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Paper 1: Early Science and Medicine

Paper manager: Dániel Margócsy

Also offered in Part II of the Classical Tripos.

All lectures are held in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science.

Michaelmas Term
Medieval Science and Medicine
Gabriele Ferrario (4), Gabriella Zuccolin (4)
Tue 12noon (weeks 1–8)
Early Modern Medicine
Lauren Kassell (5), Dániel Margócsy (4), Emma Spary (3)
Fri 12noon (weeks 1–8)
Casebooks Class
Lauren Kassell (1)
Tue 10am–12noon (week 7: 22 November)
Lent Term
Early Modern Medicine
Fri 12noon (weeks 1–4)
Instruments, Books and Collections
Liba Taub (2), Seb Falk (2), Emma Perkins (1), Dániel Margócsy (1)
Tue 12noon (weeks 1–6)

Paper 1 considers scientific and medical knowledge across different cultures and historical periods. This course is concerned with science and medicine in the ancient, medieval and early modern periods, and covers a wide geographical space, focusing on a number of different cultures. Interest will centre on concepts and understandings of the cosmos, the natural world, and the human body, methodologies and apparatuses to study them, as well as the practices, institutions and cultural transmissions of knowledge.

The intention is to examine continuities and discontinuities in the institutions, practices and theories of science and medicine that attempt to understand, explain and transform the human and natural world. Interest will centre on methodology, transmission and testing of knowledge, healing practices, institutions and apparatus. Questions relating to epistemology, the transmission and mediality of knowledge, scientific and medical authority and community will be explored. Given the longevity of some of the 'traditions' considered, there will be some forays into later periods, including the 19th and 20th centuries, on occasion. Why, for example, does Stephen Hawking refer to Aristotle in his latest book, and why did people learn about human sexuality into the 20th century from a book titled Aristotle's Masterpiece?

Aims and learning outcomes

  • to encourage students to explore the scientific, medical and mathematical ideas and practices of the ancient, medieval and early modern periods including:
    • astronomy and astrology
    • cosmology and physics
    • mathematical sciences
    • medicine and pharmaceutics
    • natural sciences and natural history;
  • to acquaint students with some of the fundamental themes in the interpretation of pre-modern science and medicine, including a consideration of:
    • sites and institutions of learning
    • literacy, material culture and communicating knowledge
    • interactions between customers, patients and producers in medical and scientific marketplaces
    • classifications of scientific and medical knowledge
    • evidence, interpretation and historiography;
  • to encourage students to engage critically with evidence, textual, visual and material;
  • to encourage students to explore the continuity and changes of scientific and medical institutions, methods, and ideas across cultures and time periods.


Genres of Early Science
Liba Taub

Due to unforeseen circumstances, the Paper 1 lectures on Genres of Early Science will not be offered. If you are interested in this material, please contact Professor Taub.

Medieval Science and Medicine
Gabriele Ferrario, Gabriella Zuccolin (8 lectures, Michaelmas Term)

In the Mediterranean world, Greek knowledge of nature – from the basic constituents of matter, to the workings of the human body and mind, from the formation of metals underground to the description of the movements of the celestial bodies and their influences – circulated widely and constituted a shared heritage of learning. While surviving in fragmentary form in the West, this heritage was received in its fullest form and assimilated by the societies of the Islamicate world during the Middle Ages. Enriched by commentaries and detailed further in Arabic original works, this knowledge was translated and received in the Latin West in successive waves from the 11th to the 13th centuries. Topics of this course will include medieval Arabo-Islamic sciences, scholastic medicine and surgery, physiognomy and astronomy, transmission of scientific knowledge among cultures, and the experience of being ill in the Middle Ages.

Early Modern Medicine
Lauren Kassell, Dániel Margócsy, Emma Spary (12 lectures, Michaelmas & Lent Terms)

These lectures provide an overview of medicine in early modern Europe (1500–1750). We will examine ways in which Greek and Arab medicine, anatomy and natural philosophy were foundational to medical theory and practices, and how these ancient and medieval views came under attack. Central themes of the course include change and continuity in theories of the body and disease, practices of maintaining health and healing, experiences of patients, and in the broad spectrum of practitioners available. We will study how different practitioners were trained and how they interacted both with each other and their patients. During this period important discoveries were made in anatomical theatres, in alchemical laboratories, in the New World and under microscopes, and we consider their influence on medical theory and practice. In addition to drawing upon learned and vernacular medical, religious and literary texts, we will consider what contemporary visual and material culture can teach us about the history of early modern medicine.

Casebooks Class
Lauren Kassell (1 class, Michaelmas Term)

Between 1596 and 1634 Simon Forman and Richard Napier recorded 80,000 astrological consultations. This is one of the largest surviving sets of medical records in history. While the majority of the cases are about medical questions, matters of health and well-being, personal affairs, romantic interests, worldly affairs, and the occult sciences are also represented. This is a rich resource for the history of dynamics between patients and practitioners and experiences of illness and healing. The Casebooks Project presents a digital edition of Forman's and Napier's records, an image archive of the original manuscripts, and innovative facilities for searching and sorting the corpus. This class introduces these 400-year-old manuscripts and tutors students in using digital humanities to understand them. This is an optional class. It is open to all students and is not formally assessed.

Instruments, Books and Collections
Liba Taub, Seb Falk, Emma Perkins, Dániel Margócsy (6 lectures, Lent Term)

As authors in their own right, it is hardly surprising that historians spend much of their research time in the study of texts. This course of lectures makes the case for the study of the material objects of early scientific and medical culture: the tools used by natural philosophers, astronomers, physicians and others, in their investigation of nature, health and disease. What is a scientific (or medical) instrument? What kind of histories do instruments have, and how can we study them? How was a book produced in the first two hundred years of printing? Does it make a difference to understanding how texts are read to take account of the materiality of books? Did the invention of printing transform the study of nature and the body? What is the relationship between the history of instruments and the history of the book?

Preliminary reading

  • The Penguin Atlas of World History, Volume 1: From Prehistory to the Eve of the French Revolution (London: Penguin, 2003)
  • Buisseret, David, The Mapmaker's Quest: Depicting New Worlds in Renaissance Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003)
  • Cohen, I. Bernard, Album of Science: From Leonardo to Lavoisier, 1450–1800 (New York: Scribner, 1980)
  • Cook, Harold, Trials of an Ordinary Doctor: Joannes Groenevelt in 17th-Century London (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994)
  • Cuomo, Serafina, Technology and Culture in Greek and Roman Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007)
  • Duden, Barbara, The Woman Beneath the Skin: A Doctor's Patients in 18th-Century Germany, translated by Thomas Dunlap (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991)
  • Eco, Umberto, The Name of the Rose (London: Secker & Warburg, 1983)
  • Edson, Evelyn, Mapping Time and Space: How Medieval Mapmakers Viewed Their World (London: British Library, 1997)
  • Elmer, Peter (ed.), The Healing Arts: Health, Disease and Society in Europe, 1500–1800 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004)
  • Fissell, Mary, Vernacular Bodies: The Politics of Reproduction in Early Modern England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)
  • Frasca-Spada, Marina, and Nick Jardine (eds), Books and the Sciences in History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), Part I
  • French, Roger, Medicine Before Science: The Rational and Learned Doctor from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003)
  • Galilei, Galileo, Sidereus Nuncius, or The Sidereal Messenger, translated by Albert van Helden (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989)
  • Grafton, Anthony, Cardano's Cosmos: The Worlds and Works of a Renaissance Astrologer (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999)
  • Gutas, Dimitri, Greek Thought, Arabic Culture (London: Routledge, 1998)
  • Jardine, Lisa, Ingenious Pursuits: Building the Scientific Revolution (London: Little, Brown, 1999)
  • Kieckhefer, Richard, Magic in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989/2000)
  • Lindberg, David C., and Michael H. Shank, The Cambridge History of Science, vol. 2: Medieval Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013)
  • Lindberg, David C., and Robert S. Westman (eds), Reappraisals of the Scientific Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990)
  • Lloyd, Geoffrey, Early Greek Science (London: Chatto & Windus, 1970)
  • Lloyd, Geoffrey, Greek Science after Aristotle (London: Chatto & Windus, 1973)
  • MacDonald, Michael, Mystical Bedlam: Madness, Anxiety and Healing in 17th-Century England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981)
  • Manzoni, Alessandro, The Betrothed (1827)
  • Murdoch, John E., Album of Science: Antiquity and the Middle Ages (New York: Scribner, 1984)
  • Park, Katharine, Secrets of Women: Gender, Generation and the Origins of Human Dissection (New York: Zone Books, 2006)
  • Pears, Iain, An Instance of the Fingerpost (London: Jonathan Cape, 1997)
  • Pedersen, Olaf, Early Physics and Astronomy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993)
  • Pelling, Margaret, The Common Lot: Sickness, Medical Occupations and the Urban Poor in Early Modern England (London: Longman, 1998)
  • Pomata, Gianna, Contracting a Cure: Patients, Healers and the Law in Early Modern Bologna (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998)
  • Porter, Roy, and Mikuláš Teich (eds), The Scientific Revolution in National Context (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992)
  • Porter, Roy, The Greatest Benefit to Mankind (London: HarperCollins, 1997)
  • Rossi, Paolo, Philosophy, Technology and the Arts in the Early Modern Era (New York: Harper & Row, 1970), Chapter 1
  • Schrödinger, Erwin, 'Nature and the Greeks' and 'Science and Humanism' (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996)
  • Siraisi, Nancy, Medieval and Early Renaissance Medicine (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990)
  • Siraisi, Nancy, The Clock and the Mirror: Girolamo Cardano and Renaissance Medicine (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997)
  • Small, Jocelyn Penny, Wax Tablets of the Mind (London: Routledge, 1997)
  • Taub, Liba, Aetna and the Moon: Explaining Nature in Ancient Greece and Rome (Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2008)
  • Tomalin, Claire, Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self (London: Viking, 2002)
  • Whitfield, Peter, The Mapping of the Heavens (London: British Library, 1995)

Resources for Paper 1 on Moodle