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2008/09 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

HPSC2301 History of the Body 1

20 creditsClass Size: 100

In light of the effect of COVID-19 and lockdown restrictions on students' learning experiences, the School of PRHS have made the decision to modify assessment in Semester 2 modules in the 2020-21 academic year. Changes may involve reducing the number of assessment points (e.g. assessing one essay rather than two) or reducing word counts where it is possible to do so whilst protecting the integrity of the module's Learning Outcomes. Information on any changes to assessment is available to enrolled students in the Minerva module area, and can also be sought from the module leader or the PRHS SES team.

Module manager: Adrian Wilson

Taught: Semester 1 (Sep to Jan) View Timetable

Year running 2008/09

This module is mutually exclusive with

HPSC2250The Body in Western Medicine I: Comparative Foundations of W

Module replaces

HPSC2250 Body in Western Medicine 1

This module is approved as an Elective

Module summary

What distinguishes Western medicine from the two main global alternatives? Ayurvedic medicine and Chinese medicine? The only clear marker which is free from value-judgments is that Western medicine is unique in being based upon anatomy. This course asks how this came about and comes up with some surprising answers. For one thing, Western medicine was initially free from anatomy; for another, when anatomy was introduced (in the 3rd century BC) its role was controversial; and indeed this tension persisted for the next 2,000 years. The module traces this long-running conflict as far as 1700, introducing along the way the work of such leading figures as Leonardo da Vinci, Paracelsus, Vesalius and Harvey.The course comprises 10 lectures and 8 tutorials; there is a writing week in Week 6. Assessment is by two 2,000-word essays, due in Week 7 and at the beginning of the exam period. The first essay is returned with comments and a provisional mark in about Week 10. There are no pre-requisites; the course is suitable both for HPS students and for students in other disciplines, and indeed it has been taken in the past by students from many different departments in both the arts and the sciences. For more details contact Adrian Wilson


On completion of this module, students should be able to:

(i) compare and contrast Western medicine with non-Western medical traditions, particularly with Chinese and Ayurvedic systems of medicine;

(ii) grasp and articulate the historical foundations of the Western medical tradition, from antiquity to the Renaissance;

(iii) interpret historical developments in knowledge of the body as cultural products;

(iv) interpret primary sources relevant to the history of medicine.


Western European medicine differs from the medicine of other cultures in basing itself on an anatomical conception of the body. The course will investigate the historical developments which made such a conception possible.

In fact the Western medical tradition embraces two distinct approaches to the body, in a relation of mutual tension which began in antiquity. Hippocratic medicine, like Chinese and Ayurvedic forms of medicine, was indifferent to anatomy, oriented as it was towards the bodily surface and the patient's experience. In contrast, Alexandrian medicine was distinctive in focusing on the interior body known only to the learned practitioner; and it was this which first imparted to Western medicine its distinctive, anatomical style. The course will trace the developing relationship between the two approaches from antiquity to the mid-seventeenth century, problematising the apparent dominance of the anatomical conception of the body during this period.

Teaching methods

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours182.00
Total Contact hours18.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

Lecture Follow-up: 10 x 4.6 hours
Tutorial Preparation: 8 x 7 hours
Essay Preparation & Writing: 2 x 40 hours

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

The first 2000 word essay, submitted mid-semester, will be formative as well as summative.

Methods of assessment

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay2,000 words50.00
Essay2,000 words50.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 08/06/2009


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