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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
Genres of Early Science
Liba Taub (8)
Fri 10am (weeks 5, 7–8)
Fri 2pm (week 5)
Early Modern Medicine
Lauren Kassell (5), Emma Spary (3), Dániel Margócsy (4)
Fri 12noon (weeks 1–8)
Medieval Medicine
Sachiko Kusukawa (2), Lauren Kassell (4), Mary Brazelton (2)
Tue 12noon (weeks 1–8)
Lent Term
Genres of Early Science
Fri 10am (weeks 1–4)
Early Modern Medicine
Fri 12noon (weeks 1–4)
Instruments, Books and Collections
Liba Taub (2), Dániel Margócsy (2)
Tue 12noon (weeks 1–4)

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 (8 lectures, Michaelmas & Lent Terms)

These lectures examine styles of scientific and medical writing in antiquity, looking at formats which include the treatise, poetry, letter, commentary, encyclopaedia, question-and-answer and problem texts. Topics discussed in these texts include the study of 'nature' and bodies, physics (including meteorology) and mathematics. The lectures and readings engage with important themes in the fields of ancient science and medicine, and also provide useful background for understanding natural philosophy and the study of health and disease in later periods. One aim will be to explore the contexts in which the ancient texts were written and read.

Early Modern Medicine
Lauren Kassell, Emma Spary, Dániel Margócsy (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.

Medieval Medicine
Sachiko Kusukawa, Lauren Kassell, Mary Brazelton (8 lectures, Michaelmas Term)

These lectures provide an overview of medieval medicine from a global perspective. 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, whose traditions receive special attention. 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. In contrast, Chinese medicine in the Ming period produced a remarkable range of doctrinal, therapeutic, and regional variation within the classical medical tradition. Topics include scholastic medicine and surgery, diagnosis and prognosis, leprosy, the printing and circulation of medical texts, cross-cultural encounters, and the experience of being ill in the Middle Ages.

Instruments, Books and Collections
Liba Taub, Dániel Margócsy (4 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

Novels and biographies:

  • Eco, Umberto, The Name of the Rose (London: Secker & Warburg, 1983)
  • Pears, Iain, An Instance of the Fingerpost (London: Jonathan Cape, 1997)
  • Tomalin, Claire, Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self (London: Viking, 2002)

Textbooks, sources and monographs:

  • 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)
  • 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)
  • 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
  • Galilei, Galileo, Sidereus Nuncius, or The Sidereal Messenger, translated by Albert van Helden (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989)
  • Gutas, Dimitri, Greek Thought, Arabic Culture (London: Routledge, 1998)
  • Hinrichs, T.J., and Linda L. Barnes (eds), Chinese Medicine and Healing: An Illustrated History (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013)
  • 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)
  • Kuriyama, Shigehisa, The Expressiveness of the Body and the Divergence of Greek and Chinese Medicine (New York: Zone Books, 1999)
  • Lindberg, David C., and Michael H. Shank, The Cambridge History of Science, vol. 2: Medieval Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013)
  • Lloyd, Geoffrey, Early Greek Science (London: Chatto & Windus, 1970)
  • Lloyd, Geoffrey, Greek Science after Aristotle (London: Chatto & Windus, 1973)
  • 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)
  • 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, 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
  • Siraisi, Nancy, Medieval and Early Renaissance Medicine (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990)
  • 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)


Resources for Paper 1 on Moodle