Critical Approaches to Medical Humanities (HISM017)

StaffDr Alison Haggett - Lecturer
Dr Felicity Thomas - Convenor
Dr Alun Withey - Lecturer
Professor Jonathan Barry - Lecturer
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level7
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This module is designed to enhance students’ understanding of the main themes and approaches in the interdisciplinary study of medical humanities. It will enable students to think critically about key methods and techniques used by humanities and social science researchers to analyse and interpret issues of health, medicine and disease in their historical and cultural contexts. It will give students the skills necessary to review scholarly books and articles in medical humanities, and to produce critical writing assessing key themes, approaches and methods. Students will have the opportunity to consider the differences between medical humanities and medical science, and whether medical humanities scholarship can make a contribution to health care. 

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Understand and evaluate the main themes and approaches in the study of medical humanities.
  • 2. Possess detailed knowledge of the key historiographical and theoretical debates informing the study of medical humanities.
  • 3. Assess critically the role of primary sources in informing the study of medical humanities.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. Demonstrate the ability to analyse and synthesise different types of historical material and evidence.
  • 5. Demonstrate a critical understanding of key historical concepts and debates, and recognise the differences between different approaches and source types.
  • 6. Develop practical research skills in the primary and secondary evidence.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Demonstrate capacity for independent critical research, study and thought, including developing the ability to construct and defend a sustained argument, both in written form and orally, using primary and secondary materials.
  • 8. Work as an individual and with a tutor and peers in an independent, constructive and responsive way.
  • 9. Apply key bibliographical skills to independent study.

Syllabus plan

Each seminar will explore some of the various approaches humanities scholars have taken to a specific medical topic. These topics will vary each year depending on staff expertise and student choice. Over the course of one term, potential approaches explored in seminars include:


Medical anthropology

Ethnography and oral history

Sociology of Scientific Knowledge (SSK)

Science and Technology Studies (STS)

Literature and Medicine

Art and art history




Medical Ethics



Visual and material culture


Narrative medicine 

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching activities2211 x 2 hour seminars
Guided independent study278Independent study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay Plan2-sides A4 maximum1-9Verbal and written feedback

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Book Review332,000 words1-9Written and verbal feedback
Essay674,000 words1-9Written and verbal feedback

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Book ReviewBook Review1-9Referral/deferral period
EssayEssay1-9Referral/deferral period

Re-assessment notes

The re-assessment consists of a 1,000 book review and 4,000 word essay as in the original assessment.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Victoria Bates, Alan Bleakley and Sam Goodman (eds), Medicine, Health and the Arts: Approaches to the Medical Humanities (London, Routledge, 2012)

M. Evans, R. Ahlzen, I Heath, I & J. Macnaughton, Medical Humanities Companion Vol. 1: Symptom (Oxford: Radcliffe, 2009)

Rolf Ahlén, Martyn Evans, Pekka Louhiala and Raimo Puustinen (eds.), Medical Humanities Companion Volume Two: Diagnosis (Oxford: Radcliffe, 2008)

Donna Haraway, ‘The Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,’ in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York; Routledge, 1991)

Charles Bosk, What Would You Do? Juggling Bioethics and Ethnography (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008)

Kaushik Sunder Rajan, Biocapital: The Constitution of Postgenomic Life (Durham: Duke UP, 2006)

Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, 3 Vols. (1976)

Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (University of Chicago Press, 1962)

Bruno Latour & Steve Woolgar, Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1986)

William F. Bynum & Roy Porter (eds), Companion Encyclopedia to the History of Medicine, 2 vols. (London: Routledge, 1993)

Sergio Sismondo, An Introduction to Science and Technology Studies (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004)

James A Secord, ‘Knowledge in transit’, Isis, Vol. 95 (2004), pp. 654-672.

Steven Shapin, ‘History of Science and its Sociological Reconstructions’, History of Science, Vol. 20 (1982), pp. 157-211.

Ludmilla Jordanova, ‘The Social Construction of Medical Knowledge’, Social History of Medicine, Vol. 8 (1995), pp. 361-381

D.M. Fox and C. Lawrence, Photographing Medicine (1988)

Ulf Schmidt & Andreas Frewer, History and Theory of Human Experimentation. The Declaration of Helsinki and Modern Medical Ethics (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 2007)

Ana Carden-Coyne, Reconstructing the Body: Classicism and Modernism (OUP Global, 2009) 

James Marcum, An Introductory Philosophy of Medicine: Humanizing Modern Medicine (New York: Springer, 2008)

Charles Foster, Choosing Life, Choosing Death: The Tyranny of Autonomy in Medical Ethics and Law (Oxford; Portland: Hart, 2009)

Arthur Klienman, The Illness Narratives: Suffering, Healing and the Human Condition (New York: Basic Books, 1988)

Howard Brody, Stories of Sickness (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003)

Havi Carel, Illness: the Art of Living (Durham: Acumen, 2008)

Arthur W. Frank, The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness and Ethics (Chicago: Chicago UP, 1995) 

John MacGregor, The Discovery of the Art of the Insane (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989)

Corrine Saunders, Ulrika Maude and Jane MacNaughton (eds.) The Body and the Arts (Basingstoke Palgrave Macmillan, 2009)

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Wellcome Images:

Wellcome Collection:

Wellcome Library:

National Library of Medicine (US):


The NYU Literature, Arts and Medicine Blog: 

The Literature, Arts, and Medicine Database, New York University, School of Medicine:

Available as distance learning?


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Last revision date