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


Dr Elise Smith (2018-19)

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 (broadly construed) selected by its students from a menu of possible options.This unusual structure gives 'Matters of Life and Death' the flexibility required to ensure that it is always focused on subjects closely related to student interests and dissertation research. Possible topics range across the expertise of teaching and research staff in the Centre for the History of Medicine, and of our Associates in the wider University context.

Module Aims

The principal aim of this course 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. Specific topics for the module will be selected in Week 7 of Term One; all students planning to join the module in Term Two should contact the module convenor (Elise Smith) to discuss their interests before or during Week 7, and will be encouraged to attend a meeting during which topic selections will be finalised.

Intended Learning Outcomes
By the end of the module students should be able to:
  • Review the advanced literature in any area of 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.

We will introduce the topics of study selected from our option menu and discuss them in relation to students' proposed MA dissertation topics and, where relevant, future research plans.

We will aim to incorporate a number of site visits depending on the topic and available resources and events.

2016 Syllabus
2017 Syllabus 
2018 Syllabus
2019 Syllabus

Illustrative Menu of Topics:

  • Children in sickness and in health
  • Imperial encounters: colonial and postcolonial medicine
  • Medicine, religion and society
  • The body, gender, race and science
  • Migration, ethnicity and health
  • Minds, madness and medicine
  • Childbirth and reproduction
  • Medicine, identity and society
  • Spaces of sickness, spaces of health
  • The history of global health
  • Medicine, science and technology
  • The cultural history of the NHS
  • Being human
  • Race and medicine
  • Medical systems and medical practice
  • Patients, carers and consumers: experiencing health and illness
  • Medicine and the end of life
  • The new plagues


Illustrative Bibliography

M. Abbott, Family Affairs. A History of the Family in Twentieth-Century England (2003).

A. Bashford, ed., Medicine at the Border: Disease, Globalization and Security, 1850 to the Present (2006).

V. Berridge, Health and Society in Britain since 1939 (1999).

R. Bivins, Alternative Medicine? A History (2007).

W.F. Bynum and R. Porter, eds., Medicine and the Five Senses (1993).

H. Cook, The Long Sexual Revolution: English Women, Sex and Contraception 1800-1975 (2004).

A. Crosby, The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492 (1972).

Angela Davis, Modern Motherhood: Women and Family in England c.1945-2000 (2012).

S. Epstein, Impure Science: AIDS, Activism, and the Politics of Knowledge (1996).

K. Finkler, Experiencing the New Genetics: Family and Kinship on the Medical Frontier (2000).

A. Hardy, Health and Medicine in Britain since 1860 (2001).

N. Hunt, A Colonial Lexicon: Of Birth Ritual, Medicalization, and Mobility in the Congo (1999).

M. Jackson (ed.), Health and the Modern Home (2007).

H. Marland and M. Pelling (eds), The Task of Healing: Medicine, Religion and Gender in England and the Netherlands, 1450-1800 (1996).

A. Mclaren, Reproduction by Design: Sex, Robots, Trees, and Test-Tube Babies in Interwar Britain (2012).

A. Mold, Making the Patient-Consumer: Patient Organisations and Health Consumerism in Britain (2015).

V. Nguyen, The Republic of Therapy: Triage and Sovereignty in West Africa’s Time of AIDS (2010).

R. Porter, Quacks (2000).

P. Smith and P. Findlen, eds, Merchants and Marvels: Commerce, Science and Art in Early Modern Europe (2002).

C. Stein, Negotiating the French Pox in Early Modern Germany (2009).

M. Stolberg, Experiencing Illness and the Sick Body in Early Modern Europe (2011).

S. Szreter, Fertility, Class and Gender in Britain 1850–1940 (1996).

M. Thomson, Lost Freedom: The Landscape of the Child and the British Post-War Settlement (2013).

M. Thomson, Psychological Subjects: Identity, Culture and Health in Twentieth-Century Britain (2006).

A. Wear, ed., Medicine in Society: Historical Essays (1992).

G. Weisz, G. Jorland and A. Opinel (eds), Body Counts: Medical Quantification in HIstorical and Sociological Perspectives (2005).



One 6000 word assessed essay.


Roberta Bivins, Hilary Marland, Claudia Stein, Elise Smith, Claire Shaw, Jennifer Crane, Gareth Millward

Term Spring
Tutorial Day Tuesday






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Bermondsey 1930s

AIDS Ribbon Ethiopia