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The History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine (MA)


Course Description

This one-year programme (two years part-time) is designed to give a deeper understanding of historical, philosophical and cultural issues in science and medicine from antiquity to the present day. Research training includes historical methods, philosophical analysis and socio-cultural models, providing an interdisciplinary environment for those interested in progressing to a PhD or those simply interested in HPSM studies.

Former students have gone on to attract major doctoral funding awards and jobs in the media, government and NGOs. The core teaching staff are attached to the Department of Philosophy, the Northern Centre for the History of Medicine (co-run with Newcastle University) and the School of Medicine, Pharmacy and Health. Modules are taught via lectures, seminars, personal tutorials and workshops. The diversity of staff research interests allows you to focus your research on a wide variety of topics, including historical, philosophical and/or cultural aspects of biology, biomedical ethics, the body, the environment, gender, medical humanities, medicine, and the physical sciences.

Programme Structure

Core Modules:
-Research Methods in the History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine
-Dissertation (Philosophy, Health, or History)

Optional Modules:
Students choose a total of three optional modules, with at least one from List A and one from List B. The module titles below are those offered in 2015/16. Not all the modules will necessarily run every year.
List A:
-History of Medicine
-Science and the Enlightenment
-Ethics, Medicine and History
-Gender, Medicine and Sexuality in Early Modern Europe
-Gender, 'Sex', Health and Politics

List B:
-Philosophical Issues in Science and Medicine
-Phenomenology and the Sciences of Mind
-Current Issues in Metaphysics
-Philosophy of Social Sciences
-Ethics of Cultural Heritage

Learning and Teaching

The MA in the History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine (HPSM) provides the opportunity for in-depth engagement with historical, philosophical and cultural issues in science and medicine from antiquity to the present day. In the process, students develop critical abilities and independent research skills in an interdisciplinary environment that prepare them for further postgraduate study and for a wide range of careers where such skills are highly prized.

Students select three topic modules from two lists of usually five historical and five philosophical options. They are also required to take a Research Methods in the History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine module and to complete a double-module dissertation in the Department of Philosophy, the Department of History, or the School of Medicine, Pharmacy and Health.

Topic modules are typically taught via seven two-hour seminars, two one-to-one tutorials, and a workshop at the end of the module. Seminars incorporate staff-led discussion of topics, student presentations and small group discussions, in the context of a friendly, supportive environment. Seminars serve to (i) familiarise students with topics, positions and debates, (ii) help them to navigate the relevant literature, (iii) refine their oral and written presentation skills and (iv) further develop their ability to independently formulate, criticise and defend historical and philosophical positions. Students are expected to do approximately four hours of reading for each seminar. In consultation with the module leader students decide upon an essay topic, and the most appropriate supervisor available for their topic is allocated. At this point, they begin a more focused programme of reading and independent study, and also benefit from the one-to-one supervisions with the expert supervisor. These supervisions provide more focused teaching, tailored to a student’s chosen essay topic. Supervisions further enable students to develop and refine their own historiographical or philosophical positions, convey them clearly and support them with well constructed arguments. In the workshop students present a draft of their essay and receive further feedback from their peers as well as staff.

The core modules of the programme are the Research Methods module and the double-module Dissertation. The former consists of nine seminars, each of 2 hours duration and a feedback session. They introduce students to relevant methodologies and approaches in the history of medicine, history of science, philosophy of science, and medical humanities, as well as to HPSM resources in the University Library, research tools, MA-level essay composition and format, and other research-related matters. They also include focused advice and discussion concerning dissertation proposals, which students are required to submit as part of this module.

Having completed the three topic modules and the research methods module, students start work on their dissertations. The nature of the dissertation will vary depending upon the topic studied and the department in which the module is undertaken. Students are offered up to six one-to-one tutorials of up to an hour each, with a supervisor who will be an expert in their chosen field. The supervisions help to further refine skills acquired during the academic year (such as presenting and defending an argument in a clear, structured fashion) and to complete a substantial piece of high quality independent research.

In addition to this core teaching, students benefit from a range of activities, including an MA Dissertation Workshop, research seminars of the Centre for the History of Medicine and Disease, and regular meetings of EIDOS, the Philosophy Department’s postgraduate society. They are welcomed as full participants in the Department’s research culture, and are thus strongly encouraged to attend a range of other events, including weekly Research Seminars, and occasional Royal Institute of Philosophy Lectures, conferences, workshops and reading groups. The programme director remains in regular contact with the students throughout the year and is available to discuss any issues that might arise (personal or academic).

Visit the The History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine (MA) page on the Durham University website for more details!

Entry Requirements

Upper second class (2:1) undergraduate degree in an appropriate humanities, science or social science subject or successful completion of four years of medical studies at an approved medical school.

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