The subject of the module is the history of public health, broadly defined to encompass environmental interventions, health systems and curative services. Exercises aim to develop the student’s ability to assess evidence and produce historical analysis, and ultimately to consider policy implications which arise from this.
The module is expected to include sessions addressing the following topics. The module begins with an introduction to the discipline of history, which traces its development, outlines some leading approaches and discusses its sources and methods.These themes are traced over the period of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with the progression of the module reflecting the changing conceptualisation of public health through time, both with respect to how it was defined and its range of activities. The geographical focus is both on Western countries in which industrialisation was first to occur, and on the global South, much of which was subject to colonial dominance until the mid-twentieth century. Some sections, such as those on health professions and twentieth-century public health make particular use of the UK as their case study.
The first main section of the module deals with developments in the nineteenth century, when public health emerged as a body of law and practice to address health risks associated with rapid industrialisation and urbanisation. Environmental and sanitary reforms and the formation of the modern medical profession are discussed, against the context of the period in which germ theory was articulated and only gradually accepted. Next tropical medicine is introduced, investigating the importance of colonial economic interests and imperial attitudes to the early struggle against vector-borne diseases.
The central section of the module provides detailed case studies. These include both diseases, such as malaria and sexually transmitted infections, and activities, like the consumption of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, which have come to be seen within a public health framework. The final part of the module covers the twentieth century, first bringing into view the emergence of health systems within Western welfare states. Changes to public health as discipline and practice are then discussed: first its transition from environmentalism to education and personal hygiene, and then its emphasis since 1945 on evidence-based medicine and on strategies towards diseases associated with individual behaviour and lifestyle.
Next, international public health in the global South during and after decolonization is covered, examining approaches to disease control and famine, and the activities of nongovernmental and supranational organisations. The module ends with an exploration of the uses of history in present-day policy and practice.