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Poverty, Disease and Medicine in Britain, 1500-1800

Poverty, Disease and Medicine in Britain, 1500-1800

(Dr S Williams)


This course covers the history of poverty, disease and medicine broadly defined between 1500 and 1800. It will not provide a conventional ‘history of medicinal advances or gadgets’ but will provide a history of all manner of medical practitioners, as well as infirmary, dispensary and hospital provision. Despite tripartite divisions between physicians, surgeons and apothecaries there was an active ‘medical market place’ during this period. The course will place the development of the medical ‘profession’ within the context of high mortality rates from a wide range of diseases in the early modern period. The extent of poverty will be assessed, as will the extent of welfare provision (including medical assistance) for the poor through the Old Poor Law. We will also consider charitable provision, such as almshouses and voluntary hospitals. 

Seminar Topics 

  1. Medical knowledge: disease, death and doctors
  2. Tripartite divisions and the medical market place
  3. Plague, venereal disease and smallpox
  4. Childbirth and midwifery
  5. Madness
  6. Death, mortality and the city
  7. Charity
  8. The Old Poor Law