Warwick Library. 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 (Elise Smith)


    • Roger Cooter with Claudia Stein, Writing History in the Age of Biomedicine, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2013.

'Making the "Turns"'

Week 2: AIDS and Visual Culture (Claudia Stein)


    • Visual Objects and Universal Meanings: AIDS Posters and the Politics of Globalization’, Medical History, 55,1 (2011): 85-108 (with Roger Cooter)
    • Positioning the Image of Aids’, Endeavour, 34, (2010): 12-15 (with Roger Cooter)
    • Visual Imagery and Epidemics in the Twentieth Century,’ in David Serlin (ed), Imagining Illness: Public Health and Visual Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), pp. 169-192 (with Roger Cooter)

    • Coming into Focus: Posters, Power, and Visual Culture in the History of Medicine’, Medizinhistorisches Journal 42 (2007): 180-209 (with Roger Cooter)

Week 3: (Re)Writing Early Modern Medicine (Sophie Mann)


Sophie Mann, ‘A Double Care’: Prayer as Therapy in Early Modern England, Social History of Medicine, Volume 33, Issue 4, November 2020, Pages 1055–1076

Selections from Double Nature, Double Care: Religion and Medicine in Early Modern England (Sophie's book manuscript in preparation!).

Week 4: Migration and Medicine (Roberta Bivins)

This week we will explore different strengths and structures of monographs and articles as forms of communication in scholarly history



Four from among the below:

Week 5: Mathew Thomson Making Up (Psychological) People


Mathew Thomson. Psychological Subjects: Identity, Culture, and Health in Twentieth-Century Britain. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006,

Week 6: Reading Week

Week 7: Global Science James Poskett

Readings: Student Choice

Week 8: Seeing Soviet Minds (Anna Toropova)


Week 9: Environmental History and Interdisciplinary Approaches (Katayoun Shafiee)


    • Shafiee, Katayoun. Machineries of Oil: An Infrastructural History of BP in Iran. The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2018.

Week 10: Curating Medicine (Elise Smith and Roberta Bivins).

Students will travel to a museum or heritage site to meet curators and discuss how histories of medicine and health are presented to general audiences.



Elise Smith (convenor); Roberta Bivins; Sophie Mann; James Poskett; Katayoun Shafiee Claudia Stein; Mathew Thomson; Anna Toropova;

Term Spring
Tutorial Day Tuesday



1-3pm unless otherwise noted

FAB, 6.02 unless otherwise noted


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

Bermondsey 1930s

AIDS Ribbon Ethiopia