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History of medicine: teachers' notes
Aim: to use the Oxford DNB to find out about medicine and those who practised it. Depending on the time available and the ability of the students this lesson plan might be most suitable for two linked sessions, the first concentrating on the middle ages and the second on the early modern period. The dictionary includes men and women involved in a very wide range of medically related activities, especially in the period after 1500. You may prefer to browse the results of searches in advance and then direct the students towards particular people or groups which best fit what you have covered in the GCSE syllabus.
Among the 55,000 people included in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography are many who during their lives either practised medicine and healthcare or wrote about it. In this search you are going to focus on two periods to find out about different kinds of medical practitioners in the British past, to discover how people acquired knowledge about medicine and healing, and to uncover how they went about their work.
On the Subscriber page click on People search. Under 'Field of interest' click on Medicine. Select 'male'. Enter 1000 in the 'from' box and 1400 in the 'to' box. Click on 'Search'.
In the left hand pane select 'Death date order'.
Optional: this is just to give students a better sense of the results at a glance.
Divide the articles from the search above among your group or class. Looking at the article you have chosen or been given answer the following questions:
Now do the same search as before, but tick the 'female' instead of the 'male' box. Look carefully at the result.
1 group article on 10 female medical practitioners.
Early modern medicine
Return to the People search. Under 'Field of interest' click on Medicine. Under 'Sex' select All. Enter 1550 in the 'from' box and 1650 in the 'to' box. Click on Search.
Now narrow down your search to one group among medical practitioners. In your group or class choose to search for different types of people, as follows:
return to People search; under 'Field of interest' click on 'Open full list' (this will take some time to load); click on the + sign next to Medicine; click on one of the following words: surgery, obstetrics ( childbirth), nursing, mental health, medical science, writing and scholarship, education; check that the date fields still say 1550–1650; click on 'Search'.
Looking at your results:
Choose two articles from your results. For both articles answer the following questions:
Present your information to the rest of the class or group.
Themes which may emerge include: immigrant contribution to the medical profession; education of physicians at university, including foreign universities like Leiden and Padua; lack of professional specialism; importance of 'folk' medicine; variety of activity by women; different medical provision for rich and poor; attitudes towards mental illness (see madhouse keeper!); medical discoveries.
If you have time left, try other searches in the field of medicine, for instance with different dates, different branches of medicine, or in a particular place. Try to work out what the results tell you about the way the medical profession and health care developed in Britain.
Suggestions: Try putting London or Edinburgh in 'Place' box for the early modern search; or use a longer time period, for example 1500–1750; try selecting 'born' in the 'Event' box and entering France or Italy in 'Place'.