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Finding the Patient: Sources for the Social History of Medicine - 10 credits (HST827)

In 1985, Roy Porter issued a clarion call to social historians of medicine: a fully rounded history of medicine, he argued, must incorporate the patient’s view. The force of Porter’s argument was quickly accepted, but in practice retrieving and reconstructing the patient’s view raises a host of problems. There are a number of potential sources for writing patient history – medical case notes, published medical texts, patient-driven in-house hospital journals, autobiographies and letters, to name but a few – but these all raise different problems of interpretation. Perhaps most prominent among these is the difficulty of obtaining an ‘authentic’ patient voice from sources produced by clinicians, or in a clinical setting – and this is assuming that the historian has accepted the independent existence of ‘the patient’ outside the clinical encounter! This module introduces students to key debates on writing patient history, and uses a range of primary sources to interrogate the potential and pitfalls of different types of evidence for writing patient history.