The History of Medicine (DHMSA)

This course provides a substantial introduction to the history of medicine from ancient times to the present through lectures from historians, curators and clinicians. It provides those with an interest in the history of medicine with the opportunity to develop their knowledge and historiographical skills, whilst learning more about the resources available for archival research. Its focus is the history of western medicine, but lectures on other medical systems are included, with new perspectives and topics added as the course evolves. The course draws on the history and archives of the Society of Apothecaries. Its collections are the focus of several sessions, whilst there are also strong links with a number of medical museums and collections in London.

The first term provides an introduction to the history of medicine and an overview of the subject from ancient times to the eighteenth century. The second term explores themes and developments in medical history ranging from plagues, infectious diseases and public health; to anatomy and Renaissance Medicine; and the development of medical specialities. The final term covers science and medicine, discussing topics such medical marketplaces and laboratory science, and includes visits to London medical museums and a joint day with the Faculty’s Philosophy Course. Workshop-style sessions which explore how to critically interpret primary sources, develop historiographical skills and provide presentation and vocal skills are incorporated over the course of the year. A course bibliography, core reading list and lecture synopses with information on specialised further reading are provided for the course


Course Aim

Our aim for the course is that participants are equipped to fulfil their personal objectives and interests in medical history, whether that is following a specific curiosity into a particular specialty, time period or theme, enabling them to feel confident to carry out their own research for personal or professional satisfaction, or to immerse themselves in a new discipline with a group of like-minded people.


Course Director: Dr Anna Simmons

Dr Anna Simmons works on production, trade, and science in the pharmaceutical marketplace, with a particular focus on London. Her research and numerous publications explore various aspects of the history of British chemistry, pharmacy and medicine from c. 1650 onwards, with a particular focus on the laboratories and pharmaceutical trade at the Society of Apothecaries and the development of chemical careers and professional organisations. She has published extensively on the history of Society of Apothecaries and is an expert on its archival collections. She has been Course Director since July 2020 and works with the Society’s Friends of the Archive to help promote use of its rich historical resources.

Course Insights: an interview with the Faculty Manager - click here to read.


Learning Outcomes

After taking the History of Medicine Course  you should have gained:

  • An understanding of medical and healthcare practice from ancient to modern times and how this contributed to the evolution of the Western Medical Tradition, with brief insights into non-Western Medical traditions.
  • An insight into important concepts in medical and healthcare history.
  • An understanding of the historian’s approach to medical and healthcare history, research methodology and historiography.
  • Experience of expert lectures from around 50 different historians, curators and clinicians from a variety of fields and methodologies.
  • An awareness of why people, events and developments in medicine have been accorded historical significance.
  • The ability to undertake independent reading and research on medical history topics.
  • Social and intellectual interaction through discussion, visits to London medical museums and networking with individuals with shared interests.
  • The ability to identify, access and evaluate historic material. (There is an opportunity to take the DHMSA exam and utilise the skills gained during the course through writing a short dissertation and giving a brief presentation.)

Current lecture content covers: (please see programme for lectures included in the academic year)

  • Egyptian, Greco-Roman Medicine, Islamic, Ayurvedic and Chinese Medicine
  • Medieval, Renaissance and Early Modern Medicine
  • Medicine in the Enlightenment and the development of medical education
  • The evolution of the hospital and hospital medicine.
  • The growth of science, anatomy, surgery, physiology, psychiatry, pathology and the effect on medical practice
  • Demographic and social changes, epidemics, public health and global health
  • The evolution and rise of the medical profession and allied health care professions.
  • Apothecaries, medicines and pharmacy
  • The development of medical specialities
  • The patient’s perspective
  • A brief insight into medical ethics – the relationship to society and professional interests
  • Medicine and Empire
  • Women in Medicine and Health Care
  • Animal and Human Health
  • Medical Collections and Museums
  • Historical Approaches to Medical and Healthcare History
  • the concept of primary and secondary sources for historical research
  • the range of written and non-written sources available
  • an introduction to archives, libraries, museums, institutions and on-line resources for medical history research



Course Information

The course runs annually from October to June, usually on alternate Saturdays with breaks over UK holiday periods.

Please note: The course will run on Saturdays via Zoom from October 2022 to June 2023 in a blended format with some sessions in-person, but available later online and others live online via Zoom. Contact the Faculty Manager for any questions.

When meeting in-person the lectures are usually given at Apothecaries’ Hall, London, a City of London Livery Company Hall which dates from the seventeenth century. One course day is scheduled to take place at Guys Hospital, visiting the Gordon Museum and Old Operating Theatre and Herb Garret and another course day takes place at the Science Museum, visiting the Medicine Galleries. There is also the opportunity to visit the London Metropolitan Archives outside of the course days.

Course drop-in fee
£80 Drop-in classes (please mention which course days you would like to attend when emailing application form)

Application form & T&Cs
Please fill out the application form, read the terms and conditions, sign and email to the Faculty Manager - click here

Course Programme
DHMSA Programme 2022-2023 (subject to changes)

Please click here to pay for the course.



Diploma Examination (DHMSA)

Students may wish to sit the Diploma examination (DHMSA) which in summer 2023 will consist of written papers, a dissertation and Test Lecture, but this is not compulsory. There will be a new format of the exam from 2024 onwards and further details will be given when they are available.

Exam Bursaries Criteria

  1. 10 examination bursaries are offered to medical and dental students at UK higher education institutions (HEIs) who are either current students on the main WSAL history and philosophy courses (DHMSA or DPMSA) or who have completed the course in the last 3 years.
  2. Bursaries are allocated on a first come/served basis (with priority given to current students for that year’s allocation) until the due date of the formative essay in philosophy (this being the first necessary deadline for entry to the exam in a given year) or, for history, the deadline for receipt in the Examinations Office of the titles and proposal/abstract for the dissertation and test lecture. In addition, if the examination is deferred or bursaries are not taken up they may be rolled over into the subsequent two years until used.
  3. Furthermore, the Executive Committee (EC) will, with sufficient notice (prior to the deadlines specified), consider exceptional requests from undergraduates in relevant disciplines or professions. The relevance will be determined by the EC whose decisions will be final and not the setting of a precedent. (The Executive Committee may elect to expand this to students of other healthcare disciplines at UK HEIs or other students in fields connected to history and philosophy in the future.)

Eligibility, application and fees for the diploma examination are run separately by the Examinations Office. Details can be obtained here.

Faculty of the History and Philosophy of Medicine and Pharmacy

Contact: Maria Ferran, Faculty Manager & Webmaster
Telephone: 020 7236 1189