MSc/ MPhil in History of Science, Medicine and Technology

The history of science, medicine, and technology is a long-established discipline in Oxford. R. T. Gunther and Charles Singer were among the pioneers of the subject early in the twentieth century, and since the 1920s the History of Science Museum has housed an outstanding collection of scientific instruments and a fine specialist library.

In the early 1970s, the creation of the chair of the history of science and the establishment of the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine gave the subject additional strength and allowed important new departures. The Oxford Centre for the History of Science, Medicine and Technology (HSMT) was created in 2017 in order to build on the teaching and research capacity of the numerous historians working on HSMT subjects in Oxford-based projects and in various museums, colleges and faculties.

The expertise of scholars in Oxford covers most of the main areas and periods of the history of science, medicine, and technology. A varied programme of seminars, lectures, and conferences enables you to obtain knowledge of subjects beyond your chosen speciality and to meet visitors from elsewhere in Britain and abroad.

The MSc programme comprises elements which take place throughout the one-year programme. The MPhil programme follows the same elements over a two-year period.

Course Organisation

The programme consists of:

These are usually taught in small classes (assessed by examination or by extended essays of up to 5,000 words).

The advanced options of the Economic and Social History programmes are also available for History of Science and Medicine candidates.

Please note that not every option will be available each year, and that they are subject to change:


This paper examines the evolution of extra-territorial health intervention from the early nineteenth century through to recent past. Among other things, it seeks to examine the contention that ideas and practices from the colonial era persist in current global health policy; an argument most closely associated with the historian Randall Packard. The paper will assess how far ‘colonial medicine’ represents a distinct set of attitudes and practices; whether these evolved over time; what its priorities were and how far it contributed to the health of colonial populations. These studies will be interwoven with analysis of early attempts to coordinate action internationally; for example, against pandemics of cholera and plague. The paper then moves on to consider the work of international health organisations, such as the League of Nations Health Organisation and philanthropic organisations such as the Rockefeller Foundation and public health campaigns initiated during the Cold War, under the auspices of the WHO. The paper ends by reflecting on the emergence of ‘global health’ in the 1980s and the extent to which subsequent health interventions embody its ideals.


This course explores the role of disease and medicine in the development of the Americas, beginning with first contact between the Old World and the New and ending with American intervention in Latin America. It provides a comparative overview of colonial experience and practice, examining the empires of Spain, France, Portugal, and England/Britain. Medicine and other responses to disease are used to elucidate political and social structures of imperialism and examine the 25 effect of the ‘New World’ on European thought and practice.

We begin with the Columbian exchange, looking at the obstacles and opportunities that disease presented in the so-called New World. We consider disease and medicine in the shaping of the Atlantic slave trade, as well as in the diversity of theories regarding race in Spanish America, the Caribbean, and the United States.

Key themes:

  • Disease, Medicine, and Imperialism: The Columbian Exchange
  • Renaissance Medicine and New World Exploration
  • Disease, Medicine, and the New Environment
  • Early American Bodies
  • Hot Climates and Tropical Medicine
  • Imperial Networks and Knowledge: Colonial France
  • Medicine and Slaver
  • The Politics of Medicine in America



This course explores the history of ideas about the relationship between individual and collective psychology and religious concepts and experience. The course takes a comparative approach, looking across cultures with an emphasis on the range and diversity of the psychologies of religious experience and their changing interpretations over time.

The course examines a wide variety of case studies from Africa, Asia, the Pacific, urban America and the American Southwest, seeking to contrast the points of view of followers of religious movements with the interpretations of state authorities who often believed they were witnessing incidences of mass hysteria or religious mania. Class discussions will highlight both the differences and commonalities of various types of prophetic and charismatic movements, shamanistic practices, and 20th and 21st century interpretations of religious experience within neurology and the neurosciences.

Students will engage with a wide body of historical and anthropological literature as a means of tracking the resilience of ancient phenomena into modern times.



Science is what happens when ideas meet things. When what we'd like to be true collides with nature.

This course shows you how that works – now and in the past. It provides an introduction to using material culture as historical evidence, examining the possibilities such sources offer for subverting traditional narratives in history, history of science, and related areas of study. Things transcend boundaries – between disciplines and genres, as well as in social and cultural terms. Their multiple meanings are as much an opportunity for the historian as they are a fundamental challenge to collectors, conservators, and curators. Take material culture and making seriously as a historical methodology and you will never think the same way again about race, gender, class, art, and architecture – or science.

Science is what happens when ideas meet things. When things meet ideas, history is transformed.

The primary goal of this course is to provide a graduate level introduction to material (and visual) culture as an approach to history of science, technology and medicine. But it is also suitable for graduate students in other areas of history, and in humanities and social science disciplines more generally. Students interested in visual and material culture or museum studies should consider taking this course. All prospective students should contact me directly to discuss their circumstances.



This course examines manpower as both a physical and political concept during the early modern period. It traces how bodies changed alongside the development of methods to assess, discipline, and cultivate their vitality, linking the development of scientific methodologies to imperial and state formation. The course illuminates the relationship between bodies and state power in early modern Europe, showing the dynamism and flexibility of both.

This is accomplished through a comparison of approaches to manpower from a variety of historical disciplines: anthropometrics; economics; warfare; medicine; science and technology; state and imperial formation. Course readings examine how bodies changed and grew over the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as well as how they were measured, regulated, and exploited.

Methods of assessing population strength, as well as debates over medicine’s role in population growth, will be used as tangible examples of early modern political theory and practice. Readings, both primary and secondary, engage with theory on the modern state, to place military and medical history within the broader context of the formation of early modern states and empires, and to evaluate assumptions about scientific methodologies and political authority. 



The main aim of this course is to illuminate some of the more important aspects of the relationship between medicine and warfare in the period from the early nineteenth century through to the twentieth century. The over-arching theme of the course is the role of medicine in the emergence of ‘modern’ forms of warfare, particularly the contribution that medicine made to manpower economy, discipline and morale. Examination of these themes will enable students to comment critically on the work of theorists of modernity such as Max Weber and Michel Foucault and to place military-medical developments in the context of recent historical scholarship on the ‘military revolution’ and the growth of modern states.

The course also examines the relationship between war and medical innovation and between war and welfare provisions. Study of these subjects will entail critical evaluation of the arguments advanced by historians such as Jay Winter and Roger Cooter, and of relevant social and cultural theory.



The economist and minister Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) had a profound impact on how later thinkers understood the environment, the laws that govern evolution, and the relationship between society and natural law. In arguing that there were natural laws that governed the growth of animal and human populations alike, Malthus tied understandings of nature to humanity’s future. Malthusianism formed the basis of nineteenth-century political economy, informing ideas of heredity, race, nature’s economy, and also the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin. Later in the nineteenth-century, eugenic approaches appealed to men and women from a number of different nationalities and political positions, virtually all of whom used these theories to show why people like themselves were intellectually and racially superior to others. Early proponents of the birth control movement were known as neo-Malthusians. In the twentieth century, the recognition that expanding human populations pose a potential threat to the environment brought many of these ideas into new roles. As the conservation movement emerged, the ideas of Malthus pervaded debates over the value of preserving wild habitats and questions over what use or purpose natural landscapes ought serve. 



The course will outline the basic features of the Aristotelian worldview and will then assess how and why new approaches to studying nature supplanted the older paradigm.  It will examine the key scientific discoveries that led to the erosion of confidence in the robustness and completeness of that system, which culminated in a rough agreement about what scientific knowledge was, and how research should be conducted.

Students will study the significance of personal contact, correspondence, and the development of various international standards for pursuing natural philosophy; the 'reconstitution of the philosophical self' as a precondition for performing scientific enquiry; the significance of disciplines and of disciplinary changes (particularly regarding the borders and relations between philosophy and theology); proto-science fiction; the importance of, and justifications for experimental research against various critiques; the changing relations between philosophy and metaphysics during the period; the relevance of alchemical and magical traditions; the evolving relations between artisans and philosophers during the period; the invention of the totemic hero or scientific 'genius' as part of a new genealogy of scientific authorship; and the 'popularization' of natural philosophy towards the end of the period. 



MSc in History of Science, Medicine and Technology

Not more than 15,000 words on a topic of the student's choice, approved by their supervisor, and submitted in August. Students will begin to formulate and plan their dissertation in conjunction with their supervisors from the beginning of the course.

MPhil in History of Science, Medicine and Technology

Not more than 30,000 words on a topic of the student's choice, approved by their supervisor, and submitted at the beginning of Trinity (Summer) Term in the second year of the programme.