Northern Centre for the History of Medicine

Home Members Research Teaching Events News Links Contacts


 Histories and Traditions of Medical Knowledge  Historical Responses to Mental Illness and Disability History of Bodies, Sexualities and Reproduction Geographies and Archaeologies of Health and Disease  The History of the Communication of Medical Ideas and of the Representation of Medical Themes in Literature and Fine Art  Grants and Awards Resources Other Research Projects

Histories of Medical Practice, Ethics and Expertise


The research of this theme examines medical practice in Europe from the late Middle Ages to the early 20th century under two specific aspects: its ethical implications and its claims for expertise vis-à-vis other realms of social and cultural authority, in particular religion and the law. Our key research questions are: How did medical practitioners define their ethical status and moral obligations towards patients in issues such as abortion, sexuality, bedside manner and appropriate demeanour, truth-telling, and consent to treatments? How did male and female practitioners assert their expertise and authority in matters of the body and disease in courts of law? And to what extent could practitioners draw upon socially embedded religious (Christian and Jewish) and ideological (Hippocratist) views on acceptable health behaviour?

Our case studies explore these questions for late medieval and Renaissance Portugal (Iona McCleery), Ancien Régime France (Cathy McClive), and Imperial Germany (Holger Maehle, Sebastian Pranghofer and Lutz Sauerteig). Complementarily, the uses and abuses of the Hippocratic Oath, and notions of ‘Hippocratic ethics’ in the Western medical tradition from Antiquity to the Nuremberg trials, are being studied (Thomas Rütten). In specific projects we investigate:

  • the medical ethics, psychological work and sexology of the German (Jewish) psychotherapist and medico-legal expert Albert Moll (1862-1939) and their socio-cultural context;
  • the conduct of French practitioners in Ancien Régime law courts, especially that of female practitioners as experts in cases concerning human reproduction and against a Roman Catholic background;
  • stereotypes of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ practitioners in Portugal (c.1350-c.1550) against the background of stricter medical regulation, the expulsion or forced conversion to Christianity in 1497 of the Jews, who were one of the most prominent groups of physicians, and the Portuguese global expansion of the sixteenth century.
The projects within this theme build on earlier relevant work of the researchers involved. Based on her current project on the relationship between religious and secular healing in medieval Portugal, Iona McCleery wants to complement with her new work on medical stereotypes in Portugal and its early empire the various existing studies by other scholars on Renaissance medicine in France, Italy, Germany and Spain and to consider the context of early imperialism. Cathy McClive’s new study on the gendered nature, status and authority of medical expertise within the early modern French judiciary emerges from her earlier work on interpretations of the female body, menstruation, and pregnancy in this period. Our project of a modern biography of Albert Moll as an integrative figure in the culture of fin-de-sciècle metropolitan medicine responds to a recent resurgence of interest in him within medical psychology, sexology, ethics, and Jewish history. While Holger Maehle enters this new study on the basis of his current work on medical ethics in Imperial Germany and (together with Sebastian Pranghofer) on the history of medical confidentiality, Lutz Sauerteig comes to it from his research on the history of sexuality and venereal disease. Thomas Rütten builds on his expertise in the reception of Hippocratic texts in the classical and modern periods. His new study of receptional phenomena of the Hippocratic Oath ranges from ancient to contemporary times and also comes under systematic headings such as ‘Law and Injustice’, ‘Text and Understanding’ and ‘Art and Kitsch’. We hope that this versatile history of receptions of the Hippocratic Oath will appeal to a wide interdisciplinary and public audience.