skip to primary navigationskip to content

Paper 3: Modern Medicine and Life Sciences

Paper managers: Mary Brazelton and Nick Hopwood

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

Michaelmas Term
Science in the Making of Modern Medicine
Nick Hopwood (5), Salim Al-Gailani (3)
Mon 12noon (weeks 1–4)
Tue 2pm (weeks 1–4)
Reproductive Technologies
Nick Hopwood (4)
Mon 12noon (weeks 5–8)
Medicine, Race and Ethnicity
Mary Brazelton (4)
Tue 2pm (weeks 5–8)
Lent Term
Science and Medicine since World War I
Nick Hopwood (6), Mary Brazelton (2)
Mon 12noon (weeks 1–4)
Tue 2pm (weeks 1–4)
Biology: Lab and Field
Staffan Müller-Wille (8)
Mon 12noon (weeks 5–8)
Tue 2pm (weeks 5–8)

What is life and how can we intervene in it? These questions have guided much of medicine, biology and their interaction since 1750. This paper explores the making of the large enterprises that today seek to control organic matter, bodies, populations and ecosystems. The 19th century witnessed the creation of new medical institutions, professionals and practices. In the 20th century, biomedicine built upon this legacy to become a major object of economic, political and ethical concern. Biology was made a distinct science of life with roles in classifying and manipulating humans and other organisms in laboratories and clinics, cities and field sites.

Aims and learning outcomes

  • to familiarise students with fundamental issues in historical writing on medicine and the life sciences since 1750;
  • to provide students with an understanding of the principal changes that created modern medical and biological institutions, professionals, practices and concepts;
  • to prompt assessments of the roles of social, cultural, institutional and national dimensions of medicine, the life sciences and their interrelations;
  • to equip students with the critical tools to evaluate historical and contemporary developments in medicine and the life sciences.


Science in the Making of Modern Medicine
Nick Hopwood, Salim Al-Gailani (8 lectures, Michaelmas Term)

This course surveys the roles of the sciences in making modern medicine from the French Revolution to World War I. We reconstruct the creation in the long 19th century of new institutions, especially hospitals and laboratories; of new professionals working in them as physicians, surgeons, public-health officers, nurses, and especially scientists; and of new ways of understanding and treating disease. We investigate how relations between doctors and individual patients changed, and explore the roles of medicine in managing the health of populations. We discuss how, in the age of empire, a medicine made largely in Western Europe was carried around the world.

Reproductive Technologies
Nick Hopwood (4 lectures, Michaelmas Term)

Since around 1970, 'in vitro fertilization', 'surrogate motherhood' and 'cloning' have made news and become household words. This course goes behind the headlines to take a longer and broader view of reproductive technologies. Drawing on research in history, sociology and anthropology of science, medicine and technology, and in gender studies, it analyses the making of modern cultures of reproduction.

Medicine, Race and Ethnicity
Mary Brazelton (4 lectures, Michaelmas Term)

These lectures investigate scientific and medical constructions of race and ethnicity in the 19th and 20th centuries. Lectures and readings will address the development of racial categories and their implications for biomedical research and therapies, the role of race in medicine under conditions of slavery and colonialism, and the lasting social and political implications of these historical processes.

Science and Medicine since World War I
Nick Hopwood, Mary Brazelton (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 early 1970s, this course explores the creation of medical research and the 'biomedical complex', the establishment of Western health-care systems and the politics of global health, and such new technologies as insulin, penicillin and genetic screening. The lectures also introduce the powerful critiques these innovations have provoked.

Biology: Lab and Field
Staffan Müller-Wille (8 lectures, Lent Term)

Natural history in the 18th and 19th centuries was a science of classification, which prioritised the scale of the organism. The growth of an independent discipline of biology brought with it a focus on new scales. Biologists in the lab, spurred by the rediscovery of genetic regularities in inheritance, developed a fascination with the molecular and sought to understand the substructure of life. Biologists in the field, building on the legacy of 19th-century exploration, sought to understand and manipulate large-scale – eventually global – environmental processes. These lectures trace the push to the large and the small in biological practice and discuss the cross-pollination between them.

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)
  • * 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 Paper 3 on Moodle