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Medicine & Modern Society, 1750–1919 - 30 credits (HS1799)

Module tutor: Professor Keir Waddington

Course Description

The period between 1750 and 1914 has commonly been associated with the rise of modern medicine. In this period anaesthetics and antiseptics were introduced; x-rays and antitoxins were discovered; hospitals and asylums became ‘medicalized’; and medicine and nursing took on an increasingly professional structure. This module explores how there was more to the rise of “modern” medicine than heroic discoveries, great men and women, and scientific progress. It examines the nature of medicine, health and disease through a study of medicine’s impact on patients, communities, society and disease, and places the transitions in medicine within the wider context of nineteenth-century British history. The module is broken down into a number of inter-related thematic blocs which trace the major issues in the social history of medicine across the period. These include: the nature and impact of disease (both everyday and epidemic); anatomy and the body; the nature of medical knowledge; the delivery of care and treatment; the growth of medicine and nursing as a profession; the institutionalization of medicine; science and religion; opposition to medicine; the interactions between medicine and the state, and the impact of the First World War on medicine.

Credits: 30

Availability of module: Every year


Necessary for

Teaching methods

A range of teaching methods will be used in each of the sessions of the course, comprising a combination of lectures and seminar discussion of major issues. The syllabus is divided into a series of major course themes, then sub-divided into principal topics for the study of each theme.

The aim of the lectures is to provide a brief introduction to a particular topic, establishing the salient features of major course themes, identifying key issues and providing historiographical guidance. The lectures aim to provide a basic framework for understanding and should be thought of as useful starting points for further discussion and individual study. Where appropriate, handouts and other materials may be distributed to reinforce the material discussed.

The primary aim of seminars will be to generate debate and discussion amongst course participants. Seminars for each of the course topics will provide an opportunity for students to analyse and further discuss key issues and topics relating to lectures.


Students will be assessed by means of a combination of one 1000 word assessed essay [15%], one 2000 word assessed essay [35%] and one two-hour unseen written examination paper in which the student will answer two questions [50%].

Course assignments:

Assessed Essay 1 will contribute 15% of the final mark for the module. It is designed to give students the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to review evidence, draw appropriate conclusions from it and employ the formal conventions of scholarly presentation. It must be no longer than 1,000 words (excluding empirical appendices and references).

Assessed Essay 2 will contribute 35% of the final mark for the module. It is designed to give students the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to review evidence, draw appropriate conclusions from it and employ the formal conventions of scholarly presentation. It must be no longer than 2,000 words (excluding empirical appendices and references).

The Examination will take place during the second assessment period [May/June] and will consist of an unseen two hour paper that will contribute the remaining 50% of the final mark for this module. Students must write 2 answers in total.

Summary of course content

Topics to be covered include:

  • Social history of medicine: dead or not dead?
  • Coughs, Sneezes and Diseases
  • Patients and medical history from below
  • Medical Markets, Quackery and Self-Help
  • Enlightenment medicine
  • Anatomy & Bodysnatching
  • Surgery
  • Institutionalization of Medicine
  • Professionalizing Medicine – theory and practice
  • Science, Technology and Medicine
  • Medicine and religion
  • Medicine and literature
  • Opposition
  • Fears of Degeneration
  • Medicine and the Edwardian State

Learning outcomes

On completion of this module students will be able to:

  • demonstrate a broad and systematic knowledge of the social history of medicine between 1750 and 1919 and an understanding of  the pertinent historical and historiographical ideas;
  • identify the different trends in medicine and different medical traditions, and their impact on patients, doctors, society, and the state;
  • understand how medicine was perceived, and how it reflected and contributed to social values in the period under examination;
  • summarise and appraise the relative merits and demerits of alternative views and interpretations of the social history of medicine in Britain between 1750 and 1919 and evaluate their significance
  • assess how such concepts as gender, professionalization, institutionalization, internationalism, social construction of disease, have shaped medicine;
  • integrate the history of medicine into British history in the period 1750 to 1919
  • demonstrate an understanding of some of the primary sources and an appreciation of  how social historians of medicine have approached them

Students will extend their ability to:

  • formulate and justify their own arguments and conclusions in seminar discussions
  • communicate ideas and arguments effectively, with supporting evidence, in class discussion and in writing
  • modify as well and defend their own position
  • think critically and challenge assumptions
  • use and evaluate primary sources and demonstrate an appreciation of how historians have approached them
  • use information technology for research and assignment presentation
  • manage their time and organise their own study methods and workload
  • work effectively with others as part of a team or group in seminar or tutorial discussions  

Suggested book purchases

Keir Waddington, An Introduction to the Social History of Medicine (2011)

Suggested preparatory reading

Thomas N. Bonner, Becoming a Physician (1992)
Deborah Brunton (ed.), Medicine Transformed (2004)
W. F. Bynum, Science and the Practice of Medicine in the Nineteenth Century (1994)
W. F. Bynum & Roy Porter (eds), Companion Encyclopaedia of the History of Medicine
Conrad et al, Western Medical Tradition (1995)
Michel Foucault, The Birth of the Clinic (1994)
Anne Hardy, Health and Medicine in Britain since 1860 (2000)
Andrew Wear (ed.), Medicine in Society (1992)