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Body Politics: Health, Illness and Death in Britain


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 6
  • Convenor: Dr Carmen Mangion
  • Assessment: two 2500-word assessments (25% each), one 48-hour take-home examination (50%) and 60% class attendance requirement

Module description

In this module we examine developments in the social and cultural understandings of health, illness and death in Britain from the mid-eighteenth century to the early twentieth century. We will examine cultural responses - behaviours, beliefs and emotions - to these phenomena and question what they can tell us about changes to social structures, individual and community identities and family relationships. We will also address religion, secularisation and the medicalisation of the body as influences to changing ideas of health, illness and death.

Engaging with historical texts, literature and visual sources, you will develop your historical interpretation skills and understand how diverse responses to health, illness and death reflected wider social and cultural change.

Indicative syllabus

  • Introduction to body politics
  • The diseased body
  • The medical practitioner
  • The quack
  • The nurse
  • Cultures of invalidism
  • The birth of the hospital
  • The conquest of pain: clinical interventions
  • The body and the state
  • Materialities of medical care (material culture)
  • The evangelical good death: fact or fiction?
  • The anatomy trade: pauper funeral and dissection
  • The bad death: suicide and self-murder
  • Contested death: infanticide
  • Cemeteries: the last resting place
  • Loss and grief
  • Exhibition visit
  • Heaven and hell
  • World War I: the architecture of remembrance
  • Death in art: visual representations of death