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Health for all? International Health from Colonial Medicine to Covid Vaccine - HIS00147I

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Alexander Medcalf
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24
    • See module specification for other years: 2024-25

Module summary

One of the features of the modern era has been the increasing speed with which things travel. People, information and ideas spread more easily and quickly than ever before, and so too did disease. Since the first International Sanitary Conference in 1851 it was recognised that in a rapidly shrinking world countries and communities needed to work together to keep people healthy and hinder the spread of disease. Indeed, the twentieth witnessed not only major innovations in the form of medicines and public health projects, but also large, complex organisations such as the Office International d'Hygiène Publique and later the World Health Organization which proclaimed good health to be the right of every human regardless of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.

Since the 1800s the avowed aim of international health work has been to help sick people and stop disease spreading. But there have been constant debates and disagreements about how this should be done, where support should be directed, and who should be in charge of its delivery. This course will explore the development of international health strategies from small scale interventions and experiments to massive global concerns employing thousands and consuming millions of dollars in funding. It will examine how different organisations responded to health crises, why certain measures were chosen, how these approaches were promoted around the world, and why they did not always result in health for all. It will survey the work and approaches of a diverse range of historians to consider longstanding narratives in relation to international and global health.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2023-24

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To provide students with the opportunity to study particular historical topics in depth
  • To develop students’ ability to examine a topic from a range of perspectives and to strengthen their ability to work critically and reflectively with secondary and primary material

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Have acquired a deep knowledge of the specific topic studied
  • Have developed their ability to use and synthesise a range of primary and secondary sources
  • Be able to evaluate the arguments that historians have made about the topic studied
  • Have developed their ability to study independently through seminar-based teaching

Module content

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1. Students will then attend a 1-hour plenary/lecture and 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 and participate in eight 1-hour plenaries/lectures and eight 2-hour seminars in all.

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

  1. ‘The Unification of the Globe by Disease’: The Beginnings of International Cooperation on Health
  2. Tropical Medicine and Colonial Conquest
  3. The League of Nations and Social Medicine
  4. The World Health Organization
  5. The Era of Eradication
  6. Primary Health Care: Health for All?
  7. International Health Under Fire
  8. Recent International Crises


Task Length % of module mark
Assessed Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

For formative assessment, students will complete a referenced 1200 to 1500-word essay relating to the themes and issues of the module. This will be submitted in either the Week 5 or Week 9 RAW week (on the day of the weekly seminar).

For summative assessment, students will complete an Assessed Essay (2000 words, footnoted). This will comprise 100% of the overall module mark.

Summative assessments will be due in the assessment period.


Task Length % of module mark
Assessed Essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will typically receive written feedback that will include comments and a mark 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 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 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 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:

  • Packard, Randall. A history of global health: Interventions in the lives of other peoples. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016.
  • Chorev, Nitsan. The World Health Organization Between North and South. Cornell University Press, 2012.
  • Weindling, Paul (ed.). International Health Organisations and Movements, 1918-1939. Cambridge University Press, 1995.

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.