University home |A-Z|

Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine

Key issues in contemporary medicine: what can history teach us?

HSTM36202 (10-credit); HSTM36702 (20-credit)

Semester Two, Mondays, 14.00-16.00

Contact: Dr Carsten Timmermann


To introduce students to the recent history of health and medicine by focusing on issues that are presently controversial or likely to illuminate future developments; to develop the skills needed to make informed judgements on the basis of historical evidence. To this end students will learn how to reconstruct past developments, using historical sources and appreciating the historical contexts. We will cover a range of issues, from demographic and epidemiological questions to forms of diagnosis and treatment and the politics and organisation of medical services.

Intended Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course, students will:

  • have gained insights into the histories of some of the key issues in  contemporary medicine
  • be able to mobilise historical evidence for policy debates
  • know how to find, and assess critically, primary and secondary sources

20 credit unit only:

  • have undertaken an individual research project and produced, with full scholarly apparatus, a report based on this research

Lecture Content

  • Introduction to the Contemporary History of Medicine
  • Cancer: Writing the History of a Modern Disease
  • Smoking: Cigarettes,chronic illness and the New Public Health
  • Professionals: Doctors and other health workers
  • The politics of the NHS
  • Who Made the NHS
  • Medicalisation: Medicine and Authority
  • Patients: Illness Experiences and Activism
  • Death: Dying and Modern Medicine
  • Mental Illness: From Asylums to Care in the Community


10 credit unit (HSTM36202) - 1500 word essay (50%) and a 2 hour examination (50%).
20 credit unit (HSTM36702) - 1500 word essay (25%), a 2 hour examination (25%), and a 3500 word project (50%)


Students are required to submit an essay plan before the Easter break, to which they receive individual written feedback. Students may ask questions at any time during lectures and seminars. Teaching staff can usually also answer specific queries by email or during office hours – contact details can be found in the course handbook and on Blackboard. Students will be able to access comments on their submitted and assessed essays and projects via Blackboard.

Employability Skills

Oral communication - The course is taught through interactive lectures and weekly seminars. Required readings are discussed in each session. Course content is drawn on to understand recent news item in their broader historical contexts.
Written communication - All students submit a 1500 word essay. In addition, 20 credit students also write a 3500 word project. Lecturers offer to discuss essay and project outlines with students in individual meetings, and feedback is given for all submitted pieces of coursework in in the form of annotations and an assessment sheet explaining the mark awarded.
Project management - All students pursue independent research for their 1500-word essays. Students on the 20-credit unit complete a more substantial individual research project and produce a full report based on this research.
Innovation/Creativity - Innovative approaches to essay and project research are encouraged.
Research - Essays and projects require independent research.
Analytical skills - Students are required to find and critically assess relevant primary and secondary sources.
Problem solving - Problem solving skills are required when it comes to extracting relevant information from a broad range of sources.



Recommended Reading

  • Virginia Berridge, Health and Society in Britain since 1939 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).
  • W. F. Bynum et al., The Western Medical Tradition, 1800 to 2000 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), especially chapters 3 and 4, by Chris Lawrence and by Anne Hardy.
  • W. F. Bynum, The History of Medicine. A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).
  • R. Cooter and J.V. Pickstone (eds), Companion to Medicine in the Twentieth Century (London: Routledge, 2003).
  • Stephen Harrison and Ruth McDonald, The Politics of Healthcare in Britain (London: Sage Publications, 2008).

Teaching Staff

Dr Stephanie Snow, Dr Carsten Timmermann



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