Medicine and modern warfare

Dr Elise Smith, Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine

The course explores some of the main themes that have arisen from historical scholarship on war and medicine over the last few decades. The sessions cover the following:

Course objectives

The main aim of the course is to illuminate some of the more important aspects of the relationship between medicine and modern warfare. The over-arching theme is the role of medicine in the emergence of ‘modern’ forms of warfare, particularly the vital 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 such as Max Weber and Michel Foucault, and to place military-medical developments within the context of recent historical scholarship on the ‘military revolution’ and the growth of modern states.

The course will also examine the relationship between war and medical innovation, and between war and welfare provisions in modern states. This will entail critical evaluation of the arguments advanced by historians such as Jay Winter and Roger Cooter, and of relevant work in sociology, including Abram de Swaan’s theories about collective welfare provision.

Course requirements

There will be eight course sessions spread over Hilary and Trinity terms. Sessions will be held in the seminar room of 47 Banbury Road on Monday mornings from 9 to 11 a.m. Students will be expected to make two presentations each during the term, which will be assigned at the first session in week 1. Assessment will be either by written examination or by two 5,000-word essays.

Key texts

There is no single text that can serve as an overview of the course but the texts selected as Key Texts are among the most important and have some relevance beyond a single week’s session. In the fuller course bibliography, below, the most important texts for each session have also been indicated. Some items in the bibliography may not be available in Oxford but are worth reading if students choose to research a particular topic in depth, for an essay or dissertation.