Human Experiments & Human Rights during the Cold War - HIST6061

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2021 to 2022.


This Special Subject examines the history of human rights in human experimentation during the Cold War, and traces the development of biological and chemical warfare research from the Second World War through to Allied military research in the 1950s and 1960s. It charts continuity and change in the development of medical ethics standards in modern military research on humans, and assesses the extent to which research subjects were informed of the risks involved in the research. The module explores Allied war-time research and the international response to news of Nazi medical atrocities. The Nuremberg Medical Trial and the Nuremberg Code are important milestones in the history of informed consent and modern medical ethics. The module looks at the Nuclear testing programme that was conducted by the United States and the United Kingdom in the 1950s, and investigates in detail the evolving chemical warfare programme at Porton Down in the United Kingdom where one of the servicemen, Ronald Maddison, died from exposure to the nerve agent sarin in 1953. The history of research into incapacitants and biological warfare agents is located into a wider context of an evolving system of medical ethics in which non-therapeutic experiments without consent were increasingly seen as unethical and unlawful. Finally, the attempts by veteran groups for recognition and compensation will be examined as part of a wider political history of the Cold War which has shaped our understanding and memory of the more recent past.


Contact hours

This module will be taught through one 1-hour session and one 3-hour seminar each week, with the exception of Enhancement Weeks and one week per term that will be dedicated to coursework feedback.


Please note that this module is only available to single-honours and joint-honours students on the BA in History and BA in Military History programmes. It is not available as a Wild module, nor is it available to short-credit students.

Method of assessment

This module will be assessed by:

- Essay 1 (5000 words) - 12%
- Essay 2 (5000 words) - 12%
- In-class Test (2000 words) - 8%
- Presentation (30-40 minutes) - 8%
- Exam 1 (2 hours) - 30%
- Exam 2 (2 hours) - 30%

Indicative reading

D. Avery. (2013) Pathogens for War. Toronto: Toronto University Press
B. Balmer. (2001) Britain and Biological Warfare. Basingstoke: Palgrave
B. Balmer. (2012) Secrecy and Science. Farnham: Ashgate
R. Cooter, M. Harrison, S. Sturdy. (1999) Medicine and Modern Warfare. Amsterdam: Rodopi
M. Gross & D. Carrick. (2012) Military Medical Ethics. Farnham: Ashgate
P.M. Hammond & G.B. Carter. (2002) From Biological Warfare to Healthcare. Basingstoke: Palgrave
J.D. Moreno. (1999). Undue Risk: Secret State Experiments on Humans. New York: Routledge
J.D. Moreno. Mind Wars: Brain Research and National Defence. New York: Dana Press
U. Schmidt & A. Frewer (eds.). (2007) History and Theory of Human Experimentation. London: Steiner
U. Schmidt. (2004) Justice at Nuremberg. Basingstoke: Palgrave
U. Tröhler & S. Reiter-Theil (eds.). (1998) Ethics Codes in Medicine. Aldershot: Ashgate
J.B. Tucker. (2006) War of Nerves: Chemical Warfare from World War I to Al-Qaeda. New York: Doubleday
M. Wheelis et al. (eds.). (2006) Deadly Cultures: Biological Weapons since 1945. Cambridge: Harvard University Press

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes of this module are that, on completion of this module, students will be able to:

- Demonstrate a firm understanding of the historiography and historical context of human rights in human experiments during the Cold War, with a particular emphasis on the United Kingdom and the United States.
- Demonstrate a broad conceptual command of the course, and a thorough and systematic understanding of the latest research in the history of military and civilian medical ethics and human experimentation.
- Assess and critically engage with a wide range of primary sources (both written and visual) related to the history of human rights in human experiments, medical ethics and informed consent, chemical and biological warfare, and international conventions banning the use and development of non-conventional weapons.
- Learn independently through individual engagement with a wide range of subject-related high-level resources, including research in archival collections such as the National Archives, and Wellcome Library Archives and Manuscript collection.
- Analyse key texts related to the Maddison Inquest(s) in 1953 and 2004 and other materials important for an understanding of the development of military medical ethics in the 20th and 21st centuries.

The intended generic learning outcomes of this module are that, on completion of this module, students will be able to:

- Express complex ideas and arguments orally and in writing, skills which can be transferred to other areas of study and employment.
- Demonstrate improved communication, presentational skills and information technology skills.
- Demonstrate the acquisition of an independent learning style when engaging with the course content, for example in the preparation and presentation of course work, in carrying out independent research, in compiling bibliographies and other lists of research materials, by showing the ability to reflect on their own learning and by mediating complex arguments in both oral and written form.
- Analyse, discuss, deconstruct and demonstrate cogent understanding of central texts and, subsequently, assemble and present arguments based on this analysis; by virtue of this process, students will also have gained an appreciation of the uncertainty and ambiguity which surrounds the core themes of this module.
- Approach problem solving creatively, and formcritical and evaluative judgments about the appropriateness of these approaches.


  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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