History at the heart of medicine

Richard Bellis, Fred Cooper, Rina Knoeff, Coreen McGuire*, Manon Parry, Karin Tybjerg, Ruben E. Verwaal, Angela Woods

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


With a focus on the challenges of today and tomorrow in the critical medical humanities the role of history is often overlooked. Yet history and medicine are closely intertwined. Right now, with the surfacing of knotty problems such as changing demographics, chronic pain, loneliness and Long Covid – and the consequent necessity to change directions and policies – history seems more urgent than ever. However, historians of medicine have sometimes been reticent to play a role in medicine and policymaking. The recent and welcome development of the critical medical humanities has intervened in medicine in important ways, but often without clear engagement with the history of medicine. In this letter, we make a renewed case for coherence and collaboration between history of medicine, medicine, and medical humanities, emphasising the continuity and links between all three. The skills and focus of the historian of medicine bring crucial historical context to the table, enabling better understanding of medical collecting, new imaginative futures, profound critiques of key medical concepts, and understandings of the body through time. By emphasising what historians can do for medicine and medical humanities, we call for building historical work into how medicine, illness and health are understood now and in the future. We suggest three potential roles for historians: keepers of memories, conversation partners, and futurist thinkers.
Original languageEnglish
JournalWellcome Open Research
Issue number249
Publication statusSubmitted - 14 May 2024


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