Show/hide main menu

Level 5

5AAH1041: Health, Surveillance and the Modern British State

Credit value: 15
Module convenor/tutor 2018/19: Dr Agnes Arnold-Forster
Teaching pattern: 10 x 2-hour seminar (weekly)
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
Assessment: 2 x essay of 2,500 words (50% each)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand: there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years

This module addresses the changing and often controversial role played by the modern British state in managing the health of its citizens. With particular reference to London, we explore the history of health problems such as cholera, mental illness, venereal disease, smallpox and the cattle plague, asking how they came to be viewed as public problems that demanded state-led solutions. We explore the nature of those solutions, and try to account for the controversies that they often provoked. We compare and contrast the management of human and animal diseases and ask how responsibility was assigned for conditions that spread between them. How did perceptions of race and gender inform state responses to disease? How did policies shape, and how were they shaped by medical science and technology, colonial agendas, commercial interests, political priorities and notions of citizenship? What were the limits to state intervention, and how did it balance the individual right to be sick against the need to improve the health of populations?

At the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • Describe the nature of state surveillance and intervention in human and animal health during the period 1800-1948
  • Explain how and why the state’s approaches varied over time and space, and according to race, gender and species. 
  • Account for the controversies that sometimes resulted
  • Reflect on the mutual shaping of health problems, surveillance practices, and the structures and roles of the state
  • Use original Medical Officer of Health reports and your knowledge of the city to gain insights into the health of London neighbourhoods
  • Reflect on the implications of this history for the present day

Provisional teaching plan

  1. Introduction. Cholera and the rise of public health
  2. A plague amongst cows
  3. To vaccinate or not? The problem of smallpox.
  4. Sex, prostitution and venereal disease
  5. Mental illness and the public asylum
  6. Food, fraud and disease
  7. Health, race and the Colonial State
  8. Poverty, nutrition and the state
  9. From cradle to grave: The NHS
  10. Public health walk

Suggested introductory reading

This is suggested reading and purchase of these books is not mandatory.

Brassley, Paul, ‘Murrains to mad cows: A very short history of governments, people and animal diseases’, in J Burchardt and P Conford, The contested countryside: Rural politics and land controversy in modern Britain, 117-43

Hamlin, Christopher, ‘State medicine in Great Britain’, in D Porter (ed), The history of public health and the modern state (Clio Medica, Amsterdam, 1994)

Harrison, Mark, ‘Medicine and colonialism in South Asia since 1500’, and Hamlin, Christopher, ‘Public health’, in Mark Jackson (ed), The Oxford handbook of the history of medicine (Oxford, 2009), 285-301 and 411-28

Porter, Dorothy, Health, civilisation and the state (London, 1999)

Webster, C, The National Health Service: A political history (Oxford, 2002)

Waddington, Keir, An introduction to the social history of medicine : Europe since 1500 (Basingstoke, 2011)

Walkowitz, Judith, Prostitution and Victorian society: women, class, and the state (1980)

Woods, Abigail, ‘A historical synopsis of farm animal disease and public policy in 20th century Britain.’ Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B:Biological Sciences 366 (2011), 1943-54

Worboys, M, ‘Public and environmental health’, in P Bowler and J Pickstone (eds), The Cambridge History of Science (Cambridge, 2008), vol 6, 141-64

London's Pulse: Medical Officer of Health reports 1848-1972

Sitemap Site help Terms and conditions  Privacy policy  Accessibility  Modern slavery statement  Contact us

© 2020 King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS | England | United Kingdom | Tel +44 (0)20 7836 5454