HST6073: Medical Humanity? Medicine and Identity

HST6073 Image

15 credits (Semester 2018-19: Autumn | Semester 2019-20: Autumn)

Module Leader: Dr Chris Millard

Module Summary

'My objective for more than twenty-five years has been to sketch out a history of the different ways in our culture that humans develop knowledge about themselves: economics, biology, psychiatry, medicine, and penology. The main point is not to accept this knowledge at face value but to analyze these so-called sciences as very specific "truth games" related to specific techniques that human beings use to understand themselves.' – Michel Foucault 

Medicine is centrally concerned with human identity. From the promotion of health and treatment of illness, to probing human consciousness with psychoanalysis or neuroscience, medicine is at the forefront of our self-management and self-knowledge. This course will familiarize you with the major ways in which humans has been managed and modified in modern medicine. From brain scans and neurochemicals, to discussions of penis envy and castration anxiety, efforts to cure people have had far-reaching consequences for human experience. From the provision of contraceptives to the sugar tax, ideas of health make up a huge part of who we are, and what we do.

Module aims

  1. This module aims to introduce students to the interactions between medicine, identity and selfhood. This involves reading in philosophy, medical sociology, medical anthropology, neuroscience, public health more.
  2. The module aims to get students to think about how different models of 'the self' have become intertwined with medical practice and medical expertise over the twentieth century 
  3. This module aims to show students how such medical models of selfhood inform and animate the writing of history in general.

Learning outcomes

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

  1. Explain and differentiate between various distinctive models of human nature that are centrally concerned with or connected to medicine: ways of analysing human action and motivation, ways of preserving or restoring health. (Aim 1)
  2. Identify and discuss the ways in which these distinctive understandings of human nature affect the writing of history. This includes not only how sources are analysed, but which sources are picked in the first place, and why certain questions are asked of the sources (and not others). (Aims 2, 3)
  3. An ability to identify the kind of human nature, and the medical and health-based assumptions used in various historical works. This will be achieved either through identifying explicit and important references, or through appraising the implications of various statements. (Aims 1, 2)
  4. An ability to make nuanced judgements about the kinds of human nature and human health implied in historical writing, including the judgement that any particular historian’s work might include conflicting, incoherent or contradictory ideas at different points. (Aims 2, 3)
  5. The ability and intellectual tools to reflect critically upon their own historical writing and the ideas of human nature, health and disease that animate their own assessments of the past. (Aim 3)
  6. The ability to uncover, identify and analyse other assumptions that underlie historical writing, not just about human nature in general, or human health in particular, but also the intersections of these concerns with others, such as gendered or ethnic identity. (Aim 3)


Learning hours
Seminar hours Tutorial hours Independent Learning
10 1 139

The module will be taught in five, two-hour classes. Each class covers a distinct idea about humans and human health and identity such as Freudian psychoanalysis, public health, medical anthropology and sociology, and neuroscience (LOs 1, 3). These ideas will not be presented in isolation, and throughout subsequent seminars, you will be asked to think about links, similarities and differences between these models (LO4). You will have individual tutorial contact with the module leader in order to reflect upon your own work, and how you employ – and also stand back from – ideas of human health in history (LO2).

Seminars will be structured so that debate, reflection, source analysis and discussion can all take place on the ways in which ideas of human health and illness have changed over the past century, with implications for ideas of human nature. It will also tease out the ways in which these ideas have implications for the writing of history in general (LOs 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). These seminars will also have space to reflect on the different parts of human identity and health, including gendered and ethnic identity, and how they are implicated in broader visions of human life and health (LO 6).



Assessment methods
Assessment % of final mark Length
Coursework 100% 3000 words

You will prepare a 3,000-word paper on a topic agreed with the tutor. The paper will be expected to situate one or more understandings of human health and the intricate connections it has with identity (LOs 1, 3, 4), but also to tease out its consequences for the writing of history (LO 2).


Selected reading

  • David Armstrong A New History of Identity London: Palgrave Macmillan (2002)
  • Felicity Callard & Constantina Papoulias ‘Biology’s Gift: Interrogating the Turn to Affect’ Body and Society 16(1) (2010): 29-56
  • Roger Cooter with Claudia Stein Writing History in the Age of Biomedicine London, Yale University Press (2013)
  • Michel Foucault The History of Sexuality vol.1: The Will to Knowledge (trans. Robert Hurley) New York, Random House (1978)
  • Elizabeth Lunbeck The Psychiatric Persuasion: Knowledge, Gender and Power in Postwar America Princeton, Princeton University Press (1994)
  • Ian Hacking Rewriting the Soul: Multiple Personality and the Science of Memory Princeton University Press (1998)
  • Joan W. Scott ‘The Evidence of Experience’ Critical Enquiry 17(4) (1991): 773-797
  • Rhodri Hayward The Transformation of the Psyche in British Primary Care: 1880-1970 London, Bloomsbury (2014)
  • Annemarie Mol The Body Multiple: Ontology in Medical Practice Duke University Press (2002)
  • Nikolas Rose and Joelle Abi-Rached Neuro: The New Brain Sciences and the Management of the Mind Princeton University Press (2013)
  • Dorothy Porter, Health, Civilization and the State: A History of Public Health From Ancient to Modern Times London, Verso (1999)
  • Katherine Foxhall Making Modern Migraine Medieval: Men of Science, Hildegard of Bingen and the Life of a Retrospective Diagnosis’ Medical History 58(3) (2014): 354-374
  • Hillary Rose and Stephen Rose Genes, Cells and Brains: The Promethean Promises of the New Biology London, Verso (2012)
  • Mathew Thomson Psychological Subjects: Identity, Culture, and Health in Twentieth-Century Britain Oxford, Oxford University Press (2006)
  • Ruth Leys ‘The Turn to Affect: A Critique’ Critical Enquiry 37 (2011): 434-472



*The content of our courses is reviewed annually to make sure it's up-to-date and relevant. Individual modules are occasionally updated or withdrawn. This is in response to discoveries through our world-leading research; funding changes; professional accreditation requirements; student or employer feedback; outcomes of reviews; and variations in staff or student numbers. In the event of any change we'll consult and inform students in good time and take reasonable steps to minimise disruption.