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The Medical Mind in Literature and Culture (IL901)

The aim of the module is to explore and critique past and current models of the mind in medical research and practice, through the medium of science writing, literature, theatre, history and film. It will consider issues relating to mental illness, neurological disorder and trauma memory in the light of these models.


The module takes place over 10 two-hour seminar/workshops. These will involve guest speakers, seminar discussion, performance-related activities, and student presentations. Learners will read works by Virginia Woolf, Samuel Beckett, Oliver Sacks, Harold Pinter and/or Sarah Kane. The module convenor is Dr Elizabeth Barry an expert in the field of the medical humanities and modernist literature, with contributions from colleagues including Dr Jonathan Heron.

PHASE 1: Woolf, Medicine and the Modernist Mind

  • using historical documents on World War One as a turning point in the treatment of medical illness, the emergence of the concept of 'shellshock', and the implications for masculinity. Seminar exercises and discussion on historical documents re. shellshock and representations of mental disorder and of psychiatric treatment in Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway.
  • Further work with Woolf's Mrs Dalloway and Pat Barker's more recent novel about World War I and psychiatry, Regeneration. Focus on gender, sexuality and mental health. Screening of excerpts from the film of Michael Cunningham's novel, The Hours, inpsired by Mrs Dalloway and exploring mental illness and gender.
  • talk on philosophical models of the mind and consciousness from Dr Vivan Joseph, IATL Associate Fellow, and convenor of module on Navigating Psychopathology (TBC). More details to follow.

PHASE 2: Beckett, Psychiatry and the Brain

  • we turn to Beckett and psychiatry as our second major case study. To open this unit of the module, we will engage in a workshop on Beckett's play Not I. We will consider the use of theatre and performance in medical humanities, and also the performative, theatrical and spectacular aspects of modern medicine in general and descriptive psychopathology in particular.
  • discussion of mental disorder (psychosis and the subject) and the vaule of reading Beckett to the psychiatrist; seminar activities will include working with psychiatric case histories (Kraepelin, R. D. Laing, Pierre Janet) and Samuel Beckett's plays Not I and Footfalls.
  • seminar discussion of Beckett and other writers in relation to the ethics and aesthetics of ageing and dying.

PHASE 3: Contemporary Writers and the Embodied Mind

  • screening of excerpts of Warwick talks by Oliver Sacks; seminar discusson on The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat and Awakenings.
  • talk by Professor Femi Oyebode, Psychiatry, University of Birmingham; seminar and activities based on Sarah Kane's 4.48 Psychosis (TBC).
  • final student presentations assessed by module tutors.


Module convenor

Dr Elizabeth Barry (E dot C dot Barry at warwick dot ac dot uk)


Term 1 (Autumn) 2018-19
Tuesdays 5.00 - 7.00 pm


Room OC0.05
The Oculus Building


For 20 CATS:
75% - essay/ report/ review article (3000 words)
25% - student presentation (15 minutes)

For 30 CATS:
65% - essay/ report/ review article (4000 words)
10% - Annotated bibliography (approximately 2000 words)
25% - student presentation (15 minutes)

For 36 CATS:
65% - essay/ report/ review article (5000 words)
10% - Annotated bibliography (approximately 2000 words)
25% - student presentation (15 minutes)

The module is also available to MBChB students from Warwick Medical School as an SSC1 (for Autumn 2017)