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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures : English Literature

Undergraduate Course: Medicine in Literature 1: Illness Narratives through History (ENLI10355)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Literatures, Languages and Cultures CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course examines the dynamic relationship between literature and medicine from the early modern period to the present day, giving students the opportunity to consider the ways in which literature and medicine have influenced each other over time. The chronology of the course does not trace a history of medical progress; rather, it follows literature's interruption of and critical reflection on that history. Grotesque bodily humour, mysterious wounds, accounts of trauma, unspeakable pain, and the disruption of mind by illness will offer an alternative, literary perspective on medical history. Students will have the opportunity to place literary texts in their historical context in order to better understand their reflections on illness, health, and medicine. The course will appeal to students who have a particular interest in the intersections between medicine, science, and literature.
Course description The course will achieve these aims by reading poems, plays and novels from the early modern period to the present day, alongside various non-fiction sources. This course will run in the Centre for Research Collections in the University of Edinburgh's Main Library, so that students will have the opportunity to examine rare items from the University's exceptional holdings in medical history and art. Students will also have the option to research and write on these items in addition to the weekly set texts.

Students who are interested in this course might also like to consider Medicine in Literature 2: Medical Ethics in Literature, which focuses on related issues in twentieth-century to contemporary literature.

Important Note re Content

In this course we will be discussing content that may be retraumatising to some students. We believe in the importance of engaging with this material and so please be assured that we will work with you to ensure you can participate fully and demonstrate your achievement of the learning outcomes of the course, without compromising your wellbeing or your academic development. If you have concerns at any point we invite you to approach the course organiser Dr Katherine Inglis ( to discuss how we can best support you in your work on this course. We affirm that you will be treated with dignity and respect in all discussions and at every stage of the course.

Topics and texts on the course
Please note topics will not necessarily be covered in the order below. Longer texts are marked with an asterisk * and can be acquired through bookshops. Texts available through LEARN are marked 'LEARN'. The full resource list for this course can be found on the Library's Resource List site.

Illness and perspectival shifts
Virginia Woolf, 'On Being Ill' (1926) (LEARN)
Kathleen Jamie, ;'Pathologie'' (2010) (LEARN)
John Berger, 'Cataract' (2012) (LEARN)

Laughter, the grotesque, and the ludicrous body
Extracts from François Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532-64) (LEARN)
Extracts from Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759-67) (LEARN)

Frances Burney, 'Letter to Esther Burney' (1812) (LEARN)
Extract from Harriet Martineau, Life in the Sickroom (1844) (LEARN)
Extract from Audre Lorde, The Cancer Journals (1980) (LEARN)

*Thomas De Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater (1821) and 'Appendix' (1822) (LEARN)* Please only use the edition recommended on the resource list.

(Moral) contagion, community, and nursing
*Elizabeth Gaskell, Ruth (1853)* Oxford University Press edition paperback or ebook; or transcribed Project Gutenberg version available (LEARN)

H.G. Wells, In the Country of the Blind (1904) (LEARN)
John Milton, 'On his blindness' [c.1655] (LEARN)

Trauma and WWI
Mary Borden, 'Unidentified' (1917) (LEARN)
Wilfred Owen, 'Mental Cases' (1918), 'Dulce et Decorum Est' (1918) (LEARN)
Siegfried Sassoon, 'Repression of War Experience' (1917) (LEARN)
W.H. Rivers, 'The Repression of War Experience' (1918) (LEARN)

Silence = Death
*Larry Kramer, The Normal Heart (1985)*
*Tony Kushner, Angels in America (1995)*

Ageing and perspectival shifts
Alice Munro, 'The Bear Came Over the Mountain' (2001), 'Down by the Lake' (2012) (LEARN)
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Students MUST have passed: ( Literary Studies 1A (ENLI08020) AND Literary Studies 1B (ENLI08021) OR English Literature 1 (ENLI08001) OR Scottish Literature 1 (ENLI08016) AND Literary Studies 2A: English Literature in the World, 1380-1788 (ENLI08024) AND Literary Studies 2B: English Literature in the World, post-1789 (ENLI08025) OR Scottish Literature 2A (ENLI08022) AND Scottish Literature 2B (ENLI08023)) OR ( English Literature 2 (ENLI08003) OR Scottish Literature 2 (ENLI08004))
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements Students admitted to the intercalated BMedSci are also eligible to take this course.
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2024/25, Not available to visiting students (SS1) Quota:  0
Course Start Semester 1
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 20, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 176 )
Additional Information (Learning and Teaching) plus 1 hour Autonomous Learning Group per week, at time to be arranged.
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) One ¿interdisciplinary close reading¿ of 1000 words: formative, 0% OR One ¿essay proposal¿ of 1000 words: formative, 0% One Final Essay of 4000 words: 100% summative
Feedback Students will receive written feedback on both assessments. They will also receive feedback on weekly formative group assignments.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Use subject-specific vocabulary correctly to discuss 'illness' in its literary and historical context, drawing upon major critical and theoretical approaches to the study of illness in the literary medical humanities, particularly: close reading, disability studies, and history of medicine
  2. Analyse the relationship between literature and medicine as expressed in texts on the course
  3. Demonstrate competency in interdisciplinary research by applying literary critical, historical, and medical humanities approaches to analyse the representation of 'illness' in texts on the course
  4. Articulate (in written form) an informed understanding of the diverse meanings of 'illness' in texts on the course
Reading List
Resource List for course:
Additional Information
Course URL
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
Additional Class Delivery Information one 2-hour Seminar per week;
one 1-hour Autonomous Learning Group per week (at time to be arranged)
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Katherine Inglis
Tel: (0131 6)50 3617
Course secretaryMrs Anne Budo
Tel: (0131 6)50 4161
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