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Paper 1: Early History of Science, Medicine and Technology

Paper manager: Lauren Kassell

Also offered in Part II of the Classical Tripos.

Michaelmas Term
Early Medicine
Lauren Kassell (8)
Fri 12noon (weeks 1–8)
Early Modern Natural Knowledge
Simon Schaffer (4)
Wed 11am (weeks 1–4)
Early Chinese Medicine
Mary Brazelton (4)
Tue 12noon (weeks 5–8)
Lent Term
Visual and Material Culture
Sachiko Kusukawa (4)
Fri 12noon (weeks 1–4)
Natural Knowledge in the Enlightenment
Staffan Müller-Wille (4)
Tue 12noon (weeks 1–4)
Early Modern and Enlightenment Medicine and Natural History
Emma Spary (4)
Tue 12noon (weeks 5–8)

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, including the Enlightenment, 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, both across time and across different locations. Questions relating to epistemology, the transmission and mediality of knowledge, scientific and medical authority and community will be explored. Attention will also be paid to the variety of sources used in studying the early history of science and medicine, and how such sources shape our interpretation of past events. 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, did Stephen Hawking refer to Aristotle in his last 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
    • the transmission of knowledge across cultures
    • 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.


Early Medicine
Lauren Kassell (4 lectures, 4 classes, Michaelmas Term)

These lectures and classes provide an overview of medicine in premodern Europe. We will examine ways in which medical encounters and healing took place in a variety of sites. We will also examine how 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.

  • Live classes on Zoom on 9 October, 16 October, 23 October, 6 November and 20 November. Lectures are pre-recorded. Follow the links on Moodle.

Early Modern Natural Knowledge
Simon Schaffer (2 lectures, 2 classes, Michaelmas Term)

These lectures and classes examine the fortunes of natural knowledge and its practitioners in early modern Europe by discussing shifts in institutions, modes of explanation, methods of observation and experiments, and identities of practitioners and disciplines, through several case studies. Lectures address themes in the history of natural philosophy and new models of producing natural knowledge. As natural knowledge became socially and geographically distributed and addressed new and different audiences, makers of knowledge developed new strategies of organization, control and persuasion.

  • Lectures and classes will be live on Zoom with recordings of lectures available afterwards. Follow the links on Moodle.

Early Chinese Medicine
Mary Brazelton (2 lectures, 2 classes, Michaelmas Term)

These lectures and classes offer an overview of medicine in premodern China. We will consider basic concepts of the body and disease, how efforts to treat and prevent illness arose within such a framework, and how these practices were transformed by the rise of new texts, professions and institutions. Central themes and case studies will emphasise the ways in which Chinese medicine was characterised by a diversity of practices and pedagogies across the geographic expanse of empires and the social divisions between folk practitioners, scholarly physicians and medical men at the highest levels of empire. We will also consider how Chinese practitioners consistently incorporated ideas, materials and texts from foreign sources.

  • Live classes on Zoom on 17 November and 1 December. Lectures are pre-recorded. Follow the links on Moodle.

Visual and Material Culture
Sachiko Kusukawa (2 lectures, 2 classes, Lent Term)

These lectures and classes discuss the various roles images and objects played in the formation and dissemination of scientific and medical knowledge in Europe in the early modern period. Traditionally, historians of science have looked to historical sources expecting to find evidence of direct observation and increasing accuracy, but the work of images and objects was more complex, varied and ingenious in shaping and supporting claims about knowledge. Classes will involve closer examination of a selection of primary and secondary sources.

Natural Knowledge in the Enlightenment
Staffan Müller-Wille (2 lectures, 2 classes, Lent Term)

These lectures and classes discuss themes in the development of natural knowledge and its aims in the long 18th century. Lectures treat in detail the instrumentation and material culture of the sciences, techniques of experimentation, travel and communication, methods and techniques of the sciences, forms of knowledge in print, the topics of globalization and industrialization, and the principal intellectual and programmatic trends in the new sciences of the European enlightenment.

Early Modern and Enlightenment Medicine and Natural History
Emma Spary (2 lectures, 2 classes, Lent Term)

These lectures and classes continue the topics introduced in the Early Medicine lectures and focus on changes in understanding in the period between 1500 and 1800. During this period important discoveries were made in pharmacies, in alchemical laboratories, in the New World and under microscopes, and we consider the influence of these discoveries on medical theory and practice. In addition to drawing upon learned and vernacular medical, religious and literary texts, we will also consider how medicine became transformed in the course of the long 18th century.

Preliminary reading

  • The Penguin Atlas of World History, Volume 1: From Prehistory to the Eve of the French Revolution (London: Penguin, 2003)
  • Clark, William, Jan Golinski and Simon Schaffer (eds), The Sciences in Enlightened Europe (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999)
  • 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)
  • Daston, Lorraine, and Peter Galison, Objectivity (New York: Zone, 2007)
  • Dear, Peter, Revolutionizing the Sciences (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001)
  • 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)
  • Elmer, Peter (ed.), The Healing Arts: Health, Disease and Society in Europe, 1500–1800 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004)
  • Fara, Patricia, An Entertainment for Angels: Electricity in the Enlightenment (Cambridge: Icon, 2002)
  • 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)
  • Gutas, Dimitri, Greek Thought, Arabic Culture (London: Routledge, 1998)
  • Hankins, Thomas, and Robert Silverman, Instruments and the Imagination (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995)
  • Hankins, Thomas, Science and the Enlightenment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985)
  • Henry, John, The Scientific Revolution and the Origins of Modern Science (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1997)
  • Jardine, Lisa, Ingenious Pursuits: Building the Scientific Revolution (London: Little, Brown, 1999)
  • Jardine, Nick, Jim Secord and Emma Spary (eds), Cultures of Natural History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996)
  • 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)
  • 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)
  • 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 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)
  • Shapin, Steven, The Scientific Revolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996)
  • 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)
  • Tomalin, Claire, Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self (London: Viking, 2002)
  • Webster, Charles, From Paracelsus to Newton: Magic and the Making of Modern Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982)
  • Westman, Robert, and David Lindberg, Reappraisals of the Scientific Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990)


Resources for Paper 1 on Moodle