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What Can History Tell Us? – University of Exeter Student Blogs

What can history tell us? – perspectives from students at Exeter University’s Medical School

By Emma Laws, Cathedral Librarian.

As part of their fourth year studies, Exeter University medical students have the opportunity to ‘think otherwise’. The study of medical humanities challenges students to apply the arts and humanities to the science of medicine, dispensing with the idea of ‘right answers’ and, instead, approaching problems holistically and from the human perspective of interpretation, argument and representation. 

Students have the opportunity to study their medical humanities module at Exeter Cathedral Library and Archives. With over 3,000 books covering 500 years of medical history, Exeter Cathedral has one of the country’s most important collections of historic books of science and medicine. Examples include John of Gaddesden’s 14th century medical compendium and Andreas Vesalius’s 16th century work on anatomy as well as later works, such as William Smellie’s midwifery manual and Edward Jenner’s pioneering work on inoculation. 

In What can history tell us? our Library and Archives staff work with the students to consider: Who were the medics of the past? What did they know? How did they know it? And what lessons can we learn from the practice of medicine in centuries gone by? By the end of the course, students will produce a creative piece inspired by the Library’s collections – anything from a painting or piece of sculpture to a poster or dance performance – and write a reflective statement about their learning journey and how it will impact their medical practice in the future.

Read the student blogs below: