MEDFL5320 – Medical history: sources, methods and historiographic questions

Schedule, syllabus and examination date

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Course content

The course’s aim is to facilitate insight into medical history. We will use this as a tool to understand the subject of your PhD-project in historical perspective. In that way you will so be given opportunity to reflect in an academic fashion on your thesis’s subject in a way that is novel for you and hopefully enlightening.

Learning outcome

This class gives you an introduction in the discipline of medical history by giving you opportunity to try it yourself! A two-day class is obviously not enough for a comprehensive introduction. Still you will be given synoptic lectures on importance events in the last 300 years. In addition we are putting emphasis on basic theoretical perspectives and approaches, providing also an overview over possible channels for obtaining information. Through an example (history of global health) we shall familiarize us with different ways of practicing medical history. Taking our departure in the participants’ PhD projects we shall also familiarize us with the heuristic and methodological challenges which are specific for medical history. We shall put particular emphasis on how to identify and work with relevant sources. In conclusion the participants will deliver a home exam where they place their PhD subject into historical context.


The course is restricted to students at the Medical Student Research Programme at the Faculty of Medicine and the Faculty of Dentistry, UiO.

Students apply in StudentWeb

The courses MEDFL5320 and HES9320 have common admission

Applicants will be notified by email 1 - 2 weeks after the final date for registration.


Formal prerequisite knowledge

Master’s degree or equivalent (cand med, cand san etc.). There will be provided course reading sufficiently long before the course starts. Since discussions in the group will based on that reading, this reading is compulsory before the teaching starts.

Recommended previous knowledge

No particular prerequisite knowledge beyond being interested in seeing one’s own PhD project from a historical perspective.

Overlapping courses

3 credits overlap with HES9320 – Medical history: sources, methods and historiographic questions

This class is the only one of its type in Norway.


The course is taught over two days with six hours of teaching each.

NB! You have to participate in at least 80 % of the teaching to be allowed to take the exam. Attendance at lectures will be registered.

Types of teaching:
Seminars on chosen subjects from medical history, group discussions on prescribed reading and individually guided work when it comes to identifying sources for one’s own work. The course’s calculated number of study points includes preparatory reading.
It is expected that participants participate both in such work and contribute results from it in the class room. Important: The provided reading will in part be of a type unfamiliar to participants who do not have a background in humanities. It is recommended to take this into consideration through staring one’s ow preparation early.

We expect that you send a ½ page abstract of your PhD project until 4 weeks before the course’s start. We shall use it in teaching and you should therefore expect that it is to be shared with other of the course’s participants.


compulsory: (127 p.)

Tosh, John. The Pursuit of History. Aims, Methods and new Directions in the Study of Modern History. Harlow: Pearson, 2010 (1984), 1-28.

Porter, Roy, ed. The Cambridge History of Medicine. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006., 176-210.

Birn, Anne-Emanuelle. "The stages of international (global) health: Histories of success or successes of history?" Global Public Health 4, no. 1 (2009): 50-68.

Brown, Theodore M., Marcos Cueto, and Elizabeth Fee. "The World Health Organisation and the Transition from International to Global Health." American Journal of Public Health 96 (2006): 62-72.

Crane, Johanna. "Scrambling for Africa? Universities and global health." The Lancet 9775 (2011): 1388-1390.

Duffin, Jacalyn. History of medicine: a scandalously short introduction. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010. Read ch 16: Sleuting and science: how to research a question in medical history (428-449).

Livingston, Julie. "The next Epidemic: Pain and the Politics of Relief in Botswana's Cancer Ward." In When People Come First: Critical Studies in Global Health, edited by Joao Biehl and Adriana Petryna, 182-206. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

recommended: (up to 800 pages)

Brandt, Allan M, and Martha Gardner. "The golden age of Medicine?" In Companion to Medicine in the Twentieth Century, edited by Roger Cooter and John Pickstone, 21-37. London and New York: Routledge, 2000.

Howell, Joel D. "Hospitals." In Ways of knowing: a new history of science, technology and medicine, edited by John V. Pickstone, 503-518. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Frank Huisman, and John Harley Warner, eds., Locating Medical History. The Stories and Their Meanings (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004).

John, Manton. "Global Health." In Public Health in History, edited by Virginia Berridge, Martin Gorsky and Alex Mold, 179-194. Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill, 2011.

John V. Pickstone, Ways of Knowing: A New History of Science, Technology and Medicine (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000).


Courses’s exam: home exam (three weeks to delivery)

For successful participation is required that you participate actively in group work and other teaching. The characters gives will be «passed» or «not passed».

Language of examination

You may chose Norwegian or English as you desire.

Explanations and appeals

Resit an examination

Special examination arrangements

Application form, deadline and requirements for special examination arrangements.

Facts about this course






Spring and autumn

Application period



Spring and autumn

Teaching language


(Norwegian if there is only Norwegian-speaking candidates enrolled.)