MA in Medical History and Humanities

Course Convenors: Professor Sanjoy Bhattacharya and Dr Boriana Alexandrova-Isgate

For detailed enquiries, please also contact Sarah Hartley

All images Wellcome Library, London‌

The new MA in Medical History and Humanities is run jointly between the Departments of History and English. The curriculum is directly informed by cutting-edge international research and scholarship that spans the fields of medical history, literature, sociology, philosophy, health sciences and policy. Students will have the opportunity to explore historical, literary, social and cultural understandings of illness and health, general well-being, public health and the history of medicine, as well as the links between history, the humanities and policy.

The MA brings together students and colleagues working across different disciplines, periods and geographical regions to offer a distinctively international and inter-disciplinary perspective on medical history and humanities. It draws on existing expertise in both departments, including the Wellcome Trust-supported Centre for Global Health Histories, which is the WHO Collaborating Centre for Global Health Histories and is based in the Humanities Research Centre. This allows our students and post-doctoral scholars to benefit from established connections with the scholarly networks associated to the World Health Organization’s Global Health Histories Initiative, as well as medical history and humanities programmes worldwide, including countries such as Brazil, Portugal, Denmark, Switzerland, India, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Singapore, France, Chile, South Africa and the USA.

Programme of Study

The programme consists of four taught modules (20 credits each) and a dissertation of up to 20,000 words (100 credits). For students registered for full-time study they are organised across the academic year as follows:

Autumn Term (October-December)

All students take the core module, ‘Critical Studies in History, Humanities & Wider Interdisciplinarity’. The module, taught by weekly seminar, introduces students to the key concepts, methods and debates in medical history and humanities. It is taught by a variety of different staff members to allow students to engage with these questions from different disciplinary perspectives.

In addition, students select an option module from a long list of possible areas in medical history and humanities and beyond.

Autumn Term summary:

Spring Term (January-March)

Students choose two optional modules. They can choose from a long list of modules in the areas of medical history and humanities but they may also follow up other research interests. 

Spring Term summary:

  • Option Module 2
  • Option Module 3
  • Research Training (independent writing of dissertation proposal

Summer Term and Summer Vacation (April-September)

During the Summer Term and over the Vacation, all students will write a research dissertation of up to 20,000 words on a subject of their own choosing and under the supervision of a member of staff, and submitted at the end of the academic year.

Students receive advice about topics, research skills and instruction in bibliography, plus additional specialist advice and guidance from a supervisor.

Part-time Students

Students registered for part-time study over two years take the Medical History and Humanities core module in their first autumn term plus an option in the Spring Term of their first year. This is followed by two more option modules in their second Autumn and Spring Terms respectively, with the planning, research, and writing of their dissertation spread over the two years of their registration.


The MA programme provides unique insights into health and medical policy (the Centre for Global Health Histories at York is the WHO Collaborating Centre for Global Health Histories). Students will have the opportunity to better understand the links between health and social and economic development, as well as cross-cultural policy-making, in certain optional modules. If they wish, they can also develop applications with the help of the course convenors at the end of their MA studies to take up an internship that will support select World Health Organization departments based around the world (this is dependent on WHO requirements at the point of application).

Core Course

The core course engages with key debates, ideas and methods in medical history and humanities. Students will be sent a reading list before the academic year begins to help them to prepare.

Optional Modules

The precise courses offered vary from year to year. Students are welcome to choose any modules from the Departments of History or English and Related Literature and can, subject to approval, take modules from other departments.

Relevant optional modules that have run in recent years include:

Research skills training

All students are invited to take part in the course and the ‘Graduate Training Programme’ in the first two terms as part of their preparation for research. The historical training includes introductions to the University Library, the Borthwick Institute, and other libraries, archives and research facilities in York and elsewhere, as well as the computing facilities at the university. The Graduate Training Programme builds on this work to think through interdisciplinary methodologies and research skills across a range of periods.

Discover postgraduate study at York. Arts and Humanities Virtual Open Day, 30 January, 3-5pm-GMT. Ask us questions and chat with other students. Register now.