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Medical History & Humanities: A Critical Introduction - HIS00091M

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Alexander Medcalf
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2021-22

Module summary

This module is co-convened by Dr Alexander Medcalf (Department of History) and Dr Juliana Mensah (Department of English and Related Literature)

The MA core module in Medical History and Humanities will identify and examine key theoretical concepts and debates in medical history and humanities, including shifting definitions of the field itself, and the co-existence of multiple conceptions and approaches. It begins with a session which explores the term ‘medical humanities’ and traces its history. The opening session will introduce an understanding of medical humanities as a field which crosses disciplinary, cultural and temporal boundaries. This interdisciplinary, cross-cultural approach is reflected in the wide geographical and historical scope of the material covered in the rest of the module.

In the sessions which follow, students will engage with theories of the body, conceptions of health, medicine and well-being, representations of illness, and different types of engagement with health policy through the study of materials from early modern, eighteenth-century, modern and contemporary periods. Students will explore a range of methodologies; they will examine primary and secondary historical sources, critically analyse images, and engage in close readings of literary texts. The final seminar will invite students to reflect on how their understanding of medical humanities has shifted and to bring together key concerns of the module through a discussion of visual culture.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Autumn Term 2021-22

Module aims

The module aims to:

  • Introduce students to key theoretical concepts and debates in the fields of medical history and humanities
  • Encourage students to consider the flexibility of the terms ‘medical history’ and ‘medical humanities’, and to think about it from a wide historical and global perspective
  • Introduce key methodologies in the medical history and humanities, and explore the challenges and the possibilities of interdisciplinary work
  • Provide opportunities for students to discuss, debate and write about literary and historical texts and sources from the early modern period to the present day

Module learning outcomes

Students who have completed this module should be able to:

  • Select, evaluate and critically analyse primary and secondary historical sources and materials
  • Engage in close readings of literary texts, literary criticism and theory
  • Locate images, texts, and works of art relating to the cultural history of medicine in their wider historical contexts
  • Make connections between medical history and humanities, and global health policy
  • Participate in discussions and debates that cross disciplinary boundaries
  • Effectively present an argument or a set of ideas in an oral presentation

Module content

Teaching Programme:

Students will attend eight two-hour seminars in weeks 2-9. The provisional outline for the module is as follows:

Week 1. Induction (Juliana Mensah and/or Alex Medcalf)

Week 2. Perspectives on Medical History and Humanities (Alex Medcalf and Juliana Mensah)

Week 3. Pollution, Perception and Public Health (Professor Mark Jenner)

Week 4. Medieval Medicine (Dr Shazia Jagot)

Week 5. X (Professor Jon Mee)

Week 6. Immortal Cells (Dr Juliana Mensah)

Week 7. The Human Body in History and Culture (Dr Fay Bound Alberti for 20/1- please confirm who is taking this session this year)

Week 8. Early Modern Reading and Health (Professor Helen Smith for 20/1- please confirm who is taking this session this year)

Week 9. X (Dr Alex Medcalf)


Task Length % of module mark
4000 Word Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students will complete a 2,000 word essay for formative assessment, due in week 6, for which they will receive an individual tutorial.

Students taking the module as a core module will submit a 4,000 word assessed essay in week 10 of the autumn term. For those taking the module as an option module, a 4,000 word assessed essay will be due in week 2 of the spring term.

For further details about assessed work, students should refer to the Statement of Assessment for Taught Postgraduate Programmes.


Task Length % of module mark
4000 Word Essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will receive written feedback consisting of comments and a mark within 10 working days of submission. They will also receive verbal feedback at an individual tutorial. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their formative work during their tutor’s student hours. 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. Supervisors are available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment for Taught Postgraduate Programmes.

Indicative reading

For term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

  • Rosenberg, Charles and Janet Golden (editors). Framing Disease: Studies in Cultural History. Rutgers University Press, 1992.
  • Whitehead, Anne, Angela Woods, Jane MacNaughton and Jennifer Richards (editors). The Edinburgh Companion to the Critical Medical Humanities. Edinburgh University Press, 2016.
  • Farmer, Paul. “An anthropology of structural violence.” Current Anthropology 45.3 (June 2004): 305-325. (Available through JStor).
  • Hansen, Bert. Picturing Medical Progress from Pasteur to Polio: A History of Mass Media Images and Popular Attitudes in America. Rutgers University Press, 2009.
  • Waldschmidt, Anne, Hanjo Berressem, and Moritz Ingwersen, eds. Culture – Theory – Disability: Encounters between Disability Studies and Cultural Studies. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2017.

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.