Patients, Consumers, Experimental Subjects: The Development of Modern Medicine

Tutor: Sabine Clarke

Module type: MA Option

Module Code: HIS00040M

Credits: 20

At present substantial sums of money are spent by governments, business and philanthropists on medical research. This research ranges from experimental work in the laboratory to produce new techniques for disease control to the testing of innovations on animals and humans. How did such research by doctors and scientists come to have such a central place in medicine? What issues arose as a consequence of the rise of modern medical research? What have been the social, political and economic implications of new drugs and conceptions of disease? How do these relate to the national and international systems of health care provision that emerged in the twentieth century?

D. H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville.

This course will examine a literature that has considered the changing nature of medicine from the late eighteenth century and looks to explain the increasing importance of the laboratory and clinical sciences. Historians have rejected simple progressionist accounts of the rise of scientific medicine and have sought to place the turn towards research in a wider context, whilst at the same time examining the problematic nature of some its effects.

The likely seminar programme is as follows:

    • Introduction: science or art? Medicine and the meaning of research
    • Dissecting the dead
    • Research and the firm: the emergence of antibiotics
    • Who pays for research? The state, business and philanthropy
    • Re-defining the patient
    • Defining disease
    • Experimenting on humans and animals
    • Research and ethics from a global perspective
    • Pharmaceutical products and society


Preliminary Reading

  • M. Weatherall, In Search of a Cure: A History of the Pharmaceutical Industry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990).
  • James H. Jones, Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment (New York: The Free Press, 1981)
  • James Le Fanu, The Rise and Fall of Modern Medicine (London: Little Brown, 1999).

Useful links: