Course Description

In this course we will explore health and healing from the Middle Ages into the Early Modern period. Sufferers and healers worked with models of the body and therapeutics very different to those of our own day. But healers had to persuade patients of their skills, sufferers had to choose amongst a range of health-care options, and each sought meaning in experiences of illness in ways that may not be so alien to our experience. We examine the translation movement of the High Middle Ages, the advent of medical regulation, and impact of the the Black Death, before moving to topics in early modern medicine such as Renaissance anatomy, the impact of the voyages of explorations, and the shape of the early modern medical marketplace. The course focuses upon the organization of health-care, the circulation of medical knowledge, and the experiences of patients, and seeks to relate forms of healing to their social and cultural contexts.

Course Format

Every week you’ll have a couple of lectures (audio-over-slides) and a reading from one of the the textbooks, Siraisi, Medieval and Early Renaissance Medicine, or Lindemann, Medicine and Society in Early Modern Europe, (2nd ed.) to provide a foundation. The heart of the course is in our discussions of the assigned readings, which are linked via the Course Plus website. Each week you’ll write a brief 1-2 page response paper (there are questions on the syllabus to get you going) and then join our discussion. There will be 4 Live Talks (synchronous discussions via Zoom).  If you cannot make either time, no panic. We can make other arrangements. The other weeks we’ll be doing discussions via Voice Thread, an asynchronous tool that permits us to post audio and video comments as well as written ones, and post images, bits of text, etc, and mark them up.

You’ll be assessed on your response papers; a brief 5 page paper; and your contributions to discussion. Every week there’s an ungraded mini-quiz, for you to check if you’re getting the basics. Like the rest of our graduate courses, this one is pass/fail, and at the end you’ll receive a written assessment of your work in the class.

Want to work ahead a little? All course materials will be available from the first day of class, so you can listen to lectures and do the readings in advance if that’s better for your schedule. The only time-specific elements are the scheduled Live Talks and the Voice Threads, which are open on Tuesdays-Fridays, giving people a chance to listen to the lectures and do the readings before jumping into discussion.

You can also view the intro video.

Course Learning Objectives

Upon successfully completing this course, students will be able to:

  1. Analyze medieval and early modern medical practices in historical context
  2. Compare and contrast the medical translation movements of the Islamic world and the medieval West
  3. Explain the causes and consequences of the Black Death
  4. Analyze the impact of the advent of medical regulation
  5. Describe changes that made early modern medicine different from that of the Middle Ages
  6. Utilize the concept of the medical marketplace to analyze early modern medicine
  7. Demonstrate skills in reading a variety of types of primary sources
Topics Covered
  • Early Medieval Medicine
  • Medieval Medicine: Physicians and Surgeons
  • Medieval Medicine: Practices
  • Medieval Medicine: The Black Death
  • Renaissance and Reformation
  • New Worlds
  • Early Modern Patients & Practitioners
  • Making New Knowledge
Course Faculty

Mary Fissell, PhD,