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Critical Entanglements 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.

You 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; and narrative medicine. As well as using key critical sources in the history of medicine and science (eg Michel Foucault, C.P. Snow, Roy Porter), the module will engage with recent work on defining the field of the medical humanities (eg Angela Woods, Rita Charon, Josie Billington).

During the module we will also use the Wellcome Library and archives to examine medical artefacts and their curation, determining how the medical context frames the human subject as an object for examination in clinical and curatorial contexts.

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will have:

  • knowledge of the development of the critical field of ‘medical humanities’
  • the ability to use theoretical materials to examine specific literary, historical and cultural examples
  • developed a multidisciplinary approach to medical representations
  • an understanding of cultural and critical theories both within and beyond the ‘medical humanities’
  • analysed the role of medicine in cultural accounts of embodiment, subjectivity, discourse and identity
  • critically examined the potential benefits of diverse methodologies for medical practitioners, patients and interest groups.