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Modern Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

Minor Subject 114 in Part II Biological and Biomedical Sciences (BBS)
Optional paper in Part IIB of the Psychological and Behavioural Sciences Tripos (PBS)

Part II students' guide: BBS options

Paper managers: Nick Hopwood (Michaelmas & Easter Terms), Salim Al-Gailani (Lent Term)

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

Michaelmas Term
Science in the Making of Modern Medicine
Salim Al-Gailani (6), Nick Hopwood (6)
Mon 12noon (weeks 1–6)
Tue 2pm (weeks 1–6)
Science and Medicine Since World War I
Nick Hopwood (4), Salim Al-Gailani (5), Mary Brazelton (3)
Mon 12noon (weeks 7–8)
Tue 2pm (weeks 7–8)
Lent Term
Science and Medicine Since World War I
Mon 12noon (weeks 2–8)
Tue 2pm (week 2)

Born in hospitals, vaccinated, X-rayed, taking antibiotics, receiving transplants – medicine sets the parameters of our lives. Since a great deal of biology, chemistry and physics has been and continues to be done as part of medicine, it is also central to HPS. This paper is about how, and with what consequences, a new, scientific medicine was made for the modern world. The Michaelmas Term course surveys the creation since 1750 of new medical institutions, professionals and practices. The Lent Term course 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 history of modern medical encounters with bodies and minds.


Science in the Making of Modern Medicine
Salim Al-Gailani, Nick Hopwood (12 lectures, Michaelmas Term)

This course surveys the roles of the sciences in making 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; 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 role of medicine in managing the health of populations. We discuss how a medicine made largely in Western Europe was exported around the world.

Science and Medicine Since World War I
Nick Hopwood, Salim Al-Gailani, Mary Brazelton (12 lectures, Michaelmas & Lent Terms)

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 extraordinarily 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, the oral contraceptive pill and in vitro fertilization. The lectures also introduce the powerful critiques these innovations have provoked.

Preliminary reading

  • Anderson, Warwick, Colonial Pathologies (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006)
  • 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)
  • Feudtner, Chris, Bittersweet (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003)
  • Fleck, Ludwik, Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979)
  • Foucault, Michel, The Birth of the Clinic (1973 and later edns)
  • Lawrence, Christopher, Medicine in the Making of Modern Britain (London: Routledge, 1994)
  • Nathoo, Ayesha, Hearts Exposed (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2009)
  • Oshinsky, David, Polio: An American Story (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006)
  • Richardson, Ruth, Death, Dissection and the Destitute (London: Routledge, 1987 or later edns)
  • Skloot, Rebecca, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (New York: Crown, 2010)
  • Wailoo, Keith, and Stephen Pemberton, The Troubled Dream of Genetic Medicine (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006)

Resources for Modern Medicine and Biomedical Sciences on Moodle