UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies


HPSC3029 Medicine, Disease, and History

New module for 2011-12. Formerly HMED3003 Medicine, Disease and Society, Antiquity to Renaissance.

Tutor: MacLehose, William (link)

Email: w.maclehose@ucl.ac.uk

course description

This course addresses the changes and developments in Western medicine from the Ancient Greek world to 1700. The course will discuss the varieties of theory and practice of medicine, the understandings of the body and illness, and the historical contexts in which medicine can be understood in the pre-modern world, including classical Greek and Roman society, medieval Islamic and Western cultures, and Renaissance and early modern periods. 


1x 3,000 word essay (40%)

1x 3 hour exam in Term 3 (60%)

aims of the module

This module has several aims:

  • familiarise students with the many different understandings of medicine and health in the pre-modern period
  • survey main themes, figures and concepts in medicine and health as they change over time
  • provide the students with key themes and methodologies within STS, related to the history of medicine and, more generally, in science and in the cultural production of knowledge

Students will work with both primary and secondary literature and will be challenged to develop more nuanced understanding of the voices of the past and the modern interpretations that have been proposed regarding them. Emphasis will be placed on the students’ critical abilities to understand both types of sources.


By the end of the module, students should be able to:

  • identify the main concepts and themes of the history of pre-modern medicine from classical Greece through to 1700
  • interpret, contextualise, and compare the different systems of medicine during that period
  • apply this knowledge of epistemological changes to the content of the course

The student should, beyond the parameters of the course material, develop the analytical skills that are essential to historical interpretation:

  • the ability to read materials in a historical way, with close awareness of context and historical contingency
  • the ability to gather and synthesize materials in order to create an argument based upon critical comparison and contextual reading
  • the ability to look at materials from a variety of historical perspectives (social, cultural, economic, intellectual, etc.)

Contact the course tutor for more information.