Old pharmacy medical museum

Introduction to the history of western medicine, 1750 to present day. Medical, intellectual and organisational innovation

Module details

  • Offered to 1st years
  • Tuesdays 16.00-18.00
  • South Kensington Campus
  • 8 weeks (spring term only)
  • Non-credit only
How to enrol

This innovative module examines the development of modern medicine from 1750 to the present day. It covers developments internal to medicine, such as surgical and pharmaceutical innovation as well as broader contextual developments such as economics, revolution and warfare. It examines the underlying ideological motivations of medical thinkers and the way this influenced medical thinking and practices. Moreover, it touches on important issues with which medical thinkers have long engaged, such as the relations between medicine and the individual, the private sector, organized religion, and the state. The module considers older social science thinkers such as Michel Foucault and Noam Chomsky, as well as more recent commentators.

Information blocks

Learning outcomes

Aged diagram of human anatomy

  • Examine key historical, intellectual and developmental concepts from the history of medicine;
  • Integrate concepts using self-directed primary and secondary research into history of medicine sources.;
  • Present individual and group work to peers and respond to constructive feedback from facilitator and other learners.;
  • Apply key concepts, research, and feedback to write an analytical history of medicine essay.;
  • Evaluate current curriculum provision and use digital tools to contribute to future history of medicine curriculum development.

Indicative core content


  • Introduction to historiography. Key techniques of historical analysis using the Hippocratic Oath as a case study
  • Change in medicine. How the transformation of European knowledge by the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century began to effect change in medical theory, for example, William Harvey’s discovery of the circulation of the blood
  • The nature of science. Natural philosophy vs experimental science
  • Paris hospital medicine and pathological anatomy, including a consideration of Laennec and the stethoscope
  • Bernard, Pasteur and the creation of laboratory medicine. The contribution of the laboratory, but also resistance on the part of doctors to the knowledge and technologies that it produced, concluding with the emergence of a new way to understand the causes of disease, the theory of bacteria
  • Public health in the great 19th century cities. Explaining the causes of the illnesses that came with rising populations was not only medical and scientifically challenging, but was also politically charged
  • The creation of modern nursing and the emergence of women doctors. The reform of nursing in line with 19th century attitudes to the female role in society, and the campaigns of pioneering women doctors such as Elizabeth Blackwell to overturn those attitudes
  • The creation of national, universal health services, and the accompanying practical tensions therein. The precursors to the NHS and the implications for modern medical practice of working within a state-funded service providing universal health provision ‘from the cradle to the grave’


  • Coursework essay (80%)
  • Presentation (20%)

Key information

  • ECTS value: 0
  • Requirements: You must be prepared to attend all classes and to spend about an hour a week preparing for each session
  • This module is designed as an undergraduate Level 4 course. See Imperial Horizons level descriptors [pdf]
"I found the content of this course very good indeed! It provided a great overview of the different aspects of medicine and the key developments that took place throughout the history and shaped the medical field to make it become what it is today"
"The assignment represented a good opportunity to do some more individual research on a particular topic which reinforced the information given by our lecturer. ... I liked the idea of giving us a pre-reading task, as it gave me an idea of the topic to be discussed next and hence allowed to understand the concepts better the next day during the session"
"Was really fascinating and well taught. Very enjoyable and interesting course."
"Very interesting course, thoroughly enjoyed learning the rich History. Michael is a legend!"
"The lecturer was lively and humorous. Made Tuesday afternoons a joy to look forward to. It's a fascinating module."
"I really enjoyed horizons this term, the content was interesting. I hope that there is another History-based Horizons next year because I would definitely sign up."