Medical Humanities: An Introduction - ENGL9090

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2023 to 2024.


Medicine is one of the great human activities. It has a rich and deep history, and it has both created challenges for humans and solved many of our problems. Various academic subjects – such as History, Literature, Philosophy, Law, Archaeology, Drama and Religious Studies – have interesting perspectives on Medicine. For example, through an appreciation of some of medicine's history one can see the tensions that may exist between the scientific spirit and the demands of a society. Similarly, the study of illness narratives and works of literature that explore illness reveals the tension between the lived experience of illness and clinical understandings of disease. Moreover, medical science creates interesting ethical and legal problems, both for society at large and for medical practitioners. In this team-taught module we will study various topics about medicine through the eyes of a number of academic disciplines. You will also come to appreciate the different styles of thought and investigation peculiar to individual disciplines. Topics that stem from the individual academic disciplines will be studied on their own terms in the sessions, although common threads will emerge. (e.g. 'The Humanities', 'Contribution to Medical Practice’, ‘Illness’, ‘The Medical Practitioner’, ‘Medicine and Society’, ’The Arts as Therapy’, ‘Perspectives on Mental Health’ etc.).

An overarching theme and idea in this module, and the programme, is that a multidisciplinary approach through the Humanities is a highly illuminating way to appreciate medicine.


Contact hours

Total Contact Hours: 22
Private Study Hours: 278
Total Study Hours: 300

Method of assessment

Main assessment methods:

Critical Evaluation (1,500 words) – 20%
Essay (5,000 words) – 80%

Reassessment methods:

Indicative reading

Indicative reading list:

Bleakley, A. (2015) Medical Humanities and Medical Education: How the Medical Humanities can Shape Better Doctors (London: Routledge).
Frank, A. W. (1995) The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness and Ethics (Chicago: Chicago UP).
Marcum, J. (2008) An Introductory Philosophy of Medicine: Humanizing Modern Medicine (Dordrecht: Springer).
Schmidt, U. and Frewer, A. (2007), History and Theory of Human Experimentation. The Declaration of Helsinki and Modern Medical Ethics (Franz Steiner, Frankfurt am Main/New York).
Van der Eijk, P. J. (1999) Ancient Histories of Medicine: Essays in Medical Doxography and Historiography in Classical Antiquity (Leiden: Brill).
Whitehead, A. et al, (2016), The Edinburgh Companion to the Critical Medical Humanities (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press).

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1 Demonstrate appreciation and show knowledge of various aspects of medical practice, primarily as practiced in the Western World but also incorporating other traditions.
2 Demonstrate appreciation and show knowledge of various topics that Humanities disciplines have focussed on when considering medicine: for example:
(i) Certain historical periods;
(ii) Certain historical themes, such as medical treatment, the advance of medical science, and the relationship between medicine and society;
(iii) The portrayal of various medical topics in literature, such as the role of medical practitioners, disease and death.
(iv) Various ethical problems that arise from and within medical practice, and how (academic) philosophy can help to solve such problems.
(v) The interaction of law and medicine, and why it is that society decides to regulate medical science.

The intended generic learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1 Work through texts from a variety of disciplines and appreciate, through reading and seminar discussion, the various ways in which academics tackle interdisciplinary questions;
2 Demonstrate a critical perspective on both medicine and the various academic approaches that are considered;
3 Show through their written work a critical appreciation of at least two of the topics that are covered.


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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