Surgery, Science and Society since 1750 - HI6076

Looking for a different module?

Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2020 to 2021
Spring 5 30 (15) DR S Taylor checkmark-circle


Over the last two centuries, surgery has been radically transformed from a barbaric craft to a precision based science. Aided by new technologies, surgeons pioneered exploration into the body in ways never achieved before and became heroes of the hospital operating theatre and beyond. Historians have called this a surgical revolution. But how revolutionary was it? Did surgeons always get it right? Did new ideas, procedures and technologies immediately replace those that came before them? Is the history of surgery simply a story of continual progress? This module will examine major aspects of surgery from 1750 in order to evaluate the extent to which a 'surgical revolution' took place. Topics to be addressed include the rise of pathological anatomy; dissection and body snatching; anaesthesia; antisepsis and asepsis; vivisection; war; organ transplantation; and keyhole surgery. Adopting a social and cultural approach, the module will examine these topics in line with several key themes: the surgical profession, masculinity and heroism; patients, ethics and the body; technologies and techniques; and the sciences of pathology and physiology. The module will also explore the dissemination of surgical history today to public audiences through analyses of museum exhibits.


This module appears in the following module collections.

Contact hours

10 one-hour lectures, 10 two-hour seminars

Method of assessment

100% Coursework

Indicative reading

Lawrence, C. (ed., 1992) Medical Theory, Surgical Practice: Studies in the History of Surgery, London and New York: Routledge
Löwy, I. (2009) Preventative Strikes: Women, Precancer, and Prophylactic Surgery, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Richardson, R. (2001) Death, Dissection and the Destitute, Chicago: University of Chicago Press
Schlich, T. (2010) The Origins of Organ Transplantation: Surgery and Laboratory Science, 1880s-1930s, Rochester, NY: The University of Rochester Press
Schlich, T. (2002) Surgery, Science and Industry: A Revolution in Fracture Care, 1950s-1990s, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan
Schlich, T. and C. Crenner (2016) Beyond Innovation: Historical Perspectives of Technological Change in Modern Surgery, Rochester, NY: The University of Rochester Press

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)


  1. Credit level 5. Intermediate level module usually taken in Stage 2 of an undergraduate degree.
  2. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  3. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
Back to top

University of Kent makes every effort to ensure that module information is accurate for the relevant academic session and to provide educational services as described. However, courses, services and other matters may be subject to change. Please read our full disclaimer.