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Department of History and Philosophy of Science


Minor Subject 114 in Part II Biological and Biomedical Sciences (BBS)
Part of the BBS Major Subject History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine

Part II students' guide: BBS options

Paper managers: Salim Al-Gailani and Helen Anne Curry (Michaelmas Term); Mary Brazelton (Lent & Easter Terms)

Michaelmas Term
Science in the Making of Modern Medicine
Salim Al-Gailani (8)
Mon 12noon (weeks 1–4)
Tue 2pm (weeks 1–4)
Food, Agriculture and Health
Helen Anne Curry (4)
Mon 12noon (weeks 5–8)
Medicine, Race and Ethnicity
Staffan Müller-Wille (4)
Tue 2pm (weeks 5–8)
Lent Term
Science and Medicine since World War I
Salim Al-Gailani (8)
Mon 12noon (weeks 1–4)
Tue 2pm (weeks 1–4)

Born in hospitals, vaccinated, X-rayed, using contraceptives, receiving transplants – medicine today sets the parameters of our lives. The paper explores how this came to be by analysing how, and with what consequences, a scientific medicine was made with the modern world. It surveys the creation through the long 19th century of new medical institutions, professionals and practices and explores the 20th-century transformation of medicine into a major object of economic, political and ethical concern.


Aims and learning outcomes

  • to acquaint students with fundamental issues in historical writing on medicine and allied sciences since 1750;
  • to provide students with an understanding of the principal changes that created the medical and biomedical institutions, professionals and practices of the modern world;
  • to introduce students to the processes through which medicine was transformed into a major object of economic, political and ethical concern; and
  • to encourage students to explore major themes in the historical relations between the sciences and modern medicine.



Science in the Making of Modern Medicine

Salim Al-Gailani (8 lectures, Michaelmas Term)

This course outlines the roles of the sciences in the making of modern medicine from the French Revolution to World War I. We explore the creation in the long 19th century of new institutions, especially hospitals and laboratories, and of new ways of understanding and treating disease. We investigate how relations between doctors, individual patients and general publics changed, and explore the role of medicine in managing the health of populations. We discuss how a medicine made largely in western Europe was exported around the world.

Food, Agriculture and Health

Helen Anne Curry (4 lectures, Michaelmas Term)

Medicine, Race and Ethnicity

Staffan Müller-Wille (4 lectures, Michaelmas Term)

This course investigates scientific and medical constructions of race and ethnicity from the late 18th to the 20th centuries. Lectures and readings will address the development of racial categories and their implications for biomedical research and therapies and the role of race in medicine under conditions of slavery, colonialism and bureaucratic control of populations. We will discuss the lasting social and political implications of these historical processes, and why race continues to be a contested category in more recent biomedical research.

Science and Medicine since World War I

Salim Al-Gailani (8 lectures, Lent Term)

Though our medicine had in its essential features been made by World War I, only in the 20th century did it become a major economic and political concern, and a profession with far-reaching authority in the management and even definition of human life. Highlighting the turning points of World War II and the crisis of the 1970s, this course explores the roles of science in medicine and of medicine in science. We cover the invention of medical research and the 'biomedical complex', insulin and penicillin, global health and post-colonial medicine, as well as critiques of medical science.


Preliminary reading

  • Bernard, Claude, An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865 and later edns)
  • Bynum, W.F., Science and the Practice of Medicine in the 19th Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994)
  • Comfort, Nathaniel, The Science of Human Perfection (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012)
  • * Epstein, Steven, Impure Science (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996)
  • Fleck, Ludwik, Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979)
  • Henig, Robin Marantz, Pandora's Baby (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004)
  • Kohler, Robert, Lords of the Fly: Drosophila Genetics and the Experimental Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994)
  • * Lawrence, Christopher, Medicine in the Making of Modern Britain (London: Routledge, 1994)
  • Livingston, Julie, Improvising Medicine: An African Oncology Ward in an Emerging Cancer Epidemic (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012)
  • Morange, Michel, A History of Molecular Biology, trans. Matthew Cobb (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998)
  • * Oudshoorn, Nelly, Beyond the Natural Body: An Archeology of Sex Hormones (London: Routledge, 1994)
  • * Packard, Randall M., A History of Global Health (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016)
  • Parthasarathy, Shobita, Patent Politics: Life Forms, Markets, and the Public Interest in the United States and Europe (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017)
  • Pauly, Philip J., Biologists and the Promise of American Life: From Meriwether Lewis to Alfred Kinsey (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000)
  • * Richardson, Ruth, Death, Dissection and the Destitute (London: Routledge: 1987 and later edns)
  • Schiebinger, Londa, Secret Cures of Slaves (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017)
  • * Skloot, Rebecca, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (New York: Crown, 2010)


Resources for Modern Medicine and Biomedical Sciences on Moodle