HIS-30101 - From Sawbones to Social Hero? Doctors and medicine 1808-1886
Coordinator: Alannah Tomkins Room: CBB1.055 Tel: +44 1782 7 33465
Lecture Time: See Timetable...
Level: Level 6
Credits: 15
Study Hours: 150
School Office: 01782 733147

Programme/Approved Electives for 2024/25


Available as a Free Standing Elective






Barred Combinations


Description for 2024/25

In 1808 the medical profession was largely unregulated and was compelled to diagnose and treat patients without anaesthetic, lacking stethoscopes, and unaware of the existence of germs. By 1886 access to the profession was closely monitored, anaesthetic was routinely administered, and Lister's work on aseptic surgery was being accepted. Therefore, this was a period of scientific change and professional consolidation with enormous significance for the ways doctors related to patients and the ways the sick formed expectations of their medical practitioners.
Therefore this module treats aspects of the social history of medicine in nineteenth-century England by considering the development of medical relationships from the 1808 County Asylums Act up to the Medical Registration Amendment Act of 1886. Topics include medical education and professionalisation, the evolution of institutional medical care, insanity and the emergence of psychiatry, anatomy and body-snatching, the roles for women in medicine and the drive for sanitary reform.
To find out more, you could consult standard works on the history of the medical profession, such as
A. Digby, Making a Medical Living. Doctors and patients in the English market for medicine, 1720-1911 (Cambridge, 1994)
J. Peterson, The Medical Profession in Mid-Victorian London (Berkeley, 1978)
and contrast them with more recent work, such as
M. Brown, Performing Medicine. Medical culture and identity in provincial England 1760-1850 (Manchester, 2011)
A. Tomkins, Medical Misadventure in an Age of Professionalisation, 1780-1890 (Manchester, 2017)
BUT BE WARNED! This module is not for the faint-hearted. Topics are treated explicitly and in detail, involving in some weeks handling of vintage surgical equipment or discussion of challenging symptoms. At the same time, the module follows a non-standard assessment structure: make sure you are happy with the form of the exercise and examination that will be levied for the module.

This module will consider aspects of the social history of medicine, including the changes experienced by both medical practitioners and patients from the 1808 County Asylums Act up to the Medical Registration Amendment Act of 1886.

Talis Aspire Reading List
Any reading lists will be provided by the start of the course.

Intended Learning Outcomes

recognise and explain the ways in which medicine became professionalised in the nineteenth century, including changes to medical education, the proliferation of roles for formal practitioners as experts and the rise of statutory regulation: 2
evaluate and critically assess a range of primary sources and to use them appropriately in the development of historical analysis: 2
practice and refine their ability to write creatively in a history of medicine context: 1
employ genre writing to demonstrate EITHER appreciation of the complexities of historical debate OR empathy with historical figures: 1
consider and discuss the relationship between contemporary debates about health, illness and medicine and their historical context: 2

Study hours

24 seminar attendance, 12 workshop attendance, 48 seminar preparation, 33 seen examination preparation and completion, 33 exercise preparation and completion,

School Rules


Description of Module Assessment

1: Exercise weighted 50%
Biographical review OR creative-writing exercise
This exercise may be attempted in two modes: students wishing to focus on empirical history may attempt a biographical review of 1500 words (in relation to a figure of their choice who was prominent in the social history of medicine of the period, subject to the endorsement the tutor). This will entail a critical comparison of existing biographies (potentially including extant autobiographies), normally including the subject's entry in the new Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Alternatively students may attempt a creative-writing exercise of 1500 words.

2: Open Book Examination weighted 50%
Analysis of a seen document
A variety of seen examination requiring an extended commentary of 1500 words on a substantial document (for example, a pamphlet or chapter rather than a short document extract or a book-length piece). The document will be digitised and made available to students via Blackboard at least a fortnight and up to one month before the timed examination. Candidates will revise the author, content, genre, context and significance of the document. All candidates will be given the same, single question and will have 28 hours to compose and submit their response. The question will pertain directly to the author, content, genre, context and significance of the document.