Spotlight on: Medicine and Disease in European History

Over the coming weeks, our ‘Spotlight’ series will give you a more detailed insight into a selection of the courses on offer as part of the PKP programme.

This week we focus on Medicine and Disease in European History.

What is disease? How has our understanding and experience of disease changed over time? How should we tell the story of medical history? Over the course of 12 lectures and 8 seminars, these are some of the questions that students will be asked tackle. It’s a challenging and rigorous course, but there are plenty of opportunities to discuss and ask questions.

The course is taught by Richard Barnett and around 20 students have chosen to take it this year. The subject provides an interesting meeting-point for students of both science and humanities disciplines: it’s not quite science, not quite history, not quite sociology, but something encompassing all three.

I am a biology major back home, but this is my first exposure to the history of medicine. As soon as I arrived at the first lecture, the lecturer seemed like a really nice guy and also someone who was incredibly intelligent. I’m hoping to approach the course with an open-mind and I’m really looking forward to exploring changing perspectives on disease and the different strains of bacteria that cause diseases. I think that taking a historical class gives you some context and a really good perspective on things.

Danica, USA


There are plenty of laughs in the class as Richard shares stories of his own burst appendix and comments wryly on the content that he presents. ‘I hear that many of you are suffering from sore throats,’ he jokes. ‘I recommend blood letting.’

Richard is a writer, teacher, broadcaster and poet. His latest book, The Sick Rose, is a collection of captivating nineteenth-century medical images.

Whether writing, teaching or speaking, his passion is for helping people to engage with the history of science.

‘I try to keep the course as diverse as possible,’ he explains, ‘and to offer many different perspectives. I want to make sure I present the content in a way that is open and engaging for everyone. When it comes to academic conversations, why leave anyone out?’

Richard feels that this course has a particularly universal appeal:

It speaks to every human being who has ever lived. We all have bodies. They all go wrong. We all face the reality of death.

Indeed, the diversity of the students who take his course, and who attend PKP overall, is something that he really appreciates. ‘It’s a joyous mix of students from all around the world,’ he says.

You can find out more about the course on the Pembroke College website.


One response to “Spotlight on: Medicine and Disease in European History

  1. Pingback: Spotlight on: Drug Actions and Reactions | Pembroke-King's Programme·

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