Department of History and Philosophy of Science

Paper 2
Early Medicine

Paper managers: Lauren Kassell, Natalie Kaoukji

This paper is also offered as Minor Subject 113 in Part II Biological and Biomedical Sciences (BBS) and as part of the History Tripos.

Michaelmas Term
Primary Source
Lauren Kassell, Natalie Kaoukji, Rob Ralley
Fri 12noon (weeks 1–4)
Introduction to Early Medicine
Lauren Kassell
Thu 3pm (weeks 1–4)
Medieval Medicine
Peter Jones, Jo Edge, Gabriele Ferrario
Thu 3pm (weeks 5–8)
Early Modern Medicine
Lauren Kassell, Natalie Kaoukji, Emma Spary, Valentina Pugliano
Fri 12noon (weeks 5–8)
Lent Term
Medieval Medicine
Tue 2pm (weeks 1–4)
Early Modern Medicine
Fri 12noon (weeks 1–8)

This paper covers medical knowledge and practices in the ancient, medieval and early modern periods. Themes include understandings of the body and of disease; the status of medical knowledge; patient-practitioner relationships; the medical marketplace; sex and reproduction; and medicine, magic and religion.

Primary source

Astrological Casebooks
Lauren Kassell, Natalie Kaoukji, Rob Ralley (4 seminars, Michaelmas Term)

Simon Forman (1552–1611) was probably the most popular astrologer in Elizabethan London. His casebooks survive for 1596–1603 and contain records of approximately 10,000 consultations. The majority of the cases are about medical questions, with matters of health and well-being, personal affairs, romantic interests, worldly affairs, and the occult sciences 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 records, an image archive of the original manuscripts, and innovative facilities for searching and sorting the corpus. This primary source is a unique opportunity to work with four hundred year-old manuscripts through cutting edge digital humanities.


Introduction to Early Medicine
Lauren Kassell (4 lectures, Michaelmas Term)

These lectures provide an introduction to the paper by exploring what it means to study the history of medicine before c.1750. Centering on doctors, patients and diseases, they introduce the major themes and methods that historians have used to study the ways in which medical knowledge was made, health and illness understood and diseases prevented and cured hundreds of years ago. We will begin with questions about who did these things, how they did them, and why.

Medieval Medicine
Peter Jones, Jo Edge, Gabriele Ferrario (8 lectures, Michaelmas & Lent Terms)

In the Mediterranean world Graeco-Roman medicine constituted a shared heritage of learning based on the writings attributed to Hippocrates and Galen. 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. In turn Islamic medicine was translated and received in the Latin west in successive waves from the 11th to the 13th centuries. New ways of teaching medicine were developed in the universities, but the basis of medical practice in east and west, and the functioning of the medical marketplace, were remarkably consistent. Topics include scholastic medicine and surgery, diagnosis and prognosis, leprosy, and the experience of being ill in the Middle Ages.

Early Modern Medicine
Lauren Kassell, Natalie Kaoukji, Emma Spary, Valentina Pugliano (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.

Preliminary reading

For introductions to the subject, see:

  • Porter, Roy, The Greatest Benefit to Mankind (London: HarperCollins, 1997)
  • Siraisi, Nancy, Medieval and Early Renaissance Medicine (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990)
  • Elmer, Peter (ed), The Healing Arts: Health, Disease and Society in Europe, 1500–1800 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004)

For studies of particular periods, places and practitioners, see:

  • Cook, Harold, Trials of an Ordinary Doctor: Joannes Groenevelt in 17th-Century London (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994)
  • 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)
  • Fissell, Mary, Vernacular Bodies: The Politics of Reproduction in Early Modern England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)
  • French, Roger, Medicine Before Science: The Rational and Learned Doctor from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003)
  • MacDonald, Michael, Mystical Bedlam: Madness, Anxiety and Healing in 17th-Century England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981)
  • Park, Katharine, Secrets of Women: Gender, Generation and the Origins of Human Dissection (New York: Zone Books, 2006)
  • 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)
  • Siraisi, Nancy, The Clock and the Mirror: Girolamo Cardano and Renaissance Medicine (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997)

For further reading, see:

  • Manzoni, Alessandro, The Betrothed (1827)
  • Pears, Iain, An Instance of the Fingerpost (London: Jonathan Cape, 1997)
  • Tomalin, Claire, Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self (London: Viking, 2002)

Further resources are available on Moodle.