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Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine

Bodies in history

HSTM10272 (10-credit); HSTM10772 (20-credit)

Semester Two, Thursdays, 14.00-16.00

Contact: Dr Ian Burney


To provide an introduction to medicine in modern Western culture, from c 1500- c 2000. To show how, through a focus on bodies (human and social), historians of medicine address themes such as class, race, gender, national identity, economic life and cultural production, and how scientific and medical theories and practices can be understood as part of wider histories.

Intended Learning Outcomes

By the end of this unit, students will have acquired a knowledge of the outlines of modern history of medicine; skills in linking ‘body histories’ to wider contexts; critical abilities in analyzing historical arguments; experience of presenting historical arguments in written seminar responses; and experience of presenting oral arguments in seminar discussions. In addition, students taking the 20 credit unit will be able to find and research a topic of their own choosing; to find and assess critically primary and secondary sources; to write, with full scholarly apparatus, a report on their individual research project.

Lecture Content

  • Bodies in History: A Course Introduction
  • Bodies Explored: Renaissance Anatomy
  • Bodies Ordered: Enlightenment Taxonomies
  • Bodies Analyzed: The Medicine of Hospitals and Corpses
  • Dirty Bodies : Constitution, Contagion, and 19th-Century Epidemics
  • Bodies and Minds: Psychiatry and Fin-de-Siécle Culture
  • Infected Bodies: Germs, Microbiology and Everyday Life
  • Better Bodies: Evolution and Eugenics at the Turn of the Century
  • Calibrating Bodies: Scientific Medicine and the Machine Age
  • Productive Bodies: Modern States and the Price of Health
  • Bodies at Risk: Biomedicine and the Postwar West
  • Patient Bodies: Medicine and Consumerism, 1950-2010

Practical Content

The course meets for one two-hour session. These will include a lecture and a hands-on workshop.  The lectures will treat the subject synthetically; the workshops are intended for closer critical investigation of particular issues raised in the week’s required reading.  Attendance at BOTH lectures and workshops is required. 


10 credit unit (HSTM10272) – Two hour examination (50%); practical assessment (50%)
20 credit unit (HSTM10772) – Two hour examination (25%); practical assessment (25%); written project (50%)


Students may ask questions at any time during lectures and seminars. Teaching staff can usually answer specific queries by email or during office hours, and will provide contact details in the course handbook or at lectures. All submitted coursework will be returned with annotations and an assessment sheet explaining the mark awarded.

Employability Skills


Oral communication - Experience of presenting oral arguments in seminar discussions
Written communication - Written seminar responses
Innovation/creativity - Students have the opportunity to be innovative in terms of how they address their essay topic
Analytical skills - Students will develop critical abilities in analysing historical arguments



Recommended Reading

  • Conrad L et al eds, The Western Medical Tradition 800 BC to AD 1800 (1995)
  • Bynum W et al eds, The Western Medical Tradition 1800 to 2000 (2006)

Teaching Staff

Dr Ian Burney

A recent copy of the course outline is available to view (pdf). Please note that course content may change in the next academic year.