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

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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 via selected books and articles authored by teaching and research staff in the Centre for the History of Medicine and Department of History, enabling close study and reflection on the various historiographical and theoretic approaches adopted in these studies, sources and methodologies. This will enable students to consider how the field is evolving and new challenges in the medical humanities. The students are encouraged to relate these surveys to their own dissertation research and approaches.

Module Aims

The principal aim of this module 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. Students planning to join the module in Term Two are welcome to contact Elise Smith (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.
  • Have familliarised themselves with the use of relevant primary source material.

2022 Syllabus: Matters of Life and Death

Module Convenor: Dr Elise Smith

Term: Spring (Weeks 1-10, but no meeting in Reading Week)

Time: Tuesdays 1-3

Venue: FAB 6.02


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)

Week 2: Psychological Subjects (Mathew Thomson). Reading: Mathew Thomson, Psychological Subjects: Identity, Culture and Health in Twentieth Century Britain (Oxford University Press, 2006).

Week 3: Military Medicine and the Making of Race (Tim Lockley). Reading: Tim Lockley, Military Medicine and the Making of Race: Life and Death in the West India Regiments (Cambridge University Press, 2020).

Week 4: Health and Safety (Chris Sirrs). Reading: ‘Accidents and Apathy: The Construction of the “Robens Philosophy” of Occupational Safety and Health Regulation in Britain, 1961–1974’, Social History of Medicine29, no. 1 (1 February 2016): 66–88; ‘The Rise and Fall of “Universal Health Coverage” as a Goal of International Health Politics, 1925–1952’, American Journal of Public Health 108, no. 3 (18 January 2018): 334–42; ‘The Moment of Patient Safety: Iatrogenic Injury, Clinical Error, and Cultures of Healthcare in the NHS’ (to be pre-circulated)

Week 5: Phrenology, Race and the Global History of Science, 1815-1920 (James Poskett). Reading: James Poskett, Materials of the Mind: Phrenology, Race, and The Global History of Science 1815-1920 (University of Chicago Press, 2019).

Week 6: Reading Week

Week 7: Deaf in the USSR (Claire Shaw). Reading: Claire Shaw, Deaf in the USSR: Marginality, Community and Soviet Identity, 1917-1991 (Cornell University Press, 2017).

Week 8: Double Care: Religion and Medicine in Early Modern England (Sophie Man). Reading: 'A Double Care: Prayer as Therapy in Early Modern England,' Social History of Medicine 33 (2020): 1055-1076, and Chapters 1 and 2 of Double Care: Religion and Medicine in Early Modern England (work in progress, text to be pre-circulated)

Week 9: Early Modern Cultural History of Medicine (Claudia Stein). Reading Claudia Stein's Introduction to a new volume The Early Modern Cultural History of Medicine (the text will be circulated ahead of the seminar)

Week 10: Review (Elise Smith)

Assessment Structure

1 x 1000 word reflective essay (15%)

1 x 2000 word critical book review (35%)

1 x 3000 word methodology-focused essay (50%)

A full description of these components and guidance notes are available here.

***All three assignments are due on the same day at the start of Term 3 (check Tabula to confirm the final due date). It is, however, recommended that you space out these assessments--you will be equipped to write the book review midway through Term 2, the reflective essay at the end of Term 2, and the final methodological essay by the start of Term 3.



Elise Smith (convener), Mathew Thomson, Sophie Mann, James Poskett, Claire Shaw, Claudia Stein, Tim Lockley, Chris Sirrs

Term Spring
Tutorial Day Tuesday




FAB, 6.02


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

Bermondsey 1930s

AIDS Ribbon Ethiopia