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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: 2024-25

Module summary

This core module identifies and examines key theoretical concepts and debates in medical history and the 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 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 seminars throughout 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. Students will be encouraged to reflect on the value of the different approaches, as well as on how their understanding of medical humanities has shifted throughout the module.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2024-25

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • 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 them from historical and global perspectives
  • 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 across a broad chronology

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • 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
  • Participate in discussions and debates that cross disciplinary boundaries

Module content

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1. Students will then attend a 2-hour seminar in weeks 2-4, 6-8 and 10-11 of semester 1. Weeks 5 & 9 are Reading and Writing Weeks (RAW) during which there are no seminars. Students prepare for eight 2-hour seminars in all.

Seminar topics are subject to variation, but are likely to include the following:

  1. Perspectives on Medical History and Humanities
  2. Love, Melancholia and Medieval Medicine
  3. Reading and Health in Early Modern England
  4. Medicine in the Nineteenth Century City
  5. One Health: Animals as Medicine
  6. The Human Body in History and Culture
  7. Medical History and Public Health Policy
  8. Visual Culture in Medical History and Humanities


Task Length % of module mark
4,000 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students submit a 2,000-word formative essay at the end of the first Reading and Writing week.
A 4,000-word summative essay will be due in the assessment period.


Task Length % of module mark
4,000 word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Students will typically receive written feedback on their formative essay within 10 working days of submission.

Work will be returned to students in their seminars and may be supplemented by the tutor giving some oral feedback to the whole group. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their formative essay during their tutor’s student hours—especially during week 11, before, that is, they finalise their plans for the Summative Essay.

For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 25 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 of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For semester 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:

  • Bates, Victoria, Alan Bleakley, and Sam Goodman. Medicine, Health and the Arts: Approaches to the Medical Humanities. (London: Routledge, 2015.)
  • Waldschmidt, Anne, Hanjo Berressem, and Moritz Ingwersen, ed. Culture – Theory – Disability: Encounters Between Disability Studies and Cultural Studies. (Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2017.)
  • Whitehead, Anne, Angela Woods, Jane MacNaughton and Jennifer Richards, ed. The Edinburgh Companion to the Critical Medical Humanities. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016.)

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.