Medicine Beyond Borders: History and Politics of International Health (HISM026)

StaffDr Dora Vargha - Lecturer
Dr Felicity Thomas - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level7
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This module introduces students to key ideas, institutions and interventions in the history of international/global health. The focus of the module is on medicine ‘beyond borders’; that is, health issues and interventions that transcend the boundaries of the modern nation-state. The module encourages students to consider international and global health programs not as a straightforward ‘boon’, but as products of their social and political contexts. It will engage with the interrelated histories of imperial, international and global health, and invite students to analyse critically the relationships between health, medicine, imperialism and international politics.

The module will familiarise students with key historiographical debates, and also allow them to engage with interdisciplinary critiques of global health, and with primary sources.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Locate and evaluate critically the relevant primary and secondary source materials required to investigate a specific historical or methodological question.
  • 2. Demonstrate a detailed knowledge of key themes and approaches in the study of international/global health.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. Demonstrate the ability to analyse and synthesise widely different types of historical material and evidence.
  • 4. Identify and understand the nature of original sources.
  • 5. Demonstrate a critical understanding of key historical concepts and debates.
  • 6. Research for themselves and present independent accounts and interpretations of different historical issues.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Develop the capacity for independent critical study and thought.
  • 8. Apply key bibliographical skills (including the use of on-line finding aids)
  • 9. Construct and defend a sustained argument, both in written form and orally, using primary and secondary materials.
  • 10. Work as an individual and with a tutor and peers in an independent, constructive and responsive way (e.g. lead a group discussion or task).

Syllabus plan

Exact syllabus may vary year to year but the module will examine topics such as:

Disease, Medicine and Empire
Infectious Disease, Quarantine and International Trade
Global Health & Philanthropy
Decolonisation, Health and Postcolonial Governance
Health, International Development and the Cold War
Disease Eradication
Population Control, Family Planning and Reproductive Health
Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) and Health Care Reform
Global Responses to HIV and AIDS
Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs)
Medical Tourism
Clinical Trials in the Developing World
Mental Health and International/Transcultural Psychiatry

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 study278Preparation for seminars, essays and presentations.

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Seminar discussionOngoing1-10Oral through discussion with peers and tutor

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
Essay383000 words1-9Oral and written
Essay373000 words1-9Oral and written
Individual Presenation (with visual aids)2525-30 minutes1-10Oral and written

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-9Referral/deferral period
PresentationScript as for 25-30 minute presentation1-10Referral/deferral period

Re-assessment notes

The re-assessment consists of two 3,000 word essays, as in the original assessment, but replaces the individual presentation with a written script and accompanying visual aids that could be delivered in such a presentation and which is the equivalent of 25-30 minutes of speech.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic Reading:

Sunil S. Amrith, Decolonizing International Health: India and Southeast Asia, 1930-65 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006)

David Arnold, Colonizing the Body: State Medicine and Epidemic Disease in Nineteenth-Century India (Berkeley; London: University of California Press, 1993

Theodore M. Brown, Marcos Cueto, and Elizabeth Fee, ‘The World Health Organization and the Transition from “International” to “Global” Public Health’, American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 96, No. 1 (2006), pp. 62-72

Matthew Connelly, Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population (Cambridge, MA; London: Belknap Press, 2008)

Andrew Cunningham and Bridie Andrews (eds.), Western Medicine as Contested Knowledge (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997)

Paul Farmer, Pathologies of Power: health human rights and the new war on the poor (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005)

Timothy Mitchell, Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity (Berkeley; LA; London: University of California Press, 2002)

Randall M. Packard, ‘Malaria Dreams: Postwar Visions of Health and Development in the Third World’, Medical Anthropology, Vol. 17, No. 3 (1997), pp. 150-176

Paula Triechler, How to Have Theory in an Epidemic: Chronicles of AIDS (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999)

Meaghan Vaughan, Curing their Ills: Colonial Power and African Illness (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1992)

Paul Weindling (ed.), International Health Organizations and Movements, 1918-1939 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995)

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Contagion: Historical Views of Diseases and Epidemics, Harvard University Library Open Collections Program: 

Smallpox Eradication history project, York University:

Global Health Chronicles,

Rockefeller Foundation 100 Years documents:

United Nations Official Documents System:

USAID Development Experience Clearinghouse:

World Bank elibrary:

Wellcome Images: 

International Mission Photography Archive:

Sama Resource Group for Women and Health:

Pam American Health Organization publications:

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

Medical History, Medical Humanities, International Health, Global History, Imperial History