Medicine in Medieval and Early Modern England (HISM034)

StaffProfessor Jonathan Barry - Convenor
Peter Elmer - Lecturer
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level7
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

The aim of this module is to study the changing features of disease, health and medical care from the medieval period through to the late early modern period (c.1100 to the mid-eighteenth century). The course will explore some key issues in the history of early western European medicine, such as the importance and influence of religion on medical theory and practice and the legacy of classical and Arabic scientific and medical knowledge. It will focus on specific topics such as medicine and the medieval cosmos, knowledge and understanding about reproduction, plague, venereal disease, medicine and the scientific revolution and botany/pharmacology, as well as provide an overview of medical knowledge, theory and practice. In addition to introducing students to the main changes and developments in knowledge and practice, this module also examines a wide variety of sources and explores methodological issues relating to researching and writing the history of medicine in this period.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Demonstrate an understanding of key themes and issues in the history of medicine from the medieval to the late early modern period;
  • 2. Demonstrate an awareness of historiographical debates in the history of medicine at this time;
  • 3. Demonstrate an understanding of medical knowledge and practice were shaped by contemporary political, social, cultural, religious and economic factors;
  • 4. Demonstrate an awareness and understanding of a wide selection of primary source materials and be able to evaluate their historical value critically;
  • 5. Propose and begin work on a dissertation on some aspect of this subject if they so choose.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 6. Analyse and synthesise widely different types of historical material and evidence;
  • 7. Identify and understand the nature of original sources;
  • 8. Critically understand key historical concepts and debates;
  • 9. Research independently and present interpretations of different historical issues.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 10. Demonstrate capacity for independent critical study and thought;
  • 11. Apply key bibliographical skills (including the use of online searching aids);
  • 12. Construct and defend a sustained argument, both in written form and orally, using primary and secondary materials;
  • 13. 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);
  • 14. Analyse, summarise, and organise material to produce a coherent and cogent argument, within specific deadlines.

Syllabus plan

Week 1: Introduction (whole module team) Weeks 2 to 10: a selection from the following topics. This will be a team-taught module and the annual programme of seminars will vary according to the composition of the module team and student choice: (a) Medieval medical practitioners; Medieval university medicine; Medieval knowledge and theories about reproduction; medicine and magic; medicine and religion (Rider) (b) Anatomy and dissection and the practice of surgery; Illness and disease: plague; reproduction; venereal disease; pregnancy and childbirth (Toulalan) (c) Medicine and the medieval cosmos; medicine and the scientific revolution; conceptions of health and disease; botany/pharmacology (Mueller-Wille) (d) Medical practitioners and the professionalisation of medical practice; medical institutions: hospitals and guilds; disease and society; science and medicine (Barry) (e) Humanist Medicine, Chemical Medicine, Epidemics and Plague, Madness (Elmer) Week 11: Conference workshop with assessed individual presentations.

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 Activities22Seminar
Guided independent study278Independent study

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
Essay373000 words1-14oral and written
Essay383000 words1-14oral and written
Individual presentation2525-30 minutes1-14oral and written

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Arber, Agnes, Herbals : their origin and evolution : a chapter in the history of botany, 1470-1670, (Cambridge, 1912)
Cook, Harold J., The Decline of the Old Medical Regime in Stuart London, (Ithaca and London, 1986)
Conrad, Lawrence I.; Neve, Michael; Nutton, Vivian; Porter, Roy; Wear, Andrew, The Western Medical Tradition 800 BC to AD 1800, (Cambridge, 1995)
Cunningham, Andrew, The Anatomical Renaissance: The Resurrection of the Anatomical Projects of the Ancients, (London, 1997)
French, Roger et al (eds), Medicine from the Black Death to the French disease, (Aldershot, 1998)
French, Roger and Wear, Andrew (eds), The medical revolution of the seventeenth century, (Cambridge, CUP, 1989)
Getz, F., Medicine in the English Middle Ages (Princeton University Press, 1998)
Green, Monica, Making Women’s Medicine Masculine: The Rise of Male Authority in Pre-Modern Gynaecology (Oxford, 2008)
Green, Monica, Women’s Healthcare in the Medieval West (Ashgate, 2000)
Grell, Ole Peter and Cunningham, Andrew (eds), Medicine and the Reformation, (London, 1993)
Hunter, Michael, Science and Society in Restoration England, (Cambridge, 1981)
Kassell, Lauren, Medicine and Magic in Elizabethan London: Simon Forman – Astrologer, Alchemist, and Physician, (Oxford, 2005)
Jacquart, D. and Thomasset, C., Sexuality and Medicine in the Middle Ages, (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1988)
McLean, Ian, Logic, signs and nature in the Renaissance: the case of learned medicine, (Cambridge, 2002)
McVaugh, M., Medicine before the Plague: Practitioners and their Patients in the Crown of Aragon 1285-1345 (Cambridge University Press, 1993)
Pelling, Margaret, Medical Conflicts in Early Modern London: Patronage, Physicians, and Irregular Practitioners 1550-1640, (Oxford, 2003), chapters 1 and 4
Pelling, Margaret and Mandelbrote, Scott (eds.) The Practice of Reform in Health, Medicine, and Science, 1500-2000, (Ashgate, Aldershot, 2005)
Rawcliffe, Carole, Medicine and Society in Later Medieval England (Sutton, 1995)
Sawday, Jonathan, The Body Emblazoned: Dissection and the Human Body in Renaissance Culture, (London and New York, 1995)
Siraisi, Nancy G., Medieval and early renaissance medicine: an introduction to knowledge and practice, (Chicago and London, 1990)
Temkin, Owsei, Galenism: Rise and Decline of a Medical Philosophy, (Ithaca, 1973)
Wear, A., French, R.K. and Lonie, I.M., The medical renaissance of the sixteenth century, (Cambridge, 1985)
Webster, C. (ed.) Health, Medicine and Mortality in the Sixteenth Century, (Cambridge, 1979)

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Early English Books Online, Eighteenth Century Collections Online, Burney Collection of Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Newspapers

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

Grant, Edward, Source Book in Medieval Science (Harvard University Press, 1974)
Rawcliffe, Carole, Sources for the History of Medicine in Late Medieval England (Western Michigan University, 1995)

Available as distance learning?