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Medicine and the Changing Culture of Death in Modern Britain

Weeks 8-9

The seminar in Week 8 will introduce the subject. Students should read the core reading and are encouraged to look at some of the further reading. The seminar will consider the idea that death and dying were banished from public view in the 20th century and that medicine played a key role in this. The seminar will assess such a claim, explore the contribution of medicine and changes in health and demography in the process and compare these to the roles of other factors. It will also assess the degree to which the period since the 1960s or perhaps earlier has seen medicine play a role in what we might call a revival of death as a subject of public discussion and attention.

The seminar in week 9 will continue this analysis drawing on further exploration of the secondary literature but also research on primary sources including newspaper collections, medical journals, and Mass-Observation records. Students will each offer a brief presentation based on this research.

Core Reading

David Clark, ‘Cradled to the Grave? Terminal Care in the United Kingdom, 1948-1967’, Mortality, 4 (1999), 225-47.

Roger Cooter, ‘The Dead Body’, in Roger Cooter and John Pickstone (eds.), Companion to the History of Medicine

Geoffrey Gorer, ‘The Pornography of Death’, in his Death, Grief and Mourning in Modern Britain (1965), pp. 192-99.

Caitlin Mahar, ‘Easing the Passing: R v Adams and Terminal Care in Postwar Britain, 1850-1980’, Social History of Medicine, available advanced publication access online from 12 September 2014

Further Reading

Philip Aries, The Hour of Our Death (1981).

David Armstrong, ‘Silence and Truth in Death and Dying’, Social Science and Medicine, 24 (1987), 651-7.

David Clark, ‘Originating a Movement: Cicely Saunders and the Development of St Christopher’s Hospice, 1957-1987, Mortality, 3 (1998), 43-63.

David Clark, The Sociology of Death (1993).

Anne Hardy, ‘Death is the Cure of all Diseases: Using the General Registry Office Causes of Death Statistics for 1837-1920’, Social History of Medicine 7 (1994), 472-92.

David Helm, ‘The Beauty of a Sick Room: family Care for the Dying in the Upper and Middle Class Home, c. 1840-1890’, Family and Community History, 16 (2013), 100-12.

Elizabeth Hurren, Dying for Victorian Medicine: English Anatomy and its Trade for the Dead Poor, c. 1834-1929 (2011).

Pat Jalland, Death in the Victorian Family (1996)

Pat Jalland, Death in War and Peace: Loss and Grief in England, 1914-1970 (2010).

Peter Jupp and Clare Gittings (eds), Death in England: An Illustrated History (1999).

Allan Kellehear (ed.), The Study of Dying: From Autonomy to Transformation (2009).

Nick Kemp, Merciful Release: The History of the British Euthanasia Movement (2002).

Lindsay Prior, The Social Organisation of Death: Medical Discourse and Social Practices in Belfast (1989).

Julie Marie Strange, Death, Grief and Poverty in Britain, 1870-1914 (2005).

Joachim Whaley, Mirrors of Mortality: Studies in the Social History of Death (1981)

J.M. Winter, ‘The Decline of Mortality in Britain, 1870-1950’, in T.C. Barker & M. Drake (eds.), Population and Society in Britain 1850-1980 (1982), pp. 101-20.