History of Medicine (Online)


Focusing on the key turning points in the history of western medicine e.g. the advent of hospitals, the role of public health, the rise of biomedical research, this course offers insights into medicine’s past, asks what has shaped contemporary medicine and how do people study it.

By exploring five kinds of medicine – Bedside, Library, Hospital, Community and Laboratory – this course charts the shape and content of the history of western medicine from the Greeks to the present day. It looks at the role of doctors, patients, diseases and society’s reaction to them over time and asks how medicine, disease and health have been motors for change. The course encourages its participants to understand how contemporary medicine differs from but is indelibly marked by its past. By directed use of primary and secondary sources it introduces participants to the methods and tools of research in the history of medicine and encourages the critical analysis of differing historical interpretations, including the participant’s own.

For information on how the courses work, please click here.

Programme details

1. Getting to Grips with the History of Medicine and Introducing the Kinds of Medicine

  • Historiography
  • The Hippocratic oath
  • Introduction to the kinds of medicine
  • Bedside medicine
  • Library medicine
  • Hospital medicine
  • Community medicine
  • Laboratory medicine


2. Medicine at the Bedside and in the Library

  • Bedside medicine and the four humours
  • Medicine in the library
  • The discovery of anatomy
  • Back at the bedside
  • The English Hippocrates?
  • Enlightened medicine?


3. Medicine in the Hospital

  • Vive la France: the importance of Paris and Revolution
  • Physical diagnosis: the new intimacy
  • To the morgue
  • Learning to count: passing it all on
  • The physical and the mental
  • Hospital medicine: Being doctors and patients


4. Medicine in the Community and the Laboratory

  • The people’s health
  • Cholera and poverty: Motors of public health
  • Establishing the public health bureaucracy
  • Omnis cellula e cellula: Every cell from a cell
  • Germs: The new gospel
  • Germs, medicine and surgery
  • Physiology: The new rigour


5. Medicine in the Modern World

  • What happened next? The twentieth century
  • Diabetes: Medical triumph or making an acute disease chronic?
  • Transplantation: Surgery and immunology
  • Smoking and health: The power of epidemiology?
  • The five kinds of medicine in the modern world
  •  And in conclusion
  • Further resources to explore

We strongly recommend that you try to find a little time each week to engage in the online conversations (at times that are convenient to you) as the forums are an integral, and very rewarding, part of the course and the online learning experience.


Description Costs
Course Fee £187.00


Dr Helen Bynum

Helen Bynum is a freelance historian of science and medicine. She was a Wellcome Award Lecturer at the University of Liverpool. She studied at UCL, Imperial College London and Wellcome Institute of the History of Medicine.

Course aims

This course introduces and studies the historical dimensions of western medicine, healing and health from the Greeks to the present day.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will understand:
The overall development of the history of western medicine from the Greeks to the present day and appreciate what has driven the key turning points in this history.

They will have gained the following skills:

  • critical use of a range of medically related primary sources, including images
  • critical understanding of the role of historical practice in appreciating the history of medicine as a discipline

Assessment methods

As this course is non-accredited it is not formally assessed. 

English Language Requirements

We do not insist that applicants hold an English language certification, but warn that they may be at a disadvantage if their language skills are not of a comparable level to those qualifications listed on our website. If you are confident in your proficiency, please feel free to enrol. For more information regarding English language requirements please follow this link: https://www.conted.ox.ac.uk/about/english-language-requirements



Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an Enrolment form for short courses | Oxford University Department for Continuing Education

Level and demands

FHEQ Level 4, 5 weeks, 10 hours/week, total 50 hours

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.