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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of History, Classics and Archaeology : History

Undergraduate Course: Medicine and health in the early Middle Ages (HIST10429)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of History, Classics and Archaeology CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits40 ECTS Credits20
SummaryThis course explores the strange and fascinating world of early medieval medicine. Although often stereotyped as an age of ignorance and superstition, the period between the fifth century and the eleventh witnessed a transformation of ancient medical ideas. Drawing on material from across Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle East, this course overturns those persistent stereotypes and provides a new perspective into a world of learning, religion and belief.
Course description Ideas about health and illness are critically important in all societies, ancient and modern. Yet conventional accounts of the development of medical knowledge have typically given little place to the ideas of the early Middle Ages, often treating them instead as an era in which classical learning gave way to widespread ignorance and superstition. This course seeks to re-examine early medieval medicine on its own terms. Drawing on material from across Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle East, it follows the fragmentation and evolution of Roman medical knowledge between the fifth century and the eleventh. Ancient medical theories and practices were transformed as they took root in the new Christian and Muslim societies of the early medieval world.

In our seminars, we will follow that process of transformation, discovering a heady mix of science, tradition, religion and magic along the way. You will be reading some of the surviving medieval books of medicine for yourself, and exploring the world which produced them. By the end of the course, you will be in a good position to revisit those stereotypes of early medieval superstition, and decide for yourself whether this really was a medical 'Dark Age'.

Content note: The study of History inevitably involves the study of difficult topics that we encourage students to approach in a respectful, scholarly, and sensitive manner. Nevertheless, we remain conscious that some students may wish to prepare themselves for the discussion of difficult topics. In particular, the course organiser has outlined that the following topics may be discussed in this course, whether in class or through required or recommended primary and secondary sources: animal cruelty and death; violence, including sexual violence; miscarriage and abortion. While this list indicates sensitive topics students are likely to encounter, it is not exhaustive because course organisers cannot entirely predict the directions discussions may take in tutorials or seminars, or through the wider reading that students may conduct for the course.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements A pass in 40 credits of third level historical courses or equivalent.

Students should only be enrolled on this course with approval from the History Honours Programme Administrator.
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2024/25, Not available to visiting students (SS1) Quota:  0
Course Start Full Year
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 400 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 44, Summative Assessment Hours 3, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 8, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 345 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 40 %, Coursework 40 %, Practical Exam 20 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Coursework:
Two 4,000 word essays (20% each)

Non-Written Skills:
Presentation (10%)
Class participation (10%)

Three hour exam (40%)
Feedback Students will receive written feedback on their coursework, and will have the opportunity to discuss that feedback further with the Course Organiser during their published office hours for this course or by appointment.
Exam Information
Exam Diet Paper Name Hours & Minutes
Main Exam Diet S2 (April/May)3:00
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. demonstrate command of the history of medicine in the early medieval world;
  2. read, analyse and reflect critically upon relevant scholarship
  3. understand, evaluate and utilize a variety of primary source material
  4. develop and sustain scholarly arguments in oral and written form, by formulating appropriate questions and utilizing relevant evidence;
  5. demonstrate independence of mind and initiative; intellectual integrity and maturity; an ability to evaluate the work of others, including peers.
Reading List
Cameron, M.L., "Anglo-Saxon Medicine" (Cambridge, 1993)

Conrad, Lawrence I. et al., "The Western Medical Tradition, 800 BC to AD 1800" (Cambridge, 1995)

Horden, Peregrine, 'What's wrong with early medieval medicine?', "Social History of Medicine" 24 (2011), 5-25

Leja, Meg, "Embodying the Soul: Medicine and Religion in Carolingian Europe" (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2022)

Nutton, Vivian, "Ancient Medicine" (London, 2004)

Pormann, Peter and Emilie Savage-Smith, "Medieval Islamic Medicine" (Edinburgh, 2007)

Ragab, Ahmed, "Piety and Patienthood in Medieval Islam" (London, 2018)

Skinner, Patricia, "Health and Medicine in Early Medieval Southern Italy" (Leiden, 1997)

Wallis, Faith (ed. and trans.), "Medieval Medicine: A Reader" (Toronto, 2010)
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
Course organiserDr Richard Sowerby
Tel: (0131 6)50 3854
Course secretaryMiss Lorna Berridge
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