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Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine

Theory and practice in HSTM and medical humanities

HSTM60651 (15 credits)

Semester One

Classes: one three-hour session every two weeks, Wednesday mornings

Contact: Dr James Sumner


The unit aims to

  • introduce students to key methodological and analytical approaches to the history of science, technology and medicine (HSTM) and medical humanities (MH)
  • give students an understanding of changing scholarly approaches to the understanding of HSTM
  • give students an understanding of how the interdisciplinary field of MH has developed in conjunction and contrast to HSTM
  • enable students to analyse critically key methods and techniques used by researchers to understand and analyze science, technology and medicine in their historical and cultural contexts
  • give students the skills and knowledge to produce critical writing of scholarly books and articles that reveal and assess approaches, methods and techniques
  • promote scholarly reflection on the relationship between expert knowledge of STM and human experience
  • enable students to communicate HSTM and MH concepts and approaches through a variety of media.



On completion of this unit, successful students will be able to

  • contribute to group discussion
  • read, summarise and critically examine texts
  • describe and analyse historical and other scholarly approaches to HSTM and MH
  • conduct independent research using primary and secondary sources
  • critically and comparatively appraise source texts
  • identify and critically analyse a variety of different approaches and methods for research and argument
  • select and apply appropriate approaches and methods to particular research questions
  • appreciate the practical skills required in research, from question formulation to publication
  • clearly present an argument in essay form using appropriate source documentation



As this is a team-taught course drawing on staff research interests, the exact content will vary. However, it will generally include the following:

  • historiography of science, technology and medicine
  • defining a research project or creative portfolio
  • working with people: ethnography and interviewing methods
  • research ethics
  • controversies over how science works (HSTM only)
  • working in archives (HSTM only)
  • medicine, poetry and art (MH only)
  • narratives and observation (MH only)



  • One essay reviewing the literature on a particular historiographic problem or methodological approach 1500 to 2000 words: 50%
  • One essay presenting an argument on a particular historiographic problem or methodological approach 1500 to 2000 words: 50%


A comprehensive reading list is distributed at the beginning of the course. Useful introductory reading includes:

  • Helge Kragh, An Introduction to the Historiography of Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987)
  • Ronald Doel and Thomas Soderqvist, eds, The Historiography of Contemporary Science, Technology and Medicine: Writing Recent Science (London: Routledge, 2006)
  • Jan Golinski, Making Natural Knowledge: Constructivism and the History of Science, 2nd ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005)
  • James A Secord, “Knowledge in transit”, Isis 95 (2004): 654-672
  • Deborah Kirklin and Ruth Richardson, Medical Humanities: A Practical Approach (London: Royal College of Physicians, 2001)
  • Selected readings from Medical Humanities (BMJ Journals)


The seminar discussion format of the course gives all students regular opportunities to discuss their ideas with teaching staff. Staff are also available to discuss essay proposals, seminar performance, and general course performance by appointment, on a one-to-one basis. All coursework is double-marked, and essay scripts are returned to the students with both sets of markers’ comments.


This is a team-taught course, and will feature contributions from all the active lecturing staff at CHSTM, plus guests. Full details will be provided on arrival.

View a recent course outline (pdf)