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Critical Entanglements and Methods in the Medical Humanities


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • Convenors and tutors: Peter Fifield, Anne Hanley, Emily Senior
  • Assessment: a 4000-word essay (70%), 1000-word research scrapbook or review (30%) and 60% attendance

Module description

This module looks at key themes, or ‘entanglements’, between medicine and culture, and uses them to build a sense of the canonical issues, discourses and methods of the medical humanities. It will use philosophical, historical, literary critical approaches to understand the origins of the discipline and consider the ongoing applications of these ideas to discussions in medical contexts.

We will examine critical issues in the still-emerging field of the medical humanities. These include the ‘two cultures’, the ‘clinical gaze’, the history of madness, public health campaigns, anti-vaccination movements and medical phenomenology. These issues and the critical apparatus developed around them are increasingly canonical to the field, and this module will introduce and critically assess their history, assumptions and varying applications.

The weekly schedule will change year on year, but key topics are:

  • the birth of the clinic
  • the two cultures
  • madness, sexuality and pathology
  • genetics and ethics
  • disability studies
  • narrative medicine.

As well as using key critical sources in the history of medicine and science (e.g. Michel Foucault, C.P. Snow, Roy Porter), the module will engage with recent work on defining the field of the medical humanities (e.g. Angela Woods, Rita Charon, Josie Billington). We will examine historical records of epidemics, their spread and treatment, and engage with objects of medical operation and explanation, such as the medical specimens at the Hunterian Museum and rare books at the Wellcome Library.

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • demonstrate knowledge of the development of the critical field of ‘medical humanities’
  • use theoretical materials to examine specific literary, historical and cultural examples
  • demonstrate a multidisciplinary approach to medical representations
  • demonstrate familiarity with historical, literary critical and other methods for analysing medicine, health, illness and disability
  • demonstrate knowledge of the various forms through which medical ideas circulated
  • historicise representations of medicine, health, illness and disability in the context of scientific developments
  • understand cultural and critical theories both within and beyond the ‘medical humanities’
  • analyse the role of medicine in cultural accounts of embodiment, subjectivity, discourse and identity
  • critically examine the potential benefits of diverse methodologies for medical practitioners, patients and interest groups
  • practise a multidisciplinary approach to medical representations
  • use appropriate methodologies and approaches to the analysis of diverse cultural texts
  • analyse a range of genres that use medical discourses.