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History of Medicine and Health - MA


The History of Medicine and Health MA explores how medicine has shaped who we are. It covers medical ideas, technologies and interventions and takes into account everyday experiences of health, illness and well-being.



This programme introduces you to the advanced study of the history of medicine and health in the modern period and equips you with the conceptual and practical skills to carry out independent historical research in this field. 

You learn from experts working in the field and examine how different societies, cultures and races have conceptualised disease, reacted to changes in environment and created different technological artefacts and scientific knowledge. The programme covers a range of concepts, placing developments within medical theory and practice in a broad social and cultural framework.

You are introduced to the major and recent historiographical and methodological approaches, become familiar with the main archives in the UK and approach the history of medicine, science, environment and technology from past as well as contemporary concerns.

About the School of History

The School of History at the University of Kent offers a great environment in which to research and study. Situated in a beautiful cathedral city with its own dynamic history, the University is within easy reach of the main London archives and is convenient for travelling to mainland Europe.

The School of History is a lively, research-led department where postgraduate students are given the opportunity to work alongside academics recognised as experts in their respective fields. The School was placed eighth nationally for research intensity in the most recent Research Excellence Framework.

There is a good community spirit within the School, which includes regular postgraduate social meetings, weekly seminars and a comprehensive training programme with the full involvement of the School’s academic staff.

National ratings

In the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014, research by the School of History was ranked 8th for research intensity and in the top 20 in the UK for research power.

An impressive 100% of our research-active staff submitted to the REF and 99% of our research was judged to be of international quality. The School's environment was judged to be conducive to supporting the development of world-leading research.

Course structure


The following modules are indicative of those offered on this programme. This list is based on the current curriculum and may change year to year in response to new curriculum developments and innovation.  Most programmes will require you to study a combination of compulsory and optional modules. You may also have the option to take modules from other programmes so that you may customise your programme and explore other subject areas that interest you.

You take two compulsory modules and then choose two from a list of optional that vary from year to year. 

60 further credits are earned through a final 15,000-word-long dissertation.

Compulsory modules currently include Credits

This course investigates the nature of historical research at its highest level. While postgraduate students are expected to become highly specialised researchers in their own particular field or subfield, this course encourages them to consider history as a wider discipline and to broaden their approach to evidence and interpretation. Students will be expected to engage with a variety of intellectual viewpoints and methodological approaches to the discipline, and consider the impact that other disciplines have had on the study of History. A number of dissertation workshops will be arranged to help students with their dissertations.

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This course will explore how contemporary medical ideas, technologies and health practices have been shaped by the past. It also examines how developments in these areas from the recent past will shape the medical ideas and technologies and health practices of the future. Central themes include the changing nature of medical care in a range of contexts, implications for health, and the patient experience. Topics may include: medicine, health and demography; medical technology; medical museums; medicine and the body; places and spaces for medicine; military medicine; human experimentation and medical ethics; and healthcare in the future. The module makes use of a wide range of primary source material, including textbooks, media, newspapers, objects, ephemera and patient records.

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Optional modules may include Credits

This module critically examines the surface and decay of Nuclear America in the twentieth century. Responsible for ushering in the modern atomic era, the USA is widely acknowledged as a pioneer in nuclear technology and weaponry. Receptivity towards the atom has nonetheless shifted over time: atomic materials once heralded the saviour of American society (through the promise of reactors delivering ‘electricity to cheap to meter’) have also been deemed responsible for long-term environmental problems and doomsday anxieties. Why the atom has received typically bi-polar and polemic responses is of great interest here. Along with events of global significance (such as the bombing of Hiroshima), the module also covers the more intimate views of American citizens living and working close to ground zero. Personal testimonies come from ‘atomic foot soldiers’ traversing blast sites in the 1950s and protesters trespassing across reactor sites in the 1970s. In particular, the module examines the role of media, propaganda and image in inventing popular understandings of the nuclear age, as well as the contribution of atomic scientists to national discourse.

Themes and Topics:

Popular and Scientific Ideas of Radioactivity

The Manhattan Project and the Decision to drop the Bomb

Cold War (1): The Rosenbergs

Atomic Veterans and explorations of Ground Zero

Civil Defence and Fallout Culture

Atomic Movies (1) Fantasy

Cold War (2): The Cuban Missile Crisis

Protesting the Peaceful Atom: Diablo Canyon and Three Mile Island

Atomic Movies (2) Realism and Survivalism

Cold War Memory, Legacy and Atomic Tourism

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From those viewed as medical marvels in the nineteenth century to questions surrounding quality of life in the late twentieth century, the course explores the continuities and changes in the relationship between medical science and difference. Between the eighteenth and nineteenth century, and into the twentieth, the increasing influence of medical practitioners ensured that disability, deformity, disfigurement and mental illness were categorised through a medical perspective. Categories about the acceptability of physical and social norms were constructed from the eighteenth century, indeed, the term ‘normal’ was not commonly used in the English language until the 1840s. In the nineteenth century, the growth of capitalism and the concentration on industrialization, excluded those deemed different from the workplace and the community as they were not judged to be economically useful. In addition, philanthropic gestures which grew in the nineteenth century, saw people who were categorised as different, moved from mainstream society into institutions, which were often supported by the medical profession. Medical practitioners and the general public were fascinated by difference in body and mind, and often those considered different were observed, studied and experimented on. The influence of medical practice grew in the twentieth century and the course will explore this in relation to (amongst others) the two World Wars, the growth of special institutions and new types of therapy.

Overall, the course will investigate the ways that medicine has understood, categorised and treated those whose body or behaviour was considered different. It will also examine the body and mind as contested sites; spaces occupied by those considered different; the establishment of normality versus deviance; the changing conceptions of difference in this historical period and the shifting theories and methodologies of medical practice in relation to it.

Topics include:

The history of anatomy

Idiocy and feeblemindedness


The development of forensic science


Dying and the rituals of death

Agency, freakery and the politics of display

Homosexuality as deviance

Madness and mental health

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This module will explore the physical things, from pencils and air pumps to buildings and particle accelerators, that are essential to making scientific knowledge and, therefore, to understanding and communicating its history and practice. It will explore the literature on using objects, images and buildings as historical sources and museological approaches to the collection and interpretation of scientific instruments and related objects. Students will visit museums and have the opportunity to talk to curators about their work, as well as reflecting on existing displays. The module will be assessed through a mixture of practical tasks, based on real objects and displays, and an essay, encouraging critical reflection on the scholarship and museum practice encountered over the term.

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This module is organised around a work experience placement, undertaken in an institution relevant to the student's Masters' programme. This may be a museum, archive, school or other institution involved in engaging or communicating history and/or science to specific audiences or the general public.

The curriculum is flexible to allow students to work around other modules, to adapt to the requirements of different placements and to follow their interests. Placements should, with support from teaching staff, be researched and confirmed in the Autumn Term, with tasks/projects agreed.

Seminar sessions on campus will be organised to reflect the placements, offering appropriate reading, discussion and critical reflection. They are an opportunity for students to feedback on work they have achieved, giving presentations to share their experiences with other students. There will also be an opportunity for one-to-one feedback and discussion.

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Scholarly knowledge, whether generated by historians or scientists, is in demand in many settings, including – but by no means limited to – digital media, short and long-form popular writing, audio-visual media, museums and galleries, and educational contexts. There is arguably a greater public appetite than ever before for specialist knowledge, appropriately mediated. At the same time, there has been a growth in scepticism concerning 'expertise' in general, whether from pseudoscientific sources or from neo-liberal attacks on the humanities. This module equips students to understand the place and value of scholarly knowledge in society; to critically evaluate it where it is communicated within their own particular field; and to develop their own capacity to communicate knowledge..

This module is organised around a series of themes, including education, popular writing, visual media, audio-visual media, new media, and exhibition. The curriculum is flexible to allow students to follow their particular interests.

Seminars will offer the opportunity to discuss appropriate reading, to reflect critically on acts of communication that have been observed, and to generate practical projects for assessment. They are an opportunity for students to receive and discuss feedback on work they have achieved, and for giving presentations to share their experiences with other students. There will also be, separate to the seminars, the opportunity for one-to-one feedback and discussion.

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Medicine has often been depicted as an objective science, a science that can accurately diagnose and effectively treat many illnesses and diseases. Yet, medicine is also big business, generating and/or costing economies and multinational companies billions of pounds each year. Drawing on a combination of medical, commercial and social history, this module will explore the multifaceted relationship between money and medicine in Britain and America since 1750. It will follow a broadly chronological structure charting the rise of the 'medical marketplace' in the eighteenth century to the current healthcare crisis in provision in Britain and America. Topics will include patent and proprietary medicines; quackery and unorthodox medical provision, such as homeopathy; the development of the pharmaceutical industry; the emergence of healthcare insurance and the NHS; and the 'golden age' of technological medicine since the 1950s. A central theme of the module will be the tension between the provision of healthcare as a universal right and as a commodity and the module will examine the ways in which this tension affects the quality and therapeutic effectiveness of the care and goods provided in the British and American contexts. The module will also make use of a wide range of source material. As well as newspapers, reports and textbooks, it will draw on advertising media, film, newspapers and patent records.

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Compulsory modules currently include Credits

All students on taught MA programmes in the School of History are required to complete a 15,000-18,000 word dissertation as part of their programme. The task of the dissertation is designed to provide students with the opportunity to articulate key concepts, ideas and theories underlying their creative work, as well as providing an in-depth contextual presentation of their work situating it within the current historiography. The dissertation involves student-directed learning and research with the aim of producing a structured and persuasive argument, demonstrating a command of the technical languages of a variety of historical approaches, and perhaps including the effective use of visual materials in support of their arguments.

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Programme aims

This programme aims to:

  • place the study of texts, images and documentaries in their historical contexts, at the centre of student learning and analysis.
  • ensure that students of the history of medicine and health acquire a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of the historical modes of theory and analysis.
  • enable students to understand and use concepts, approaches and methods of history of medicine and health in different academic contexts. Develop students' capacities to think critically about past events and experiences.
  • encourage students to relate the academic study of the history of medicine and health to questions of public debate and concern.
  • promote a curriculum supported by scholarship, staff development and a research culture that promotes breadth and depth of intellectual enquiry and debate.
  • assist students to develop cognitive and transferable skills relevant to their vocational and personal development.

Learning outcomes

Knowledge and understanding

You gain the following knowledge and understanding:

  • the ability to understand how people have conceptualised disease reacted to environment and created technological artefacts and scientific knowledge in the differing contexts of the past and present. 
  • the historical relationships between medicine and health and wider political and social movements and trends in the modern period.
  • the structure and nature of cultural, political and social aspects of medicine and health in the modern period.
  • the ability to understand historical and contemporary texts and materials both critically and empathetically while addressing questions of genre, content, perspective and purpose. 
  • the understanding of the problems inherent in the historical and contemporary record; awareness of a range of viewpoints and the way to cope with this; an awareness of the limitations of knowledge and the dangers of simplistic explanations.
  • knowledge of the history of medicine and health from different perspectives within the discipline of history and relevant disciplines from the social sciences and humanities.

Intellectual skills

You gain the following intellectual skills:

  • gather, organise and deploy evidence, data and information from a variety of secondary and primary sources. 
  • the ability to identify, investigate and analyse primary and secondary information. 
  • to develop reasoned defensible arguments based on reflection, study and critical judgement. 
  • to evaluate critically current research and advanced scholarship, and to evaluate methodologies and develop critiques and, where appropriate, to propose new hypotheses. 
  • to reflect on, and manage, their own learning and seek to make use of constructive feedback from peers and staff to enhance their own performance and personal skills. 

Subject-specific skills

You gain the following subject-specific skills:

  • a comprehensive understanding of the social, economic, and cultural history of medicine and health, Science, Environment and Technology and relating those to the political and ethical issues of the modern period and their significance within a global perspective. 
  • application of methods, concepts and theories used in the studies of history and relevant disciplines from the social sciences and humanities. 
  • evaluate different interpretations and sources.  
  • marshall an argument: summarise and defend a particular interpretation or analysis of events. 

Transferable skills

You gain the following transferable skills:

  • Communication: the ability to organise information clearly; respond to written sources; present information orally; adapt style for different audiences; use of images as a communications tool.  
  • Numeracy: the ability to read graphs and tables; integrate numerical and non-numerical information; understand the limits and potentialities of arguments based on quantitative information. 
  • Information Technology: produce written documents; undertake online research; communicate using email; process information using databases and spreadsheets (where necessary). 
  • independence of mind and initiative. 
  • self-discipline and self-motivation. 
  • ability to work with others and have respect for others' reasoned views.

Study support

Postgraduate resources

The resources for historical research at Kent are led by the University’s Templeman Library: a designated European Documentation Centre which holds specialised collections on slavery and antislavery, and on medical science. The Library has a substantial collection of secondary materials to back-up an excellent collection of primary sources including the British Cartoon Archive, newspapers, a large audio-visual library, and a complete set of British Second World War Ministry of Information propaganda pamphlets.

The School has a dedicated Centre for the Study of Propaganda and War, which has a distinctive archive of written, audio and visual propaganda materials, particularly in film, video and DVD. Locally, you have access to: the Canterbury Cathedral Library and Archive (a major collection for the study of medieval and early modern religious and social history); the Centre for Kentish Studies at Maidstone; and the National Maritime Collection at Greenwich. Kent is also within easy reach of the country’s premier research collections in London and the national libraries in Paris and Brussels.

Dynamic publishing culture

Staff publish regularly and widely in journals, conference proceedings and books. Among others, they have recently contributed to: Journal of Contemporary History; English Historical Review; British Journal for the History of Science; Technology and Culture; and War and Society

Global Skills Award

All students registered for a taught Master's programme are eligible to apply for a place on our Global Skills Award Programme. The programme is designed to broaden your understanding of global issues and current affairs as well as to develop personal skills which will enhance your employability.  

Entry requirements

Minimum 2.1 or equivalent in history or a relevant subject (eg, politics, international relations, archaeology). In certain circumstances, the School will consider candidates who have not followed a conventional education path. These cases are assessed individually by the Director of Graduate Studies.

All applicants are considered on an individual basis and additional qualifications, and professional qualifications and experience will also be taken into account when considering applications. 

All applicants are considered on an individual basis and additional qualifications, professional qualifications and experience will also be taken into account. 

International students

Please see our International Student website for entry requirements by country and other relevant information for your country.  Please note that international fee-paying students cannot undertake a part-time programme due to visa restrictions.

English language entry requirements

The University requires all non-native speakers of English to reach a minimum standard of proficiency in written and spoken English before beginning a postgraduate degree. Certain subjects require a higher level.

For detailed information see our English language requirements web pages. 

Need help with English?

Please note that if you are required to meet an English language condition, we offer a number of pre-sessional courses in English for Academic Purposes through Kent International Pathways.

Staff research interests

Full details of staff research interests can be found on the School's website.

Dr Julie Anderson: Reader in the History of Modern Medicine

The cultural and social history of 20th-century medicine in Britain and the Commonwealth, particularly with regard to war and medicine, surgery and disability.

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Professor Ulf Schmidt: Professor of Modern History

German and European modern history, especially the history of medicine, eugenics and medical films during the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich and the Cold War.

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The 2019/20 annual tuition fees for this programme are:

History of Medicine and Health - MA at Canterbury:
UK/EU Overseas
Full-time £7500 £15700
Part-time £3750 £7850

For students continuing on this programme fees will increase year on year by no more than RPI + 3% in each academic year of study except where regulated.* If you are uncertain about your fee status please contact

General additional costs

Find out more about general additional costs that you may pay when studying at Kent. 


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