Medicine Through Time

Medicine Through Time

The history of medicine covers a wide range of topics and issues. From childbirth to the final days of life, mankind has sought to understand the workings of the human body. History shows many attempts to develop an understanding of the life cycle, disease, fractures or wounds. Some historic attempts to do so appear to be plain ridiculous, or even amusing, now. Others range from years or study to lucky breaks. The story of the history of medicine ties in with with beliefs, government policy, industrial and agricultural activity and with the blood and guts of conflict.

Medicine through time

Medicine through time is a popular unit of study at GCSE level in the United Kingdom. Specifications vary in terms of the content but typically cover attitudes and beliefs; the key breakthroughs and the causal factors for them; personalities who have influenced medical practice and the manner in which medicine has been practised.

Medicine through time teaching resources

Image analysis activities

Our collection of premium and free worksheets, lessons, revision tools and interactivities. Covering the key issues over the history of medicine these draw on a wide range of contemporary sources and up to date research to provide classes with engaging and relevant activities. We have resources on this topic for both Primary and Secondary Schools, a selection are below:
org.uk/topics/medicine-through-time/prehistoric-medicine-how-did-stone-age-man-heal/”>Prehistoric Medicine

Read about early forms of surgery, spiritual belief and the types of evidence that prehistory has left us to explore.

Key Features: Archaeological evidence and cave paintings provide us with lots of clues about Prehistoric medicine. Skeletal remains show us that far from being primitive, prehistoric people could undertake quite complex surgery, including on the skull. Analysis of remains shows us what diet was like and give us clues as to life expectancy. A mixture of natural and supernatural beliefs influenced medical treatments.

Ancient Egyptian Medicine

Find out about the ways that the Pharaohs and their subjects recorded and developed medicine and the role of the mummy!

Key Features: Written evidence is available. The Papyrus Edwin Smith and Papyrus Ebers have given historians a developed understanding of how medicine was dispensed at the time. This tells us lots about beliefs and the types of cures. Human remains have been examined and the funerary process, including mummification, has presented us with physical and visual (paintings) evidence about beliefs, practises, cures. These and the precise notes in the Egyptian writing explain how procedures were carried out.

Ancient Greek Medicine

The birth of medicine as we know it? An ancient revolution in medical thinking.

Key Features: The Father of Medicine, Hippocrates. Hippocrates and his followers recorded their observations and findings. This led to guidance being written and training of doctors being based on experience. The Theory of the Four Humours emerged from this observation and dominated medicine for centuries. Belief in gods also had an influence. The Cult of Asclepius is an early example of religious devotion including the treatment of the sick.

Medicine in the Roman Empire

What did the Romans ever do for us? Quite a lot! Read here to find out more.

Key Features: Claudius Galen was a prolific writer and famed during his lifetime as a doctor. His work built on that of Hippocrates. He benefited from an improved knowledge of anatomy and made numerous observations of the inner workings of the body. His teaching became accepted as being accurate and were passed on to Doctors throughout Europe for centuries to come. The Romans also borrowed the idea of Public Health, though they did it on a grand scale and exported it throughout their empire.

Medieval Medicine

A time of great upheaval and war but at what cost to the development of medicine? Click to find out.

Key Features: The best known feature of medicine in the Medieval period is in fact death, The Black Death. It killed a huge number of people. It is useful to study the Black Death as it shows a wide range of approaches to the prevention of disease, beliefs about the cause and attempts at treating it. Religion plays a major role in the era with the Church dominating much of European practise. Ideas begin to spread into Europe through increased communication with the Eastern empires.

Medicine in the Renaissance

Rebels with a cause. A revolution in scientific thinking and methodology that went totally against the rules. The medical consequences were huge.

Hippocrates and Galen were still heavily influential, despite being wrong on some important things. The Renaissance saw this challenged as Anatomists such as Vesalius risked the wrath of the establishment to develop their understanding. It led to detailed drawings of the body in microscopic detail. Yet, despite these images and findings such as the Circulation of the Blood, treatments didn’t change all that much. Surgery began to change at a pace, as mankind harnessed the destructive force of gunpowder to greater effect on the battlefield.

The Fight against Infectious Disease

Discover how killer diseases have been overcome over time and what is being done to prevent them today.

On the whole infectious disease isn’t a big problem now. It was a problem 100 years ago, an even bigger problem 200 years ago and almost impossible to prevent 250 years ago. Huge breakthroughs in science have led to the eradication of some infectious disease. Others are well contained in the western world. From Jenner’s Smallpox vaccine there was a short time lag before further breakthroughs and then a revolutionary spate of discoveries.

Public Health in the Industrial Revolution.

Dirt, disease and death. The battle to overcome squalor in the Industrial age.

As inventors found new ways to mechanise production more and more people were drawn into towns and cities to find work. In hastily constructed slums they suffered an often miserable existence. Water purity, housing, lighting, air, all things that we expect to be good were of a highly variable nature. It led to diseases spreading quickly. Governments eventually stepped in and Public Health legislation was introduced to create minimum standards.

Medicine in the Modern World c1900 to present

Develop your understanding of the way that medicine and public health has changed in recent times.

With two world wars in the 20th century there was a great need for governments to be able to treat an ever growing number of wounds. This led to investment in surgical techniques and in medicines that helped to keep soldiers healthy. The wars also influenced non fighting related issues. In Britain the Welfare State was introduced and a National Health Service born. Science rapidly improved. DNA has enabled new treatments and imaging machines can produce 3d diagnostic images.

Medicine in the First World War

The First World War saw the medical profession facing a range of new problems. Gas burnt victims both externally and internally. Shrapnel was disfiguring thousands of men. The casualty rates were such that there was a huge demand for blood transfusions and surgeons needed easy access to X-Ray images. In 1914 the medical profession was not able to deal with any of these issues effectively. By November 1918, they could. The war led to a revolution in Medical technology, much of which is still in use today.

Themes in medical history

What are the themes that run through the history of medicine? What factors have led to developments, or prevented progress? How do contrasting issues blend together to result in medical progress or stagnation? Explore the themes in Medical history pages to find out more.

Timelines relating to the History of Medicine

A series of timelines looking at the key events in the story of different aspects of medical history over time.

Our pages on the Wars of the Roses include references to archaeological research that is of interest to medical historians. The Battle of Towton has resulted in a dig led by the University of Bradford. The extensive study of the remains of Richard III after his remains were found shows the condition of his body and wounds inflicted to it at the Battle of Bosworth.