Skip to main content

Methods: Medicine, Culture, Text


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • Convenors and tutors: Peter Fifield, Anne Hanley, Emily Senior
  • Assessment: a 5000-word essay (100%), a 750-word critical commentary (pass/fail) and 60% attendance

Module description

This module introduces you to a broad range of methodologies used to examine ideas in and around medicine. From medical notes to literary descriptions, from disease outbreak maps to anatomical diagrams, the module will equip you to address a wide range of documentation relating to medicine.

You will engage with the methods needed to discuss medical ideas in various artistic, literary and material contexts, and read literature from a range of periods from the medieval to the present day that self-consciously engages with specific medical ideas. You will examine historical records of epidemics, their spread and treatment. You will also engage with objects of medical operation and explanation, such as the medical specimens at the Hunterian Museum and rare books at the Wellcome Library, and read medical and scientific writings by doctors and philosophers such as William Cullen and David Hume. The weekly syllabus will be organised by method, for example literary critical, historical, psychosocial, philosophical and legal. Using these we will discuss themes including plagues, race, drugs, sympathy and empathy, invalidism, pain and transplants.

The secondary syllabus is influenced by recent multidisciplinary developments in literary and historical studies of medicine and science, such as Simon Schaffer’s work on the social history of scientific disciplinarity, and Alan Richardson’s research in Romanticism and neurology, as well as work on the cultural history of the body by Roxann Wheeler, Elaine Scarry and others.

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.