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Designs for Life: Health Education Campaigns in Britain, 1900-1980 - HIS00079C

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Alexander Medcalf
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: C
  • Academic year of delivery: 2021-22
    • See module specification for other years: 2019-20

Module summary

The twentieth century was an age of mass persuasion. Newspapers, radio, cinema, and later television helped carry the voices and opinions of individuals to millions, who often consumed these messages simultaneously. Governments used propaganda to advance political interests and help wage wars, whilst advertisers attempted to sway people about how to spend their leisure time and income.

These developments greatly interested public health professionals, who wondered whether the same techniques could be used to improve health. This module will explore the rise and role of health education since 1900 – the assorted campaigns which made a vital contribution to improving hygiene, preventing accidents, warning people about the dangers of alcohol, and making bodies ‘fighting fit’.

Historians have, however, argued that the drive to educate people in the matters of health was not a simple or straightforward story of success. It posed a number of vexing questions. Just how could people’s beliefs and behaviours be changed? Who should be responsible for health education? What designs and methods worked best and how could their effects be assessed?

This module will examine how and why British health education changed across the period in question. It is an important story, not least as in recent years the importance of helping people to navigate competing sources of health information has become an increasingly pressing issue. Students will work with a diverse range of primary sources, and will assess how historians have used health education materials to deepen our understandings of health and society.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2021-22

Module aims

Module Aims:
The aims of this module are:

  • To give an intensive introduction to an unfamiliar period and/or approach to the study of history;
  • To offer experience in the use of primary source materials;

  • To develop skills in analysing historiography; and

  • To develop core skills such as: bibliographical search techniques; source analysis; essay writing; giving presentations; and, undertaking independent research.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Acquire an insight into an unfamiliar period and/or approach to history through intensive study of an aspect of the period and/or an approach to it;

  • Gain experience of analysing primary source materials;

  • Be able to evaluate an historical explanation;

  • Have further developed work undertaken in the Autumn Term lecture courses and skills portfolios, including historical analysis, note-taking, using primary sources, presenting to groups, and leading discussions in seminars;

  • Be able to construct a coherent historical argument in oral and written forms

Module content

Teaching Programme

Teaching will be in weekly 2-hour seminars taught over nine weeks, plus an overview and revision session in Week 2 of Summer Term. Each week students will do reading and preparation in order to be able to contribute to discussion.

The provisional outline for the module is as follows:

1. The rise of health education

2. Making healthy bodies

3. Making bodies fighting fit

4. The new public health

5. Health, safety and balance

6. Don’t! Anti-alcohol and anti-tobacco campaigns

7. Don’t panic! Health crises and scares

8. Knowing the public: how successful was health education?


Task Length % of module mark
Not-online take-home exam (1 day)
24-Hour Open Exam
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Formative work:

During the Spring Term students will prepare a presentation in pairs or small groups. Tutors will determine the formative work for the course: all groups will present either on a primary source or on an assigned historiographical question. Formative work will be completed in one or more sessions at the tutor’s discretion.

Summative assessment:

An open exam in the Common Assessment Period, comprising one essay question chosen from five options.


Task Length % of module mark
Not-online take-home exam (1 day)
24-Hour Open Exam
N/A 100

Module feedback

The formative assessment is a group presentation and verbal feedback will be provided by the tutor in class followed by a written summary to each student within 10 working days. Students will have a 15 minute one-to-one tutorial to discuss the formative assessment and prepare for the summative assessment. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 20 working days of the submission deadline. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement on Assessment.

Indicative reading

For term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Should you wish to do any preliminary reading, you could look at the following:

Berridge, Virginia. Marketing health: smoking and the discourse of public health in Britain 1945-2000. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Bonah, Christian, David Cantor, and Anja Laukötter, ed. Health education films in the twentieth century. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2018.

Jones, Helen. Health and society in Twentieth-century Britain. London: Longman, 1994.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.