Course Descriptions

This is a selection of courses offered by History of Medicine faculty. Click on a course title to see an example syllabus.

Courses offered Fall 2021-22

150.701 History of Medicine: Antiquity to the Scientific Revolution

We review the social, intellectual and cultural history of Western medicine from ancient times to the seventeenth century, addressing issues such as: the social definition of the physician’s role; cultural perceptions of the body and definitions of health and illness; shifting patterns of treatment; the epistemology of medicine; and the varying relationship between medicine and religious belief.

150.739 Medicine, Race, and Colonialism: A Critical History

This course addresses the history of medicine, race, and (post) colonialism through a series of case-studies. For each case study, we will look at primary and secondary sources, investigate different theoretical approaches, and various historiographic questions. The course also engages with critical historical methods, including CRT, postcolonial and decolonial theories, and queer theory among others.

550.609 Life and Death in Charm City: Histories of Public Health in Baltimore, 1750 to the Present (Mooney)

This course critically explores a range of important topics in the history of public health in Baltimore from the mid-eighteenth century to the present, including: migration and health; sewers and water supply; infectious disease control (for example, tuberculosis and STDs); housing and lead poisoning; and rodent control. Recurrent themes are racial inequality, the geography of poverty and the multiple challenges of urban government. The focus is on the city of Baltimore, but the issues discussed are placed in their wider national and international contexts and take into account broad historical developments in the theory and practice of public health.

Courses in Rotation

140.601 An Introduction to Historical Methods

Provides an introduction to current topics in the history of science, medicine, and technology, the history of these discipline(s), and historical research and writing methods.

140.685 Histories of Reproduction

Instructors: Sasha Turner and Elizabeth O’Brien
While there is a vast literature on reproduction in a global context, this course will focus on the arc of what we might call decolonial histories of reproduction—those that center issues of justice, freedom, intimacy, and agency, as well as cultural negotiation, conflict, and change. Students will write critical histories of reproduction, with attention to the ways in which reproductive politics interface with institutions that exert hegemonic, racialized, gendered, and ableist forms of state power and colonial power. We will also appreciate the ways in which reproduction interacts with other—non geographically-bound, non-institutionalized, and non-state mediated—forms of biopolitical power. We will analyze how the historiography has evolved over time and discuss future directions in the field.

150.701 History of Medicine: Antiquity to the Scientific Revolution

We review the social, intellectual and cultural history of Western medicine from ancient times to the seventeenth century, addressing issues such as: the social definition of the physician’s role; cultural perceptions of the body and definitions of health and illness; shifting patterns of treatment; the epistemology of medicine; and the varying relationship between medicine and religious belief.

150.702 History of Medicine II: Enlightenment to the Present

This course reviews the social, intellectual, and cultural history of Western medicine from the eighteenth century to the present. The emphasis is on Western medicine as the result of Western political-economic and institutional structures, cultural values, and the rise and complexities of ‘scientific medicine’.

150.713 Oral History Theory and Method (Comfort)

This graduate course acquaints students with the range of approaches and techniques of using oral source material in historical research. We survey the history of the field and investigate a variety of approaches to conducting and interpreting interviews, including African history, anthropology, the history of science, folklore, and journalism. Students will produce a thoroughly researched, professionally conducted and transcribed oral-history interview, with an interpretive companion essay.

150.714 Biomedicine in the Twentieth Century

This seminar-style course is intended for students in the basic sciences and in the history of science and medicine. We study classic experiments in twentieth-century physiology, immunology, genetics, and neuroscience using both original research papers and historians’ accounts. Themes under discussion include theory and experiment, styles of research, ethics of experimental work and scientific publishing, and the impact of social interactions on laboratory work.

150.735 Controlling Epidemics: Historical Perspective

This course explores the long history of disease and disease control from the fourteenth-century plague to the twentieth-century campaign for smallpox eradication, drawing on historical materials from Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin American. The emphasis is on the ways in which political, social, and economic institutions and practices influence the history of disease, its understanding, and its control.

150.738 The Work of Healing: Towards a Materialist History of Medicine

This research seminar explores how the so-called “material turn” might be fruitful in our field. So far, this analytic has not been used much in the history of medicine; we might think of it as the juncture of material culture, medical technology, and clinical encounter. The focus is on bedside medicine; we look at what a wide range of healers actually did to help sufferers, and will use materiality as a means of accessing and understanding that healing encounter.

150.813 Medicine and Science in History: An Introduction to Historiography

Discussion of historiographical developments in, and various approaches to History of Medicine based on readings of important secondary works.

221.605 History of International Health and Development

The course explores the history of western efforts to promote health and nutrition in the ‘developing world’ from the beginnings of tropical medicine and colonial health services to more recent efforts at disease eradication; the development of alternative health delivery systems (basic health services, primary health care and selective primary health care); population programs; to child survival and global immunization programs. It will also examine the history of various international health and development organizations, including the Rockefeller Foundation, WHO, UNICEF and the World Bank.

550.605 The History of Public Health (online) (Mooney)

Provides a broad outline of the historical context and development of public health, with a main focus on the industrialized west. The course grounds itself in a critical overview of public health theory, ideology and practice in the present. We then step back to consider thematic issues that move from broadly environmental approaches such as quarantine and sanitation; through interventons in spaces such as workplaces, schools and homes; to the ways that public health inscribes itself onto the human body through vaccination and immunization. Finally, we trace the process of professionalization in public health, especially over the last 150 years. As well as providing an opportunity to understand the historical development of important public health disciplines such as epidemiology, we also reflect on how the history of public health can help us think through issues that are fundamental to the human condition and body politic, such as citizenship, freedom and coercion, individuality and collectivity.

Archived Courses

140.425 Individuality in Medicine from Antiquity to the Genome Age

A seminar for graduate students and advanced undergraduates. We explore the notion of the individual in medicine over twenty-five centuries, from the Hippocratics to the invention of the case study during the Renaissance to the genetic, biochemical, and immunological individual in recent biomedicine.

140.629 Beyond the Panopticon: Observing, Representing and Managing People (Mooney)

A comparative and historical overview of the ways in which people have been enumerated, investigated and monitored. We examine the long-term trajectory of state and non-state observation, emphasizing the collection and uses of data in European, colonial and post-colonial polities.

140.703 Popular Knowledge (Fissell)

The focus of this course is popular knowledge — both that which is ‘popularized’ and that which is popular in the sense of ‘of the people’. In putting these two meanings together, I am asking questions rather than setting out a tidy body of secondary literature. Historians of science have developed sophisticated ways of thinking about what knowledge is; historians of culture have debated and re-debated the meanings and utility of the category ‘popular culture’. Our readings focus on a variety of ways in which these two fields might intersect in explorations of vernacular knowledge.

150.705 Analogy and Metaphor in Science and Medicine

How do metaphors in science, technology, and medicine originate and how do they influence human thought? The course explores such examples as William Harvey’s analogy between the heart and a pump; Charles Darwin’s concepts of the struggle for existence and natural selection; military metaphors in the history of public health; the use of metaphors of production in medicine; and the comparison of the brain to a computer.

150.706 History of Public Health in China (Hanson)

The modern term for public health ‘weisheng’ in China has changed in the past two centuries from the ‘safeguarding life’ practices of individuals to the state’s responsibility for the health of its citizens. This course examines the history of public health from the earliest evidence of a state medical bureaucracy in Chinese antiquity to the modern problems of STDs, HIV/AIDS, and SARS.

150.715 History of Health and Development in Africa

This course examines the impact of colonial and post-colonial development on patterns of sickness, health, and health care in Africa. It also focuses on African responses to changing patterns of health care and disease. Topics include: patterns of disease and therapeutic responses in pre-colonial Africa; colonial epidemics; industrialization, urbanization, and disease; agrarian transformations, malnutrition, and the political economy of famine; sexuality, colonial control, and disease; western medicine and the social construction of African identities; African reproductive health and family planning; recession, debt, and Africa’s health care crises; histories of AIDS in Africa.

150.716 History of Chinese Medicine (Hanson)

How did the Chinese conceptualize the human body, health and disease over the past 2,000 years? What were the range of responses from religious to therapeutic to disease in China? What are Chinese acupuncture, moxibustion, and herbal medicine? Who practiced medicine in China; what did they practice; and how do we know what we know about them? Students engage these and other questions by discussing the latest historical, anthropological, and philosophical scholarship on the history of medicine in China. Students are expected to attend the lectures of AS140.346, read relevant primary sources in Chinese, and write a research paper using Chinese sources.

150.718 Colonial Knowledge

Our seminar explores the various forms of knowledge production, consumption, and circulation that characterize Europe’s colonial expansion. We examine various forms of knowledge production and use within European colonial settings in different parts of the globe. Among the topics covered: the interplay between local knowledges and global or imperial ones; museums and botanical gardens as expressions of imperial power; the connections between imperial power and ideas and practices of the body; the role of colonial science in the formulation of ideas about race and difference; the concept of the subaltern and its use for historians; how natural objects get re-framed in changing cultural contexts; the development of global networks of scientific knowledge and expertise; and finally, more recent forms of colonial knowledge production, including the collection and commoditization of Indigenous Technical Knowledge (ITK).

150.719 Biography

Consistently popular with the reading public, Biography has long provoked thoughtful reflection and controversy among literati and scholars. We will explore the history of biography, various approaches to it, and its nature as a scholarly genre.